“How to Grow Matches” S A Leavesley (Against the Grain) – poetry review

How to Grow MatchesThis collection looks at everywoman through myths, legends, art and the everyday such as shopping lists. It looks at timeless, classical women and those who post selfies on social media. It refuses to define a woman by her status as a mother or singledom. The title poem is timely for the #MeToo era, starting with an instruction to take a match,

Snap one – like a sharp blow
sideways behind a man’s knees.
Then another and another
for each jibe or slight.

Note how easily the wood splits
after years of hidden anger.
A felled forest at your feet,
and still the pile grows!

Lay the toppled pieces
against each other’s thinness,
rested on crumpled paper.
Now you have a bonfire.

It ends referencing those “hip-sways and lip expressions/ condoned for your office/ as a woman.” A reminder of the way a woman’s outward appearance is policed, not just by men, for the male gaze. The short vowels quicken the rhythm, just as words spoken in anger quicken. The compression could also be a reflection of the way woman are permitted to use public space, constrained into a thin ideal shape, not unlike a matchstick.

“American dream” is an abcedary shopping list, although not the one a reader might conventionally take to Walmart,

“an apple, & ambition;
baby milk & a burnt-ochre bra;
cocoa & cotton / fresh with sisters’ sweat;”

it continues,

“questions;
respectable reductions / but no responses or responsibility;
somewheres to live / some of these known as homes;
time at twice-light-speed;
ugli fruit side-lined behind the white lychees;
vaginas of future children: / shaven, vajazzled & perfectly man-shapen / an
unfillable void / visas in place of green card;
wool-brains & would-you-evers!;
xx large pants, Xtra Value Soap & X-rated news;
yeses in part-exchange for timid noes;”

Note, she buys questions but not answers, is lumbered with “respectable reductions” but not “responses”. The uncertainty in “yeses in part-exchange for timid noes;” shows someone not in control but being guided towards a response which is not originated by her. The varied list keeps the mood light but underlines a more serious point.

In “That Christmas” an ice maiden appears on a lake

“Mystery glistened. Crowds gathered.

Days passed. She didn’t melt,
but her glass clarity scuffed

from white to tarmac dirty
with the impact of every touch.

More pilgrims flocked; birds flew
off track. Time clothed her in myths.

Someone recalled how a shower
of falling stars hit the Earth’s cold dark,

like sparks tumbling from a lit taper.
At her feet, a scattering of spent matches.”

The match theme is picked up again. The ice maiden is missing a voice so cannot answer questions or tell her story. However, this doesn’t stop gawking on-lookers inventing one for her. Voiceless, she is talked over and talked about.

“How to Grow Matches” is a timely pamphlet that explores the roles and expectations foisted on women along the with reams of unsolicited advice which also restricts and places limitations on women. The pamphlet also looks at women in story-telling and myths. The poems highlight without complaining and touch on potential role models, enabling women to move from victimhood to survivors who can take control.

“How to Grow Matches” is available from Against the Grain

2 Responses to ““How to Grow Matches” S A Leavesley (Against the Grain) – poetry review”

  1. London launch, reviews & essay news | Sarah James Writes Says:

    […] ‘“How to Grow Matches” is a timely pamphlet that explores the roles and expectations foisted on women along the with reams of unsolicited advice which also restricts and places limitations on women. The pamphlet also looks at women in story-telling and myths. The poems highlight without complaining and touch on potential role models, enabling women to move from victimhood to survivors who can take control.’ Emma Lee, the full review with wonderfully detailed analysis of several poems in the pamphlet can be found here. […]

  2. “Always Another Twist” Sarah Leavesley (Mantle Lane Press) – book review | Emma Lee's Blog Says:

    […] My review of S A Leavesley’s “How to Grow Matches” (poetry) […]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: