It occurs to me that I should start this with a confession: I am a proper fan of Kim’s work. This makes me a 100% living and breathing embodiment of that kind of person who genuinely gets a bit flustered and embarrassed whenever I’m in the same Zoom space as them. Laureate knows what would happen if I’m lucky enough to meet them in reality, I’ll probably spontaneously combust, leaving only ash in my wake… needless to say there’s a remarkable amount of admiration and respect amongst the Fangirling, as that’s what this is. I saw poems from AtMINM at a virtual reading before the collection was published. It was obvious then it would be a watershed collection, and this absolutely is.
Of the 48 pieces and one stark poem of introduction, this is a pretty brutal and, by extension, brave and brilliant treatise on what it is like to be a woman in a man’s world, for that is where most women are forced to exist. There are asides to Kim’s time working in a male prison [Number 30] or as a teacher [Number 20], but the moment when a night out becomes a flashpoint [Number 6] brings home with almost painful force the way in which women are treated, used and often summarily left behind once men decide to dictate circumstance. It also grants perspective in hindsight to events that were loaded but only gained significance after the fact [Number 7] and how, in the depths of fear only women will really understand, normality can run its course and pull you further into despair [Number 38].
I read the reviews on the back of the book and found myself wishing they weren’t nearly as polite or prosaic, because this is an unflinching, brutal and absolutely necessary set of moments I’d give to every problematic male friend ever encountered before forcing them to read the lot, then making sure they properly grasp how much damage men do to women, mostly without ever realizing it is the case. It also makes me want to go back to paragraph two and put a line through the world ‘brave’, because Kim’s words are so much stronger than that, especially as you spend more time inside the collection. It’s an album of Polaroid moments, caught at the second when beauty became danger: only the poet really understands the significance of the exposure… you’re granted a second of insight, but no more.
[Number 42] is perhaps the most affecting piece of all: even with one word blocked out, it still invades your consciousness, and you are unable to look away. It is the reminder that consent remains absolutely vital and permission must always take precedent. It also shows that you don’t need to know what abuse looks like or the names we give it to understand how frightening and condemning the male gaze remains, and how control is passively exerted in the most casual of circumstances. As a poet, I don’t think I’ve read anything as affecting or stimulating for many years: it asks me to look at my own experiences with this same fresh, uncompromising attitude, and I will continue to do so for some time to come.
The very best written work always demands something from its readers: not just to listen and consider the concepts presented, but to question their relevance, asking questions which arise from the process. There is so much to learn from these narratives, for that’s what they are: tiny moments of misogyny, anger, abuse and advantage exploited, taken then discarded. Those pictures are so much more than just their surface descriptions, after all, moments where we can see past the words, between and beneath the lines. I truly hope Kim is granted all the accolades and critical plaudits for this book: it won’t change the reality however that all women deserve and demand better. These testimonies should always be unnecessary, and redundant, and yet they keep on being repeated.
If you buy one collection this year to make you think, make it this one, because it absolutely demands your attention.