Book Review: Our Beautiful Scars by Jane Seabourne

Our Beautiful Scars, by Jane Seabourne, is a powerful examination of emotional fracture and a champion of the possibility that these things do not have to shame us, but instead lead to more beautiful spaces as we work to heal. In poetry that is neither overwrought nor spare, full of humour and reverence, this beautiful book published by Offa’s Press invites the reader to consider the benefits of embracing our whole selves, without reservation.

The Solution is Sensible Shoes

Polish. He called it oxblood.
Index finger working round

stitchwork, eyelets, tongue.
Right hand buffing, admiring

built up offal-coloured gloss.
Fashion-proof. Boy-proof.

Yvonne Bryant Wore Slingbacks, Jane Seabourne, Our Beautiful Scars


I remember school shopping for shoes every year. My eyes always danced over shiny patent leather, bow details and anything that might remind me of Dorothy’s slippers in The Wizard of Oz. I did grow up near Kansas, after all. But, my mother had other ideas and a completely different budget than most of the children I saw. It would be only sturdy Buster Brown Shoes for me, these needed to last the school year. I didn’t know back then that my parents probably had to save up for these. I certainly wasn’t thinking that when the girls shrieked there was a boy in the girls washroom because they spied my shoes under the stall. Two words in Seabourne’s poem bring that memory back to life for me: “Fashion-proof”.

But this poem is about so much more than the fashion, even though we are treated to the sight of sling backs from the beginning. It’s just a fleeting look until we are presented with the capable and practical oxford. The structure of the poem is brilliant. Paired lines are reminiscent of that buffing brush swiffing back and forth over the toe, the vamp, the heel of this school shoe. Seabourne also details the careful moving over every eyelet and piece of stitchwork with a focus that banishes the thought of romanticising this process. We are in every groove and crease of that leather, as if the possibility of attention to the wearer can be buffed out like so much grime.

As the poem closes, I think about this message. These shoes are boy-proof. These are the lessons we have been teaching to young girls for eons. Namely, that the behaviour and attention of the opposite sex is up to them to control. It is the foundational piece of victim blaming culture. It is the pre-cursor to the question: what was she wearing? that has dominated the conversation about women and their consent.

With this message laid so deeply and early, is it any wonder that victims feel guilt where they shouldn’t? After all, the solution is probably sensible shoes. I’ll be thinking of this the next time I buff my brogues.

She’s A Saint

Saint Lucy: you picture her—
one of those annoying girls
the sort your mother compared you to
and found you lacking. Good, kind,
she probably had naturally curly hair.

St. Lucy’s Day, Jane Seabourne, Our Beautiful Scars

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t familiar with Saint Lucy or her day and this poem made me want to find out more about it. But, the verses above made me think about the fine line between having role models and the toxicity of comparison. I’m never sure if my indoctrination to ‘be the best’ or ‘live up to expectations’ was a result of an uber competitive culture or a desire to please. As I read this poem it occurs to me that the most important piece of it is the idea of helping others. When someone is venerated to a status so high and emulation is impossible, how often do people just throw in the towel altogether?

Competition should be less important than compassion.

One of the things I love about this poem (and others) by Seabourne is that it shows us a more complete picture of the human experience. It shows us as we sometimes are, without a ‘beautify’ filter or a specially curated storyline. I feel for the narrator here, I connect with her. I also feel the ache of compassion for the homeless that she passes by and how they are suffering. In the end, this poem reminds me that there is far too much suffering and sometimes a gentle touch is more than enough to make a difference. Would the narrator stop and offer a blanket or an apple to one of these homeless people if she wasn’t so caught up in her memories that are clearly painful and point to deeper issues? Perhaps, she would. How many times have I been caught up in my own troubles and failed to recognize those of other humans around me? Far too, often, I’d wager.

St. Lucy’s Day is just one more fine example of Seabourne’s ability to connect us to the larger human experience within a few short stanzas.

Slowing Down for Perspective

Today, let us spend a quiet day,
Today, let us be deer.

In the days between Christmas and New Year, Jane Seabourne, Our Beautiful Scars

This poem is a hush in a storm of emotions. Written gently, it invites quiet contemplation. The opening verses describe in detail the movement of deer as they sit. We are treated to a precise movement of haunch and foreleg and it is as if the world slows down. In fact, I found my reading slowing down as I wandered through this poem.

When I read the title, I immediately thought of years past and those days between Christmas and New Year when I forgot what day of the week it was and everything seemed to stretch out lazy after the cacophony of holidays with all of their preparations.

This year is different for me. Is it for you, too?

I feel like the entirety of 2020 has been the days between Christmas and New Year. Not that it has been lazy or less hectic, though I suppose in some ways it might be. But in the way that lockdowns and life changes on a worldwide scale have altered our sense of time and place. I feel like we must have had a Spring, yet I can barely remember it. The months blur together and maybe Spring happened in the middle of Autumn. Maybe it only lasted a week?

I have also spent some of my time wandering woods, away from people and possible infection. I’ve been watching for foxes and listening to birds. In the forests of North Wales near the coast I swear there is a mossy saltiness to the air that both grounds me and moves me with the tides. I had to slow down to smell that, to feel it and let it take me away.

Seabourne couldn’t have known about this pandemic when this poem was penned and that makes it timeless to me. If you have moments of anxiety (I do!) I recommend a read of this poem. Read it slow. Then read it again, slower. Perhaps one day I will be able to do as the poet recommends and “sleep the sleep of deer”.

In Conclusion

Our Beautiful Scars, by Jane Seabourne, is a collection of poetry that tucks itself into the psyche of emotion and blooms. It is impossible to read this poetry and not reflect on our own experiences and our connectivity with others. No living thing makes it through life without scars. These scars can indicate deep damage, but they are also part of the complexity of humanity. With enough compassion, we may even begin to see them as Seabourne does: beautiful.

Our Beautiful Scars, by Jane Seabourne, is available for purchase through Offa’s Press.


About the Author

JANE SEABOURNE is a widely published writer and poet whose credits include The Guardian and Mslexia. She has lived on both sides of Offa’s Dyke, having grown up in South Wales, and currently works part-time in education. She lives in Tettenhall, Wolverhampton.

About the Press

OFFA’S PRESS is “dedicated to publishing and promoting the best in contemporary West Midland poetry and poets. It will do this through a series of publications and performances where the watchword will be ‘good on the page and good on stage’.

Offa’s Press is eclectic in range. It receives some development funding from Arts Council England and is run as a co-operative by a number of regional writers and poets with Simon Fletcher the Editor / Manager.”

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