Adventures in poetry
Date: 2nd May 2016
Extent: 80 pp
Julia Webb’s Bird Sisters is a surreal journey through sisterhood and the world of the family via the natural world. Fascinated by the ‘otherness’ of things, her poems expose places and relationships that are not always entirely comfortable places to exist. Many of them feature transformations of some kind – both real and metaphorical: a woman wears a dress of live bees or becomes a bird and family members turn into owls and sparrows.
In exploring the ways in which both adults and children are casually cruel to one another, often within a mythological framework, Julia Webb blurs the boundaries between fairy tale and reality. These families are terrifying in their complexity and dysfunction, yet utterly compelling and convincing and with dark undercurrents of humour that ensure the poems are never bleak.
‘Glittering and shadowy, the ‘magic’ of this first collection is anchored in the ‘real’ of nylon sheets, a rented TV, Thetford Forest... Its language is spare and supple, wry, and can stun with such transformations as “a baby dandled on the knee of the sea” (‘Quiet Man Norfolk’) and “Water held a knife to the throat of the village” (‘Water’). Beset by the dark instability of a particular family’s life, Bird Sisters exerts a powerful hold, as if to read it is to be haunted by things one half-remembers.’ – Moniza Alvi
‘There is something both comforting and predatory about the sisters that keep reappearing in Julia Webb’s first collection. It is a visceral world they inhabit where people and animals partake of each other’s existence through constant metamorphosis. Everyday life is full of demons and, as the father in one of the poems has it, THE DEVIL’S WORK. All is strange or estranged in fact, but it is articulated in poems of supple inventive concentration. In that sense Bird Sisters is a book that casts deep shadows.’
– George Szirtes
Photo credit: Martin Figura
Julia Webb was born in London and grew up in Thetford – a small town in Norfolk. She left school at sixteen and spent nine years living in a rural commune before settling in Norwich. She has a BA (hons) in Creative Writing form Norwich University of the Arts and she graduated from The University of East Anglia’s Poetry MA in 2010. In 2011 she won the poetry Society’s Stanza competition and in 2014 she was shortlisted for the Poetry School/Pighog pamphlet prize. She teaches creative writing in the community and is a poetry editor for Lighthouse Literary Journal.