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Flamingo

Kathryn Bevis
ISBN-13: 
9781781726938
Publication Date: 
Monday, October 3, 2022
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“A stunning and original pamphlet... inspiring, impressive and wonderful.” – The London Grip

 

Kathryn Bevis’s Flamingo introduces us to a troupe of wild, unique, and captivating poems. Life and our own embodiment are brought sharply into focus as we encounter a variety of subjects including work, survival, love, and mortality. Formally inventive, these hopeful and sometimes surreal poems are not afraid to confront complex or difficult emotions. Cancer is posed as a ring-tailed lemur, capering through the sufferer’s body, and the title poem imagines death as a flamboyant transformation where the speaker shapeshifts into the afterlife. Each poem is a discovery and a joy: Flamingo is a debut of startling originality.

 

“Kathryn Bevis writes visceral, moving, sharp-eyed and formally adventurous poetry, often focussed on the embodied experience of women’s lives. But despite the quick wit, bite and sting of these poems – Bevis clearly couldn’t be paid to write a dull line – the deeper impression is of a poet of real wisdom, compassion and fearlessness, with an almost old-school faith in poetry as way of shedding light, of making sense of the most senseless aspects of the world. Only a writer of considerable gifts could repeat the trick so consistently.” – Don Paterson      

“This pamphlet is a delight – vibrant and fresh. Each of its poems, from the tenderest honeymoon address to the bold, inventive voices of its heroines, zings with vivacity and defiance. Never shying away from what is hard or painful, these poems keep rebellion as their lodestar, conjuring an energy which shines with wit and compassion.” – Liz Berry 

“These are poems of brilliant ideas and even better execution. The pages sing in a range of voices, giving us the thoughts of superheroes and union representatives, dolls and starlings. Every language choice the writer makes pulls in the same emotional direction, and this leads to poems of the most enormous power.  At their heart, they express what nothing can like poetry - empathy and love - and their feeling for a husband, a mother, a grandmother, even for a long-lost and bereaved former schoolfellow, make us glad to be human. By the end of the collection, with its sustained group of poems exploring love and mortality, I was in floods of tears, and convinced that this is the most accomplished and emotionally significant group of new poems I have read in a very long time. The pamphlet reminds us why poetry is so important, and will be clutched to the hearts of all of us who are lucky to read it.” – Jonathan Edwards

“If a poetry collection could ever be a box of fireworks, it would be this one.  From the first stanza, where Wonder Woman’s breasts are described as ‘twin spaniels off the leash’ we know we’re in for a high-stakes, high energy ride in this extraordinary collection. The description of cancer as a ring-tailed lemur is just one example of the way Bevis always sidesteps expectations to create poetry that is moving, transformative and always surprising.” – Kim Moore

 

‘The Smuggler’ by Kathryn Bevis. Film by Laurent Metrich with illustrations by Margaret Sturton.

 

 

REVIEWS

Review by Isabelle Thompson, Sphinx Review

Sunday, January 8, 2023

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.

Review by Rosie Jackson, The High Window

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

For some reason, I read the title poem, the final one in Kathryn Bevis’ debut pamphlet, first, then went backwards from there. It was an exhilarating, hypnotic experience. The last few poems especially are shot through not only with astonishing affirmations of life, love and beauty in the face of a cancer diagnosis, but just as notably a fantastic surreal humour and imaginative flight that makes the heart dance and the spirit soar. (The cover painting, of four pink flamingos astonished to find themselves displayed in a ceramic vase, is fabulous too).

The first verse of ‘Flamingo’, for example, which is a love poem to Kathryn’s husband:

My love, when I die, I’ll turn flamingo:
fall asleep, faced tucked in on the pillow
of myself. Even as you cry, I’ll be stepping
from the bed, feeling plush, pink tulle tutuing
from my hips. My legs will telescope, grow
thin and rosy. I’ll sense my feet web, feel
a new itch to stamp and stir, to suck up
larvae from the bottom of the lagoon.

The masterly way this metaphor is sustained through the poem, with craft and confidence but without contrivance, suggests this is a poet who has a great control of form, language and imagination and is now putting these to exemplary use in talking about mortality, separation and loss with no clumsiness or manipulation of feeling.

The earlier poems in Flamingo confirm this suspicion, ranging in form and subject as they do, from the cleverly wrought irreverent feminism of ‘Wonder Woman Questions her Status as a 70’s Symbol of Female Empowerment’ to a brilliant prose poem (its subject inevitably reminding me of Hannah Lowe’s The Kids) which give us a trainee teacher crying in the loo as she thinks of all the school kids with no future, some self-wounding, others unable to read, or on the ‘school-to-prison-pipeline.’ So much implied narrative is packed into such poignant and evocative lines, the heart-breaking social realities behind these poems evidence of Bevis’ working life in mental health and prison settings.

But serious though the subjects are, these poems are never dark. An impulse towards humour and a beautiful lyricism are always breaking through, woven into the fabric of these varied, inventive poems. In the earlier poems about family, such as ‘Knitting Nan Nan,’ I felt I could detect the influence of Jonathan Edwards, and his own wonderful collection My Family and Other Super Heroes, so it was no surprise to me to discover Edwards quoted in the Acknowledgements as a colleague and mentor. Bevis shares with him a vibrant and delicious attention to detail, to everyday specifics, as well as an awareness of the sad changes that time brings. Her poem ‘My Grandparents Pose on the Steps of Saint Matthew’s Church Sheffield, Boxing Day 1942’ juxtaposes a photo of the grandparents in black and white with a memory of the grandmother in her final days, ‘cast adrift in a soft and slack-mouthed sleep’, in the same way that Edwards deftly charts family history through photos, fine observations and memories. And I feel they share too a similar delightful playful tone, never merely superficial, but able to maintain a lightness of perspective and vision even when tackling the most tragic subjects.

Perhaps such influences, along with her own poetic and emotional maturity, are what enable Bevis to create such rich, exact, moving, deep, radiant and compelljng poems in response to her cancer diagnosis. Along with the title poem, my other two favourites are the ones that precede it: ‘My Cancer as a Ring-Tailed Lemur’ and ‘How Animals Grieve.’ Like many excellent poems, this one taught me much I didn’t know, and left my heart wrenched, yet also, by the end, lifted by the evidence of love that such grief evinces.

These are the opening two stanzas of ‘How Animals Grieve’ – so contemporary, so how it is, so how we do things now – (and how did I never know my brain weighs three pounds?):

We Google it. Laid on our backs in bed
together, cursed by our tired, three-pound brains,
we search our phones’ blue light for wisdom, become

voyeurs of YouTube clips on other creatures’ pain.

For seventeen days, a mourning orca
attends her dead son’s corpse. She sinks
and hauls the weight of him as if to fetch
the breath back, have him suckle once again.

We hear of similar morning rituals for chimps and elephants, then this unforgettable conclusion.

Like us, giraffes and housecats, dingoes, horses,
dogs forget to forage, forgo sex and sleep. Like us,
at burial mounds, they pace and yowl and keen.

So why should it surprise us, Ollie, – us
who matter most to one another, us whose marriage
is as deep as marrow – why is this loss
unthinkable: me without you, you without me?

At the side of such a love poem that is also an expression of all our loss and mortality, any critique needs to take off its shoes. This is poetry of the first order. I only hope that Kathryn Bevis has many more equally sublime and nurturing books to come.

Review by Emma Storr, The London Grip

Friday, October 21, 2022

Flamingo contains 31 poems of extraordinary bravery, variety and skill. Bevis’s wit and inventiveness shine through, even when dealing with painful subjects... Bevis often employs the surreal to give us refreshing and new perspectives on serious societal problems... Flamingo concludes with a sequence of poems that demonstrate Bevis’s bravery, both in the content matter (a cancer diagnosis) and in the imaginative use of metaphor and imagery. The poetry is very moving without ever being maudlin... A stunning and original pamphlet... Buy it now. It’s inspiring, impressive and wonderful.” – Emma Storr

Read the full review on The London Grip.

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