A confrontational debut collection exploring our intimate and ecological dependencies, Life Without Air is a vivid and evocative collection of poems from Daisy Lafarge. Forcing us to consider the parasitic elements of toxic relationships, Daisy uses a real variety of techniques to confound us as readers, and almost add to a feeling of combustion that we can sense from the writing.

Daisy Lafarge grew up in Sussex and South London and has lived in Scotland since 2011, until recently. She received an Eric Gregory Award in 2017, and a Betty Trask Award in 2019 for a novel, Paul, forthcoming with Granta. Life Without Air is her first poetry collection, and as a debut this will certainly put her on the map .

When Louis Pasteur observed the process of fermentation, he noted that, while most organisms perished from lack of oxygen, some were able to thrive as ‘life without air’. Suffocating relationships and establishments are prominent within this collection, and Daisy uses analogy and form to force us to confront the airlessness that these environments catalyse.

The first of the poems in the collection, Meridian, enables a feeling of claustrophobia, she uses the same 8 letters line after line. Feed is an observation, something we have witnessed so often. Discharge is a poem that carries dystopian imagery, so vivid, so evocative, which has a gritty underworld vibe to it. Song of the Ugly Lake is a short haiku that has a striking immediate resonance with where we are now, “as if the very air could oxidise pain.”

Her Understudies in Air creates an awareness of your own breathing, the ways in which you consume air, as we think about breathing in more toxic environments. The imagery in Ghosted, metaphors of good love to good bacteria and it being eaten alive, by parasites no doubt in Lafarge’s ecological environment.

The title poem, Life Without Air references Empedocles several times. Empedocles is considered the last Greek philosopher to write in verse, which gives this poem a sense of the meta. P word has a focus on parasites with nice amount of alliteration throughout.

Distinct for being ecologically nuanced Life Without Air bridges poetry and prose to interrogate the conditions necessary for survival. Fusing science, literature and art, Lafarge intellectually explores the ecosystem that human environments can permeate. Confrontational and experimental, it’s impossible to read this collection without it having an abhorrent effect. Lafarge has set the bar high with this wonderful debut collection.

Photo courtesy of Sophie Davidson

Life Without Air is available from 5th November, published by Granta