Culture Writer Jaiden Griffin reviews poetry collection Mother Night describing it as a fragile collection that deals with the highs and lows of mental health

Written by Jaigriff
Images by Jaiden Griffin

Content and trigger warnings for this review include: self-harm, sexual abuse, child abuse, mental illnesses.

Serge Neptune’s poetry collection Mother Night is an odyssey of self-healing, resilience and hope continuously battling with a typhoon of grief, dolour and vulnerability. Mother Night is his second pamphlet, following These Queer Merboys, published in 2020. Dubbed ‘the little merman of British poetry’, Neptune is a queer neuro-divergent, London based poet whose work focuses on queerness, mental health and sexuality.

Guiding readers on an intimate tour through the speaker’s consciousness, spirit and history, Mother Night is a fragile collection which refuses to let darkness prevail. The world we navigate is scattered with childhood traumas of sexual assault and 4am hook-ups, opening a chasm of emotion and acceptance we bridge together with the speaker. Bringing to life lovers, abusers, and the realities of modern queerness, Mother Night refuses to abandon hope, ultimately presenting itself as an anthem of resilience, a hand always searching for new light.

Mother Night is a fragile collection which refuses to let darkness prevail

The fluctuating placement of poems throughout the collection speaks to the highs and lows of dealing with mental health. Introducing the pamphlet with nothing but hope, we go into the collection optimistic, supporting our reading experience through the darkest scenes, reminding us that perseverance is the key to self-healing. The opening poem is composed of a single line, which remained with me until the closing notes; ‘& if you will it strongly enough, even the dead can dance’. During moments of self-harm, assault and day-dreaming, we are always brought back to this reminder, providing an anchor of aspiration to facilitate the courage to dive deeper into the speaker’s subconscious.

Conflict between night and day becomes established as a central motif early on. The speaker appears initially comfortable in the dark cover of night, likening it to the smooth roll of a marble, or the embrace of a mother swan to its young. However, the more his guard is let down, the easier it becomes for the night to ‘cook us slowly’ as ‘night drips red-hot on the brain’. Even during scenes of day, we experience contrast as the warm orange and yellow autumn skies provide a rare moment of calm. This is short lived as the colours taunt our optimism, ‘smirking’ as ‘sickly beautiful’ men are likened to a shot deer. Comfort becomes deprived as our journey is forced into one of dealing with inner demons, represented by a disruption in the format, as the speaker addresses us directly, providing an insight into his childhood abuses.

Our reading experience is treated with care, as if we are the ones in need of healing

Opposite to the treatment faced by the speaker, our reading experience is treated with care, as if we are the ones in need of healing. Fundamentally, this vulnerability represents the collection well. The pain explored is personal, but equally reflective of a wider queer experience. Although the speaker feels used and manipulated by the men in this anthology, the acknowledgement that they are ‘hunting inside for what can heal them’, reinforces that this anger is embedded within the pain many queer people experience whilst attempting to navigate their own identities and traumas.

The closing poems round off the work beautifully. Pondering on a discovery in a Prague monastery, the speaker arrives at the realisation which has been throughout; ‘you have grieved enough // given up many parts of yourself’. The light at the end of the tunnel is very real, but the light goes beyond this, as it is only the penultimate piece. The final poem invites readers to remember black transgender woman Marsha P Johnson, whose life and activism contributed to the modern queer liberation and rights movement. The work is dedicated to queerness and our collective history and experience. During a time of increased violence, division and hate, community is all many have, and embracing that as a form of hope and resilience is the perfect end to a marvellously raw poetry collection.

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