– Reviewed by Bethany W. Pope –
Claire Walker’s début pamphlet, The Girl Who Grew Into A Crocodile, is full of bitter rot, mythic experiences and beautiful, reverberating truth. The themes are motherhood, womanhood, and the more uncomfortable facets of human nature. There are a few slips, lines that would have strengthened the poems through their own loss, but such lapses are rare. Most of the poems are very tight, with few superfluous words, and sharply honed images.
Probably the most affecting poem in this very effective book is ‘They keep a cockatiel’. In it, a couple purchase an intelligent animal that they treat like a toy: ‘They cheered his laps of honour / as he mastered the span of his wings.’ But soon the new wears off; he ‘Learnt no more songs — they had no more to teach.’ Locked in the cage as punishment for his owners’ failures of empathy and imagination, they complain about his avian depression:
Their speech now is of how repetitive
shrieks frighten their children.
He still calls their names.
They say he is less pretty since
he started pulling out his feathers, they ask me
why he does it.
Self-awareness is not a natural human trait, and Walker knows it.
‘Storytelling 101’ is a hymn to the myths that girls need to know, the stories that young women crave but which the world so often fails to tell them:
Tell me a story. Something
about girls born with pearls in their mouths
who grew up and plucked them
from their oyster-shell lips and turned
them into their fortunes.
The women in these desired stories are problem-solvers, rescuers, warriors. They have agency, and they get men. They are not given away. They ‘tame wolves / with their own claws’ and know the value of revelation. Poems based on myths are often journeys at their heart. A person lacks something which they work or search for. When they gain that thing, they grow into something better than they were before. The bird-owners in ‘They keep a cockatiel’ could have developed compassion, but never made the attempt. The speaker in this poem is seeking out stories which will serve as a mirror, showing her how to become a force in the world.
The speaker in ‘Teaching Your Daughter to Crack Eggs’ has completed her journey, gained wisdom, and moved into the role that awaits the hero at the end of her trials; she’s passing her hard-earned knowledge on to her child:
Tell her to remember
not all broken things
These poems are powerful, incisive; raw without being clumsy. It was a pleasure to read them.