Thursday, 29 April 2021

My Darling from the Lions by Rachel Long

Catriona Troth

What We Thought of It:

This complex debut poetry collection by Rachel Long is structured in three parts.

The first part, Open explores issues of sexuality, power, exploitation and consent. Poems such as “Night Vigil”, “Apples” and “8” point darkly to child sexual abuse within a church setting.

“During the Three Members prayer, my sister fell asleep
Under a chair, so she never knew
How I sang. Or how I fell silent
When the evangelist with smiling eyes said in his pulpit voice,
Here child”

“Sandwiches” and “Bike” suggest teenage exploration that may or may not have gone to far and exposed the narrator to danger, while in “Helena” a sex worker relives an act of rape by co-worker.

In a sequence of short poems called “Open”, the poem’s narrator wakes in the morning with her mouth open and her hands in her hair, the pose interpreted for her in different ways by different observers.

“What, mum, like screaming?
She says, No, baby, like abandon”

In the second section – A Lineage of Wigs – the poems revolve around Long’s Nigerian mother and Long’s own experiences as a young child.

“Mum’s Snake” tells the story of a curse put on her by her sister, ultimately forcing her to shave off her hair, while “Car Sweetness” captures a moment of tenderness between her parents.

“Some long journeys back,
Mum would lay her hand
Over Dad’s on the gearstick”

There are poems that recall the experience of growing up as a mixed-race child – her schoolmates doubting her fair-haired father is hers, and contrasting her sister’s long, straight hair to hers. Her scalp burning as her mother cornrows her hair.

“All the ‘sheep’s wool’ they love to touch and say eww to at school
has been harvested into rows at the top of my head:
black crown or web.”

The final section, Dolls, is a more generalised exploration of racism. It begins with a pair of poems in which the story of a racist attack is then played out between three dolls – Barbie, Ken, and the dark-skinned Steve. “Black Princess” then painfully reflects the snobbish and racist treatment of Meghan Markle.

Throughout the book there are other poems that are more surreal – their meaning elusive. This isn’t a collection that gives up its secrets easily – but it is one that more than rewards the effort of close reading.

Shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize, Costa Poetry Award, Forward Prize for best first collection, and the 2021 Jhalak Prize

Listen to Rachel Long reading from My Darling From the Lions at the Coronet Theatre, Nottingham.

You’ll Enjoy This If You Loved: Nudibranch by Irenosen Okojie

Avoid If you Dislike: Poems that refuse to give up their meaning easily, challenging the reader to work things out for themselves.

Perfect Accompaniment: Sugared almonds

Genre: Poetry

Buy This Book Here:

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