Sarah Cooper’s Of Feathers and Fire Finds Strength in Struggle

Intimate poems that explore the pain of mental illness and heartache with candid vulnerability

In the preface of Sarah Cooper’s debut book of poetry, Of Feathers and Fire: Fragments From a Fractured Mind, she advises the reader to prepare for an existential journey—an overwrought description common to young poets. Fortunately, Cooper delves into the murkiness of mental illness and heartache with language that swings deftly from slippery clichés to punches of brilliance, eclipsing what came before.

In her acknowledgements Cooper confides Of Feathers and Fire began as a journal entry and the intimateness of that vulnerability still clings to the page:

I am just so tired. / I love you, / I don’t think you love me. / You will never be mine, / I am already yours

Her poems brush against the cringing embarrassment of lost love confided in an old diary and make us at home in the stomach-lurching company of quiet desperation. The discomfort is important; Cooper is guiding us through fragments of her internal collapse—it’s not supposed to feel good. And yet, with certain bittersweet lines of recognition, it can. “If I would like to stay off the floor / Now would be a good time to lie down,” Cooper says in “It May Be Safer to Sip a Guinness.”

These are the poems you read when the world seems dark, because Cooper has been there and with the right direction all things drift gently towards the light.

You shouldn’t love someone for their potential, / They will forever disappoint you with it. / Don’t fall in love with a dream, / It will never leave your bed

In Of Feathers and Fire Cooper mixes titled and untitled pieces, employs unpredictable page breaks and arranges her poems so that they spill into each other—it’s hard to tell where things begin and end and in the same cyclical and knotted way one faces the unnumbered days of grief or depression. But, there is hope here too. In the rousing “Here to Stay” she promises:

I will stand up / Brush the dust from my body. / I may have been lost for a moment, / But I was never gone. / I do not disappear

Fierce from the trek, Cooper’s arrival in her debut book is one of strength and resilience. Though fractured and at times indulgent, Of Feathers and Fire attains moments of clarity that will resonate with the deepest parts of you.

Of Feathers and Fire: Fragments From a Fractured Mind
Sarah Cooper
Penumbra Press

Written By

Lindsay Raining Bird lives and works in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her writing has appeared on CBC, The Coast, Broken Pencil and She will never stop reading.

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