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By Helen Kitson
£7.50 Overstep Books, Froude Road, Salcombe, South Devon, TQ8 8LH
Order from the poet's website an gt free p/p
48 poems for £7.50, a little over fifteen and a half pence per poem and what can you buy for fifteen and a half pence? Plus there is free postage if you order via the poet’s website. It all seems a bit of a bargain but then a two pence brown envelope and a fifty eight pence stamp would cover all costs on this rather slim volume which looks more like a blown-up chapbook than an anthology. There is not even room on the spine for anything that might make it recognisable on a bookshop shelf. So maybe not so much of a bargain as it seemed initially. I guess it depends on whether you seek quantity or quality.
The poems are practised, there is no disputing that Kitson knows her craft, but there is also an added something in her work that makes re-reading each piece several times a worthwhile experience. There are echoes of Plath throughout and an overall hint at the Catholic guilt syndrome which I suspect makes her work more artistically vulnerable than she would care to admit. Nevertheless this slim volume reveals more integrity and originality than most, including Duffy, and at times leaves the reader in places almost speechless at the quality of the work. In ‘Freakshow’ for example, the central figure dances for an audience of men who laugh and women who whisper, opining ‘but my hips ache,/ I’m bruised like rotten fruit.’ And this theme of decay and fruit that stems from ‘the fall’ is echoed in the final lines of the poem; ‘We are all falling,// With the thud and gracelessness/ of heavy apples.’ It’s a simple yet magnificently expansive poem that most of the incestuous crowd who claim to be new and original thinkers in the poetry field probably would not even comprehend.
There is a diligence in Kitson’s work that ensures total satisfaction for the practised reader of poetry. These poems have each been honed and worked at in a manner that would please any editor or critic. Even if the content becomes too harsh for some, and it will, an honest critic has to stand back and say that technically the majority of these poems are flawless. But that confrontational bluntness that lurks among the scattered Bible imagery hits hard occasionally as in ‘Lachryma Christi’ which opens with; ‘Do I stink?/ Can you smell the blood/ between my legs?’ and continues with this thought on ‘those Catholic boys’ that they ‘…don’t like real blood/ unless it’s been spilled/ by some tortured pet’ and the tears of Christ, to which the title refers, are spilt also by the dumb animals and the ‘gagged and tied/ blindfolded/ bound’ bride of God, but probably not by the Catholic boys; ‘those little cannibals’ who ‘(…carve their initials/ into the pews/ with cute little penknives)’
I would like to write more about Kitson, (but my editor asked for 500 words and already I am overrun) I would like to persuade you that even though this is a slim volume, and you would certainly overlook it on a bookshop shelf, it is a worthwhile investment. If brutal and passionate honesty and the refreshing skills of a honed poet are what you are looking for then look no further. It has become almost cliché to say that ‘this is a work you will return to again and again’, but in this case the cliché becomes pure truth. I read it through at first almost casually and yet now, in the three weeks the anthology has been in my pocket, I have returned to it literally dozens of times and have never been disappointed. But then I like originality, finely crafted poetry, honesty, courage and integrity.
If you do not then this is not for you.
© copyright Alan Corkish 2004
Walking With Shadows
John J. Whitmarsh
A review for Orbis 2004