Review: ‘Closer Baby Closer’ captures girlhood and growing pains
In her newest book, Savannah Brown paints an intimate portrait of girlhood in the context of modern intimacy — to other people, the world and, most importantly, yourself.
Savannah Brown’s latest poetry collection, “Closer Baby Closer,” envisions a definition of love that is not exclusively romantic. Her poems of timid love focus on relationships, time and mere existence. She writes with a youthful lens and styles her feelings in a coming of age collection of poetry. With ambitious and wide-scoped imagery, Brown’s work hangs onto her youthful years.
If you, like me, spent your pre-teen years in the bookish corners of YouTube, Brown may initially come to mind as a social media personality, but she is a writer first. Brown has published three collections of poetry and two novels. I admit that this is the first book I’ve read by her, but as an avid consumer of her spoken-word, her work has the tendency to leave a dark, bitter-sweet taste on your tongue.
The power of “Closer Baby Closer” comes from its interrogation of girlhood. In the poem “THE HOTTEST GIRL IN THE WORLD!!!!!”, Brown satirizes the aestheticization of girlhood, which is romanticized in the current era of girlhood: growing pains in the digital age. What effect does the internet have on becoming a woman?
The hottest girl, as Brown alludes to, is always watched. Brown writes in the poem that after the hottest girl passes the bar exam, “we’re so very proud.” At first, I wasn’t sure to whom “we” referred. Noticing that the hottest girl is always “online,” my assumption is that “we” refers to an ambiguous audience of followers: She is both seen by and influences many. Such is the power of the internet. “We” are addicted to her behavior because she is “our glittery idiot savior; The exquisite God we despise.” Brown’s dramatic declarations that draw upon the divine remind me of cliché tropes of love-hate relationships regarding idealized feminine figures — such as Summer from “500 Days of Summer.” Brown adds to a tradition of satirizing this depiction, making much of social media seem like internet propaganda which convinces — and conforms — us to certain beliefs.
I believe Brown’s unique take on this trope conveys the disposable nature of the hottest girl. In the span of a few lines, the new hottest girl is born and the old one, “crucifies.” The hottest girl, despite her praise, is replaceable. I find the difference between engagement and entertainment is that the former is genuine while the latter is cheap and quick; it comes in trends. Brown pushed me to ask a question: If the internet is a tidal wave of trends, what happens when it’s built on a branded personality?
At 26 years old, Brown’s writing still has a sense of adolescence. In the poem “My god, girlhood ripened,” Brown’s speaker reflects on growing up. She remembers losing her virginity and her “seventeenth earth year.” Brown’s qualifying marker of age, “earth year,” reminded me of Shakespeare’s marker of time for Juliet in his play “Romeo and Juliet”: “[Juliet] is yet a stranger in the world; She hath not seen the change of fourteen years, / Let two more summers wither in their pride.” This leads me to believe that Brown is thinking in the realm of classical star-crossed romances. In “New years, overstimulation” she continues this allusion and writes “each time Juliet dies her lips / are warm and blue with juice that precious little / bitch.” She pulls from a long history of girls growing up, and messing up along the way. These subtle allusions are my favorite moments in Brown’s work — where the images are precise and small-scaled.
Brown’s worlds, however, are often big. She consistently incorporates cosmic symbols. For instance in the above poem, the term “earth year” implies there are years concurrently on other planets, and she often references “astronauts.” These galactic descriptions force us to think about our human relationship to the universe — highlighting our insignificance amid coexistence. Yet, I feel as though her imagery is sometimes not focused enough. In poems like “Current events,” readers meet slugs, the world population and soldiers, all in the span of just 22 lines. These wide-scope images become too sporadic and fleeting for someone to visualize them. As soon as I build an image — beautiful, of course, dressed in Brown’s brilliant writing — it slips away.
One of Brown’s techniques which excited me the most was her evolution of certain words throughout the collection. Take the word possession, for example. In “New years, overstimulation,” Brown presents possession as a word that “can mean that something is yours / or that something is living inside you.” Then, in the poem “Animal, impulse” she writes, “what new world you hope for / when you agreed to this self-possession.” The word “possession” embarks on a journey; “self-possession” implies that you belong to yourself. You are your own — a meaning which fuses the dichotomy she initially proposed. These word plots serve as a key for readers to decode. Words across many poems take on their own poetic progression based on the connections the reader makes. In doing so, Brown’s poetry collection becomes a public diary of girlhood: With fragmented images rooted in the commonplace of emotions, she creates a collage for readers to personalize.
“Closer Baby Closer” prompted so many feelings and ideas that I can’t squeeze into this one review — there is so much left to say. I will concisely say this: Brown is an inspiring young writer who takes initiatives to empower those like me, to pick up the pen and begin. She put forth her girlhood into the world and raised my curious mind with her words. Her writing, like her presented personality, is quirky and witty. I wonder if the reason I haven’t read one of her books until now is because I felt I had gained enough from her as a perception of a person — as a writer and thinker on social media. The image of who she is has only deepened through engaging with her poetry. Her writing feels like a continuation of the persona, an extension of that self. I understand her words with a sense of the personality behind them; who she is influences what I am reading .