Unexhausted Time by Emily Berry review – language that defies all limits

These strange, intimate poems blur the boundaries between waking and dreaming, past and future

In Emily Berry’s third collection, Unexhausted Time, nothing is off limits and limits themselves are consciously defied: the membrane between waking and dreaming is semi-permeable, the boundary between past and present is blurred: “How is it the things that happen to us seem to have happened already,” she asks in one unsettled and untitled poem (titles are rarities here). In another, she blends with the weather as if her body were unconfinable: “Prolonged heat made me feel smudged./It was not a bad feeling…/to be a smear on a windowpane…” Her metaphors are prone to melting too or, at least, not allowed a final say.

Berry’s earlier collections were more anchored: Dear Boy (2013) was a buoyantly liberated debut and Stranger, Baby (2017) a moving response to her mother’s death, underpinned by loss. This book is driven by ambivalent maturity. More than ever, there is a sustained wariness about the words she uses so well: she resists the way that words, like capable housekeepers, purport to sort things out when atmospheres are so often defiantly non-verbal.

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