“Violet Existence” Katy Wareham Morris (Broken Sleep) – book review

Katy Wareham Morris Violet Existence book cover

Katy Wareham Morris explores aspects of motherhood, imposter syndrome and trying to fit in among colleagues from different backgrounds. Some highlight the underlying sense of shame that comes from being different, a working class mother trying to live alongside middle class colleagues, a woman knowing her promotion will not come automatically as it would for a man.

The opening poem, “Labour”, is definitely women’s work,

…………………She is jammed
behind her own eyes, jailbird
of a romantic myth shown in photos
that never looked like this.

…………………………………………..Her body
backfires into flamenco, she doesn’t know
flamenco.”

Delivering a baby in real life is nothing like the movies or photos showing mother and newborn in a soft-focused glow of maternal love. It’s a test of endurance and acceptance of uncertainty. There’s no way to fully prepare and you won’t know how your body will react until you’re in labour. The sound echoes in “jammed”/”jailbird” underline the sense of being stuck in something you can only get through.

“Trouble in Paradise” starts

“Thank you for asking how I was over lunch. Did you notice I was quiet because I didn’t understand the references to tragedy and why the Greeks were much more civilised? I was thinking about last night’s tragedy – that lovely girl from Love Island was made to think her lovely boyfriend was with another girl in a cruel twist”

A lunch with colleagues talking about Greek tragedies while the poem’s narrator is thinking about a reality TV show. She doesn’t take part in the conversation, but one colleague has noticed her failure to join in, but doesn’t necessary understand why. The poem ends,

“I looked down and ate my home-made sandwich in a fashion: both hands secured the bread, left the crisp packet unrustled, salt in the corner. I didn’t drink from the bottle, remembering to sip slowly, carefully from a barely filled cup. Tomorrow I shall not discuss my thoughts on the manipulation of classical tragic tropes in reality television by way of affecting an apathetic millennial audience. I’ve heard it all before.”

The poem’s narrator is holding her sandwich with two hands, ensuring the contents don’t spill out and lacking the confidence to handling it with only one hand. She leaves the crisp packet, wary the rustling noise will draw the wrong kind of attention. Normally she’d drink straight from the bottle, but, in the company she finds herself, she pours her drink in small amounts into a cup so she remembers to daintily sip rather than slurp. The feeling of not fitting in continues outside lunch when the narrator decides she won’t revive the discussion. She doesn’t feel it was illuminating.

An Advert For This Body” which follows the idea, that frequently surfaces in advertising, that a woman’s body’s greatest achievement is not becoming mother, but losing weight and the speaker is dieting,

………………………………………………….I’m

……………………………………………………………….tired……………..

…………………………………fat…………..struggling

I am able,
competent

……………………………………………………………………….still
……………………………………………………………………….I’m |

But I am sick
Can you see that now? I can’t

quit.”

The mantra, “I am able/ competent” repeats as if the speaker is desperate to convince herself that her body, which doesn’t measure up to advertising’s ideal, is enough. She wants to settle for “competent”, not the best version of herself because part of her acknowledges, she can’t measure up to an ideal. Motherhood has changed her body from the firmness of youth into a softer shape. But her eating is now disordered and the attempt to be something she can’t achieve has left her ill. But she can’t break that cycle, yet.

In “Curry Night”, the speaker has been invited out with colleagues for a meal and then out for drinks afterwards,

“Did you take a deep breath ‘cos I didn’t order off the menu? I’d recommend it for you but you’re safe: masala / korma / jalfrezi / bhuna. I don’t drink ‘cos I’ve got Crohn’s (I don’t drink ‘cos I over-share).

I won’t come for a drink ‘cos I don’t drink. I’ll drive home, kiss me kids, cuddle me dog, sit on the sofa, watch Masterchef, which I love. I’ll say thanks to the wait staff. I’ll offer the tip.”

Spicy food and Crohn’s are not a happy combination so the speaker has to order off menu so she can eat, unlike her colleagues, who probably didn’t take Crohn’s disease into consideration when choosing the restaurant. The speaker publicly blames her Crohn’s for not drinking alcohol because it’s easier than just saying she doesn’t drink. When you’re the only one in a group not drinking, the others tend to pressure you to join in. However the real reason she doesn’t want to drink is her tendency to over-share and she wants to retain control over what she says during the meal. The non-drinking also becomes an excuse to leave early and go home where she can be comfortable and let down her guard. She thanks the staff and ensures they’re tipped because she identifies with their class and feels more at ease with them than her colleagues.

“Violet Existence” explores issues of class, sexism and imposter syndrome, a sense of being the outsider and not being fully seen. Katy Wareham Morris captures the maternal voice: protective of her children but wary of a society that holds mothers up to an impossible ideal. The poems open to a vulnerability as they spill across the page, presenting contemporary situations with a promise not to raid the myth kitty or assume readers have a knowledge of Greek myths.

“Violet Existence” is available from Broken Sleep.


Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

Featured in the Top 10 Poetry Review Blogs on Feedspot.


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