She Too Is A Sailor, Antonia Jade King

Bad Betty Press, 2019   £6

Mother/daughter/male tensions

In tightly-knit poems King writes energetically about a young woman’s experience of a protective mother. These pieces are intertwined with commentary on edgy relationships with men.

The influence of pop culture in the female narrator’s reality is emphasised in the nods to Will Smith, Maya Angelou and in the epigraph citing Beyoncé, affectionately known as ‘bey’, a feminist role model who, in the poem ‘the moon is a woman so how dare you do this in front of her’, ‘take(s) over the louvre’:

Okay, ladies, now let’s get in formation.

In the eponymous first poem (‘antonia jade king’) there is an interesting sparring between the female and male wills — the mother’s ‘I named you so men do not need to’ contrasting with the man’s ‘I will name you with my fist’. The narrator fights for her identity through her choice of name.

In ‘Ten’ the girl child asks ‘what will men allow me to do to my face when I’m older’ and again, in ‘if I know anything’ we read of a man’s bite marks, and her bleeding, as she retorts ‘I’ll use my teeth’. These poems are fierce and bold with an overwhelming sense of danger as the poems heighten in intensity.

The poem ‘he breathes easily when’ suggests the man’s nervousness playing with the suggestion of infidelity. He plays music ‘in the hope I’ll stop asking things’, ‘breathes easier when not looking into my eyes’.

This is reinforced in ‘that night I began yelling’. The female protagonist senses she hasn’t ‘got rid of all / the venom he yelled into my body’.

The final prose poem surges with powerful symbolism. In ‘conversations with my mother about love’, the language of the sea is well deployed: father as a sailor, a human being as an anchor, a mother drowning, a river, storms, horizon, sails. For me, the key message rings out in these lines: ‘My mum told me men are sailors. She said you will only ever be a boat to them. Use me as your anchor.’

Maggie Mackay