Faint, Lucy Dixcart
Wild Pressed Books, 2020 £4.50
The female physical at the office
As the blurb suggests, this pamphlet ranges over a number of themes ‘such as maternity, memories of student life, office politics, and reflections on beginnings and endings.’
I was particularly struck by three poems that bring a couple of these themes together, looking at the experience of returning after maternity leave (with a changed body) to male-dominated office life. It’s not the first time I’ve enjoyed reading poems about physical female experience, but I don’t think I’ve come across anyone else covering this exact ground before.
‘The Let-Down’ is about breast-feeding in general, opening with the words of a woman in authority in the world of motherhood outside work:
Your nipples, she says, are less than ideal.
You’re starving your baby, she says — the punchline.
I’ll come back every day, she promises.
Similarly, in the workplace the speaker is diminished and scorned:
At work I occupy the cupboard. A door lock is vetoed —
health and safety. My new hire reads of a breast milk café,
says he’s up for tit-flavoured ice cream.
In ‘The Man in a Suit Swooped Down’, the speaker is again overwhelmed and belittled: ‘He wrenched my volume low until I swallowed my voice.’ She sees this as happening because she is
too young, too female,
prone to milking myself in the stationery cupboard.
‘Return’ brings together the two sides of the speaker’s new life, starting:
The person returning is not
who she was before, even if she’s wearing the right clothes
(larger than last time) over damp breast pads
The poem goes on to explore this ‘off kilter’ but familiar world. It ends with the speaker ‘holding on until half past five when she can return’ to her new life at home.
I’m glad that we have poems like this, refusing to be silenced, reflecting the complexity of women’s changing lives, and how we are often more than one thing at once.