Daisy Lafarge’s stirringly novel & beautiful debut collection refocuses and reimagines air in all its forms, encouraging exploration both personal and societal
Edition Published by: Granta Books, 2020
Much of the beauty in poetry comes from reimagining things we, as humans, take for granted. It’s one of the reasons why much eco-poetry is so powerful; it forces us to examine our exploitative subconscious.
Daisy Lafarge’s by now revered debut collection, Life Without Air, does the exact same thing with our prime lifeforce. But she goes much further than just to explore the relationship between humanity and naturism. Here, air’s status as an element allows it an entire conscience of its own, a beautiful dose of wilful determination and genuinely novel poetic licence.
In short, Life Without Air is staggeringly wide-ranging in its ability to poke holes in things we think we understand.
Confessional and Society
It’s not an official maxim of course, but it’s roundly known that what you contribute to society depends on your circumstance. If the job of the poet is to make sense of huge ailments both internal and external, then Daisy Lafarge meets that brief with exquisite gumption.
Falsification Air is one prime example, as it casts new eyes on internal imprisonment by almost anthropomorphising air:
‘Consider the sheets of air gridlocked in double-glazing’.
The starkly direct Performing The Border and Gaslit Air later on find the narrator blaming themselves for their insecurities, the implication being that these have been foisted upon them – especially as women – by society. Ghosted is remarkably affecting too, not least due to its penchant for stinging one-liners:
‘Ghosting is not an action performed by ghosts, it breeds them’.
Almost everything can be interpreted is a self-examining and wider light, making Life Without Air naturally accessible.
But whereas many poets don’t look for redemption from societal issues, Lafarge’s righteousness often amounts to a pervasive, life-affirming sense of catharsis. In The Daughter Channel, the ‘prehistoric pain’ of womanhood rises out of itself, and How To Leave a Marriage hands misogyny’s comeuppance to it on a plate.
It’s particularly poignant in stag night in the embassy with Genie. In it, Lafarge turns exploratory injustice outwards, honing-in on sinister men, who are:
‘Contemplating their actions of the night before,
nudging underbaked knobs of almond
croissants with incremental crumbs
As these men’s world and power collapses around them come the poem’s end, Genie is in total control.
Lafarge’s use of space and metaphorical silence is also a marvel. Oftentimes, the poems are separated by multiple blank spaces, decorated with non-invasive drops in their unmarked expanse. Almost rune-like in their mysticism, they serve to heighten the sheer size and variation in Lafarge’s canvas.
And when it comes to the poetry itself, Lafarge uses space to both confine and redefine her words. In the titular poem, each section takes up a half page and leaves emptiness in its place, simultaneously breaking the flow and encouraging personal debate.
But she also sometimes deliberately starves her poetry of air. What Genie Got – something of a coming-of-age narrative – is presented in half-formed near-paragraphs, and the sense of restraint young women have imposed on themselves is evident from the first line:
‘She Got in in the chest like the thump from Elijah.’
A Refreshing Poetic Paradox
The titular poem encompasses the collection’s ethos best. In most contexts here, air is as automatic as it is nefarious. As such, life without it is often cleaner, purer and more human. It’s a beautiful poetic paradox, and one which might see Life Without Air be considered a classic in years to come.
You can buy Life Without Air here.