All the Naked Daughters, Anna Kisby, (Against the Grain Poetry Press 2017), £5.
This beautifully produced pamphlet with its elegant cover – the first from Against the Grain Poetry Press – contains 20 stunning poems from Anna Kisby, a poet I have long admired. Within these pages are a multitude of women’s voices and nobody is better at getting inside the feelings of a woman than this talented poet.
Making use of her work as an archivist, Kisby gathers material from centuries of womanhood – in this collection are ekphrastic poems, poems of hardship, childbirth, loss, struggle and curiosity about bodies. We find ourselves reading about suffragettes, oranges, hysteria, mothers, daughters, dogs, waitresses and shopping bags. From the opening poem The Fallen Alices the reader is drawn in, impatient to keep reading and the reward is something unique and original with every turn of the page. For example Alice in Wonderland was published in 1865 during a period of anxiety about the Fallen Woman and female suicides into the Thames:
Of all the stories told by the Thames this is ours:
we are the curious, the questing, the covetous, the lost,
we are the girls who never grew up.
We are the punished, found drowned
in pools of our own tears. We are rushing towards you downriver.
Speak of us. Our elegant corpses are the stuff of ink, pen and paint.
And this is exactly what Kisby does – she speaks on paper about women in all their different guises:
Grandmother was a Showgirl –
She wore a skirt like a staircase so he climbed it, pawed at the cabinet of her bosom
when she twirled him .
A book serves as metaphor in the sensuous Affair with the Professor –
He folds me over
at the corners, leaves me waiting
for days. I crouch on the back shelf
knees to chin. I am stuck as a baby
Kisby turns BBC Radio 4’s Gardener’s Question Time into a political party broadcast about ‘austerity’ in Reap the Benefit:
The time has come to cut back, a voice soothes,
slash overgrowth, prune –
The reader is treated to the history of oranges in Orangematic – from 1970 until today: from ‘when she was born the rumour of oranges was like a whisper of silk ‘ (1970) until ‘Oranges taken for granted, hardly worth the time it takes to peel’. (now).
In the title poem, All the Naked Daughters a stuttering mother tries to answer a series of questions from a furious daughter on a visit to an exhibition of nude paintings:
Mum where are the pubes?
I thought it was porn’s fault, everyone expecting us hairless?
Who made ancient women shave? Were there razors in the olden days?
By adopting the voices of others Kisby brings us unforgettable female characters and experiences.
I will never again look at or carry a Waitrose bag (Archives) without wondering what might be at the bottom of it – but then that is the mystery of these poems. Open the pages and discover for yourselves this remarkable poet who tells us:
Time is precious, fleeing, on my heels – my slow smile
crosses the finish line. (Tortoise Missus)
Against the Grain Poetry Press could not have chosen a more worthy poet to launch its own debut pamphlet. It’s left me with a taste for more. I highly recommend this collection – and as Bill Greenwell says on the back cover: “Kisby has produced a stunning cabinet of curiosities”.
To buy a copy of this pamphlet go here
Valerie Morton has been published in various magazines and anthologies, and won or been placed in a number of competitions. After completing an Open University degree in 2011 she taught Creative Writing at a mental health charity. Her two collections (Mango Tree 2013 and Handprints 2015) were published by Indigo Dreams Publishing. Since 2015 she has been Poet in Residence at the Clinton Baker Pinetum in Hertfordshire. Her most recent endeavour was publishing A Poetry of Elephants in aid of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (2016).