Review by Jessica Mookherjee
Let’s think about girls. This candy floss pink coloured small book of 10 poems has a firm bite between its pink puckered lips. She starts loud, defiant like noisy sex, in the first poem ‘Hanged Man’. The book starts as you open the door on her, and look beyond the moans into a searing pop art expose into exploitation, socialisation, twisted pronouns and power.
This book is a ride. Jasmine Gray’s brilliantly titled “Let’sphotograph girls enjoying life” is, as the title suggests, both angry, witty, painful and mindful of complicity. She asks questions about how girls get to be girls and by default what makes boys too. No one really wins, certainly not we, thephotographers. Ren Hang is a prose poem, nominally about the artist and reads like a collage where words fly
“I am no longer a speck A headed vase with breasts”.
She gets me thinking. She gets me thinking about girls. She writes to Morrissey on a train out of Manchester, a poem of transit, a great British train poem does the Smiths. Gray describes, in a firm set of sharp word choices, the sense of falling into womanhood, with a sense of loosing.
“Until I was lost in the wilderness of sitting
My toenails fell off and I felt alone”
Her poem Sixteen pushes out the first sexual experience that defines a woman for her whole life, the tights stuffed in a carrier bag. We know the protagonist is beautiful and desired but she is a little girl drawn as “pair of snagged tights”.
The sister poem to this, Seventeen – is a diatribe on language – that would reduce a woman’s experience to a political state of pronouns,
“bodies on grass, on beds, on floors of bathrooms filled with biles of guts”
yet this poet purges the rhetoric boldly. The prose poem ‘Not Guilty’ is a brilliant clockwork orange world of the present day.
“butcher the slave until she dies, she is nothing but a blabbermouth slam”.
That word, slam, punches us in the face. This small poetry collection hits hard, it makes us voyeur and complicit in the diminishment of what gender and sex are. If we like to look, why do we like to look? Let’s point the camera – at things that we can press down on, and focus on what we ignore. Gray is a poet shows me what I feel. I want more. Lean in Jasmine Gray, Lean in. Tell us how to make a girl.