The Kingdom and After
by Megan Fernandes
Rating: 5 Stars
‘From Tanzania to Portugal, from India to Iraq, The Kingdom and After charts the twenty-first century imaginative echo of empire and displacement in our current moment of terror and globalisation. Sometimes written in frank, shrunken lines and other times exploding with surrealist, Jurassic imagery, the poems witness and associative mind leaping from bone temples in Tanga to the pumiced surface of extra-terrestrial oceans, from a panic attack in Mumbai to the tumbling spirits of the Big Sur coastline.
These poems articulate a complex portrait of female sexuality and personhood. They excavate the legacy of empire with philosophical rigour, but also dwell in humiliation and wonder, accusation and regret, while trying to envision what indeed remains “after” the era of Kingdoms and Kinghood…’
I read a lot of poetry, I’m about to start my Creative Writing PhD specialising in it so how could I not? But I don’t have anywhere near enough collection reviews up on here and I’m trying to remedy that. This is, in part, because it’s a very different process for me to review a poetry collection than say a novel, or even a collection of short stories. I keep re-reading, dipping in and out of them, seeing what strikes me each time. A poetry collection is something I never truly feel like I’ve reached the end of.
I met Megan Fernandes when she read at the Dorothy Wordsworth’s Canada Day Poetry Party at Grasmere in July this year. It was a great event, with a lot of poets who I would never had a chance to hear otherwise and you can find my review of it here. I don’t have endless pockets, so I was restricting myself on the amount of collections I bought that day. In the end I managed to restrain myself and only got three, but I had to get The Kingdom and After (the other two I bought were Penny Boxall’s Ship Of The Line and Emily Hasler’s Natural Histories, both wonderful collections which I will be reviewing later this week).
Megan read quite a few poems during her reading and they really stayed with me. It was interesting to read the collection again later, trying to work out which ones I had already heard, which ones had stuck in my memory after only hearing them once. The first poem in the collection ‘The Afrikander’ is was read at the event and it is one of my favourites, particularly because of the final lines. They sound wonderful read aloud and, like all her poems, resonate deeply:
‘My father once told me:
“your problem…your problem,”
my father said, “is that you think like a man,
but have all the desires of a woman.”
I know he did not mean to mean weak,
but it is what he meant.’
Fernandes is not afraid of frankness, but she doesn’t preach. She exposes through subtlety. That’s not to say that The Kingdom and After is afraid of hitting hard and heavy. ‘The Flight to Sacremento’ is particularly strong – an unwitting passenger is seated next to a soldier returning from Afghanistan. She’s both horrified and intrigued by the stories he tells and the photographs he shows her on the journey home.
‘something in him that was pleading for me to look and
acknowledge. See this’
The imagery is exquisite in its beauty and horror. It’ a poem that will linger long in my memory.
‘There was one man who had been sliced at the
shoulders like a bust’
Fernandes composite cultural background is evident throughout the collection. She is preoccupied by history, by the burden of the colonisers and the colonised, by their impact on language on culture.
‘as if some tiny
English aristocrat lies tucked
between his scrunched lobes, spilling tea
‘Am I accountable for these histories?’
As a language student, I adore the doubled meanings to words and the example detailed in ‘Lisbon’ has always been one of my favourites.
esperar does not
only mean to hope,
but to wait.’
Fernandes also has a keen eye for relationships in all their forms, surveying them with an uncompromising gaze. For instance, ‘Dig’ charts the peculiar anonymous intimacy of one night stands. Detailing at once the closeness and distance of the encounter.
you will have a wife, and
I will have a daughter and
we won’t meet like this again.’
‘The Messenger’ takes a different tack analysing a relationship edging into breakdown.
‘What must it think off us sitting
two feet apart, no sounds
except the tiny breaks inside our bodies.’
‘The little Hermes fly hums in silence
plays like a child between us, stains the wood
with his black feet, He senses, crouching,
that everything said is an accusation.’
As for ‘The Baby’, well I would just type up the entire poem it’s that good , but you need to get the collection to read it for yourself. The imagery is deliciously poignant ‘that restless lacewing’, ‘your handprint on the glass door’ and the wonderful final pair of couplets:
‘I need to tell you
I think about it.’
‘The Antihero’ – in many ways this collection as a whole is that sweet potato ‘Here is the thing that grew in the ground’ ‘to keep/the earth close.’ It’s deeply grounded, carved out of our history and culture – and I am getting the urge to carry it around in my handbag.
Other poems are haunting, grim and exquisite, ‘Spoons’ (It is strange/to lose someone to water), ‘Grendel’ (‘They did not have a viewing. Your body was too charred for touch,/too torn to suture’) and ‘Jules et Jim 2005’ expose the vein of darkness that runs throughout the collection: a compelling undertow that surges up in some places and falls away in others to let the light shine through.
It is wonderfully balanced, between these darker elements and biting wit, interspersed with literary references, peaches and cutlery. The only place where I got a little lost was in the Corinne poems. I really enjoyed ‘Corinne on Aging’, but found little to link the small series besides the repeated reference to her blue eyebrows. I still enjoyed them, Corinne was so unique, she contained multitudes.
There simply aren’t enough reviews out there for this fantastic debut collection. From the very beginning it grabs the reader by the collar and pulls you up to eye-level. Forcing you, for a little while, to see what each speaker sees – to walk the proverbial mile in their shoes. Much like the passenger in ‘The Flight to Sacremento’, you simply cannot look away and I didn’t want to. I’ve read this collection multiple times now and can happily confirm that the pull of the poems remains. This is a collection that will haunt and delight in equal measure. An utter pleasure.