Poetry Review: ‘SWEETDARK’

Laura Cook reviews Savannah Brown’s most recent poetry collection ‘SWEETDARK’.

I first came across Savannah Brown when I watched her slam poem ‘Hi, I’m a Slut’ on YouTube back in 2015. She made quite an entrance into my life. All her videos are definitely worth a watch, including her most popular: the slam poem ‘What Guys Look For In Girls’. Brown self-published her debut poetry collection ‘Graffiti (And Other Poems)’ in February 2016. The book went on to become a Goodreads Choice Awards finalist. Her second poetry collection, ‘SWEETDARK’ was released on October 8th and I was delighted to receive an advanced copy to review. 

I am an expert in neither poetry nor philosophy, however I felt the poignancy of her words as they connected to a lost girl inside of me. The poems in ‘SWEETDARK’ explore the complexity of living with fear and pain but simultaneously, the sweetness of joy within the chaos. The epigraph, by American poet Ada Limón, elegantly summarises this paradox: ‘I remembered what had been circling in me: I am beautiful. I am full of love. I am dying.’ ‘SWEETDARK’ is separated into three chapters, suffused with themes of love and despair, confusion and growth. The progression of the poems brings with it a vicious host of moods; Brown has cultivated a strength of feeling in the reader in a way that only incredible poetry can. 

If existentialism does not sit comfortably with you, this might not be the book for you. For me, it provided a magnificently dark articulation of the experience of living as a conscious, growing human with far too many feelings. The first poem in the book ‘Void/You’ immediately lifted me up to a transcendent plane where I envisioned the void, existing within and around us. Whilst this void is not innately malicious, the human response to it can cause us the greatest pain and fear. Brown refers to this sense of despair in the poem ‘An Impeccable Functional Design’ as ‘the rotten horse which breaknecks towards my frontal lobe’. As one prone to existential dread, I related to this creeping feeling which can take over all thought. These poems explore the desire to overcome this fear and to experience the sweet and dark possibilities life holds. 

One of my favourite poems in ‘SWEETDARK’ is ‘Me, barefaced, in the sycamore’ which explores the theme of self-love. Brown describes a photograph, a fleeting snapshot in which she notices all her physical ‘imperfections’, contrasted with the bliss of a day spent amongst wildflowers and ‘peace and ball games’. She looks back at the photo and appreciates the body which enabled her to experience such pleasure. Throughout the book Brown portrays her experience of growth as irregular and unpredictable; ‘forward and back, undulating along vinegar waves’. The free verse of ‘A Growing Thing’ describes a meeting between Brown and a more fragile, ‘starved’, half-formed version of herself. She writes ‘how can I not look at myself… and love her too?’, perfectly encapsulating the feeling of having parts of ourselves that are painful and avoided, but needing to accept them to nurture self-love. The complexity of growth which brings with it ‘unanswerable questions of self’ can be sensed through Brown’s vulnerable writing as she explores self-acceptance as a terrifying yet necessary process. 

‘SWEETDARK’ has left me with lingering thoughts and feelings that possess a familiar ache – a reflection of the helpless confusion of being alive. I have found myself rereading poems already and showing my favourites to others in the hope that they too will share in the commonality I found within the pages. Brown’s latest addition to an already accomplished body of work, contains love and pain and painful love and the incomprehensibility of life; so much that I cannot put into words. As ‘the collective us sees seven billion sunsets each night’, we each see the same thing but from entirely individual, unique perspectives and, in this vein, I don’t think there is any one way to read or interpret the poetry. ‘SWEETDARK’, born from Brown’s ability to exquisitely convey her existential bewilderment, will certainly provoke different layers of meaning for everyone.  

You can find more details on how to get your own copy at @savbrown on Instagram, @savannahbrown on Twitter or search savbrown.com.

Artwork by Madeleine Warren.

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