Green cover emblazoned with New Poets PrizeUgly Bird, Lauren Hollingsworth Smith

New Poets List 2021, Smith/Doorstop    £5.00

The naked truth

This pamphlet sets out to expose what is hidden. In the first poem, ‘I Want to Stand Naked in the School Hall’, the poet imagines herself ‘on the podium’ in front of ‘a hundred stark looks’:

I want their eyes to burn into my skin, examine
its ripples and folds and the scar that digs it up
like a trench in Ypres.

They will see a ‘lopsided’ body, ‘hairy armpits’, ‘wonky tits’. The point is to announce that the poet is not perfect and has hidden scars. The poem she will read will be ‘full blast’ so that it will ‘near burst their eardrums.’

This is a very dramatic beginning to a pamphlet that is full of energy. It tackles its themes head on. In ‘Cappuccinos’ we are told what the family don’t talk about:

           how Mum, unable to escape my crying,
made me a mug of tea and threw it at the wall

         the packets of paracetamols, about how my sister
slapped me and stuck her fingers down my throat.

Rather than talk, ‘Instead we sit at a table, all four of us, / eating a banana loaf and sipping cappuccinos’. The father states, ‘This is proper coffee’, ‘real beans, strong and dark’.

As I read on through the 18 poems, I realised that the naked truths are not all about harm. The poet sticks to the idea of stripping things down to show us beauty and love too. So, in ‘The Moon Stripping’, we watch the moon:

She takes time and care,
gently unpeeling her layers
like the papery skins of a garlic.

The tantalising striptease continues as she exposes ‘a slither of crescent-cut flesh.’

In ‘Painting People’ the poet is creating at the same time as exposing a truth: she is ‘slapping it on’ but also revealing the exquisite detail of the subject. The poems expose injustice and harm, but also vulnerability and the care needed for healing:

            I like stroking paper with brushes
as thin as eyelashes
                                               blinking life
into eyes through the dotting of a tiny white speck.

Anne Bailey