This 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;”
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.