Review of Birth of the Owl Butterflies by Julia Casterton
When I first read these poems I had to sit down and put them by. It was a bit like watching Almodovar’s Matador, which I had to keep stopping on the video, because I perceived in it a level of rage I recognised very well, and have struggled in my own life to move beyond. Many people have experienced the wounds Ruth Sharman uncovers – the bourgeoisie has always, for its own inscrutable reasons, sent its children away to school; men have always been horrid to women; fathers have always taken advantage of their own authority – but few have sung their wounds, vengefully, murderously, in such lovely music, with such a good ear and eye for when to strike the coup de grace. It was like being plunged back into the Speaking = Bitterness feminism of the seventies, but with Maria Callas singing (in tune, before she lost it) instead of Andrea Dworkin’s interminable whining. I kept thinking ‘Please don’t. I don’t want to go back there,’ but the power of Ruth Sharman’s music is very strong, and before it can achieve the life-giving, shimmering beauty it one day will, she has to blaspheme the false gods (authority figures of all kinds, including the lover who loves her too tightly into the underwear of his pleasures) until the rage is out and the new work can begin.
The new work begins to form itself in the last poems of the collection. Here she meditates on objects of love free of the trammels of power, possession and manipulation. The menaces remain, as destiny in the folds of a curtain in one of Rilke’s elegies, from which even the mother can’t protect the child – but in this final part she is moving into her own realm, armed but more protected against the sadism of others.
This is a brave first collection. Ruth Sharman names the torturers and exacts an elegant revenge, a reversed Death and the Maiden music, but I hope she’s had enough of this now, and will move fully into the beauty of her own domain: forget them, they’re nothing, you’ve had the last word. Move on.
Ambit 1998, Issue 153