You’re a half-shut knife, the woman / in the neat scarf says.
Claire Askew grew up in Scotland, and holds a PhD in Creative Writing and Contemporary Women’s Poetry from the University of Edinburgh. Her first book, This changes things, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2016. She is also an award-winning novelist, with books in her DI Birch series published by Hodder and Stoughton.
I left Claire’s book until last in my Sealey adventure for a couple of reasons: having heard her read in the Summer at someone else’s launch, I found myself compelled to go back and pull out her body of work. There’s also something about this book which means I cannot keep away from it. It has a lot to do with it being one of the few poetry books I’ve read which places a trigger warning well before a poem appears.
Lessons from the Text
This book is an amazing thing, that gives on one page and summarily destroys on the next: Claire is a remarkable writer and every poem is a song, the lyrics of a story it is impossible to look away from. From the roll-call in The women who’ve loved you to the abject terror of brazen male violation in Men, these poems know the stories and are not afraid to tell them in their uncompromising, frightening seriousness.
It takes a phenomenal amount of courage to write like this, to be unafraid of the details, to present the truth and events that you often have no choice but to live in an audience and a space. It is also the knowledge that these things have happened for centuries, are happening as I type this, that makes the whole collection as incendiary and powerful as it will always be. These moments don’t fade in time either, they gather fervour.
Only when you have been through these attacks, when you know the men responsible and why they need to control… do you find the strength to write. This book should be required reading for so many people, needs to be held up as a demonstration of what is both good and bad about the world. Of all the books I’ve read this month, this is the one that resonates the most on a personal level, because inside many of these poems, pieces of my own life lives and breathes.
Will you read it again? Yes. I’ve used at least one as a prompt for my own work.
Would you recommend it for me to read? Everybody needs to read this book. EVERYONE.