Playing House

Katherine Stansfield
Publication Date: 
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
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Playing House is the debut collection of poetry from Katherine Stansfield. A concise wit, a distinct voice and an unsettling view of the domestic characterise these poems whose subjects are the ordinary as viewed through the author’s satirical yet sympathetic eye. John Lennon’s tooth, an imaginary ‘Canada’, bees in Rhode Island, cats and office politics are all peculiar grist to this author’s mill. She presents both historical subjects such as Captain Scott of the Antarctic, and common objects, such as household bleach, from a skewed perspective, adding humour, drama and a quietly distinctive pathos.

‘Striking imagery, strange leaps of thought, wit and menace aside, the unmistakeable thrill of Katherine Stansfield’s poetry is in the voice. It addresses the world directly, takes it personally, and comes at the reader from constantly unexpected angles, a tangible, physical thing.’ – Philip Gross

‘Tightly-wrought and multi-layered, Katherine Stansfield's poems are a wonderful alchemy, touching on a range of experiences, each one lit with rhythm and wordplay, from the "laminated skin" of the library card to the hymn to bleach.’ – Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch ‘

...Her recent work is the best I have seen from her: highly distinctive, charged with a wit that has nothing to do with trying to be funny and everything to do with the strangeness of being in the world. Her last lines are devastating, not just in themselves, but because they make you realize how far you’ve come in the few stanzas that preceded them. I’ve always thought she was going to be a star in the poetry world, and I believe that more strongly than ever.’ – Mathew Francis


Review by Magma

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

‘What really impresses is Stansfield’s power of subtle observation and the dynamism with which that is expressed. […] The poems are full of surprises, not for the sake of being kooky or self-consciously eccentric, but because Stansfield is adept at treading new paths through the world.’

Review by the New Welsh Review

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

‘Smug hipster she ain’t. And forms of life other than our own relentlessly self-conscious sort are welcomed into her poems.’

Review by Lindsay Macgregor, Dundee University Review of the Arts

Friday, January 22, 2016

Quirky and surreal, witty and menacing. 

Review by Natalie Thomas, Oh Hello Poetry

Sunday, June 28, 2015

As an English Literature student, I tend to try and pick out themes within bodies of written work. In terms of Katherine Stansfield and her collection: Playing House, the only theme that I can think of that truly captures her poetic focus is ‘life’. Life in all its weird and wonderful glory.

Her poems explore everyday things like eating biscuits, serving tea, looking after cats and sitting on the tube. Whilst these might sound like rather menial topics, you will find yourself smiling in recognition of these moments and marvelling at how notable, even poetic, the everyday can truly be.

I think my favourite poem of the collection was ‘Relic’. It addresses a news report about the auctioning of John Lennon’s tooth. Stansfield takes this snippet of unusual news, already interesting in itself, and creates a poem full of surprising yet captivating imagery:

‘After fifty years it looks
like forgotten popcorn
or a knot of Wrigley’s
chewed past stretch.’

Stansfield’s imagination, in terms of both language and poetic content, is what truly makes her poetry. For example, she envisages someone planting Lennon’s tooth or someone putting it in their ear to hear

‘the long dead croon:

love love me do.’

(The above line made for a great ending. I turned over the corner of this poem just to experience those closing words again.)

Reading Stansfield’s poetry often surprised me. The normal and everyday became unexpected, unusual and gripping. A night out became a night of eating the moon, ‘ buoyed by the waves/ a cake on a tray’. See the poem: ‘I decided to have a night out’. Afternoon became an adventure on the sea, ‘hoisting the curtains as sails’ and taking ‘custard creams’ along for the ride. See the poem: ‘How I know I need a biscuit in the afternoon’. Finally, pandas became creatures of make believe. No quotation needed here, just read the title: ‘There’s no such thing as pandas’.

So if you have cats, like biscuits or crisps, ride the tube or the train, watch fireworks, hate working in a café or watch David Attenborough’s nature programmes on the BBC (yes there’s a poem for that too), then have a read of this collection and discover just how interesting and book-worthy these things can be.

On another note: The cover design of this collection (a collage-esque scene of a tea party) is, by far, the most interesting anthology cover I’ve seen in a while. (Thank you Heather Landis).


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