This Lexia & Other Languages, Helen Kay

V. Press, 2020   £6.50

The poetry of difference

One virtue of pamphlets is that a theme can be creatively sustained across twenty-odd poems in a way which might become wearing in a full collection. Sometimes the more unlikely the subject matter, the more intriguing it can be, as this pamphlet exemplifies. Helen Kay, a dyslexia tutor, considers dyslexia and how it is — and isn’t — addressed in mainstream schooling and beyond, principally via the relationship between a mother and her son. From the opener, ‘Elderly Primigravida Talks to her Dyslexic Son’, Kay highlights the boy’s non-neurotypical challenges:

at the creche you fled from gaping toddlers
their lexical smother of paint on salt dough

you liked the wall chart where lines of spots
made numbers and you burst out one two free

In ‘Reception Class: Boy in Bits’, Kay uses indentation to provide extra emphasis of the boy’s difference, but shows how accepting he is of others’ diverse behaviour. She doesn’t preach; instead she uses aptly unadorned language to allow everyday situations to unravel in a way which enables the reader to understand and root for the boy. This comes from ‘Special Boy and the Five-year Sentence’:

Time for departures.
His rucksack’s Nike swoosh ticks him to go.
The teacher’s schemes will rock or roll his day.

Occasionally, understandable bitterness comes to the fore, as in ‘The Day Joe Found Out’:

‘Dyslexic.’ It was dealt him like a card

that held his fate, spelt out the reasons
for twenty years of Class A hate.

In ‘Angry Mother Syndrome’, a SENCO (special educational needs coordinator), who should be sympathetic, ‘snarls, We could all use extra time.’ An especially memorable poem, ‘Dad Learns Latin at the Village School, 1969’, outlines how things used to be even worse: for mis-conjugating verbs, ‘They made Tom stand upon a chair until / he wet himself.’

Other poems address technical aspects of dyslexia, how the brain confuses letter sounds. One celebrates famous people, among them Picasso, who succeeded despite their dyslexia. If one point of poetry is to present, in a fresh manner, a diversity of experience that many (or most) readers probably won’t have experienced themselves, then this pamphlet does just that.

Matthew Paul