In an ideal world I’d not be murdered, Chaucer Cameron
Against the Grain Poetry Press, 2021 £6.00
In these poems that explore the effects of prostitution, there’s no John Wayne or Humphrey Bogart trying to protect Katherine Hepburn. No superman rescuing Lois Lane. Not even a father committed to keeping his daughter safe. The women — and girls — in these poems have to take care of themselves. Their vulnerability is in their voices:
I’m not sure what’s wrong with it.
Tricia’s done it twice, she said.
She’s sixteen. I’m nearly eight.
The women’s bravery reminds me of that shown by Ma Joad and her daughter in Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. But somehow, it’s even harder to comprehend because Ma Joad has Pa, her son Tom and the preacher for support, whereas these women — mostly prostitutes — inhabit a world where brutality from men is mundane.
For example, after getting off the bus
Ellen still had a twenty-minute walk home.
Bears … wild boars maybe.
That rustling crack closing in
must be animal.
It took three days to discover the body,
reporters said it was hard to identify —
The word ‘devoured’ is horrible, and haunting, as is the eerie understatement of ‘must be animal’.
And my heart goes out to Hina in ‘Hina needs swabbing’. Poor Hina has been ‘favoured by a trainee gynaecologist / who used her every Monday; now he wants a change.’ I can only surmise what sort of swabbing is involved, and what might have created its necessity.
And it takes courage to fully engage with the physical and emotional pain of the writing. Some of it is stated so calmly (as in the poem ‘Love’) that it’s easy to miss:
Ash held off a stab wound
through her laugh.
It developed overnight
into a grating hound-noise.
Words weren’t easy after that.
Nothing here is easy to read. Each poem seems like a skirmish in an on-going war. However brave they are, none of the women will ever go to Buckingham Palace and have a Victoria Cross pinned to her chest.
But these poems do, in effect, mention them in dispatches. Or perhaps, are a war memorial, acknowledging and honouring the fallen.