London Grip Poetry Review – Rachel Goodman & Elvire Roberts


Poetry Review –KNEE TO KNEE: Amelia Walker reviews collaborative poetry by Rachel Goodman & Elvire Roberts


Knee to Knee
Rachel Goodman & Elvire Roberts
Dialect Press
ISBN 978-1-7393855-1-4


Collaboration is something I’d love to see more of in poetry. Knee to Knee exemplifies the many good reasons why. Rachel Goodman and Elvire Roberts have together produced a formally innovative and politically impactful book evoking the joys and pains of feminine being and the constraints contemporary western societies place on it. Unlike many collaborative ventures where poets weave the individual voices of independently-authored poems into dialogue, Goodman and Roberts appear to have co-written all poems in a way that renders it hard to guess – and redundant to ask – which words and lines came from which collaborator. This is a bold surrender of the individualized voice long reified in dominant poetic discourses of romanticism and modernism (quite problematically, I think) – in other words, a release of ego and an affront to what Michel Foucault called the ‘author function’.[i]

The result is a radical dissolution of self-other boundaries via which arises a ‘we’ and ‘us’ that becomes sometimes a ‘she’ – or it seems, many ‘she’s – a ‘me’, a ‘you’, an ‘i’/’I’, a girl, a woman, a not-woman, a site of bustling possibilities, a window, a wormhole, an exclamation, a door. This she/we (including all her selves and o/Others) is at once both authors and neither of them in ways that seem reflective of experiences shared by or relatable for many women, assigned-female-at-birth men, femme folks, and queer folks – without presuming to offer the style of singular representation that would risk reducing and homogenizing these vast diversities of experiences in and between our many varied lives. As a queer bisexual woman reading this book, I felt seen, but thankfully never spoken for; I felt connected, but not co-opted – a difficult balance to strike, one Knee to Knee gets just right.  

Atop the visceral intrigue in the linguistic creativity of lines like ‘let us be a burst necklace – / divisible – a scatter of beads’ (page 2), ‘we are a world learning how to look after herself / yes let us brst u u uu u’, and ‘back to back, we have not screamed / a space but breathed / a rune between us’ (page 40), I was enthralled by the book’s visual and structural ingenuities. As in much contemporary feminist and ecopoetic writing:


             space                                         gives room to grow


                                                                                               ink at the tideline (page 3)

In other words, Knee to Knee uses typeless space strategically – and poignantly – to speak those things words cannot convey. Also compelling is the motif throughout the book of textboxes containing lines like ‘she is / always pleasant and helpful / however rather quiet / … / and might benefit from a little loosening of this tight control she has of herself’ (1) contrasted with ‘she is / too talkative / if only she were less argumentative and thus more cooperative / … / Her tendency to being obstinate still persists // otherwise a good term’ (11). These seem reflective of school report cards and/or social judgement generally. The visuals of the boxes reinforce a sense of being boxed in, trapped, and squeezed to conform with impossible expectations, many of which seem in direct contradiction with each other.

Another motif introduces extra symbols into the poems. These symbols appear on the front cover of the book and ‘|| is explained as representing: ‘a breath held – more than a comma – it turns / the world a few degrees to allow a different view’.  The mathematical ‘cap’ symbol signifying  the intersection of two sets indicates that ‘intersection / is where we kneel and do not possess’ (3). Each time these symbols re-appear in new contexts, they seem to gather new meanings. For instance:















Like the blank space, these symbols raise thought of things that seem beyond language – at least, beyond dominant language. In the tradition of écriture feminine (writing the feminine)[ii] and queer écriture matière (writing the materiality of queer bodies and lives),[iii] Knee to Knee thus strains at and squeezes beyond the regimes of ‘phallogocentrism’ (patriarchal language),[iv] inventing new ways to express aspects of experience that are too often silenced, attention to which is acutely needed.

Through these intriguing devices of experimental poetics coupled with its politically personal and vitally important themes, Knee to Knee makes important contributions to both feminist and queer writing – as well as to the broader project of innovation in poetry today. I hope this powerful first collaboration between two exciting writers will be the first of more to come.


[i] See Foucault, M. (2018). What Is an Author? In Aesthetics (4th ed., Vol. 1, pp. 284–288). Routledge. ; excerpt available online at:

[ii] See discussion at:

[iii] See Campbell, M. M., (2022) “Quinn Eades, all the beginnings: a queer autobiography of the body. Tantanoola, North Melbourne, Vic., Australia. 2015. 274 pp. Between Mirrors.”, Lifewriting Annual: Biographical and Autobiographical Studies 5(1). doi:

[iv] See: