REVIEW by Phillip Clement

NWR Issue 106

New Monkey

by Stevie Krayer

Krayer’s third collection, New Monkey, positions itself somewhere between the traditional ecologue and the spiritual guidebook. In terms of theme and subject matter it treads the borders between dispossession of the past and horror at our uncertain future. In style, she channels the artisanal precision and concentration on a subject that is reminiscent of the dinggedicht (literally ‘thing poem’) style popularised by Rainer Maria Rilke (whose 1905 collection, The Book of Leaves she translated) which sought the opportunity to demonstrate the surface of an object, while simultaneously obscuring its essence in favour of ambiguity. Krayer’s poems, often no longer than a page, each seek a better understanding of life and appear to strain in unanimity towards a reconciliation with our destructive past.

New Monkey shows Krayer as being aware of the world surrounding her and perceptive of the movements of those who inhabit it and their impact on its past, present and, perhaps most importantly, its future. The collection is split into three sections, ‘Where do we come from?’, ‘What are we?’, and lastly ‘Where are we going?’ – though often poems within one section act as lodestones, striking resonance with those that came before and highlighting an internal message that the past returns.

In one such pairing of resonance, ‘Flesh of her Flesh’ and ‘Now we are sixty’, the tendency of things to decline is explored through a study of the human body. Here the speakers (it is unclear whether they are the same person and different stages in life or separate entities) describe a woman’s body in the mirror. The former employs harsh sounds to conjure an image of a weathered body tamed and enslaved by seemingly industrial methods:

Naked, she still wore scars / left by the brutal / underwear that jailed her: / deep-bitten firebreaks of red / in her shoulders, whalebone striations / down buttocks and hips, / a thick stripe like a whipmark / girding her back.

while the latter, no more optimistic in her wisdom, has an aesthetic that is overall softer, despite its pagan connotations more evocative of a pastoral idyll. And yet the latter similarly implies the voice of one who is governed by a higher power:

My secret: I’m / juiceless. I mourn dead delight. // The muse arrives – not the usual / sullen teenager, away / night after night, coming home only / to snub me this time / he’s a satyr: bearded, hairy arsed, unpredictable as a billygoat.

This Dionysian faun then proceeds to lead the speaker out from the darkness of her narcissism and into a more innocent and wider world ‘whose moist breath is tinged with wild honeysuckle and slurry.’

Likewise, in ‘Arachnophilia’, Krayer blends myth with reality as she pulls back the veil of our ‘conditioned shudder’, to pay homage to that most misunderstood of insects: the spider. With enjambment, run-on-lines and a nod towards ‘thing poetry’ she evokes the fragility of a predator that, despite ‘the knack of invisibility’ is connected to its world by a ‘screen of gossamer’: ‘I’ve begun to notice their uncanny / powers: the gift of flight / without wings, angelic / basejumping / on a single filament / so fine it is almost nothingness.’
Throughout the collection, Krayer is adept at weaving a metaphor for our impermanence and mortality. Here she casts humans as eternal aggressors envying spiders’ ‘superhuman strength’ and berating our predatorial ‘lab-coated Penelope’ her inability to weave spider-silk into an ‘arachnid bullet-proof vest’. In the poem’s final stanza, the spider, in its resourcefulness (‘once / someone took a spider into space / by accident. For two days / the patterns were chaotic, but on the third / behold! a perfect orb web’), prepares to rise like the Greek phoenix from the ashes of our Armageddon:

Once we’ve done our worst, maybe / they’ll be among the ones / who will reweave this jangled Ithaca.

Phillip Clement writes for New Welsh Review in print and online


previous review: Three Graves Full
next review: Red Love: The Story of an East German Family


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