Book Review – ‘The Collective Nouns for Birds’ by Amanda Huggins

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author.

There is a sweet yearning in Amanda Huggins’ debut poetry collection, The Collective Nouns for Birds. Loss and regret weave together around sparks of light. These sparks suggest a peace which comes with acknowledging the passage of time and the release of those things that tie us to moments in it. 

The book begins with a harking back to childhood moments seasoned with an edge of adult knowing. In ‘Out Chasing Boys’ and ‘The New Knowing’, there is a sense of both anticipation and apprehension as young girls begin expanding their horizons, pushing boundaries and unearthing new knowledge about the world and its expectations of them. The duality between the desire for adulthood and the comfort of childhood innocence is captured beautifully in these lines:

know for one brief moment of teenage clarity

that life will be good and worth the wait.

We each hold the new knowing close to our ribs

and don’t speak of it, just in case it isn’t true.

From this powerful beginning, Huggins explores through a series of beautiful metaphors all the ways in which we lose things, and the clarity and sometimes sadness that retrospection can bring. There is the transition from childhood to adulthood, the parting of lovers and friends, loss of life, of special places. Reflection are often bittersweet, as here:

I recall that summer, way back when

we both believed the stars were ours,

so sure we’d make it to the end.

Amanda uses beautiful metaphors to bring the losses back to life; the sea and birds are two motifs that appear repeatedly throughout the collection. The imagery these create builds stunning visual pictures of each poem. Sensory detail is essential to these images and Huggins makes bold and effective use of these, from the thump of a sparrow against a car windscreen to the sunlight trapped beneath glass flavour of a tomato to the faint heartbeat of a beloved pet. These images are served well by lyrical language and gentle turns of phrase that add a truly musical quality to the poems. Occasional slant rhyme leads the poetry back towards traditional forms in some areas without seeming trite or cheesy, and there is a pleasing variety of form. Huggins uses line breaks to suspend phrases, allowing them to hold multiple meanings until the reader arrives at the next line and this pulls the poems along, encouraging the reader forwards without seeming frantic. This tone suits the subject matter perfectly.

The Collective Nouns for Birds is a delicate balance of pain and peace. Amanda Huggins reminds us all that loss is a part of the cyclic nature of life, and that we can look back without becoming mired in grief. Those moments weave into our hearts and become a part of the fabric of ourselves – we need not cling to them tightly to keep them with us. This is an accomplished debut.

The Collective Nouns for Birds releases on February 28, 2020 from Maytree Press.

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