Shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2021
PBS Special Commendation Summer 2021
Alice Hiller’s debut performs an act of witness and restitution. Working with her childhood and adolescent medical notes, bird of winter creates a redemptive language to speak the darkness of being sexually abused by a family member. Through the excavated histories of Pompeii and Herculaneum, these poems additionally document the grooming that prepares a child for sexual abuse, and the vulnerability which remains afterwards. Calling up the landscapes and relationships which sustained her, as well as the injury she experienced, Hiller reflects the nature and impact of a crime to which millions around the world are subjected – and asks how we may find our ways towards healing.
'Alice Hiller’s bird of winter is a vital work of poetic witness. It is necessary, alive, resilient. Unflinching in its account of childhood abuse and trauma, it depicts a world ‘harsh as ash over sunshine’ and in its process of recovery, makes of it something beautiful and new.'
Karen McCarthy Woolf
'bird of winter reminds us that the root of courage, etymological and otherwise, is heart. Prepare, Dear Reader, to feel.'
'Alice Hiller’s project is the excavation of a city of grief from beneath the ashes of memory. It does what poetry does best: it makes a new, hard-won truth and a beauty of its absences and denials. Its partial shapes and unstable formal qualities consequently come to live in the reader.
It doesn’t redeem, it scorches.'
‘This collection bears witness to the resilience of human nature, with poetry giving voice to the silences within that are so hard to talk about. Yet they must be voiced, and Alice Hiller has turned her devastating childhood experiences into a narrative of transformation that everyone should read.’
Mary Mulholland, The Alchemy Spoon
‘Between the obscurity and bewilderment of her erasure poems, and her other visually arresting, formally playful work, Hiller never loses sight of the vivid world in which an escape from oppressive interiority is made possible.’
'Alice Hiller’s potent debut collection, Bird of Winter, commands respect and reverence. Composure is required to absorb this essential and courageously intimate exploration of sexual abuse. [...] Hiller’s fearless writing is neither crude nor violent despite indicating unbearable violations. The specifics and long-standing impact of abuse are rarely written with such tender flair. [Her] words are cathartic, proud, persistent and we are compelled to read to further our understanding of a violation perturbingly common. [...] Through dynamic form and the powerful imagery of excavated histories, that offers a deeper awareness of the reality of sexual abuse and the consequent devastation, Hiller reclaims a voice that we are compelled to hear. This is a poet so brave, resolved to gather the ruins of an appalling early childhood and redefine herself as more than a catastrophic moment in time.'
Victoria Lothian, Dundee University Review of the Arts
'Hiller’s writing is precise, delicate and starkly austere. [...] These accessible poems often reflect the vulnerability of the speaker as a child and make use of white space and fragments of text. The disturbing subject matter is depicted with care and distance through searing image-making. An exceptional début, courageous and devastating in equal measure. This is a profoundly moving and important book, which oscillates between life and death, loss and regeneration, light and dark. The final poem ‘o goddess isis’ epitomises the speaker’s movement towards freedom, to ‘dissolve night’, ‘reveal the sunrise’.'
Jennifer Lee Tsai, Mslexia