Anna Kisby Compton is the new Featured Writer with her debut poetry pamphlet All the Naked Daughters published by the new poetry press, Against the Grain, launched very recently by Abegail Morley, Karen Dennison and Jessica Mookherjee. (With people like that running it, it’s bound to be a success.)
Anna has been very successful on the poetry competition and publication scene for some years now and so I am surprised she hasn’t had a collection out before. Against the Grain must be so pleased to be the ones to introduce her to a wider public.
The opening poem of All the Naked Daughters sets the tone for the pamphlet which I think explores the experience of being female. I love learning things while also enjoying a poem and I didn’t know that Alice in Wonderland was written at a time when people were becoming concerned about the number of female suicides: We are hanging from bridges because the river listens to our petitions, Anna writes and it ends Speak of us. Our elegant corpses are the stuff of ink, pen and paint. Quoting from this poem doesn’t do it justice, I’m afraid. I love the line endings, the sheer breathlessness of the run-on lines, the mixture of surreal and the deeply poignant, the blocky shape of it.
Later, there’s a short and punchy series of short poems about women suffering from what was called ‘hysteria.’ It’s not surprising there are several based on history as Anna is, after all, an archivist. Interleaved are poems that may or may not be the poet’s or may be in the voice of someone else. But with their close observation they all feel as if she was absolutely there. Every poem is richly imagined, exuberant: almost every line contains a surprise. There’s humour and wit in this book: ‘Of course I’d been to Paris/ before, but not without supervision.’ Each word seems as rich as the treasured possessions of famous people such as Emily Wilding Davison’s bag, the Suffragette who threw herself under a horse in the Derby. For someone who knows what to look for, the item speaks volumes, the poem unwraps a personality.
I’ve known Anna since we did Bill Greenwell’s poetry clinics together and always felt in awe of her writing. Bill calls this pamphlet ‘a cabinet of curiosities’ in his endorsement for this book and here is an insight into how he approached this particular task. (Incidentally Bill is running online clinics through Sharon Black these days and you can find out more here )
Anna is also one of the elephant poets in our anthology A Poetry of Elephants and that poem is quietly stunning –
The Memory of Elephants
Gentle one morning
in my bed she tells me
once we had a picnic
with stones all around –
she’s thinking of the Spring
when she was one –
visiting our dead
in the churchyard at Hamsey.
It’s 6am. Our winter room
is gone – she’s seeing blossom again.
In my head, she says,
tapping the ivory-amulet
of her skull,
I have a remembering-thing –
she leans in, breathes away
my sickness and ill-will.
I hold onto her
like the memory
of elephants –
long extinct where we come from.
Looking around the internet I found more of Anna’s work and I’ll leave you with this one. This poem isn’t in her book (must be waiting for the next one) but it won the Havant Poetry Competition in 2016:
Because my in-laws – your parents Hank and Joan – did tax that year for the Minnesota State Fair
I was granted Access-All-Areas and met the lion-tamer. He was Kurt Cobain-handsome – dissolute,
a thing of beauty, track-marked, claw-scarred, both. He looked how we all wanted to look
in our Levis and workboots – the real deal. You’d given me the slip again, adventuring God knows
where, so I bought an ice-cream cone and tracked him down slant against the cage.
To hear a lion roar sets off alarms in the belly, even one with fur like a held-close toy, worn through
in patches, a ribbon in its mane. The lion-tamer caught my wrist, John Denver singing take me
home, pushed my hand clean though the bars, held it there while the lion took a lick. After all
these years, you write from the city – there is no place for wild things here – and I remember you
already lost to me, the same vanilla on my lips on his, on the tongue of that caged beast.
Anna is launching this book this Sat, Nov 4th at 6pm at the Poetry Cafe in Betterton St. And I think you need this book while supporting a very discerning poetry press! A snip at £6.50 includes p & p.