Charlotte Guest’s collection, Soap, explores the transition from childhood to adulthood, with many of the poems also exploring gender identity and sexism. I connected with many of the poems in this collection, being able to relate to the feelings and ideas being evoked.
‘Autobiographical Fragment’ is a poem that explores growing up. There is a beautiful moment in the poem where notes are being passed in class and the speaker is retrospective of this kind of child-like social interaction. The girls felt so grown up and clever at the time, “she passed cryptic notes in chemistry: Everyone who loves should spend time with the periodic table”. The poem ends, “Who are we in the places we occupy? … The air makes a sound as I suck it through my teeth.” The speaker has grown and changed from that nearly-18-year-old passing notes in the classroom, but she is still discovering herself. Do we ever stop changing, growing, discovering ourselves?
My favourite poems in this collection are the second and third poems. ‘Networking Drinks’ is a poem that is about gender and race and explores how privileged people (white men) can be oblivious to inequalities and can feel that conversations around race and gender are no longer necessary. The poem ends, “we are talking underwater, sacks over our heads, like dipped witches”. What an evocative ending to explore the frustration of these kinds of conversations. The image of the ‘dipped witches’ not only captures this emotion of futileness, but also the enduring inequalities that position someone who speaks out against naivety / ignorance as ‘other’, an outsider, a witch.
My other favourite poem is ‘Egg Tempera’. This is a poem about body image, the female speaker in the poem is unhappy with her body and the sexual relationship she has with her partner is uncomfortable because of the self loathing of her body. The poem contains a rape, as the speaker is not comfortable with the sexual interaction, she cries because of her dislike of her body and the fact that this sexual interaction is not enjoyable for her. The male character does not seem to notice that his partner is unhappy, in fact is crying during sex. This poem moves beyond the personal experience of being uncomfortable with one’s weight and experiencing this kind of ‘marital rape’, to the historical and artistic representations of female beauty that have and continue to pressure women to look a particular way:
He hitches your wool skirt and ignores
the tears that tour your face and make you
think of your Renaissance sisters,
stroked into existence.
As my dad bought this collection for me and suggested that I read Guest, knowing that I would connect with her poetry, I thought I should finish by discussing Guest’s poem, ‘Daddies’. This poem is a gorgeous conversation between a dad and daughter, where the daughter questions, “Who were you before me?”. The dad responds by saying, “something about skin cells and every ten years, meaning I’ve had four fathers and am a very lucky girl.”
I am very lucky to have a dad who buys me poetry, knowing what form and content will appeal to me. Charlotte Guest is certainly writing the kind of poetry that I enjoy. She writes imagery with skill. Her poems are not complicated experimentations with language, and I enjoy the simpleness of her style. She is writing about complex ideas and emotions, which makes her poetry necessary and worth reading and rereading.