Other Women’s Kitchens, Alison Binney
Seren, 2021 £5.00
This is a fun, tender exploration of lesbianism, almost a primer, perhaps, for women who haven’t yet come out. Poems such as ‘Coming out for beginners’, ‘The L Word’, and ‘Lesbianism by numbers’ have a practical edge, interesting for discussions revolving around the uses of poetry.
‘The Word’ — written ‘in commemoration of the 40th anniversary of Gay’s The Word bookshop’ — made me think of a different kind of pamphleteering, to which Other Women’s Kitchens feels similar: 1970s gay liberation literature. Having said that, certain lines have a yearning, tender quality, a world apart from any activist lit:
Other people walked past.
No one thought
they were gay.
I wondered if they
might be gay.
The poem that really caught my attention was ‘Testimony’ — strongly eye-catching because it’s in the shape of a Latin cross or crucifix. It is made up of ‘sources from the testimonies of LGBTQ+ Christians who shared experiences of coming out in church communities’. It begins: ‘you have a hole in your / soul your breasts belong to your future husband’. I can’t help being reminded of Marilyn Manson lyrics here (‘there’s a hole in a soul that we fill with dope. And we’re feelin’ fine’), which, for me, adds to the queer comic zest.
I also enjoy the sheer randomness of comments in ‘Testimony’, such as ‘you’re not as well-dressed as I thought’, or ‘so annoying it is possible you were dropped on your head at birth Jesus’. This poem is cunningly unpunctuated so it isn’t immediately obvious where a sentence begins and ends: the reader gets to choose what’s being said.
The collection isn’t all comedy. It seriously criticises — through comedy — the homophobia within various church communities: ‘I’ve stopped shopping in the supermarket that shows two men / cooking lasagne in their home because I think they’re normalising something disgusting’.
It also captures the superiority/smugness of some Christians, what you might call the arms’ length approach to LGBTQ+ people within churches:
we love you and are happy to continue coming to church but we don’t think it appropriate for you to speak can I pray for you?
It’s difficult to always say where the boundary between rhetoric and poetry exactly lies in Other Women’s Kitchens — I think it’s a mixture. But most importantly, it is unfalteringly generous to people who are different.