This collection reads as if a Victorian composer, carrying her valise of new operetta libretti, collided in the street with a watchmaker, his briefcase of sketches for a new time-keeping device, and a genderfluid astronomer toting the patent forms for a mechanised solar model made of blown egg shells and bird skulls. Their papers, shuffled together by misdirected desires, unspoken and even unconscious intentions, lead to an entirely new work — a sheaf of pages where the negative space of silence speaks as pressingly as the shape of song.
I often think of Emily Dickinson when I read Alison Glenny. There are the same provoking gaps and absences, the same particular gaze; and always — to adapt one of Alison Glenny’s own phrases — the steady habit of turning starlight into song.
Reading Bird Collector is like walking through the rooms of a nineteenth century house, filled with curiosities but also with a deeper sense of buried trauma: both on a personal and an environmental scale. The fragmentary pieces invite the reader to search for a narrative at the same time as they frustrate this desire—much like the appearance and disappearance of ghosts or spirits. Alison Glenny’s writing suggests a literary lineage that includes Gertrude Stein and Anne Carson. There is a mastery of technique and a skilled repurposing of language and text. I am very much in awe of this work.
Counterpointing lyrical prose poems with notes and glosses written in the manner of a formidable antiquarian scholar, Alison Glenny’s Bird Collector makes you feel like you’re attending an elite school in a land of dreams. This is a book that interrogates tradition, literature, and human–ecosystem interactions with equal dexterity. Light, shadow, birds, paper, ash, and sky flicker beckoningly across the pages as we watch carefully, holding our metaphorical butterfly nets, ready to put the best specimens in scientific cabinets. This book will be welcomed by every reader who loves precision as much as imagination.