Guest Post: Other Women’s Kitchens – Alison Binney

Alison Binney’s pamphlet Other Women’s Kitchens is the winner of the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition 2020.

For me, the kitchen is often the most appealing room in any home. In the house where I grew up, we had a dining table at one end of the lounge, which was only ever used when guests came round. All our other meals were eaten in the kitchen, so all the most interesting, impactful conversations I can remember are located around that small table, in the most intimate space in the heart of the house.

Some of my happiest memories are of cooking with my Mum – first as a small child entrusted with cutting out mince pie lids or stirring jelly cubes into boiling water, and later as an equal, experimenting together with Delia’s latest twists on old favourite recipes. And that kitchen was where the action happened too – the chip pan fire that we put out with a wet tea towel; my Mum’s shrieking encounter with a mouse that leapt from a sack she’d brought in from the garage; the gash from the cheese slicer to which my left thumb still bears witness. So much, also, that was less dramatic but more influential – all those conversations over cooking, over eating together, overheard from the family phone on the kitchen wall.

Assorted jars and utensils on a kitchen surface

When I was hunting for a title for my first poetry pamphlet, I was not surprised, then, to be drawn to the final phrase of my poem Every time I came home: ‘dreaming of other women’s kitchens’. This poem recounts a time in my life when I was finding it hard to live up to what I felt were impossible ideals: a time when it seemed as if all my school and university friends, my cousins, and all the children of everyone my parents knew, were getting married, and then having children. Where the family kitchen had always been a space of comfort and camaraderie for me, I no longer felt confident in my place there, uncertain, like so many young gay people, about how my identity as a lesbian might fit with my parents’ expectations of me. The idea of other women’s kitchens, where I might experience an easy acceptance and a sense of fulfilment that I could not otherwise be sure of, felt like a very appealing fantasy.

It struck me, once I looked at the pamphlet through this lens, just how many of the poems in it are located in kitchens, or in kitchen-like spaces, or make reference to food. There’s the makeshift kitchen in a wicker barn where Anne Lister and her partner Ann Walker brew tea and coffee on the last day recorded in Anne Lister’s diary. There are the married women who ‘came home hungry, smelling of lentils’, after their encounters in a supermarket car park. There’s ‘tea with the lady mayoress’ in a found poem sourced from an old edition of the Girl Guide Handbook. And then there’s the kitchen as the location of a first date – probably just the sort of kitchen, complete with ‘individual chocolate mousses’, that my younger, uncertain self would have been delighted to know was waiting for her in the not-too-distant future.

Teapot and two mugs

I’m thrilled that the cover for Other Women’s Kitchens, painted so skilfully by Kate Winter, captures the mood as well as the appearance of my parents’ kitchen. I also love the shadowiness of the two superimposed figures, which allows plenty of space for imagination and interpretation. The teapot at the centre represents for me that sense of comfort and companionship integral to the essence of a kitchen – the place not only where significant things happen, but in which, so often, they’re mulled over, digested, poured out.

Alison Binney

Cover of Other Women's Kitchens by Alison Binney which shows a painting of a colourful kitchen with two greyed out figures in it.

Other Women’s Kitchens is Alison Binney’s debut pamphlet of poems and introduces us to a gifted new voice who writes with flair and feeling about coming out and coming of age as a gay woman in 21st century Britain. The collection explores the challenges of discovering and owning a lesbian identity in the 1980s and 1990s and the joy of finding both love and increased confidence in that identity as an adult. An adroit admixture of the heart-wrenching and the humorous, the book features shaped and ‘found’ pieces, traditional narrative and compact prose poems. Beautifully entertaining, pointedly political and often very funny, Other Women’s Kitchens is essential reading.

Other Women’s Kitchens is available on the Seren website: £5.00

Create your free Seren account and enjoy 20% off every book you buy from us.

Friday Poem – ‘On Wonder Woman’s Island’ by Alison Binney

This week our Friday Poem is ‘On Wonder Woman’s Island’ by Alison Binney from her debut pamphlet Other Women’s Kitchens which is the winner of the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet competition 2020.

This cover shows a colourful painting of a kitchen with the fain shadows of people moving through it.

Other Women’s Kitchens is Alison Binney’s debut pamphlet of poems and introduces us to a gifted new voice who writes with flair and feeling about coming out and coming of age as a gay woman in 21st century Britain. The collection explores the challenges of discovering and owning a lesbian identity in the 1980s and 1990s and the joy of finding both love and increased confidence in that identity as an adult. An adroit admixture of the heart-wrenching and the humorous, the book features shaped and ‘found’ pieces, traditional narrative and compact prose poems. Beautifully entertaining, pointedly political and often very funny, Other Women’s Kitchens is essential reading. Seren is thrilled to be presenting this author’s first collected work.

On Wonder Woman's Island
the women are all leather and deltoids, 
sword fights and whirling hair. They
call 'you are stronger than your know,'
reaching out sinewy forearms to lift
each other up off the sand. Any time
you can yell 'Shield!' just for the hell of it
and a girl will kneel, shield angled over thigh,
while another runs up, springs, fires an arrow
mid-leap, lands on a silver horse. At night
there's a cave with an underground
waterfall jacuzzi and a nook in the wall
thick with fur. And if the men come,
lugging guns up the beach, you sleep on,
cat-like: seeing only sheer cliffs and bare rock
they will soon turn tail, their flag not worth
the planting here, and the breeze long gone.

Other Women’s Kitchens is available on the Seren website: £5.00

Create your free Seren account and enjoy 20% off every book you buy from us.

The Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition is now open for entries for 2021. Find out more on the Mslexia website.

Friday Poem – ‘Dear Anne Monroe, Healthcare Assistant’ by Bryony Littlefair

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘Dear Anne Monroe, Healthcare Assistant’ by Bryony Littlefair from her Mslexia prize-winning pamphlet Giraffe.

Giraffe Bryony Littlefair

Poems need head, heart, and soul but this particular pamphlet has an extra ingredient – a feminist kick. There is a good deal of wit on display, but also a wonderful humanity. There are also other novelistic qualities: clarity of language and the use of realism, a feeling for plot and incident, an eye and ear for character. The author indicates emotion and relationships in a myriad of subtle ways: heartbreak can be summarised by one glance at the ‘Lido’. Love can be inferred by the tender description of someone from the back, as they are walking away. Giraffe, the title and a euphemism for happiness, is a beguiling, beautiful and entertaining debut pamphlet of poems.

Giraffe is available on the Seren website: £5.00

Create your free Seren account and enjoy 20% off every book you buy from us.

Friday Poem – ‘The Calling Basket’ by Sarah Wimbush

This week’s Friday Poem is ‘The Calling Basket’ by Sarah Wimbush from her pamphlet Bloodlines which won the Mslexia/ PBS Women’s Poetry Pamphlet Prize 2019.

Bloodlines is an exploration of Sarah Wimbush’s own Gypsy/Traveller heritage, a journey made by piecing together fragments of distant stories and a scattered language. Along the way, we meet people who are ‘tethered to the seasons’; voices that reverberate with a sense of family and resilience, and always with that constant wonder of being part of something colourful, untamed and rare.

“A thrilling debut…” – Daljit Nagra

Bloodlines is available on the Seren website: £5.00

Create your free Seren account and enjoy 20% off every book you buy direct from us.

The Mslexia Women’s Poetry Prizes are currently open for entries for 2020. Find out more on their website

Sarah will be joining us for our Virtual First Thursday National Poetry Day Special next week (1 October) where she will be reading alongside Rhian Edwards and Marvin Thompson. Tickets are available at www.eventbrite.co.uk

‘Late Afternoon by a Hedge’ by Sarah Wimbush, from Bloodlines

Friday Poem – Somnography

This week’s poem is from Polly Atkin’s Shadow Dispatches, which won Mslexia’s very first pamphlet competition in 2012.

These atmospheric and keenly observational poems offer us a slant perspective on everyday things and events: the ugliness of an elderly mute swan; or a group of migraine sufferers forming a fellowship and holding regular meetings. Poems addressing the complexity of contemporary relationships sit alongside those riffing on traditional themes, even – in the case of ‘Hermes Enodios’ and ‘Potnia Theron’ – revisiting classical gods. These are poems embedded in particular landscapes, in which the real becomes surreal and vice versa. Together they form a poetry which is deeply involved with the natural world – concerned with deer in fields and jays in woods – but which is not in any way removed, encompassing email, photoshop and fighter jets.

Somnography

Early this morning I got your note.
I can’t recall the words or meaning,

only the light oblique on the screen
and how it made it feel, certain

transmission was real. I could recite
all the messages received in my sleep

which days have tried to prove imagined,
and one correspondence aborted mid-sentence

which sent itself nevertheless, as though
the content refused erasure, arriving

complete through the ether. We dare not believe
these shadow dispatches: corrupted, wishful,

impossible to delete. The same way sheets
I never strung to dry at a window

still fill the room with sails long after
I’ve moved, and how I’m still reading a letter

a man never sent, though I could repeat it
verbatim, clear as the sun through the linen,

billowing yellow and sweet as the wedge
that lit your words I can’t remember,

or that email which backspaced even as I scrolled
down the face of the dream computer.

Order Shadow Dispatches from our website.

Friday Poem – Edward Hopper on Long Island

Tailor's Three Sons Mara Bergman

Today’s poem is from Mara Bergman’s pamphlet The Tailor’s Three Sons & Other New York Poems, which won the 2014 Mslexia Women’s Poetry Pamphlet Competition!

The Tailor’s Three Sons & Other New York Poems, the Mslexia magazine prize-winning pamphlet published by Seren, is the fruit of author Mara Bergman’s rich memories of her childhood on Long Island and Manhattan. Now living in the UK, she looks back and assembles an appealing cast of characters for us: a grandmother who lives with precarious memories of war-torn Europe in a ‘railroad apartment’ where passing trains make ‘a whole room shake’; a cousin Sharon who makes a weekly pilgrimage to a nail salon, the bottles of nail varnish, ‘lined up like sweets’. There is the ghost of an uncle, spotted in the likeness of a man on the London-Hastings train. We meet an ‘Englishman in New York’ and experience, along with the author, ‘East 13th Street or How I Met My Husband’.

The title poem is inspired by the author’s visit to the Tenement Museum in New York’s Lower East Side, where Bergman vividly imagines the lives of immigrants when many thousands docked in ships at Ellis Island and the Lower East Side was ‘the most crowded place on the planet’. She envisions the lives of the tailor’s three sons she learns about during a museum tour: ‘afternoons they’d elbow through the teeming streets’, come home to a bowl of soup and share a single sofa for a bed. These poems are written with a great deal of warmth and empathy and with a quietly deceptive casual tone. We can see the author, as a small ‘Girl with a Pen’ entranced by her reading a biography of Charlotte Brontë.

Mara Bergman says: ‘I am fascinated by people and their stories. Having lived in England for many years, I often think, What if… and have tried, in my writing, somehow to meld my life in England with the one I left in New York. Here are poems about people, the process of work and art, and distance, in time and place.’

Edward Hopper on Long Island

He left the neon-lit cafés and deserted stations
for a winter of snow, mounds of it,
steeped on decks through a neighbourhood
where he didn’t know a soul.
He had given up city lights, city life,
to see the sun rise from a corner of a garden,
a flock of geese pummel across clouds.
At last the chance to study the filaments
of a squirrel’s tail, the shock of red cardinal.
He’d go to bed later and later,
wake up earlier until
there was no discernible difference
between darkness and light.
Three a.m., looking out on the snow
when a plane passed over the row of split-
levels, he spotted that thin divide
where streetlight met houselight – light
on the side of a building his favourite thing.
Maybe he wasn’t so far from his life,
maybe it was then he stopped questioning
what he was doing amid the snowlight
and a pale orange glow
over the telephone wire, heat steaming.

Order The Tailor’s Three Sons & Other New York Poems from our website.