Reviewed by Ellie Hastings
Her Birth is a devastatingly beautiful window into a mother’s heart when she is faced with the most awful thing imaginable – the death of her child. Rebecca Goss’ frank, simple free verse narrates a stripped back and vulnerable tale of family, belonging, loss, grief, isolation, and hopelessness. In short, Her Birth is the kind of poetry collection that strikes right to the core from the first line.
The distinct sense that these fifty-two poems have been written chronologically, and then split into three parts representing the three stages of Ella’s short life, makes the collection even more stunning, as we are shown a series of flashbacks and freeze-frames that feel real and raw. “Fetal Heart”, the first poem we encounter, is only six lines long, and frames the entire collection; the language here is accessible and frank - “unlucky”, “rare”, “defeat” – and instantly impresses a deep, truly authentic sadness upon the reader directly from the pen of the author. Her Birth feels like more of a short story than a poetry collection, as the narrative builds and the reader becomes intimately familiar with the mother and child at the centre of the story.
There are a wide range of poetical structures in Her Birth but quite honestly they fade into irrelevance when the words they contain are read and understood. “The 21st Of March” for example, found in the second section of the collection, is a shape poem (a diamond), which is perhaps a slight distraction to the beautiful prose poetry contained within it. Goss has a way of selecting the perfect word to strike to the heart of her readers, and does so with no selfishness or self-pity, which is infinitely refreshing given the emotion of the work.
Indeed, Her Birth is bare, to the point of being brutal to read cover to cover, but I thoroughly recommend you do so and that once you close the book you return to your family and friends and hold them that little bit tighter.