My Shrink is Pregnant, Katie Griffiths
Illustrated by Anna Steinberg

The jacket is white. All text is black and placed towards the right of the cover in the bottom right hand quarter. First the title in large black lower case. Then author's name much smaller. Then the fact that it is 'Illustrated by Aena Steinberg'. To the left of the text there is a wobbly line drawing. It's semi-abstract woman in profile sitting in (I think) a chair. The woman's head reaches up to about two thirds up the jacket. From the top left hand corner of the jacket there's a red spurge of paint that curves outward and then sploshes over the woman's head, dripping down to about her waist.

Live Canon, 2019      £7.00

Impressively sustaining a theme

One of the four winners of Live Canon’s 2019 pamphlet competition, this is the most generous of pamphlets, packing 47 taut, mostly short poems into its 36 pages. It’s nicely illustrated with Anna Steinberg’s watercolours, often aptly Rorschach-Test-like. Together, the poems trace a (presumably imagined) relationship between a patient and her psychoanalyst, in the former’s voice, over a six-month period. Each poem’s title begins with ‘My Shrink’ and runs on into the poem.

Taken as individual poems, some might be less impressive without the context of the whole. Nonetheless, every single one contains memorable images and/or turns of phrases, which keep the reader fully engrossed in the patient’s increasing obsession with the analyst. Griffiths veers off on many tangents, of which a good proportion are delightfully surreal, without being annoyingly implausible. For example ‘My shrink’s consulting room’ (which is also the first line title), ‘echoes like a music room /whose piano has been removed.’

No 1920s walnut upright
standing in the corner
bearing the brunt, taking the hit,
its grubbied keys endlessly petitioned
like the toes of a marble saint.

The poet sustains the first simile with word-perfect aplomb and telling detail. No words are wasted. Adjectives are used sparingly, to excellent effect — especially that terrific ‘grubbied’, which is so much better than ‘grubby’ would have been. That final piece of imagery is splendidly inventive too.

If there’s any criticism to be levelled at the story-telling, it’s only that both characters remain slightly elusive — but even that allows the reader to use their own imagination to fill in the gaps.

Many of the poems are very funny. In one (’My Shrink Has Done Something Weird’), the shrink’s having a bad-hair day: ‘She’s quarrelled with half her head’, to an extent that ‘only her turquoise bauble earrings / are poised to keep the peace’.

With such natural imaginative ability, it’s no wonder Griffiths came second in the National Poetry Competition last year with her poem ‘Do Not Indulge Indigo’.

What this pamphlet further demonstrates is that she can winningly sustain a narrative theme across a sequence of poems without dullness or repetitiveness.

Matthew Paul