REVIEW by Georgia Fearn

NWR Issue r35

Sliced Tongue and Pearl Cufflinks

by Kittie Belltree

Kittie Belltree’s words, ‘so deep, so dark and dislocating, in the first poem of this collection, are no exaggeration.

Reading it in one sitting evokes so many emotions, as Belltree flits from her anxious and somewhat bitter relationship with her mother to modern politics and the ‘social and moral decay’ she believes we have experienced over the years. That first poem, ‘A short poem about my mother, who could hear a pin drop on a motorway’, sets the mood for the entire collection in that it immediately establishes the complexity of Belltree’s connection with her mother. There is a sadness that is indescribable: ‘even though she will never see it’, there is a sense of need to write this poem that you can feel from the very beginning. This is only amplified by the pure difficulty the poet feels in expressing in words how she feels about her mother. ‘I want it to be perfect’, she writes. But, although the intention is to write something beautiful, the truth of ‘cynicism, resentment and other animosities’ insists on creeping in, and is so relatable yet so personal to her and her mother. Perhaps the emotional resentment becomes clearer in poems such as ‘What the magpie told my mother’, real horror surfacing in the revelation ‘you will give her to a soldier for a loaf of bread and teach her to keep a secret’. It is so raw that I felt I was intruding, and yet was captivated to the end. The evocation of secrecy, grief and bitter memories are unavoidable in poems such as ‘My Mother’s Garden’ and ‘Everyone Said it Wouldn’t Last’, though perhaps my favourite is the poem, ‘W or The Death of Me’. Amongst the chaotic yet beautiful outbursts here, it finds a moment of untainted clarity that makes you grieve for something you did not know you had lost.

Having stunningly proven her command of the poetry of emotion, Belltree turns to the modern world, with witty insights into modern politics and mental health. In ‘…suicide remains a courageous act, the clear headed act of a mathematician’, her criticism of a system that denies the appropriate care for vulnerable people is uncompromising. The poem, which reads almost like a rant, spares no sympathy for suicide prevention methods, scathingly mocking how they attempt to protect ‘the bridge’s Victorian architecture’ at the expense of people, who Belltree refers to with numbers to emphasize the amount and apparent facelessness of people we lose to suicide. She suggests that we cannot hear these individuals’ stories, because we have not done enough to help them. Belltree also shines an illuminating light on suicide in the poems ‘traffic’ and ‘Bond’, her forceful and imposing style providing a perceptive commentary on what it means to be alive in the modern age. In ‘The art of moving an upright piano into an upstairs flat’, Belltree is clever and at times shocking, ‘her brass bun feet in telephone wires… I shut my eyes and try not to think about half the village with its broadband down.’

Such scornful criticism of society does not stop there, with Belltree exploring politics and the role we play in the political system. In ‘None of the above’, she writes about a conversation concerning her electoral registration and the right to vote for our representatives. However, Belltree introduces a very interesting observation about how she sees modern politics, derisively writing, ‘I don’t want to lose my democratic right to vote for my dictator.’ This poetry is funny, it truly is, and yet while making us laugh it illuminates so clearly the problems in our democratic system. ‘On the morning of September 11, 2001’ is equally thought-provoking, discussing 9/11. The poet sarcastically remarks that the official story is ‘questioning the laws of physics’, and methodically runs through the chain of events, pointing out discrepancies and criticising the label of ‘paranoid conspiracy theorist’ that is often attached to people who question this story.

This poetry will make your heart sink; form lumps in your throat that will be broken by an unexpected snicker at Belltree wit. The collection paints perhaps one of the most haunting yet poignant representations of real life that I have ever experienced in poetry. Belltree is almost cruel in her unpleasant and vicious authenticity, yet this is what makes the poetry so moving. It is uncomfortable, it is intruding, and it is poetry that will undoubtedly change your perception of modern reality.

Georgia Fearn gained first prize in the Dylan Thomas Book Review Awards in 2018, and is a contributor to Young Writers’ Anthology.


previous review: Selected Poems
next review: The Mermaid’s Call


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