Poetry Shelf review: Liz Breslin’s in bed with the feminists

in bed with the feminists, Liz Breslin, Dead Bird Books, 2021

I prefer barefoot
I prefer paper maps
I prefer flowers in the ground
but first, I prefer coffee

I prefer lunch
I prefer savoury conversation
I prefer to sit at the children’s table
I prefer time off without good behaviour

from ‘Possibilities’

Liz Brezlin’s debut poetry collection Alzheimer’s and a Spoon hooked me on so many levels. Her second collection, in bed with the feminists, is politically, poetically and personally active. I love that. The stellar opening poem, ‘the things she carries’ (you can read a version here), is like a mini performance of the book. The things a book carries. The things a poem carries. Everything from lightness to weight. Hidden and on view. The poems carry you along everyday tracks, with myriad opinions and musical riffs, routine and reverie, complaint and consternation. Love.

it’s not just the rain keeping me awake
its insistent game of getting in the cracks

it’s the drip drip down
of can’t change that

it’s the drip drip down
of can’t change that

 

from ‘out of bed with the feminists’

There is the steady beat of the word feminism, a wide-reaching fuel of a word that refuses to be pinned down to single options or compartments. The speaker is in bed with the feminists, going to museums, on a road trip, stepping off from power-struggle sites, marching. There are maternal poems, colours running in the wash, the negotiation of waste in supermarket aisles. There are sturdy threads leading to a matrix of other women writing: Hélène Cixous, Virginia Woolf, Anne Kennedy. The body, the maternal ink, the writing both inside and outside a room of one’s own, perceptions under question, rampant consumerism. I particularly love a poem that steps off from Anne Kennedy’s ‘I was a feminist in the eighties’, with a nod to Helen Reddy (you can read Anne’s poem and Liz’s appraisal of it here).

I was a feminist, trapped in a lion
gutted and ruined, I had a good cry

buttoned my coat way up to my chin
wanted the me back who started this game

thought I could escape through the jaws of the beast
starved myself pretty, slipped through his teeth

 

from Liz’s ‘Then a lion came prowling out of the jungle and ate the feminist all up’

 

 

Liz’s poetry collection offers a rewarding language experience: lines where words get fractured, dashed apart, piled up one against the other, as though we can’t take meaning and fluency for granted. There are honey currents and there are judder bars in the roads and sidetracks of reading. This is life. This is thinking. This is critiquing. This is poetry.

The book took me back to my doctoral thesis where I spent a number of years considering what drove the ink in the pen of Italian women writing. The ink pot was full and unexpected as it brimmed over with a thousand things, until in the end, I decided the woman writing was opening up and out, and her ink was open, and and was the key word. A hinge, a connection. That’s how I feel about this book. It is alive with hinges and connections. I love the effect of in bed with the feminists, so full of complicated invigorating necessary life.

at the funeral
with the feminists

 

there are times not to think about sex
Catholic school will teach you this
although if in the middle of life there is death

today is far more than tears and shibboleths
desire is pulsing persisting lips
there are times it is hard not to think about sex

demure, buttoned, ruffled, pressed
lashes to lashes, busting tits
middle to middle, in life we are dead

already unless we remember, lest we forget
sadness, egg sandwiches, sniffling kids
yes, there are times not to think about sex

think sobering snowdrops on unfrozen earth
the priest, droning, the week’s shopping list
how always, in the middle of life, there is death

we are warm for such a short time at best
maybe the true crime is to try to resist
there’s no time like all time to think about sex
what else is life but sex and death?

 

 

In bed with the feminists is Liz Breslin’s second poem collection, part of which won the 2020 Kathleen Grattan Prize for a Sequence of Poems. Her first collection, Alzheimer’s and a spoon, was listed as one in the NZ Listener’s Top 100 Books of 2017. Liz was a virtual resident at the National Centre for Writing, UK, in February 2021, where she documented life through the peregrine webcam on Norwich Cathedral in a collection called Nothing to see here. In April 2020 she co-created The Possibilities Project with Dunedin UNESCO City of Literature.

Liz’s website
Deadbird Books page
Liz reads from in bed with the feminists
Landfall Review Online by Jordan Hamel

PS For someone one with minor visual impairment and reading glasses that broke at start of lockdown the font was a struggle, pale and small.

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