The Way the Crocodile Taught Me: Katrina Naomi, Seren
Crikey pepper as my grandad used to say (a child-friendly version of Christ Almighty, I believe) – what a story. Katrina Naomi tells us about her fraught childhood and adolescence in a tumble of brilliant poems using different styles, rhythms and structures.
It’s her second collection after the admired The Girl with the Cactus Handshake and the award -winning writer and teacher has used her unusual background as the inspiration for a poetic biography encompassing family fissures and psychological stresses.
There are unfamiliar personal references along with others that jolt our own memories – Kouros aftershave, Youth Dew perfume, her nan having all her teeth removed as a 21st birthday gift (as did my own grandma), fake fur, popsocks. Her memories of her mum, her dad, her 17-stone cross-dressing stepdad with a love of fried-egg sarnies, the heartbreak of a shared grave, her nan’s tough but sensible advice.
These are hard poems to quote from selectively but I was especially moved by ‘The Bicycle’ (about the aftermath of a sexual assault), ‘Bearskin’ (a soldier missing his former life and his estranged children), ‘Concrete Overcoat’ (a horrible riff on the Krays), the astonishing ‘The History Teacher’ and the chilling ‘Wolf on a Hillside’. I will quote one in its entirety:
‘The Woman Who Walks Naked’
sweeps her hair into a bun, soon she’ll lop it off, anything to feel
that burn on her neck – the sun’s gentle strangle.
She crosses the yard, her shadow tight, clangs the roasting gate,
forces her legs through the soup of midday – the heat glad
to get hold of her shoulders, feel the greasy sway of her breasts.
Nobody’s in the field, the land, the square. She scoops an armful
from the fountain over her back for the sun to sting dry.
Village dogs scoot towards her, sniffing her shins.
It’s when she passes the café that the shout goes up.
This is a stunning collection. Judy Gordon