Review: Julia Webb’s ‘Threat’

This second collection from Julia Webb is published by the fantastic Nine Arches Press. Consisting of four sections, the reader is thrown into a world of violence, loss and family expertly examined with an unflinching eye.

In the first section, ‘Body of evidence’ the poems have a sinister tinge, rooted in the physical. The opening poem in the collection ‘Spillage’ focuses closely on the body, building a sense of urgency through the listing form. Images pile on top of one another, sexual and visceral in tone with phrases like “open legs where the heart should be”. This undercurrent bubbles into the subsequent poems such as ‘Dates’ which contains similarly unsettling images: 

“just another bone-bleached day” and deeper into the collection in ‘What I said was only the tip of the iceberg’ with “body as foot soldier/ as hand grenade.” 

Violence against the female body enters the fray in later poems in this section as the threats become more tangible. Domestic violence in ‘She was a biscuit barrel or barrel shaped at least’ is explored with a magnifying glass, made more unsettling by the mundanity of the final images: “the shopping was scattered across the floor/ the dog was whining in the hall.”

The empathy shown for the vulnerability of women changes tack as vulnerability of young men takes centre stage in poems such as ‘Weir’ and ‘Colt’. Many of the poems in the second half of this section focus on young men and brothers as in ‘Elegy’ and ‘Oh Brother’ and they feel raw in their grief and the way Webb uses fresh and unexpected motifs like 

“Did the world always fit wrong

Like those days you pull a sock on and off

And on and off because the seam won’t fit right.”

The last poem in this section ‘Bus Station Toilets’ feels very nostalgic in its collection of places that feel very personal thanks to the very close detail in the descriptions.

These places such as the ‘bus station’ bubble into the next poem which opens the second section ‘Tell me more lies about love’. From the outset, the threat of sexual violence is everywhere, ending with the warning “Make sure your Mum’s friend never gives you a ride home alone.” The speaker’s hometown feels oppressive with danger lurking in every corner and this continues through this section with the creepiness of the inappropriate male gaze in ‘Moths’ and the predatory nature in ‘Grammar School Boys.’ Lines like the opening of ‘Just’ : “He said her skin was soft, so soft, and young…” are very unsettling. As in the first section, there is a sense of tragedy and this section finishes with the aftermath of sexual violence.

The last two sections are more abstract in description as Webb moves from the immediacy of these events and begins to look backwards. This gives these poems a lighter feel and the collection ends on a much more positive note with ‘All the Women’, a wonderful poem exploring the positivity of womanhood and the support women extend to one another. The raw feelings in the collection are explained here as “the women / they are building their bakeries inside me” and Webb acknowledges her role as speaker with the final line in the collection: 

“I open my book beak and inadvertently sing”.

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