Review: The pain and beauty of modern intimacy in ‘Closer Baby Closer’

Savannah Brown’s third poetry collection is an exploration of the existential horror of knowing and being known. Fittingly released on Feb. 14, Brown’s newest title contains her most intimate work yet.


Susan Behrends Valenzuela

Savannah Brown’s third poetry collection is published this month — her most intimate work yet. (Illustration by Susan Behrends Valenzuela)

Stephanie Wong, Film & TV Editor

Savannah Brown is 26 years old, and has already accumulated an impressive literary career. From her first collection, “Graffiti,” which features poems about adolescent fears, to her two novels, “The Truth About Keeping Secrets” and “The Things We Don’t See,” Brown’s dark, moody lyricism and pensive writing style has held an unrelenting grip on her readers.

Brown founded Doomsday Press, an independent publishing company, in 2022, after realizing that traditional publishing just wasn’t her thing. “Closer Baby Closer” is her first title published under Doomsday.

“Closer Baby Closer” also happens to be my favorite work of hers. Whereas “Graffiti” contained some of her most vulnerable and relatable work, her second collection, “Sweetdark,” sees Brown venturing into new stylistic territory with distinct technical prowess. “Closer Baby Closer” marries the stylistic maturity of “Sweetdark” with the intense relatability of “Graffiti,” marking it as her strongest collection yet.

Brown demonstrates a piercing ability to describe intimate moments from past relationships with painful specificity, articulating buried grief over ex-lovers that sometimes seem to escape language. Shortly after finishing my first read, I texted my friend: “It was as though she performed open heart surgery on me and I was awake. Or like she cut me open and smeared my insides all over a glass pane, for everyone to witness.”

The book is separated into three sections, each embodying a different stage of the speaker’s evolving perception of modern intimacy. The first section contains poems that all depict the struggle of knowing and losing a partner who was once significant, and the lingering hurt and consequent hesitancy to consider forging a relationship with someone new.

One of my favorite titles from this section is “Recorded talismans of intimacy.” This poem is a love letter written post-breakup that reminds the reader of the transience of relationships that once held monumental spaces in their life. Written as a series of short, evocative descriptions — “one million hairs left on the carpet in the event that you need to clone me,” “the desire to hear about your day relentless as a fetish” and “a word mispronounced and swiftly mocked” — Brown describes a figurative graveyard that contains remnants from a relationship past. 

“The problem with other people” is another standout. The poem revolves around the speaker’s obsessive inner conflict between the hesitancy of allowing oneself to be known — and, therefore, vulnerable — and the desire to form a significant connection with another person. Brown’s confessional style imbues her poems with a sharp and bitter poignancy.

The remainder of the first section describes the speaker as she grapples with the prospect of a new romantic connection. Brown includes a plethora of poems to highlight the dramatics of this experience: The awkward uncertainty of a first date, a grotesquely uncomfortable encounter with an ex-lover at a party, the stifling spiraling of retroactive jealousy and the irrationality that so often accompanies new love. 

The second section of “Closer Baby Closer” acts as an interlude, featuring a lengthy, typewritten stream-of-consciousness confession resembling lines of code. Each page contains different lines of internal dialogue, the speaker ruminating on the aftermath of a severed romantic relationship. The section acts as a bookend for the previous one, as the following poems reflect a more assertive speaker grappling with the oddities of dating again in a world where physical and digital intimacy go hand in hand.

In the collection’s third section, Brown’s ability to write work that is refreshingly modern and indelibly suited for the digital age — often against the backdrop of an apocalyptic world with dashes of cosmic nihilism — is on full display. In “Jeff Bezos’ sexts,” Brown exhibits her more playful side to satirize and highlight the absurdity of modern capitalist society. The second part of the poem, as the title suggests, is written using only words and phrases from Bezos’ texts to his former mistress Lauren Sanchez, which were leaked to the public in 2019. The poem — which is already funny due to its sheer bizarreness — illustrates the base and carnal desires of one of the wealthiest men in the world.

One of the most memorable poems in “Closer Baby Closer,” “THE HOTTEST GIRL IN THE WORLD!!!!!” falls into a similar vein, mentioning OnlyFans — the online subscription-based service used primarily by sex workers — and a girl “drinking gallons and gallons / of oat milk.” With this poem, among others in the final section, Brown comments cynically on the social currency that sexuality has become in today’s culture, depicting intimacy as a transactional act.

Throughout the book, Brown shifts from the emotional to the corporeal with poems that exude eroticism and sensuality. “Closer Baby Closer” could be read as a coming-of-age story of sorts, with the speaker moving on from a significant relationship and then embracing and asserting her sexual identity in the digital age. The subject matter of Brown’s work in the third part of the book is markedly more lighthearted, with her acerbic tone and biting wit rendering her writing, at times, unexpectedly humorous. 

“Closer Baby Closer” is a meditation on the obscurities of modern romance. When read chronologically, we see the speaker inflict and overcome heartbreak, and then defamiliarize herself with her initial perception of intimacy. Brown’s newest release seduces its reader with astute, profound remarks about the pain and beauty of human connection. “Closer Baby Closer” is available worldwide from Doomsday Press today, and is Brown’s Valentine’s Day gift to all those who also find themselves fixated on the peculiarities of modern relationships.

Contact Stephanie Wong at [email protected].