Was It for This: Poems

Farrar. Jan. 2023. 128p. ISBN 9780374607982. $26. POETRY
Like her T.S. Eliot Prize–winning Three Poems, British author Sullivan’s new collection is maximalist in framework and minimalist in its relentless attention to moment-by-moment detail. These large poems assay London’s 2017 Grenfell Tower fire, paralleled by the mundane work and worry of her early motherhood just a few streets away, and memories of her young adulthood in the United States, with minute, heavily felt detail of every place she lived and every move she made (“the shoddier and more unsatisfactory my accommodation there was…the lighter I became”). She also visits her childhood home (and houses she’s considering buying) while discovering the past as bulwark for the present (“I wanted it all again to do again”) and coming to see her time abroad as uncomfortably changeable; blunt but effective passages boldly explore the death of her father. Throughout, Sullivan seems to want to unburden herself, to get cleaner, so the poems end up thick with detail and can seem too obsessively, excessively descriptive. The thrum of lived experience finally gets hypnotic; readers just have to wait for the effect.
VERDICT Perhaps not as absorbing as her first work, though this may depend on the reader; still, Sullivan remains an original and observant writer.
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