Poetry Review: Lydia Unsworth – Yield (Knives Forks And Spoons Press)

Lydia Unsworth is the author of two collections of poetry: Certain Manoeuvres (KFS, 2018) and Nostalgia for Bodies (Winner, 2018 Erbacce Poetry Prize), and two chapbooks. Her latest chapbook will be released by KFS Press in 2020. Recent work can be found in Ambit, para.text, Tears in the Fence, Banshee, Blackbox Manifold and others. Manchester / Amsterdam. Twitter: @lydiowanie

The collection begins with Outer Play – a prose poem, where the language does not exactly excite, but is incredibly effective. Unsworth writes of ‘day-to-day demands’, ‘rustling newspapers’ and ‘nameless patches of housewear’. Consider the semantic field of the everyday on show here – curtain/mirror/bedroom/cupboard/coats/home and compare that to the title of the poems and this throws up a juxtaposition of sorts. What this poem says about the collection that follows is telling, they are not esoteric texts, but they are intelligent and purposeful.

'Yield' by Lydia Unsworth (40 pages)

Beget Each Other is perhaps more poetic, ‘don’t tell the gods I left a mess, tell them to send more clothes’ and ‘We’re growing faster than wild roses’ show a different side of the writer. One that has a philosophical edge and a raw beauty, ‘It teaches us about… a life in time, about letting oneself go.’

In Quiet Ambition and Strengthen Spine, there appears to be a blending of the poet’s own voice and that of the poet speaker, ‘I want to want nothing’. This poem signals a rejection, of sorts, of societal expectations/external demands; although it ends with that dangerous feeling of hope that we can ‘go on being beautiful’.

Untangle seems to tackle, more overtly, the theme of womanhood that has bubbled just below the surface of these poems to this point, ‘This is not the average time it takes a/ person of my age to get their body off the floor.’ Gradually, the poems become more concerned with femininity, or rather the poet becomes less interested in tiptoeing about the issue. In Much Talk we have the killer lines, ‘No one else could make me sadder than a line of you’, and ‘If you drop your/ wife in a car park, spin her round three times, and make a run for it’. Weighty topics handled with genuine courage and humour.

In Seasoning, Unsworth offers witty and valuable life advice, ‘Take what you need, not what you want’. The poet’s attention here turns to body image and which could be said to continue the thread of femininity. This is something which appears to be at the centre of Goat, which states that, ‘It is only because I have a body that I am seen’.   

As concerned as Unsworth is with issues of femininity, sexuality and body image, her poems also deal with environmental issues, ‘Stay empty or/ you will be rendered so: stripped of atmosphere, bland as punishment.’ – ‘We’re pitching our tent and leaving no trace by the/ side of the water.’; and consumer culture, ‘Fashions change’ – ‘Plastic-wrapped humps of landfill sprout parks’. In Yield, Unsworth shows herself, repeatedly, to be a poet with a conscience and a sharp eye, able to focus on the foibles of society in a way that engages rather than preaches, while at the same time she offers up introspective work. It is perhaps her blunt honesty, and diffident wit that gives her work its authenticity. Unsworth is an exciting voice that deserves your attention.

Yield is available here.

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