London Grip Poetry Review – Laura McKee

Poetry review – TAKE CARE OF YOUR HOOVES DARLING: Pat Edwards is struck by the originality of this new pamphlet by Laura McKee

Take care of your hooves darling 
Laura McKee
Against the Grain 
ISBN 978-1-7391684-2-1 

From the title to the very last poem, this is an enigmatic pamphlet, dotted with dry wit and the confident use of unexpected language. Many poems are short, clipped, and distinctly lacking in punctuation, as if to lay bare their truth. This certainly makes for a set of poems that are easy to read in one sitting, but you have to go back to appreciate their ambiguity, and work a little harder to experience their depth and multiple layers. There are references to art and artists, their muses, their colour palette, and more than a smattering of sexual innuendo.

I got the feeling that one theme running through the pamphlet was an exploration of the body, our changing attitude to it as we age and how we fall into the trap of making comparisons. In the opening poem, ‘the hard animal of her body’, a woman considers her vulnerability, concluding that there is weakness in everything:

it should never have happened
it’s meant to be strong

The poet uses elements of the natural world in which to frame some of her ideas. The poem ‘woods’ is so short and succinct that it is worth quoting in its entirety by means of illustration:

when no-one is watching
she takes off everything
that clings to her

lies belly down
in the river’s lap

lets cool water
run through all the gaps

The poem’s strength is that it unburdens itself of unnecessary vocabulary, just as someone removing their clothes might feel free, allowing the sensation of water to cleanse them.

Another short poem, ‘sheepish’, is a clever play on words. The poem feels like a coming of age, a realisation that women don’t have to be meek and submissive in any situation, but can grow ‘the horns of a ram’.

Although nudity is often used to represent vulnerability, the poet has other tools. For example, she makes use of the idea of experiencing illness, of being dependent on surgeons and nurses. In ‘Occult blood’, the patient is in recovery after an operation, where even the comforting thought of a cup of tea and a biscuit is laced with worries about ‘the way out’. In ‘Walls’, the poet makes excellent use of this metaphor:

We were each other’s brick wall 
with the writing on it

and reaches the harsh and striking conclusion that:

holy Mary mother of god
mortal Daphne mother of me
loneliness is harder than walls

A wall is put to a very different use in the poem that follows; in ‘pressed up against’ a couple truly enjoy one another and ‘feel all the hard bright pieces/falling away’.

McKee once again demonstrates her mastery of the short poem in ‘dried flowers’. In just twelve lines she encapsulates what it is to be somewhere between life and death, tied and free, full of potential. This is a little gem of a poem, ‘the sap left in their stems/went straight to their heads’. The reader can marvel at similarly clever brevity in ‘violins’, ten lines, and ‘there goes the red horse again’, just nine lines. Both these poems are full to bursting with possible meaning and it’s great to see the reader/listener left with work to do and interpretations to arrive at.

I can’t help feeling we will hear more from this poet as she continues to experiment with what it is possible to say when you dare, as she does, to be playful. This pamphlet may be just the start of something if you’re intrigued, as many will be, by tin cows, dead frogs, and the absence of capital letters (who needs them anyway?)