All the Naked Daughters by Anna Kisby (Against the Grain Poetry Press, 2017)

My friend,  Anna Kisby has won several prizes with her poetry and she’s been published in many magazines and anthologies, but this is her first solo book. All 20 poems (if I’ve counted correctly) are a joy to read, and an excellent one-shop-stop way to get to know her work. The poems are vivid portraits of flesh and blood women.  We meet characters of all ages, from the past and the now … facts and imaginings mixed into truths: friend, mother, grandmother, partner, lover, daughter, archivist, feminist, photographer, artist model, viewer of art, waitress, cowboy boot salesperson, Bob Dylan teenage fan, gardener, analysand and more … (incomplete list!) — and, as in life, these women in the poems take on multiple roles, AND each is a vivid,  idiosyncratic  individual who is always much more than just a role.

Anna is an articulate poet — master of the long line, descriptive & figurative language, and narrative pacing.  She’s a close observer of humans with a sharp intelligence & wit, who’s not afraid to make things feel very personal, and to show us what’s on her mind, and what’s important to her.  In some of the poems, she uses “real” people from the past, specific events and furthers them, and, on occasion, what feels to me like material from her own life . There’s the sense of the careful & concerned researcher who wants us to remember the past so that we can reflect on how we want to live our lives today.

To tell her stories, Anna makes effective use of material from her profession as an archivist. “Purse” as noted in the epigraph is in memory of Emily Wilding Davison, suffragette 1872-1913. Shockingly reminiscent of today’s Twitter trolls, she received “hate-mail hoping you  die/ more painfully than Anmer/(the King’s felled horse)”

 

Poems produced from the mix of details gleaned by Anna-the-archivist-and-keen-observer combined with  the language skills and imagination of Anna-the-poet is proof to me that poetic license is a powerful way to tell a story, show us people, surprise us, get us thinking, connect us to what’s real & true. Anna’s epigraph to All the Naked Daughters (below) perhaps is about the power of poetry, and the special role of imagination:

Invention is absolutely inevitable
– Hannah Lowe

“Boating under the Northern Lights” is dedicated to -”Sara from Nunavut” who the speaker shares a city flat with during a hot city summer waitressing and Sara’s storytelling creates an intimate time of magic:

The way she tells it, the sky is a peeled nectarine.
We wear bear leather, row an umiak of stretched skin
smelling of the tar that holds it together, make ripples
like salmon on the lake.


I think she is the seagull husband and I the goddess Nerrivick …

 

The clever 10-liner “Ménage à trois” is an exphrastic response to Lucian Freud’s Girl with a White Dog. To the painter’s probable chagrin, he’s told  “Look, don’t touch”;  it’s the dog who gets the girl:

… Only the albino dog
dares get close, with his muscly chin and meat-breath,
the stubble of his underbelly that prickles
the ticklish crook of her knee –
for which no apology is ever asked
of him. …

As I re-read All the Naked Daughters, I realize how I’m only skimming the surface. Every poem in this book is a jewel.  I’m here at the moment  re-enjoying “Reap the Benefit” in which a mother with young children (and another on the way ) during times of economic recession  doesn’t  know:

…what’s to be done
with all these rosebuds
I tune into Radio 4, Gardener’s Question Time.
I’m startled to find they’ve replaced the pips and chimes
with a Member of Parliament who snaps at me
tighten your belt – tetchy …

The time has come to cut back, a voice soothes,
slash overgrowth, prune – …

 

Her response to the politician  combines  a wit that’s sharper than a sharp pair of secateurs, a return to the garden, an answer to growing children and yes, even the rosebuds in a brilliant bit of magic realism, but I’ll only give you how the ending starts:

I’ll be too milky, too sleepless
for austerity and backchat. I’ll dig three beds
under the ailing rose, …

 

There have been several reviews of Anna’s book and here are the links that I found:

 

I asked Anna if I could include all of one poem, and this is the one I chose, and she agreed. For those of you who have not yet ordered and read the book, this will be a treat. And it’s quite glorious how the grandmother is remembered from the man’s point of view — and the use of the third person helps us go far back in time with him — and share something unforgettable, and it’s ADRENALINE -inducing each time I read it!!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the Naked Daughters by Anna Kisby has the distinction of being the first book published by Against the Grain Poetry Press.

Buy it here.

 

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