What a happy way to start the day. Opening this week’s TLS online this morning, I came across a review of The Hotel Eden by Suzannah V. Evans:
The Hotel Eden opens with an opening: “Madame Martin will throw back her shutters at eight / One arm will scoop up sun”. This is typical of the sense of immediacy and physical ease that characterizes Beverley Bie Brahic’s fourth collection. Later in the poem, it is imagined that Madame Martin will “tie an apron about her waist / Fingers doing that brief couple dance” in an image that is as quotidian as it is sensual, and it is this attention to the everyday stuff of life that makes Brahic’s poetry shine. A people-watcher as well as a flâneuse, Brahic fills her poems with regulars at the Luxembourg Gardens, who sit “Toasted round the edges like chestnut leaves”, “paysans”, boulistes, belotte players, Provençal storytellers and friends. The poems revel in companionship, as in “Landline”, which discusses a father’s aversion to the telephone, “that hard-shelled crab / Hunkered in the den”, and ends with amiable silence: “We sloshed back across the shingle / With our buckets of oysters, / The silence not uncomfortable”. “A Community Garden” also features intent activity; this time weeding, rather than oyster picking. The speaker’s work is interrupted by an old man who “squats down” and joins in with the difficult task of “Pulling weeds / Without breaking the roots” in the Californian heat: “His wife and children grow impatient. / He ignores them. He is happy weeding. / We are happy too”. Immersion in the present moment is shown to be a “recipe for peace – of a sort”. Group gatherings are equally cherished, and Brahic celebrates both storytellers and listeners in a prose poem set on Christmas Day evening in southern France, drawing attention to the “pauses, the winks, the sotto voce, the gestures, the audience as claque and chorus”.
The collection also thrums with a delicious erotic energy. Often, it is food, and particularly fruit, that lends a sensual or sensuous element to Brahic’s poems – there is a translation from Baudelaire here which speaks of “fruit oozing with flavour”. (Brahic is an esteemed translator as well as a poet, and has published translations of Guillaume Apollinaire, Francis Ponge and Yves Bonnefoy, among other French or francophone writers.) “Red Berries” sees the speaker savour produce at a farmer’s market – “I bought two slabs / Of the wild salmon / Sweet butter / To seize it in” – while “Winter Pears” ends with the slow simmering of translucent slices of fruit. Both these poems, like the collection as a whole, are simple, painterly, offering the same “abundance” for the reader that Beverley Bie Brahic finds in her pears.