Book Review – ‘Flowers of the Flesh’ by Effy Winter

I was gifted a complimentary copy of this book by the publisher, however this review is voluntary.

Effy Winter’s collection of poetry is a revelation. It is not a book for the faint hearted – this is an exploration of sex, sensuality, love and violence, and comes with the words one would expect from a dark romance in that ilk. But it is also more than that; it is an homage to the thin line between pleasure and pain, between the emotion and violence of sex. 

The book brings to mind an even more intense Amanda Lovelace, with its brief but powerful poems. From the very first words, Winter invites the reader to see the connection between beauty and darkness, and almost every poem has a reference to flowers. The strong floral imagery frames the intensity of the subject matter in a way that softens its edges, almost disguising some of the savagery within and allowing it to sneak up on the reader. Patterns of language tie the poems together tightly, weaving threads of repetition reminiscent of spells or incantations; a visceral meditation on the body and the act of sex.

Effy’s poetry explores some of the complicated issues around sex and sexuality. Is there a guilt, especially for women, that comes with a desire for sex? Are we taught that sexual freedom is forbidden, that. we should be ashamed of our bodies? If so, why? Winter reframes this shame about desire as liberation. She also explores sexual release in the context of death and rebirth, with its transformative power: ‘we must bleed out within one another / to burn rancid flesh softly… / our bony vessels of rotten petals / melting into an erotic ash.”

 There are elements too of how selflessly we give to our lovers, and how these acts of sacrifice can go unrecognised. There is the dichotomy between the gift and the curse. This is evident in Winter’s word choice combinations, such as the “tender violation” of I Tragically Unfold for You. She deftly balances on the razor thin edge between pain and longing as she explores the discomfort of desire, love and loss, and the idea of sex as a ritual act of both sacred love and violation.

For all the romantic shadow and ritual violence that the book explores, the final poems are a triumphant scream into the darkness; and acknowledgment of how the journey, rather than leaving her destroyed, has reforged her into something stronger and more intense, through the catharsis of release. While Effy Winter’s collection is bathed in erotic darkness, the tight construction and patterns of woven language, alongside her masterful use of form, make Flowers of the Flesh an intensely confronting yet equally intriguing read. 

Effy Winter’s full length poetry collection Flowers of the Flesh is available from Rhythm & Bones Press

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