All The Men I Never Married
is a collection of avowedly feminist intent, rich in ambiguity and with an understanding of the layers of complexity and complicity that exist between men and women. The poems are numbered 1-48 with first lines acting as titles. The book is roughly chronological, with early poems about the innocent friendships of childhood that have a dreamy, anticipatory quality. They foreshadow a later eroticism, but also hint at fear, with the awkward boy with ‘unwashed clothes’: ‘We hated the way you followed us around…’. Then come the terrifying episodes of violence or near violence – incidents in which our narrator barely escapes rape at a party, or where the narrator’s friend suffers the consequences of defending herself from unwanted attention in a nightclub, ‘that being in public is a dangerous thing’. A nearly innocuous episode on a fair-ground log flume sparks an entire narrative about power and consent, responsibility and opportunity: ‘to realise that someone can touch you/without asking, without speaking, without knowing your name … You remember this lesson your whole life…’. There are further incursions, interruptions, where the narrator has to endure ‘mansplaining’ but also explores the complexities and complicity and the risk of confrontation. A number of poems re-enact the ‘easy misogyny’ of everyday life and observe it from an appalled distance. An episode with a taxi driver where casual banter becomes increasingly threatening rings only too true.