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Bath of Herbs by Emily Zobel Marshall

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Bath of Herbs is Emily Zobel Marshall's beautifully crafted, honest and thoughtful first collection which explores the complexity of mixed-race, hybrid identities and relationships to the English and Welsh mountains, fells, rivers and shorelines from an 'othered', unmappable, positionality. It honours the lives of Black and Brown women and asks how they can reclaim space, both practically and conceptually. It celebrates and mourns the unspoken pain and joys of motherhood; of menstrual cycles, childbirth, tending to sick children with life-threatening illnesses, the death of mothers, love in all its myriad forms and the desire to escape the constraints of domestic and family life towards different kinds of freedoms.

It also revisits the confusing world of childhood; the inexplicable actions of adults and the bullies who despise perceived difference. There is her ownership of a writerly inheritance handed down from her grandfather, the Black Martiniquan writer, Joseph Zobel, but also an awareness that this heritage has involved a movement away from the Black peasant world Zobel wrote about towards a comfortable Europeanness of being. Other poems address the security of a middle-class life and the many pleasures it offers - but also how that world can be broken apart by death, by serious illness, by the fear that the channels of communication in a marriage have 'gone down' and how, as a woman expected to hold everything together, one is sometimes forced to take refuge in the wildest fantasies.

Linking the whole is an engagement with the possibilities of healing: as in the bath of herbs in which her grandmother bathed her mother after giving birth; in the physicality of running and purificatory swimming in a river; in the care a hospital gives to her child and in the healing power of the natural world.

Peepal Tree Press

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