The Oscillations: Kate Fox, Nine Arches Press

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The award-winning poet Kate Fox challengingly engages the reader in the peculiarity of being someone who is a ‘neurodivergent thinker’ in the difficult times of the pandemic. The collection is divided into ‘after’ and ‘before’ Covid-19, oscillating between the two spaces that eventually merge and suggesting the possibility of an inclusive language. This perspective envisages a better world where diversity might be accepted and appreciated. Fox develops her lines in symbolic and metaphorical poetry that highlights human weaknesses as well as strengths in a journey of self-discovery:


     So tell us again

     about what always grows back


     about slender shoots growing

     from blasted stumps

     green fishing rods into the future

     tender rebuttals to the torn out page

     that used to be tomorrow.


     Here is destruction we can bear to look at.

     Here is hope we can borrow.



There is hope in Fox’s lines but also a melancholy of sorts; the gap between ‘normality’ and ‘diversity’ cannot always be bridged and the goals of freedom of self-expression and of equality seem hard to achieve in the quotidian life:


     He warns me the hill back is steep

     and thinking I cannot climb it

     causes me to speed up,

     scarf over my face, lungs cold,

     until I have completed the impossible ascent

     while yeast bubbles in my bag,

     viral cells shed into countryside air

     and people multiply like fear and rising loaves.

                                                  (‘The Distance ii’)


Walks in the countryside and explorations of it are also symbolic means she uses to discover “the opposite side of the river”, to dare “across the water”, that is, live beyond the limitations imposed by physical or mental conditions or by society. Feeling part of a community is important and is reflected in the interweaving of the branches of trees and in gathering stones in cairns; they are simple actions that convey resilience despite partial failures and the difficulties of communicating one’s own feelings:


     and us building up pictures with firm brushstrokes

     until the layers bleed through

     like thoughts looking for words.



     The surface black and pixelated with white sparks,

     a glider’s horsefly drone.


     A temporary ring as air and water meet

     like a sentence begun and stopped.

                                         (‘Gormire Lake’)


‘German Girl’ refers to a portrait by Euan Uglow that was banned from an Arts Council exhibition in Bradford by a local councillor, Alderman Horace Hird, in 1962. He claimed that the picture depicting a naked girl “offended decency”. The poem is an honest and straightforward description of the figure:


     She stares at me now on Google Images,

     chin up, eyebrows slightly raised, basin of purposeful hair,

     small dog ears of breasts pointing off to each side,

     the brown triangle of her pubic hair the portrait’s vanishing point.

     Turns out she’s actually Polish.


Fox compares and contrasts the picture with Hird’s portrait, “an owl in round glasses –/hand resting on a gold mace embossed with boars”. Hird’s nephew eventually married Fox’s mother in the same year that the Yorkshire Ripper began his serial murders of women, as Fox states in her poem. She also connects the picture with her traumatic experience of being photographed by her stepfather “with no clothes on/each birthday from when I was four until I was eight,” exposing the hypocrisy of apparent decency and the issue of secret abuse. The German, or Polish, girl with her pubic hair uncovered looks innocent and natural in comparison to the corruption of some ‘decent’ families.

In some poems a disenchanted tone prevails, revealing the difficulties of being considered different and sometimes being wrongly judged. However, this condition allows new views that provide opportunities for ‘weaving sky into sea/sound into sight […]/turning waves into light (‘Cetaceous’). In this way ‘the inside/becomes the outside,’ in a fluidity that goes back to the basics and beyond the basics This attitude permits the poet to discover new perspectives in which communication and relationships are significant:


     while beneath us

     between us

     sometimes despite us

     love is spread like a satellite signal

     like sea foam

     like spilt coffee on a computer top

     like home.



Fox’s involving lines develop in symbolic images that introduce the reader to the apparently different world of neurodivergent fellows. In this reality, the “inside is the outside”, that is, their condition is exposed and sometimes can be uncomfortably true. Nevertheless, their state is also open to multiple views and looks for positive interactions that might engender recognition and acceptance.


Kate Fox, The Oscillations, Nine Arches Press, £9.99





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