Rabbit, by Sophie Robinson, is the 2018 Poetry Book Society Wild Card Choice that is a very bold and sad account of what it is to be young, intoxicated, and alone—something many of us, who are now luckily on the other side of this experience, can relate to all too well. Crucially, it’s also an account of these things experienced as a young woman. As I pored over Rabbit’s fascinatingly quirky pages, I thought of myself at different clubs with friends, and sometimes with people I didn’t know; in company and alone. Humour in this collection of poetry is sharp and witty. In the poem ‘Eurotrash,’ Robinson writes, “barbara streisand called she wants her songs back & other indignities, falling together forever off a mountain of regret.” There are also fabulous titles in Rabbit such as ‘Mystics of YouTube.’ However, despite the humour there is seldom any joy.
In this collection you are presented with a mass of text. It’s a smart book, laid out in an inviting, clean, and aesthetically pleasing way. At first, you’re faced with text as print, rather than words with meaning, like an article that’s been cut out of a paper. Then the writing itself and the meaning behind the words rise up out of the letters. This effect is very curious, and a pleasant experience. Similarly, like the writing of Shakespeare or Joyce or Burroughs, your brain begins to pick out strands of poetry from the glorious soup on the page. I like that this effect seems to be the reverse of most poetry; rather than being coerced into meaning by an overzealous empty space, the writing is confident and daring enough to try the opposite.
In this collection, Robinson experiments with sound repeatedly, and often builds on each previous line with a slight change in the next. The form within this collection is loose—there is no common punctuation or grammar, as seems the trend for most modern poetry to some extent, and, keeping with trend again, gaps often act as commas. Curiously and deliciously, there are also spelling mistakes within this collection, as Robinson writes, ‘people dance & talk all nite.’ For me, in Rabbit, Robinson has managed to successfully write poetry that is ultra-modern and reflective of British youth culture now. I can’t think of any poetry that is currently more relevant. However, Rabbit also left me thinking about whether it would be understood by those of different generations, and how the experience of reading it would be to someone who couldn’t relate to it as well as I could.
Some of the poems within Rabbit are more structured than others, particularly those towards the end. I actually preferred these, and I wonder if this is reflection of me as a reader, as the very slightly different styles of poetry make you ask yourself what poetry is.
There are those that just won’t be able to get on with Rabbit, and I accept this, because they will simply be utterly confounded by the form presented to them on the page. However, Rabbit is not only ambitious formally, but it raises a lot of important issues, and therefore is well worth pursuing. Rabbit was hard for me to read in one sitting, and I mean this in a good way. Sometimes a small section of writing can fill your head in such a way that you have to take a break to process and digest what you’ve read. Robinson is bold about femininity, as Rabbit shows us that many of the issues still facing women, such as sexual violence, are still woefully unresolved. The presentation of sexual violence in Rabbit is harrowing, and we’re shown what a big problem it is—far bigger than most people assume. This horror and bleakness in Rabbit, like in the poem ‘If I Could Kill My Freaks,’ generally acts to empower against a very deep sense of depression that emanates from the speaker.
As a reader, Rabbit made me wonder how do we experience life? Is it really linear and well-structured, like the pleasant reading experience of most books, or is it confused, vivid snatches? Once I started asking myself this, I wondered whether a book like Rabbit was more reflective of the chaotic nature of existence than other formats of literature. The last poem within Rabbit, ‘Art in America,’ is a Ginsberg-esque tour de force of skill, passion, and wit that leaves us with the best writing that Robinson is capable of, and even a flicker of hope.
© 2019 Setareh Ebrahimi
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Setareh Ebrahimi performs regularly, and is a poet working in Faversham, Kent. She is the author of In My Arms from Bad Betty Press.