‘Galloping Horses’ Setareh Ebrahimi, Reviewed

Reviewed ByMelissa Todd
‘Galloping Horses’ Setareh Ebrahimi

‘Galloping Horses’ Setareh Ebrahimi



‘There is no poetry in a life that was born/without love’ writes Setareh Ebrahimi, in this, her first full length poetry collection, ‘Galloping Horses’. The line opens the poem ‘Survivors’, which concerns the guilt one feels hearing or observing of people suffering in other lands – in this instance, Setareh’s own homeland of Iran. It gives us a flavour of the mingling of sorrow and relief, comfort and curiosity, one feels viewing atrocities from a place of peace. But love is certainly the keynote of this collection – familial love, in the main. This is a deeper, more mature collection than her pamphlet of 2018, ‘In My Arms’, which largely concerned Setareh’s youth – wild, rebellious, often at odds with family expectation. In this she looks back to her childhood with wiser eyes, which see her place settled within a narrative – mother, child, ancestry, heritage. Although not every moment can be cherished and preserved. ‘You need space to grow/more than I need memories’, she tells her daughter, Freya, to whom this collection is dedicated; despite every t-shirt and babygro seeming ‘embalmed’ and ‘holy’, she cannot cling to every scrap. It’s a beautiful, soaring paean to her child, ending with a bewitching description of that overwhelming, all-absorbing love, which conquers every sordid, practical concern, too good not to quote in full:

But if by some ironic twist

There was a banker at the door

to take what little I have to spare,

as I hold you facing me and kiss

your chin and we share air,

you look so in love, sated,

have not yet learned to hide,

I am in full alignment with present


Absolute perfection.

The first dozen or so poems concentrate on motherhood – her experiences of it, both as child and as mother. ‘Blessed be’ she says, over and over, in solemn salutation to the screaming cries, the pain, the hospital lights, ‘the body’s ooze’, which accompany childbirth and the early days of motherhood, for ‘No one told you there would be as much/of everything as there is love,/and you can’t tell anyone.’ She isn’t afraid to tackle the grim, visceral aspects of motherhood, finding as much poetry in the drudgery, the endless chores, the new body that forms around the gaping space a child leaves, as in the transformative love. You are still beautiful, she tells us, and there is magic in the mundane, as well as the sublime. In particular, many of her poems seem to centre around sleeping, an overriding obsession for many a new mother: lingering descriptions abound of duvets, white sheets, soft warm backs to press against. It gives the collection a dreamy, soothing quality, from which the reader is regularly shaken and returned to a brutal wakefulness.

Take ‘Monster’, a tirade against a man who’s learned to manipulate women by grasping their language and secrets, using these tools to control and humiliate. ‘At the monster’s ball… there are broken dolls/that used to spin full-centre,/refracting as if through a kaleidoscope,/glittering like powdered quartz.’ This is the flipside of love and Setareh captures it and stares it down with powerful use of language and imagery: love that destroys is no love at all, but ‘the Weinstein way.’ Indeed, over and over we see profound, moving truths expressed so simply and gently they take a moment to hit, then make you gasp with their brutal, succinct honesty. I loved ‘Glittery Fairy Princess’, which tells of an introverted child at a birthday party, the anxiety of saying or wearing something wrong which might mark you out as an outsider; conversely, ‘My Auntie’s Flat’, a powerfully moving description of the peace and safety a trusted adult can inspire in a child,  ending with the devastating line, made more brutal by its deadpan delivery: ‘That feeling in my Auntie’s flat, I suppose some children have that all the time.’

‘Galloping Horses’ offers the promise of a transformative human connection. It reflects on how the richness of an internal life is often the best defence against a bruising, brutal world, where wolves and monsters lurk in shadows. It takes the language of love, explores it, transcends it, gently exhorts to kindness, and beyond all else, offers reassurance.

Melissa Todd