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Nick Allen reviews Kristin Omarsdottir: Waitress in Fall

waitressKristin Omarsdottir: Waitress in Fall, selected and translated by Vala Thorodds; published by Carcanet & Partus
There’s regular stuff. And there’s stuff that’s a little bit different from the regular. I bought this book on impulse a few days ago. I saw a poem from it, the poem was about being at home when a severed head “damp with blood” was delivered to her front door, “like the milk here before/ like the morning papers of days gone by…” (headless morning). You now know why I bought the book. Also she is from Iceland (and I love Iceland).

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This is a collection distilled from seven different collections spanning thirty years and it is clear that Kristin (it is the norm to use the first name in Icelandic) is an established voice. Finding words to describe what is within without sounding clichéd is quite difficult: it is of Poetry, sometimes it uses poetic effects, but it is not like much Poetry you’re likely to come across in the everyday. There’s something surreal, although that’s not the right word, something otherworldly, but also lustful, domestic, bloodthirsty…and sometimes unintelligible…as a whole you will love it or hate it. Me, I love it. But I couldn’t tell why this Poetry and not other Poetry. Perhaps it is because it is unafraid to stand up and say, “prove that I am not Poetry…”

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Random samples: the opening stanza of “domestic peace”;

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three children lick milk/ from the trees/ the mother sits in a bamboo/ chair and crochets hearts together

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or “event”

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tied to a deck chair/ inside a mountain/ with a warm clock/ in my mouth
or “unchained”

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the cadets carry me to their home/ drag me out of my clothes/ hang them up on a hook/ and laugh/ / at last,/ I think, privately

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“Protein” made me laugh out loud…about building your man up every day to ensure he has “the vigour to love me”, so she feeds him “rice, potatoes and eggs…” “Desserts” in which she sits at the dinner table looking “at three men who have sucked my breasts”, is both funny and slightly bothering. The “Waitress in Fall” with her sword and her apron it’s not clear if she was the murderer or the murdered…and it doesn’t matter in the slightest. There is a freedom from any sort of constraint here, including logic, that is liberating. The translator tells us in the afterword, that when consulting with the poet, the poet would sometimes switch the genders of her subjects, for no real reason. At least none divulged.

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Then there is the “poem about good girls”, who get undressed in “a certain order” before they “fuck with benevolence and cry at the end of intercourse”.

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The poem “Mirror” in its entirety reads,

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“his light is always equally old and equally new/ you are its interval”
…and you really don’t want to know what she suggests we do with “scissors”.
What this Poetry is, is defiantly original.

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…and now a word or two from the afterword by Vala Thorodds who both selected and translated this collection – “Kristin is driven by the work and not the fanfare…work that is singular, striking and strange…there are as many rifles in her work as there are stoves…setting the seemingly mundane everyday imbued with a constant threat of violence is, as it happens, the lot of every woman in the world…” Arguing that the topics of our “immediate horizon” – family, love, sexuality etc – are not simple givens, but complex and mystifying. She finishes by quoting another poem, “if you smooth out a tablecloth, you imitate God./ If you set the table for one you imitate God.”

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And I’ll finish this ridiculously long thing, with one of my favourite poems from the collection, “Applemilk”

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“at three in the morning go into the kitchen/ / pour milk into a glass, take out a red apple/ or green and sit down at the table// eat the apple, drink the milk// and the context of existence/ that the poets seek/ is found”

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Nick Allen has recently twice been runner-up in poetry competitions based in Ireland: the Bangor Literary Journal, poems of 40 words or less; and the 2018 Hungry Hill Writers International competition, “Poets meet Politics”. His first pamphlet, the necessary line, was published by Half Moon Books in October 2017. He talks to poets in darkened rooms at the back of pubs and sometimes feels enlightened.

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