Strawberry Thief, Sara Berkeley’s first collection in more than a decade, opens with a suite of poems which celebrates her daughter’s birth – ‘Hail to her, and sunlight, and spirit songs’ – and looks backwards in ‘The Burning Building’ on the pain in, and recovery from, an unhappy marriage and the discovery of joy in a new relationship.
From the delicate detail of the unborn child who ‘brushed me with her lashes’ to its broad geographic sweep, the book bustles with life and colour and music. All the while, however, as it promotes the value of what she calls the ‘generous mercies’, her inventive, resolute voice learns ‘how today is made’. Strawberry Thief is a book of startling recognitions and revelations: its rich, exotic, sensual poems carrying ‘the moment aloft / brimming, like water in a silver cup’.
‘The rich pleasures of this fourth collection derive from the skill with which Berkeley internalises this natural landscape [rural Northern California} as an emotional territory at once exotic and intimate, to be charted with wild surmise. . . . Like Louise Glück’s The House on the Marshland and Medbh McGuckian’s earlier work, these poems choose to ‘hunker down near the rim of the world’ for their images, where they lucidly criss-cross boundaries between the speaker’s emotions and the landscape without succumbing to pathetic fallacy or becoming tritely confessional. . . . In such poems as ‘Dragonflies’, ‘Strawberry Thief’ and ‘Still Life, Yellow Quilt’, the balance of plain statement and sensuous description creates lines of delicate beauty, as in this to her daughter: ‘the earth is warm, and if I can help you bloom/ you will be pollen for the bees.” — Selina Guinness, The Irish Times