A Gentle Nihilism: Throats Full of Graves by Gillian Prew


A gentle nihilism; on reading of Throats Full of Graves  by Gillian Prew. Published Lapwing Publications, Belfast 2013.

My first instinct about naming this reading of Gillian Prew’s poetic-work was to entitle it requirements for poetry. I wanted to focus on what happens to the reader when she approaches a book of poetry that is minimal in its intent, and full of quietude as of necessity.

The necessity inherent in Prew’s expression is dysphoric, that she has pared down her use of symbol to the bare skeletal minimal inviting the reader to partake in a world-view that is bleak and damaging by virtue of its unspoken violences. Motherhood as a type of encroachment and its effect on one’s independence. The violence of the body as witness in its own decay.

Threadings of symbols run through Throats Full Of Graves, small creatures, mirrors, the encroachments of nature and weather. Prew picks up and examines these images in single poems and in series throughout the book.

Prew’s understated and wistful approach to the decay of the body is masterful and nowhere more evident than in Beyond This Skin: 

These thin breasts each a grief
plump-robbed and plucked dead
like two starved birds.

Beyond this skin the world weeps for its swept-up beds
and its loneliness;
its hearts blown like empty stones.

(from Beyond This Skin, by Gillian Prew)

Prew’s  imagery recalls Sylvia Plath’s Medean Edge: the mother as vessel of and progenitor. The mother attempting to recall her individualism and usefulness after child-bearing. This is a theme often left unexplored in poetry. I am including an excerpt from Edge here :


Each dead child coiled, a white serpent,
One at each little
Pitcher of milk, now empty.
She has folded
Them back into her body as petals
Of a rose .

from Edge , by Sylvia Plath from Ariel (Faber and Faber 1965)
Prew does not explore Medean rage, her tone is elegiac throughout. She invites the reader to explore the ravage of time on femininity, the experience of mothering as a type of loss to woman’s identity in which memory plays useful tricks. Prew’s search for joy and self-identity pervades the book as a sub-theme but it never overwhelms the reader.

While Reading The Spines Of Books

 Up, is a diary of clouds. The sky
tucked into them. There is the
meaning of a bird. There is a quiet belief.

Down, we are bare bones of an isolated incident
and we cleanse ourselves in mere water.

We are played; music unable to hear itself.
Deaf instruments that skirt shine but
want to build monuments : cold stone and dates.

We do not need war to be a broken soldier.

The time we have taken
– rehearsing our exit lines in black seconds.

Here, in the spines of books,
it is an expensive place to die.

While Reading The Spines Of Books is by Gillian Prew from Throats Full Of Graves.

Prew contains and works her images beautifully throughout this book. She allows herself  to pace it according to what she feels is necessary revelation. Her obliqueness is tenacious and requires the reader to engage. I was very taken with her series Six Pieces in Search of Unity which occurs just past the mid-section of the book:

take down
your loud voices from the walls. No one
wants to see them they are blinding. Or
cover them with sheets as if they are yet
to be unveiled as if they are fresh as motion
as if silence still counts for something
when people are trying to die.

from Six Pieces in Search of Unity by Gillian Prew

Throats Full of Graves by Gillian Prew

6 thoughts on “A Gentle Nihilism: Throats Full of Graves by Gillian Prew

  1. Wow! Powerful stuff. Maybe even more powerful than Sylvia Plath or Adrienne Rich. How conflicted we women are about our lives, our roles, our options, our bodies. We are warriors here, in the everyday brutalities of life, and no one counts the heroes among us.


  2. I was drawn here while doing a tag search on “Sylvia Plath”. I appreciate the introduction to a poet inspired by her work as well as your thoughtful reflections.

    I’ve been reading Plath’s early journals for a writing project and am looking to foster dialogue on her life and work. I wrote a brief post today on some of her early perspectives, here –


    I would love for you to check it out as you have the chance and comment if you feel so led.

    Keep up the good writing.


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