Flamingo, Kathryn BevisThe jacket is filled with a full colour painting of a bellied blue and white vase filled not with flowers but flamingoes. There are leaves too between their necks. Towards the foot of the jacket and slightly to the right of centre, the title appears in large pink caps. Below this the name of the author is in fairly large yellow lowercase.

Seren, 2022   £6.00

Identity and transformation

‘Whatever happens / now is who we might become’

This debut pamphlet is marked by myriad transformations. From persona poems that transform the usually silent into eloquent narrative voices, to multiple human-to-animal metamorphoses, Bevis uses transformation to look sideways at the painful and move towards hope.

The opening poem, ‘Wonder Woman Questions her Status as a ’70s Symbol of Female Empowerment’, sees Wonder Woman changed from a sex symbol into an autonomous being. ‘I was given my script from birth,’ she says. ‘Fuck that. I want to take up room.’

In ‘Matryoshka’, Russian dolls are given voice to describe how the ‘smallest’ doll is different from the others because she ‘was born with no space / inside’.

Perhaps the most powerful persona piece is ‘starlings’, where a flock of starlings takes on a united voice: ‘for we are the MANY / we are the ONE’.

Indeed, it is the poems involving animals that provide some of the most significant transmogrifications — for example ‘In which I imagine my aborted foetus sings to me’. This piece has startling tenderness and power, swapping an aborted foetus for ‘a bird’ ‘inside’ a ‘body’s cage of gold’.

In ‘2020’, humans under lockdown become ‘a squid’ ‘trapped inside’ a ‘fridge’. By alighting on such drastic alteration, Bevis highlights the unnaturalness of the constraints placed upon us in that year.

In fact, the most powerful pieces here are perhaps those that use transformations to look at painful situations. ‘Teddy’ replaces an abusive partner with a teddy bear, while ‘My Cancer as a Ring-Tailed Lemur’ casts cancer not as something to be fought but as an ‘endangered’ animal. In the title poem, ‘Flamingo’, the dying become a ‘flock’ of flamingos.

The ever-shifting identities in Flamingo make for a poetry that accepts change as a constant, addressing the darkest of subject matter with great compassion and even hope. In ‘Anagrams of Happiness’, ‘whatever happens / now is who we might become’ — identity is never a finished thing. The last lines of the pamphlet tell us ‘the dead must learn to love again’. Even death cannot stop the shifting faces of love.

Isabelle Thompson