Book Review: Growing Pains by Isabelle Kenyon
Growing Pains, by Isabelle Kenyon, is a pamphlet that powerfully straddles the ‘in between’ experiences of life. This book, published by Indigo Dreams, is filled with thoughtful passages that make the reader consider the importance of growth and the pain that comes along with it.
He Said, She Said
“same words fall from lipsticked mouth
weighed, measured for worth
from hip to hip to birth a child
–This is a man’s, man’s, man’s world, Isabelle Kenyon, Growing Pains
In this poem the author calls out a well known double standard. The beginning of a poem begins with the statement that a man ‘speaks gold’, that he ‘cannot help it’. The default in society has been for the voices of men to carry more sway than women. I’ve seen this throughout my years as a young student as well as during my time in the workforce.
My son is transgender and I remember asking him about the challenges of his transition. He thought for a moment. Then, he told me that the assumed male privilege people extended to him was uncomfortable. He stated that when he spoke up in meetings people were more likely to consider his opinions versus his female counterparts. With sparsity of language, Kenyon pulls in all of the metrics used to weigh the words of women. Immediately, I nod in understanding and with a little bit of anger. I don’t want her words to be true. But, they are.
A Woman’s Worth
“Soon I am
the number of boys in bed
labels others have given to me
the lack of ring on my finger
the length of my skirt”
–Value, Isabelle Kenyon, Growing Pains
We live in a world of hashtags and social shorthand. Labels exist because as humans we find it comforting to understand the world around us. Being able to categorise these things can be helpful. However, it can also be restrictive. The question of how people value themselves is often followed by a list of labels. There have been many times when I’ve asked women to tell me about themselves and they lead with a label. If they are mothers and wives, I often hear that first. Neither of these labels is inherently negative. However, it always makes me consider how I tell other people about myself.
Kenyon’s sharp use of language here brings to the forefront all of the labels that can weigh a woman down. The sad fact is, these usually begin early in a young woman’s life and tend to follow her into adulthood. Certainly, these can make personal growth difficult and more painful than it needs to be.
No Means No
“No is a
sliding scale you negotiated”
–Cryptic Consent, Isabelle Kenyon, Growing Pains
The more I learn about what consent is and isn’t, the more I understand the power of gaslighting. When I read this powerful poem, I thought about how easy it has been to see consent as variable. As a survivor of domestic abuse, I know that often the perpetrator does not use physical violence as an opening salvo. There are words used to wear a path into making a victim agreeable. Persistent pursuit of a woman who is resisting is often portrayed as some romantic game in popular culture. How many ‘happy endings’ have we seen where the man ‘gets’ the girl, ultimately having his way. In these scenarios, the women are often elated and come to the understanding that someone else knew what was best for them all along.
This gradual unraveling is sinister and undermines the confidence of women to ultimately make their own choices. What happens afterwards is worse, wherein the victim of this manipulation feels that they have consented and are responsible for what happened. Kenyon takes my breath away in this poem where she describes the unraveling of resistance until the victim is a ‘skein’ of ‘grey mass’. Her words paint a woman as a sweater devoid of colour. The perpetrator pulls at a loose thread until she is undone. Above all, I’m left understanding that she will never be knit back together as she was before. These kind of growing pains are heartbreaking.
Growing Pains, by Isabelle Kenyon is a powerful collection of poems. So much of growth can be painful. Kenyon’s poems are compact and direct. Each finely crafted verse is a call for understanding and empathy. Though some of the subject matter is uncomfortable, it is precisely due to this that it must be read. These poems also offer hope. Perhaps with compassion, we can nurture growth with a little less pain.
Growing Pains by Isabelle Kenyon is available for purchase at Indigo Dreams Publishing.
About the Author
ISABELLE KENYON is a northern poet and the author of This is not a Spectacle, Micro chapbook, The Trees Whispered (Origami Poetry Press) and Digging Holes To Another Continent (Clare Songbirds Publishing House, New York) and Potential (Ghost City Press) and short story pamphlet, The Town Talks (Wild Pressed Books, 2020).
She is the editor of ‘Fly on the Wall Press’, a socially conscious small press for chapbooks and anthologies.
About the Press
INDIGO DREAMS is based in Devon in the beautiful southwest of England, surrounded by Cookworthy Forest and about half an hour from the North Cornwall coast and Dartmoor. We publish around 50 poetry books a year, pamphlets and full collections, as well as three poetry magazines: Reach Poetry, The Dawntreader and Sarasvati. We have given first publication to many poets we feel deserve a wider audience and combined that with publications by experienced poets.
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