London Grip Poetry Review – Rachael Clyne


Poetry review – YOU’LL NEVER BE ANYONE ELSE: Emma Lee reflects on Rachael Clyne’s poems about finding and maintaining an authentic identity

You’ll Never Be Anyone Else 
Rachael Clyne
ISBN 978178727034
 60pp         £9.99

Rachael Clyne has invented a “Girl Golem”, a figure based on the clay-made mythical being invoked in Kabbalistic spells by rabbis. It usually has the Yiddish word for truth written on its forehead and God’s name on its tongue and iscreated to protect Jewish people from persecution. Through this figure, Clyne explores her Jewish and lesbian identity and also tackles domestic violence, migrant heritage and ageing. The poem “Girl Golem” introduces this figure whose task is

to hold up their world, be their assimilation ticket,
find a nice boy and mazel tov – grandchildren!

But she was a hotchpotch golem, a schmutter garment
that would never fit, trying to find answers
without a handbook. When she turned eighteen,
she walked away, went in search of her own kind,
tore their god from her mouth.

(mazel tov is a wish for good luck, schmutter is a rag),

Already readers can sense the friction between the parents’ desires for their daughter and their daughter’s need to be true to herself and develop as an individual. She can’t conform to her parents’ wishes so ends up having to move away from them. To stay would be denying herself. But the process of finding herself involves meeting new frictions, as shown in “White/Other?”

when my best friend said,
You can’t let Jews in. They’ll only take over.
It was the tiny corrosion of men
Whispering in my ear, You Jewesses,

so dark, exotic and people’s low hiss,
You’re so full on, such a victim.

At least with my skin
I can hide, be traitor to myself.

It’s one thing for strangers to be prejudiced, but to hear your best friend, especially when still a child, express racist sentiments is galling. It’s a betrayal that’s hard not to take personally. The best friend probably thought she was speaking about other people (rather than her friend who she didn’t see as other); but she was too young to understand how her words would actually be heard.

Parental expectations is explored again in “Susan Expects to Be Admired” where blonde, graceful Susan grows up into marriage and a three-bed semi-detached house in the suburbs – but then has to deal with a sting in the tail of her story lurking in the last stanza

What she doesn’t plan for, is her daughter
joining the 5th Regiment Royal Artillery – 
or for her son to take amphetamines
and run off with the lad from the chippie.

The masculine daughter joins the military, and the son is not only gay but starts a relationship with a working-class man instead of a respectable middle-class boy from a good school. Susan focuses on her disappointment rather than seeing her children’s achievements: one in doing what’s right for her and the other in finding love.

The Girl Golem rejects marriage and accepts that she will disappoint her own parents. The final poem is the title poem and affirms

Acceptance is your food and shelter, without which
you are brushwood

left to the mercy of any foul wind.
Stop drinking the poison

labelled Hate me. It’s that simple.
I didn’t say easy.

It’s easy to say love yourself, harder to do it in reality, even though no one is perfect. But everyone has a chance to be true to themselves even if secretly, no matter how difficult that may be. The label on the bottle of poison has echoes of the items labelled “Drink Me” or “Eat Me” in Alice in Wonderland, the suggestion being that an individual is not compelled to follow instructions or parental expectations and sometimes has to go against people’s expectations.

Through You’ll Never Be Anyone Else Clyne explores how an individual becomes themself, especially when that self thwarts parental expectations and desires or when that self is othered socially by religion, race or sexuality. While these difficulties must be acknowledged the underlying message it that it’s worth the struggle. Clyne’s poems outline the masked performances that are sometimes necessary to get through life and celebrates the freedom of being able to shed those masks and simply be true.