Look At All The Women: Cathy Bryant, Mother's Milk
I have just had a nasty dose of sunburn and I blame Cathy Bryant. You see, doctor, I was sitting in my garden after a vigorous bout of weeding and decided to flick through her latest book of poetry while enjoying a cup of tea. Ninety minutes later I was still there, tea undrunk and shoulders stinging after reading from cover to cover.
Bryant is known to many Write Out Loud readers as co-editor of Best of Manchester Poets, and as the monthly online provider of a compendium of competition and publication opportunities. She has won awards herself, and is admirably productive in spite of serious health problems. In this latest collection she covers topics from the warmly frivolous to the intensely painful. Her moods are many. Try this extract from ‘What The Sirens Sang To Odysseus’ (or what they thought they heard):
We’re just begging for it.
We're all virgins.
We have beer.
Or what about ‘Sexual Positions For Those No Longer Young’:
They mustn’t sound like cocktails or perfumes
- the Tom Jones Semitone for instance.
Stick to The Chuckle Brothers Cha Cha Cha….
And then follow up with ‘Influenza, 1918’, or her bedroom tax battlecry, ‘Caleb Hollow’s Room’:
So your child is dead.
To you it may be ‘his’ room
But it is classed as a spare.
You need to enclose a doctor’s letter
as proof of grief. There is nowhere
on the form for your tears.
She hits the spot with gems such as her riposte to Kipling’s ‘If’, entitled ‘When’. She can take you close to tears with ‘Broken Biscuits’, express the deepest fears of a parent in ‘Declarations’, and the heartbreak of love in ‘The Lure’.
The collection is divided into The Lovers, The Mothers and The Eclectic Others but if you dip into it randomly you get glorious juxtapositions such as ‘Sleeping With Paul Darrow’ (oh yes, I remember him!), ‘Victory In The Louvre’, ‘Wonder At The Change’ (when Wonderwoman hits the menopause), ‘Take’, the gruelling ‘Rape Rack’, the tender ‘Dinner Ladies’ and ‘By Any Other Name’. How about the writer as theme park in 'Brontë Country':
Beware of the Brontë.
Do not open your car windows.
Brontës may look cute
But they can take off your hand
With one slash of their jaws,
Crinolines thrashing to and fro.
It needs to be read aloud. I started by muttering it in my head but finished by reading it loudly enough to alarm my cats, who came over to see what was up. And if you ever get a chance to read out a poem yourself, can I suggest you have a go with the title work which closes this collection, ‘Look At All The Women’. It will go down a storm (even if only cats are listening).