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Zoë Brigley

Notes from a Swing State

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‘Zoë Brigley chronicles frightening and disorientating political shifts across Trump’s America, as well as aftershocks felt across the Atlantic. With journalistic rigour and a poet’s attentiveness to the least obvious detail, her sense of social justice is woven into her writing with delicacy and strength, in a voice that is neither daunted nor hectoring. Whether writing about motherhood or girlhood, home or abroad, she is particularly attuned to the most subtle forms of both violence and hope, and so with startlingly beautiful imagery can offer the reader new ways of gathering morale in disheartening times.’ – Emily Trahair, editor of Planet magazine

‘Whatever her declared subject, Zoë Brigley writes out of loss. The traumas of the past are ever present, as are the horrors of the political contemporary. But in each of these luminous essays – some rising out of lived experience, others residing in the dreams or silences of the creative spirit – she paints for us a world where beauty beckons and hope prevails. “We have the language now,” she tells us, “to imagine what freedom might look like.” Read Zoë Brigley and rejoice.’ —Maureen Freely, author of Sailing through Byzantium


In The Reviews:

'These Notes from a Swing State are written with an openness to ideas redolent of Rebecca Solnit and a pellucid clarity which brings to mind the essays of fellow poet Kathleen Jamie. [...] This a short book which brims over with ideas, craves protection for the vulnerable, and enters a civilized and civilizing voice into the debate about violence, suggesting that poetry might be a powerful voice for disenfranchised groups [...] In just under a hundred pages this is a sane, wise corrective for our troubled times, spotlighting some (more) of the idiocies of Trump’s America and making the case for art which gives voice to those silenced by threats of violence, violence at home, on the street, or, most worryingly in the case of the United States, in the classrooms and corridors of their schools.' – Jon Gower, Nation.Cymru

'one of the most immediate and striking characteristics of Notes from a Swing State: Writing from Wales and America, is its boldness and lucidity of expression [...] A criticism often levelled at the personal essay is its potential for self-indulgence. In the case of Notes from a Swing State, however, Brigley's maintained focus on critically relevant topics including gender inequality, mass shootings, and social deprivation prevent the essays from drifting towards decadence. Each narrative integrates the subjective with the objective in a balance which illuminates the most crucial aspects of both.' – Polly Manning, the welsh agenda

'If, as for Raymond Williams, great shifts in time and society are a picking up and setting back down again, then surely we are currently within just such an undefined state, the consequences of which are unknown until the settling and evaluating that comes with the aftermath. The swing state of this new collection of essays by Zoë Brigley is not only Ohio and the Electoral College, but self, home, nationhood and identity. Body, mind and the interactions between them within temporal and physical spaces are navigated throughout a work swinging itself between academic form, personal recollection, metaphor, allegory and memoir. [...] Here Brigley offers the view from the swinging-state, not a given, not a pendulum of history – there will be no returning, trusted, fixed points, nor faith in rules of physics or numbers on this journey – but a moving back and forth across more than geographical borders, in juxtaposition with the swinging states of womanhood, motherhood, loss, growth and identity. [...] In our current climate we are searching collective memory and experience for a way to diagnose and heal the psychic wound inflicted by unending elections, referenda, guns, bills, power and ideology. We would do well to keep this intervention from Brigley within our cultural first aid kit, and to heed its warnings. We read, we write, we talk. We answer these letters with our own.' – Cath Beard, Planet


These creative nonfiction essays consider girlhood, motherhood, violence at home and abroad, violence against women, the consolation in writing, trauma, and redemption.

The essays celebrate and interrogate popular and literary culture: for example the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Alun Lewis’s love letters, and David Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’.

These timely meditations on women, ethics, and writing bring insights that only an immigrant and traveller like Brigley could provide.


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Zoë Brigley (also Zoë Brigley Thompson), originally from Wales, is now assistant professor at the Ohio State University. She has three poetry collections The Secret (2007) and Conquest (2012), and her most recent, Hand and Skull (2019). She also co-edited the volume Feminism, Literature and Rape Narratives (2010). She is currently editing the Bloomsbury Guide to Poetry in the UK and Ireland.