Book Review: The Meadow by Kristin Garth

Cover art by Jeremy Gaulke
Pictured: The Meadow cover art by Jeremy Gaulke

*Content Warning: This review contains information about poetry regarding the subject matter of alternative sexual practices. It also contains external links to terminology related to these practices.

This pain will require a visible scar.
This pain seeks witnesses to all you are.

-This Pain Requires An Audience, Kristin Garth, The Meadow

The Meadow, by Kristin Garth, is a collection of brave exposure. This book is a strong box of poetry, unlocked to provide an unflinching view into what it means to be immersed in the shadow self. Garth uses the lyrical format of traditional poetry that she has become known for to give the reader a deeper look into power dynamics and sadomasochism. This is no airbrushed Fifty Shades of Grey fantasy, these are real experiences and some readers may find them uncomfortable.

My baby face, they fall
for fast, those other ones who never last.
They wouldn’t do the things you do, to hold
my cheek beneath their shoe.

-Dirty, Kristin Garth, The Meadow

This poem is one of many where we enter the confessional with Garth. In this instance, she points out that her desires are surprising to others. We are a culture intent on taking things at face value and not often enough engaged in critical thinking. BDSM is an umbrella term with a variety of practitioners who have kept their secrets under guard, for fear of being outed and judged. They have been right to be worried in the past. Until 2010, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) used by The American Psychiatric Association categorized this behavior as a mental illness.

Although that is no longer the case, these sexual practices are still subject to stigma. Information about the subculture is often restricted to pornography and fiction that is rarely relevant when compared to real life experiences. The demographics of this group are wide and would be surprising to those not familiar with it.

This poet asks us to open our minds and explains her difficulty in finding someone who really understands her. She reveals line by line the darker edge of her desires. Throughout the work, it’s clear that she’s not asking us to understand her. She is simply showing us who she is and I applaud her for that.

If I was your service animal, I would live on a leash.
You could summon me when you required release.
Good under a desk, inside a parked car,
at your feet in a theater, wherever you are.
They’d have to allow it. It is the law.”

-Service Animal, Kristin Garth, The Meadow

Another poem unfolds, this time less about explicit sexuality and more about the aspect of dominance and submission. The subtext is laced with her empowered desire. It is important to understand that her role as a submissive is driven by her own choice. Submission in this context is not something that happens as a result of emotional coercion or physical force. By the standards of the BDSM community, just as in other communities, a relationship with those foundations is abusive.

In fact, the moment that she decides she doesn’t want to submit anymore, it’s over. Within her set parameters she is able to explore the concept of freedom through surrender. It strikes me that although in these scenarios many people would view the dominant as the person in control, the act of choice rests securely within the empowered submissive. Garth gives us the unflinching words of a woman comfortable with her desires. Her deeply authentic feminist act is to be in control of how she decides to turn her fantasy into reality.

wet winged insects with an internet for
carotid lessons for young butterflies
who never forget the first time they fly.

-Carotid Lessons for Young Butterflies, Kristin Garth, The Meadow

Garth introduces us to the very edge of her darkness with beautiful language. Her skill at taking what could be considered a rough subject and inserting elegance is unparalleled. This poem is not the exception. Though some of her poems are more explicit in graphic detail, they are not written with an attitude to shock. She guides us through her rough beginnings and some of the painful experiences that have shaped her into who she is today. She exposes herself in a way that expects nothing from the reader. Garth offers us the option of hearing her. She is not demanding. She is a quiet exhibitionist, beckoning willing voyeurs.

The Meadow is titled after this poet’s version of sub space. For readers who are not familiar with that term, it simply refers to an altering of consciousness that is available to some masochists during the experience of physical pain. I have never heard anyone describe their ‘space’ as a meadow, which makes sense as this is a space tailored to the individual. I am not surprised that a poet would craft such a beautiful space for herself.

This is a unique collection of poems dealing with a difficult subject matter that challenges both historic and modern ideals about ‘acceptable’ desires. I read this collection quickly at first, then found myself stopping through The Meadow to savour little nuances that promise to stay with me for a long time.

Read and listen to the following poems from The Meadow, originally published on Mookychick:

The Rule of the House

Carotid Lessons for Young Butterflies

About the Book

The Meadow, by Kristin Garth, is forthcoming Spring 2020 by APEP Publications