'The rumour, / the hollowed out / cookie-cutter shape / does not define me: / don't bitch /
about my shadow'
- 'Heard it on the Grapevine', p.55
This is not a Spectacle: Extended Edition
Fly on the Wall Poetry, 2017.
Isabelle Kenyon’s debut poetry collection ‘This is not a Spectacle’ is a heartfelt six-part response to today’s society, exposing the cracks and claw-marks against our civilized walls. The language is simple but powerful, the chapbook is easy to read yet complex in its ideas. Honesty and compassionate springs out from the first section – ‘Human Curiosity’ – where Kenyon writes about lonely immigrant children and sweat shops, the pain suffered by strangers who Western society too often allows to bleed into the backgrounds. I think chiefly that is what this collection is trying to do: bring those people to the forefront, to where we can see them and say: “This is not right. We should help.” These poems on the whole touch less personal topics, sticking with an outsider’s perspective and interpretation of the wrongs of this world.
However, there is a small series of intense personal poems running through this book like hot molten gold. The most striking of Kenyon’s personal, confessional poems would be “Me Too: Spoken Word”, her response to the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault that spread virally in October 2017. My favourite poem had to be “Letter to my Younger Self”, which begins with such a beautifully positive message: “They are going to love you. /Stop cutting your hair - / later you’ll just leave it long, straight, / favour sleep over styling. / You are happy” (37). The sad thing is none of us will ever be able to tell our younger selves to stop fretting, hurting and apologising for taking oxygen.
Kenyon’s sections, numbered one to six, are ‘Human Curiosity’, ‘Homeless’, ‘Hospital Rooms’, ‘The Youth’, ‘The Carehome’ and ‘Don’t stare at me’. These parts aren’t particularly long, so this book could easily be read several times over your week – and I recommend that you do just that. This collection focuses on the private and the public interpretations of each of these topics, for example in ‘Cardboard Mercy’ Kenyon describes her own perceptions before moving to ‘On Display’, where we hear the narrative of a homeless woman. As vital as each topic is, I would have preferred a more extensive look into each one, so I could immerse myself deeper into Kenyon’s ideologies rather than flit from issue to issue. ‘Human Curiosity’ and ‘Don’t stare at me’ appear to be the catch-all sections without one central concern, their individuality comes instead from the narrative viewpoint, the first section perceives while the last section feels.
Kenyon changes smoothly between first person and second person, keeping the language fresh. Though I would not describe these poems as advanced in their language use, they act well as vehicles for the complex ideas that Kenyon conveys. They are full of raw honesty that bites back at cruelty and neglect. One of my favourite lines, which just runs so beautifully off the tongue, was ‘Corpse children with balloon stomachs play with dust dogs’ (4).
There is another woman behind ‘This is Not A Spectacle’, Kenyon’s Granny Olga to whom this book is dedicated. In the poem ‘Identity: Granny Olga’, Kenyon writes to her lost grandmother and we can see how much this young poet’s work has been influenced by this magnificent woman. ‘You and I are feminists, artists, activists, writers’ (29) writes Kenyon as Granny Olga, despite turning into a ‘bionic woman’ (28) still reads the Radio Times and hugs with her voice. My own grandmother Shirley was a big influence on my first book ‘Nekorb’ (www.veerbooks.com), as she was the only one to ask about my poetry and whose book of notes I found after her death. Kenyon’s remembrance of Granny Olga is a touching, memorable insight into their relationship and the power of love. Overall an extremely heartfelt book and one we should hold off at our rallies and demonstrations on the issues these poems so powerful raise.