home Arts & Literature Review: Courtney Peppernell’s Pillow Thoughts

Review: Courtney Peppernell’s Pillow Thoughts

Pillow Thoughts is one of three books by Australian writer Courtney Peppernell published in 2017 and has become one of my favourite modern collections. Originally published in 2016, Pillow Thoughts gained international attention, with even The Chainsmokers talking about how much they love the work. Andrews McMeel then republished the collection in 2017, along with Peppernell’s second poetry collection and a novel. Clearly Peppernell is not to be taken lightly.

You should see the amount of little sticky notes I have carefully stuck into this book, I may as well have stuck one on every page. My roommate caught me reading it, raised one of her perfectly-shaped eyebrows and said, “I take it you’re enjoying that, are you?”

I was. Though there’s something about poetry collections that makes me want to say “I am.” I’m still enjoying it. Poetry doesn’t leave you so quickly – that’s one of the things I really love about it. It helps me ask questions and look for answers all at the same time. I’ve been in a bit of a rut recently, and Pillow Thoughts has helped me shift out of it.

The collection is divided into ten different sections, spanning over 250 pages. There’s no real need to read them consecutively, however. They’re each intended to be read while the reader is in a particular frame of mind – my personal favourite being “if you are heartbroken.” There’s one for wistfulness, love, heartbreak, loneliness, sadness, emptiness, encouragement, soul-searching, finding reasons to live, and (sweetly) the final part is dedicated to her partner, Rhian.

Peppernell makes no big fuss about her sexuality. Without concentrating on what pronouns she uses in her love poetry, nothing about this collection really talks about her experience with being a member of the LGBTQ+ community. But I think this is a really natural touch that I really enjoyed about her writing; her love is recognisable to anyone; her feelings are universal. The love between her and her partner is not portrayed as a big, public, fuck-you to society (even though I love that kind of poetry too) – instead it’s as banal as love can be. This might seem like an obvious thing but it was something that really stuck with me after I finished reading.

For example;
Love is not always roses, honey, and tea. Sometimes it is
difficult being you, and sometimes it is difficult being me. And
in the night if we are restless and our love struggles to make
sense, know that I will fight for us. Because I love you, and I
know that you love me.

The universality of poems such as this one are what really appeal to me. Her love is no different to those in a straight relationship. She normalises her love in an often all too hegemonic society which demonises such relationships, and labels them as ‘unnatural’. No one could argue that anything in this is strange or unnatural with a straight face (pardon the pun). It’s also a refreshing use of rhyme that rolls off the tongue and creates a calming rhythm. Rhyme appears to be used less and less by young poets, who instead opt for free verse forms, but nothing about this feels forced or – that word again – unnatural. Another seemingly mundane thing turned into something profound; I’m seriously impressed with Peppernell’s poetic skill.

She reminds me of Rupi Kaur in how she really draws on raw emotions, often using concise language to express how she feels. Courtney’s are, in general, a little more long-winded than that of Kaur, and plumped out with adjectives and striking metaphor, though sometimes a page only contains a single sentence that contains as much power as a paragraph.

I am no more the person that you left than you are the person that
I miss.

These poets use very different metaphors to convey similar themes of heartbreak, self-love, inner strength, and finding beauty in the world around them. I’m a big fan of women’s writing, and love comparing and contrasting how they express their life experiences – I suppose what I’m really trying to say is that even if you weren’t a fan of Milk and Honey, I would still recommend trying out Pillow Thoughts. While they’re distinct from each other, I find that there’s some commonality between them and the essence of women’s inner strength that shines through both of their works.

Though I haven’t yet had the opportunity to read them, Peppernell has three other books out (The Road Between, Keeping Long Island, and Chasing Paper Cranes) two of which, as I mentioned before, she also published in 2017. You don’t even need to be a writer to see how impressive a feat that is. I have no doubt that I’ll be picking these up as soon as I can get my hands on them.

…I’ll have to buy a whole new set of sticky notes for that endeavour.