The Way the Crocodile Taught Me
‘This is a stunning collection.’ – Write Out Loud
‘Katrina Naomi’s The Way the Crocodile Taught Me shows that she is a compelling poetic storyteller, capable of creating intimacy via distance, layering characters, bringing them alive and generating emotional resonance.’
– Rogue Strands
Katrina Naomi’s new poetry collection, The Way the Crocodile Taught Me, is a heartfelt and tragi-comic portrayal of a fraught childhood and adolescence. Central to the book are two sequences: one about an awful stepfather, and the other about a kindly but also comically old-fashioned grandmother. A mother appears, distant, glamorous as a film star. An absent father is also a dream: “After my father left, I grew/ a battery of hearts,/ felt each of them beat,/ like doves in a casket/”. These family poems are both heartbreaking and often hilarious, sometimes both at once as in ‘Portrait of my Stepfather as a Xmas Tree’.
The grandmother is a redemptive presence, rescuing the child from indifferent parenting, but also ruthlessly old-school, rebuking the college student, excited by her first year at University: “You’ve got ideas above your station.” The stepfather is a 17-stone brute, “mostly in a temper” who lolls about the front room where “we were all hemmed-in by the giant sofa.” The author discovers a virulent energy, and maybe even her vocation to write, in her interactions with her family, in her rage to survive. The Crocodile of the title is this dark energy brought to life as an ultimately redemptive and positive creative force.
The tone of the work is as much tender as turbulent, reflecting the protagonist’s travails. The short narratives of the second section of the book are informed by the events of the first half: and these new scenes are rarely comfortable, as in the sinister ‘Breakfast at the New Hampshire Motel’ or the frightening ‘Wolf on a Hillside’. ‘The Bicycle’ imagines a victim suffering the numbness of denial after an attempted rape. ‘Concrete Overcoat’ portrays the sadistic relish of the Kray twins as they encase a victim in concrete.
But interspersed with the awful there are moments of humour, of contemplation, redemption, realisation: ‘Fledgling’ admires someone with the courage to “perch on the ledge”: ‘Comfort Me with Apples’ is a short lyric, reminiscent of an Elizabethan song. These pointed, lively and always entertaining poems are sure to win Katrina Naomi new readers as well as delighting her many followers.