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Sarah Wimbush reviews Alison Binney’s debut pamphlet, ‘Other Women’s Kitchens’


Alison Binney's debut pamphlet, 'Other Women's Kitchens'


Heart-rending and at times deliciously humorous, Alison Binney’s 2020 Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition winner: Other Women’s Kitchens (Seren 2021), is a lifelong journey of self-discovery as a lesbian in an often hostile and antiquated world.


Binney sets her stall out in the powerful opening poem, ‘The way you knew’. This deeply resonating anaphora perfectly illustrates a schoolgirl's struggle to navigate the sexual politics of late 20th Century Britain:

… the way you

knew not to wear your hair short the way you knew how to walk how

to talk how to French kiss a boy and why you had to and more the

way you knew for sure if anyone knew about you you were dead.


The torment of living within the constraints of other people expectations continues achingly in ‘Every time I came home’, delivered in deft couplets:


Soon, every time I came home

someone was having a baby, a crop


of grinning children on the fridge. I had nothing

to bring to that table. I pushed their questions


around my plate, going to bed hungry,

dreaming of other women’s kitchens.


One of the most astonishing poems is where Binney reveals a plethora of institutionalised prejudice in ‘Testimony’. This found poem satisfyingly takes the form of a cross, with the content sourced from the testimonies of LGBTQ+ Christians who shared experiences of coming out in their church communities:


you have a hole in your

soul your breasts belong to

your future husband we

had a board meeting and

decided that you can no

longer serve you are not as

well-dressed as I thought

you would be that lifestyle

makes me want to take a

shower your life is an

abomination


But the pamphlet is not all visceral gloom, far from it. Binney has a delightful sense of mordant humour and fabulously considers the practicalities of being a lesbian in ‘Late’, first published in Butcher’s Dog issue 15:


When Jess pointed out the Tesco car park

where she’d snog married women

on the back seats of their second cars

in the 1900s, reclined on two-kilo bags

of easy cook rice, I knew, as always, I was years

too late


At ‘On Wonder Woman’s island’ there is a clear sense of a gear–change, the poems becoming blustery and self-assured and it suddenly feels like Binney is beginning to find her feet:


the women are all leather and deltoids,

sword fights and whirling hair. They

call You are stronger than you know


‘How we knew’ is another pivotal poem; from here the poems have a definite sense of self-confidence and belonging:


Then you knew and I knew and the evening

stretched before us, the air fat with so much

knowing it hurt to breathe,


However, ‘Opening’ wittily illustrates a world that changes slowly and cannot help but convey a sustained lack of acceptance and approval:


Every Christmas I wonder what my aunt is thinking

sending us separate cards, in separate envelopes,

with separate stamps, to the same address,


but as the final poems become anchored in a relationship, vulnerability is superseded by an overwhelming sense confidence and happiness in ‘fuel.wizard.drape’:


that three metre

square of Lammas

Land where we

first told our

love, my lovely


The pressure to conform is relentless in these poems and that makes the much hoped for joyful ending double the thrill. Binney delivers in a sparse non-judgemental way; she states the facts and explores emotions with exquisite detail, dark humour and very little punctuation which evocatively allows the poetry to speak for itself. This debut pamphlet feels like a sensational beginning, in every sense.


 

Sarah Wimbush is a Leeds poet who hails from Doncaster. Her debut poetry pamphlet, Bloodlines, won the Mslexia/PBS Poetry Pamphlet Competition 2019. It was published in 2020 by Seren and shortlisted in the Michael Marks Awards. In 2020 she was a winner in The Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition with The Last Dinosaur in Doncaster, published by Smith|Doorstop in 2021. Her poems have appeared in Brittle Star, The Interpreter’s House and Stand, among others, and have been highly placed in a number of single poem competitions, including 1st prize in the Mslexia, 2nd in the Ledbury and 3rd in The Plough. She is a member of York Stanza and Doncaster Read 2 Write, and received a Northern Writers’ Award in 2019. Her first book-length collection, Shelling Peas with My Grandmother in the Gorgiolands, is published by Bloodaxe in 2022.



Alison Binney teaches English in a state secondary school and to trainee teachers on the PGCE English course at the University of Cambridge. Since creating more space in her life for writing, over the last four years she has been widely published, including in The North, Magma, Under the Radar, Butcher’s Dog and Popshot. Her poems have been longlisted in the National Poetry Competition and Highly Commended in The Bridport Prize. She founded the Cambridge branch of the National Writing Project, which brings together teachers as writers, and occasionally leads one-day writing and walking courses in the Peak District. Alison's first pamphlet Other Women’s Kitchens won the Mslexia Women’s Poetry Pamphlet Prize 2021.



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