Review of brat

brat
By Sophie Crocker

Gordon Hill Press
76 pages, $20 

Mythic, chaotic, and fiercely funny, Sophie Crocker’s brat is an anthology of lovers and creatures, intimate self-portraits, and candid observations about life and the world. From rat kings, riot dogs, and mutilated sunflowers, to Medusa, prehistoric animals, and the terrifyingly large Titanoboa snake, every piece in this ferocious debut is full of sharp wit and unforgettable imagery.  

The collection opens with the first of a series of astrological poems where Crocker plays with the personality traits and characteristics of star signs. “venus in cancer” draws on the added emotional vulnerability of placing Venus—a planet of sensitivity and affection—in the Cancer zodiac, which is already governed by feelings and intuition. Like a beautifully written horoscope, Crocker explores this intense craving for connection during the transit of Venus: “I’ve tried to drink hope – from the shallows / of my favourite lover’s throat – & came away dry.” Towards the end of the poem, the narrator laments the moon as an “unwelcome miracle” and begs for the light of day—yet another clever nod to Cancer as the only zodiac that is ruled by this celestial body of the night sky.  

Beyond the mythic, Crocker brilliantly and effortlessly weaves in imagery that brings chaos to order, a strength that especially shines in the second poem “we have to launder the sunflowers!” Here, the fearless poet contrasts idyllic, natural beauty with clinical, dismembering language, including circumcising a rainbow, cauterizing the skyline, and suturing the rain. Crocker also brings in feral elements to paint pictures that are dually endearing and grotesque, illustrating Alberta as a land where “the animals / linger eye-level along the walls, / decapitated” or asking to be held tightly like a “fleet of piranhas,” a type of freshwater fish known for their razor-like teeth and voracious appetites.  

It’s important to note that brat is equally striking in everything from the cover art and poetic forms to the raw, gut-wrenchingly honest words on each page. The individual components on the cover—the moon, the significant use of magentas and yellows, the shears, the rat with a bleeding tail—all manifest in meaningful ways, whether visually or poetically, throughout the collection. Several of the poems contain a dynamic quality, with “states of matter” standing out the most in its Venn diagram structure, and others appearing in the form of lists or horizontally in landscape orientation.  

Crocker’s anthology is riddled with delight and cynicism, and always in good humour. Perhaps brat can be best summed up the way that Crocker describes Chicago—a capital city for “murder and stand-up / comedy, a juxtaposition too bright to look at.” But look, if you can handle it—or, as Crocker taunts, “i dare you i dare you i dare you i dare you i dare you.”  

                                                                                                   —Nadia Siu Van 

Nadia Siu Van is a Toronto-based writer and editor.

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