Grief has Teeth by Louise Baxter

I am not ashamed to admit that the beautiful cover of Louise Baxter’s poetry and short prose excerpts drew me in but it did not prepare me at all for what I would find inside.

This is an incredibly powerful work of personal examination and candidness, a map of the author’s experiences of grief. As she explains, grief is not just caused by death or the end of a love; grief manifests itself in many ways throughout our lives and we may not always realise that we are grieving as a result. In Baxter’s book, then, there is the full range of human experience, some of it traumatic and abusive and not necessarily in the personal remit of every reader. However, her writing is figurative and emotive and revealing and I could not help but be moved by it.

There is a wide variety of verse here: two line poems juxtaposed with others that pass a page. Poems like Watch Out for Sharks are pithy and direct, a short advisory message to those who are vulnerable as is Strong Roots, where the poet addresses herself, ending with a direct statement; whereas Anger is a poem which rails against the views which are used to pigeonhole the behaviours of women with lines like “vigilant not suspicious/sexual not promiscuous”, succinctly highlighting the fine line of the perception of them from others, that women have to navigate.

My favourite poems came early in the book: I really liked How To Belong, a poem about the awkwardness and pressures of fitting in as a teenager – to mould oneself or not to mould – and Young Love, a poem that describes a toxic relationship and totally subverts the overly romanticised view that the poem’s title suggests.

The book is structured to correspond with the author’s life journey, starting in childhood and progressing linearly through her growth as a person, describing incidents as well as revelations that have shaped her through their emotional impact, as well as the resulting grief. There is a lot of sadness here but this is counterbalanced with hope and the collection ends in a way that will show that these negative remnants can be thrown off and mastered with support (and a little mysticism). Overall, I came out from reading the collection with a sense of having been immersed in someone else’s emotions but feeling lighter for the sharing.

This review was first published on Reedsy Discovery where I was privileged to read it as an ARC. This review is a true representation of my opinion of the book.

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