An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
Koo Press
19 Lochinch Park
Cove Bay
AB12 3RF
ISBN 978 0 9553075 2 2

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This page last updated: 17th January 2010.

On the front and back covers of this slim but handsome book are lovely designs of geese by Pauline Kenny that work well with the title and theme of the first section of the collection. The book is divided into two parts: GOOSE TALES, containing fifteen poems, and OTHER FLIGHTS, which contains ten poems.

Kathleen Kenny has a spare, strong individual style. Yes, spare. In the modern manner, many of the lines in her poems are short and uneven, giving the reader the rhythm, sometimes the excitement, other times the choppy nervousness of the persona, whilst other poems contain longer, more lyrical lines. Most of the poems in the first section are in the voice of the "woman as goose" as in GOOSE WARRIOR, PATÉ DE FOIE GRAS, MY LOVER AS GOOSE, MYSELF AS GOOSE, whilst other poems in this section are written by Kenny in her own voice as she writes of a storm, feathers, a carnival.

Yes, the poems are strong, if by that we mean taut and visually sharp while at the same time being intensely lyrical.

Individual? Yes, there can't be many poets writing poems from a goose's point of view! One of my favourite poems in this collection is PATÉ DE FOIE GRAS, written in the goose's voice:

	My head is full of feathers.
	I wish I could follow him
	but am laced in by curtains 

	choked with walls;
	a playmate for the little girl
	who pokes my back with sticks,

	tickles me with ribbons
	hanging from my straw hat;
	the apron she insists I put on.
In MY LOVER AS GOOSE, the female remarks on the untidiness of her lover:
	You'd let yourself go,
	drank, ate bird-cake full of fat.

	You'd dried out, tried all my creams
	to stop the feathers flaking off your back.

	Your hair poked out
	it was black and almost human.

	Tie it back, I said.  A goose with a tail
	like a horse is ridiculous.
The poem, MYSELF AS GOOSE, is written in longer lines as the female (writing as goose) remarks:
	I was never really keen on kids, but now can't wait.
	Our first egg is over there in the nest.  Frankie is sitting on it
		While I write this.

	That's how good he is, dedicated to his task.
	Building, nesting, making hay.  Not like a man at all.
In the best poems a kind of uninvited metaphysical longing seeps through. A good example from this first section is COOKED GOOSE, where the woman waits until her man is asleep before she "climbs the stairs":
	She unpeels her things, slow,
	places them like feathers
	On the white-winged chair
	pulls on the floor-length nightie
	and slides in.
This is a well of great depth, ready for exploration by Kenny's psyche. If tapped correctly it will be a source of exciting writing. The best poetry in GOOSE TALES & OTHER FLIGHTS is strong in its authority. For example, the traditional image of married bliss is blown away by heartfelt images like these from RINGS:
	Then you will force off the base metal ring,
	and wash yourself in the canal
	and as it sinks into the cool Italian water
	it will recreate itself into pure gold.
It takes a strong will to make such individual statements.

The second section OTHER FLIGHTS contains more personal poems. Kenny has an iron will and keeps an open line to her subconscious in strong poems as WORKING WITH PLASTICS, ALL HE DESERVES, THE FEAR BUCKET, VIRUS, and more.

Many of the most moving and compelling poems in this section deal with the experience of being in a woman's body — of worrying about weight, getting dolled-up, protecting oneself against love, weakness, shopping. In the exquisite opening poem of this section, the factory worker worries about her body shape, her eyesight and other things, until

	Going home I trip on a carton,
	bump into a lamppost.
But what she doesn't see is
	. . . a child in shadow
	with hungry blackened teeth

	pulling stickers from a pure wax apple,
	as if it doesn't know about taste,

	as if it has never learned anything.  Ever.
Often in Kenny's poems the body subtly expresses a symbolic parallel with something else, as in ALL HE DESERVES, where
	She sees his face
	spinning in the washer,
while in HOLIDAY FLING the persona experiences the joys of getting dressed up to "hit the town" only to see her beau "drifting away" as she races after him "on my pedalo boat".

As its title suggests, this collection is involved in the reworking of myth and, more strongly, fairy-tale, a well-established strategy in women's writing and feminine poetics. It seems appropriate and imperative that women writing confront and re-use these old stories, as Kenny does so effectively, because they are on the one hand rites of limitation and entrapment for their heroines, but on the other, they are scenes of subversive action, as demonstrated by the narrative voice in VIRUS:

	You could euphamize death: smooth their breath,
	swaddle their life out.  You could reduce them down
	in the TV set.  Frozen in time
	their red-sucky lips, black-batty-eyes.  Like Minipops:

	those polystyrene children you goggle at.  Provocative.
	That box in the corner fiddling with your head.
	Things blown up out of all proportion, like a bug.
	It makes us violent.
Kenny is in full possession of her own voice and she is in command of an elegant and passionate poetic style. In all these poems every line counts, and her lines have the ability to bring the whole piece together and intensify meanings.

reviewer: Patricia Prime.