Poetry review – WAYS OF HEALING: Emma Lee finds emotional depth in a new collection by Charlotte Shevchenko Knight
Ways of Healing Charlotte Shevchenko Knight Smith|Doorstop ISBN 978-1-914914-26-3 (eBook ISBN 978-1-914914-27-0) £5
Charlotte Shevchenko Knight’s poems explore conception, the end of an affair and loss. They are not dismal but push their speaker and readers towards the light at the end of the darkness. There’s a sense that however grim today is, there’s hope, which might not arrive tomorrow, but it is on its way. ‘Moondaddy’ shows one way of beginning to think of the future
Today the doctor asked if I was planning on keeping it Right now it is a grainy little moon
However, the “it” doesn’t appear to have been conceived in love,
The days when you pretend we do not know each other fill me with all this understanding for foxes screaming in the night for want of sex Imagine your reaction to something concrete proof of a world in which we have both existed momentarily even if it is just this this malformed pearl ready to be crushed
Two people barely speaking and drifting apart are not in a position to become parents. Although the last line could have two readings – firstly the “it” was created as a relationship fell apart or secondly that it was not properly formed and was doomed not to reach full term.
A little later, in ‘You are a Woman Marked for Sorrow’, after a visit to an ‘uncaring doctor’ for abdominal pains the narrator speaks of trying to sleep next to an ‘uncaring boyfriend’,
who snores effortlessly next to you pelvic twinges the sighing dog yearning to either have or become a child cold cups of tea general forgetfulness care at the centre of all your longing self-help books crystal healing jade eggs swimming at dawn drinking saltwater taking in all of nature wanting to become a natural woman child-bearing hips fallopian hurries questioning relatives & sorrow & sorrow & sorrow
This paints a picture of a woman out of sync with her world and the relatives who assume the relationship is happy enough to produce children. The woman is unsure of whether she wants to fulfil her role, whether she wants to be mother or comforted like a child. The books don’t seem to be much help. She is trying to work on herself when stuck in a dying relationship with someone unsupportive who seems happy enough to drift along while making little contribution. It seems as if she’d be better off with someone intervening and telling her to stop trying to please others and figure out what she wants.
‘Shame Sunday’ makes a wake-up call,
LIFE IS NOT A FEVER DREAM CHARLOTTE WAKE UP i sizzle in place eyes black & shining try to form a thought like onyx that doesn’t revolve around the failures of my body dig my nails into valencian sand
Black onyx crystals are used for grounding and self-control. The speaker is trying to regain control instead of drifting. It’s also a symbol for sadness and, in some cultures, bad luck. Pushing her hands into the sand points to the symbolism of grounding. The speaker has reached a turning point.
The theme of rituals and symbols is picked up again in the title poem,
in a bush of milkweed let its pearly sap ooze over yr sunspots in damage there is healing my mother recommends rubbing hot vinegar across my breasts i’m not sure what for before a party stuff yr bra w/ cabbage leaves for perkier nipples trust me to draw blood from the earth bury a spoon in the garden a clover will grow pluck it place it on yr tongue it should dissolve leaving behind a metallic taste the morning after a breakup strip down to yr underwear on a public beach walk into the winter waves this is as close as u’ll get to being vulnerable again
The reasoning behind these suggestions is that they give someone who feels powerless a sense of agency and the ability to do something probably harmless that makes them feel as if they have started to lose the sense of hopelessness and find a path towards a solution. The rituals buy time for emotional healing and offer possibilities.
These poems are haunting: after the book is closed, ideas or phrases surface again prompting either a return to the poem or thoughts around their subject. Shevchenko Knight bears witness to early womanhood, first love and the vulnerability both entail. Ways of Healing has a lyrical, persuasive tone that refuses to dictate to the reader.