Brown wooden-effect cover with an inset of stone figure-impressions? White letteringLearning from the Body, Sue Butler

Yaffle Press, 2020         £6.50


I’m often apprehensive about speaking for myself, let alone anyone else. And gender issues are risky. However, I’m going to venture an opinion that these poems contain subtle issues of guilt that could baffle some male readers.

For example, in ‘The elliptical yellow fruit of the lemon tree’, I suspect some men may ask whether women really do feel as the narrator describes; or may even fail to sense the guilt implied in:

Later in life, tamed — I had sworn I would not be —
by a mother-in-law who escaped post-war austerity

in Washington, I would cheat on my first love with the sweet
potato, soft and comfortable as middle-age spread.

And in ‘The first year’, while the narrator is clearly comforted by a particular action, will male readers sense the slight hint of guilt? Guilt that during that heatwave of a summer

you slept against a pillow
in our new bed, drove
sixty miles each day so I
would know there was someone home

‘Six o’clock’, however, seems to be a poem about choice and guilt to which everyone can relate. It’s about a woman and her son and begins:

You have been practising kicks: axe, crescent,
your tiger stance. I have promised to be home
in time for Tae Kwon Do.

But in order to keep this promise to be home, the narrator (a doctor) has to defy the practice receptionist who has insisted that ‘Mrs Briggs’ urgent call should be my first concern’. A moral quandary. What will the doctor do?

The doctor hands Mrs Briggs — who has pain in her chest and fears death — to the on-call doctor, whom Mrs Briggs doesn’t know.

Guilt if you do. Guilt if you don’t — the same whatever your gender. And an anecdote that illustrates this beautifully.

Sue Butler*


*Sue Butler the OPOI reviewer is not the same Sue Butler who is the author of these poems!