Sophia Wilson is an Australian-born writer and translator based in Aotearoa New Zealand where she runs a rural property and animal refuge with her partner and three daughters. Her poetry has appeared in journals and anthologies in Australasia and internationally, and won awards including the Robert Burns Poetry Competition, the Hippocrates Prize, and the Caselberg Trust International Poetry Prize. In 2022 she was joint-winner of the inaugural Flying Islands Manuscript Prize. (More at: https://sophiakwilson.wordpress.com/)
Sea Skins slips in, out and under the skins of language, poetry and all that makes us dignified, and rages, laments, calls out to the personal and environmental damage we wreak on ourselves and our planet. This is an intelligent and brilliantly written book—from Wilson’s multi-lingual turn of phrase and her skilful weaving of scientific, medical, agricultural and archaeological discourse, to the striking and formal structures and use of space on the page; we are, in turn, ravaged and incised to come out the other side breathless and also, wondrously, sail-filled.
Sea Skins by Sophia Wilson is a scintillating collection. The poems are wide ranging in their topics, accomplished in their forms and lyrical in their evocation. They speak of the body, memory, landscape, family dynamics, small moments and big concerns in a unique manner. Layers of the safe and familiar are peeled back to reveal deeper, emotionally charged and provocative truths. Throughout, Wilson charges her work with an electric wordsmithing which makes each poem thrum.
Sophia’s poems have an inherent tension between a formal sophistication and restraint, and the sensory lushness of the natural world that flows through them. They draw links between the endangered biosphere and the human body, the transient and fragile vessel that contains each of us.
Her careful, gentle but unflinching observations range over time and space, through language and culture. There are multi-layered themes: the subtle contrasts between Australian and New Zealand landscapes and seascapes, the political contradictions of our time, the slow depredations of age, the anxieties of a world scarred by the awareness of impending catastrophe.
While these poems are always respectful and grounded in the local, the small and the universal found in the particular, they can also be outward looking, expansively imaginative and possessing a global sense of context and scale.
They also strike hard for those of us at a similar phase of life as the poet. The uncertainty of parenthood in a world with an uncertain future, and witnessing the inevitable ageing of our own parents, is a powerful thread in these poems that provides an emotional depth and a centre for the collection in personal experience.
The section of the collection, ‘Medical Records’, presents a surreal, vivid, visceral series of poems that explore the world of medicine, surgery and dis-ease. A former health professional and winner of the Hippocrates Prize for Poetry, Sophia uses her knowledge and experience in a specific field as the entrance point to a wider meditation on existence, selfhood and the navigation of “obscure and treacherous rocks / on which a body-ship / might wreck.”
With a sustained sense of “musicality and physicality”, Sea Skins is a collection with a unique voice and integrity.
A poet of intellect, luminosity and fierce discontent at our lasting endangerments, Wilson both tenderly seduces the ear and sets the nerves on edge with her indelible witness. She’s a poet that sifts through our scars and crimes with intricate control and a fine-gauge eye, yet with urgency and activism always pressing on her tongue. Equal parts restlessness, passion and precision, Sea Skins palpates the threshold of crisis, from our “bleeding inner coastlines” to our “mass extinctions”, exposing “the real, bleak, airless deal[s] going down” in lines that glimmer, strike and linger.