REVIEW by Megan Jones

NWR Issue 98


by Kate North

Bistro, Kate North’s debut collection of poetry, invites the reader to embark on a unique journey through her world. The collection opens strongly with ‘Eight’, a raw look at a mother/daughter confrontation, remembered through the eyes of a child. North makes no effort to alienate her reader from her experience, choosing instead to invite every pair of eyes to watch ‘the screenplay in [her] brain’. She succeeds in conveying emotion by combining description of the ‘corkboard wall’ which cements the image of her childhood bedroom, with a heavy use of onomatopoeia; ‘Bang, Crash, (door against desk)’. This produces a powerful sense of immediacy; the reader shares what North sees and hears.

Reading through the rest of the poems, it becomes increasingly clear that North is not afraid to get her hands dirty, as she boldly confronts realities that many of us choose to avoid. In ‘Painting for the Nodes’, for example, she lays bare the feelings of helplessness experienced in the face of life-threatening illness. She handles this topic with admirable tact, cleverly interweaving her emotions with descriptions of the efforts of a painting party. There is a hope imbedded within the poem that in fixing the house, the person too will be cured. This is developed through a skilful pairing of ideas that is particularly poignant in the line ‘sweat merges with a tear’.

Equally notable, as the poem develops, is the realisation that the ‘useful and useless’ (referred to in the fifth stanza) are not two groups of people, but two qualities residing in those ‘who have come out to care/for what it’s worth’. The short, sharp delivery of the lines gives the poem a haphazard momentum. Again there is a vivid feeling of presence, the reader witnessing the tumbling of thoughts as they are brushed out upon the walls.

Yet there is another side to North’s poetry; one that leads into the bizarre depths of her imagination. In some of the poems she goes off on wild tangents of imagery and logic. ‘Thirty times smaller than I’ is a perfect example of this. The opening stanza of the poem describes a statue of Jesus nailed to the cross, but by the final lines the poet has apparently become lost in mathematical musings over how much blood he is technically losing: ‘The silver saviour on my wall is bleeding/0.26 pints for us’. Further examples of North’s startling imagination are found in ‘Sleep Disorder’ and ‘Fantasising Herself’.

Beyond this, there is a colourful array of similes embedded in her work. This vibrant use of language results in some truly delicious lines, such as ‘Fizzing like a sundae/through thick frosted glass’ (‘Tantrum’). Further praiseworthy turns of phrase include: ‘Your mouth decomposed into a compost smile’ (‘When you ended it...’) and her description of a kite as a ‘dream-on-a-string’ (‘Icarus the Kite Flyer’).

I found very little to criticise in North’s poetry, and the only pieces that grated on me were ‘Acts of’ and ‘Sleep Disorder’. Although there is something to be admired in the tweaks North makes in the evolution of ‘Acts of’, it nevertheless comes across as a bit of a page-filler, due to its excessive repetition. In addition to this, the ideas conveyed within the poem felt just a little too personal and out of reach for them to be engaging and enjoyable. I also found that ‘Sleep Disorder’ stretched on too long. Each time I reached the bottom of a page I was convinced that I had arrived at the end, only to discover another double page beyond that. Whilst this might accurately reflect the timelessness of those middle-of-the-night moments, the poem could have benefitted from some trimming back or, at the very least, an ellipsis on the final line of each page to prevent the poem from becoming disjointed.

Regardless of this, upon reaching the end of the collection I felt that I had come to know a real woman: the depths of her mind, her fears and her fantasies. This intriguing collection is a window to the soul, the contents of which are unlikely to disappoint.

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previous review: The Mind-Body Problem
next review: Beasts of the Southern Wild, Film Review


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