Sylvanian Family, Summer Young
Bad Betty Press, 2020 £6.00
These are poems with smart plot twists. They range from cartoon lightheartedness to darker jesting (with strong messages about family brokenness). In the title piece, for example, a disturbing beginning sets off a series of blackly humorous images:
like any good daughter I tie the bed sheets
into a rope for my father
to escape the house he set alight
The backhanded logic captures the double mirror of our unconscious. It’s psychological, and humorous from a distance, and the poem then calls in the disturbing image of the father returning
ten years later
his children charred and crunchy
skin like beef jerky
So few words to create such an evocative, violent image! There’s a satirical element, too, and I’m reminded of the album cover artwork of Marilyn Manson’s ‘Portrait of an American Family’, where the parents and children are depicted as grinning zombie-eyed dolls, pretending happiness.
This satirical quality is present throughout Sylvanian Family, although poems like ‘Fuck You, Eddy’ are much rawer, punching the reader in the gut when the objectivity of the speaker is paired with the description of a rape.
What strikes me most about Summer Young’s debut is its readability. The writing is both accessible and deeply layered, and comic enough to achieve a poignancy that outplays the horror.