REVIEW: All the Men I Never Married by Kim Moore

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.

REVIEW: Traumatropic Heart by Susan Darlington

I’m a picky bugger when it comes to poetry: there’s no point beating about the bush. It either moves me with the force of a storm, or I’m left largely cold. It only now occurs to me that this may not make for objective reviews, but if I’m up front now, it makes stuff a lot easier going forward. As I sat last night, deciding this would be the moment to consider other people’s output in my own words, I knew what it was that prompted the decision: Susan read this week at an Open Mic I was also a part of. The piece that made me want to buy her collection also taught me something I didn’t know. Go read about Lithopedion like I did, and be amazed.

Performance, however it transpires, needs to move something within those who watch if it is to be successful. Susan’s performance in the Open Mic was part of a pretty transformative evening for me overall, and having now had time to properly absorb her pamphlet from Selcouth Station it’s apparent that that brief moment of insight [Stone Babies] was a pretty good indicator of this collection’s potency. There’s wanting weaved within these poems, acknowledgement of emotional depth and strength [The Dolls’ House] with a considered splash of genuine wonder [Owl]. There is so much to lose yourself within here, to consider in the sphere of your own experience. With that in mind, [Hope] is the stand-out poem for me in this selection.

The other benefit of making time to see poets read their work is the insight it gives you as to how individual craft is approached and honed. Susan’s depth of field and shifts in focus transform photographic pieces into complex, three-dimensional structures with hidden depths, which make you wonder exactly where the words will take you if you’re brave enough to follow them. I want to come back to [Magpie Eggs (Two for Joy)] and understand the relationship Susan creates between herself and nature, to work out how that might help me better manipulate my own words to the same end.

In the end, as a poet, I reckon you need to learn something from every poet you read, because every day should be a school day, regardless of your ability. Susan’s taught me to be less afraid of the fantastical, of spinning a thought beyond my eyeline or just out of reach. I’m quite a practical poet, when all is said and done, and for a while poems like this made me wonder how it was possible to imagine such things, that clearly can’t be real… except, in Susan’s hands, they are. The fear that’s here is signposted too, with confidence and belief, and I know what is possible when you can harness that power to do your own bidding. Add some education along the way, and a new direction appears.

Buy this pamphlet, and you will not be disappointed.

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