in the pool, my stomach is too bare, and a man / with ribs like a shelf of dusty Reader’s Digests watches me swim
Katie Hale’s debut pamphlet, Breaking the Surface, was published by Flipped Eye in 2017. She has won the Jane Martin Poetry Prize and the Buzzwords Poetry Competition. In 2018 she was part of the Penguin Random House inaugural WriteNow scheme, and the novel she produced (My Name is Monster) was published in 2019 by Canongate.
This pamphlet won the Fool for Poetry contest in 2018. It is as close to perfect as I have ever read in chapbook form, and I do not say this lightly.
Lessons from the Text
The thing about poetry (okay, one of many things) is how it speaks to every single person differently. You can teach people to interpret text, and understand meaning, but you will never teach them to feel it in their hearts and souls. That has to be something the reader allows. I picked up Katie’s pamphlet after the Kendal Festival, read it, and put it to one side. Three days later, the poem Offcomer pulled me back. I was fairly certain I’d identified the poem it was inspired by, and had connected the dots in my head. Once I picked it up a second time, I could not put it down.
Each one of these 15 poems is built differently, but the thread that links them is so powerful and emotional, you end up reading this as a whole. Inevitably, in any collection, there will be one or two poems that maybe aren’t as powerful. Not in this one. From the Polaroid snapshot of 1999 to the superlative narrative adventure in 20 lines that is Free Period Behind the Bowling Hut, and finally the aching tenderness of Thaw, I am only scratching the surface here. It’s VERY easy to see how Katie wins contests.
I’ve said before that I struggle with younger female poets, that there is a difficulty in placing my mind in their spaces easily. Not so with Assembly Instructions. It does exactly what it says on the cover, and if you’ll allow it the opportunity to deconstruct your own mindset and thinking, this is a read to remember. Honestly, when I grow up, I want to write a pamphlet this perfect. I look forward in future to trying to hit the benchmark.
Will you read it again? Don’t tell anyone, but a copy of the poem that gives this title its name is getting written out and stuck on my notice board this weekend. it’s an exercise I’ve been given for a poetry course. I’d like this poem to live in me, and me in it for a while.
Would you recommend it for me to read?Why have you not bought this pamphlet yet?