Book Review: Yield by Lydia Unsworth

Book Review: Yield by Lydia Unsworth


That Messy Thing We Call Life


“You staple the end of your sleeve to the corner of a reappropriated patch of curtain, forgetting the day-to-day demands of your arm therein. You roll your body inside out, trying to escape the reassurance of bifurcation, rustling newspapers behind card behind card behind thick old coats once stuffed with the straw we also used to sleep in. You’re inside out now…”

Outer Play, Lydia Unsworth, Yield


The first poem of the collection pulls me in and under without warning. I want to laugh at the ridiculousness of stapling a sleeve to a curtain, but I can also see myself in it. How many sleeves have I stapled? How often have I trapped myself by my own miscalculations? It’s with a wry smile and a shake of my head that I see it all snowballing out of control. The brilliance of this poem is tightly packed in layered language. We feel it happening, this entrapment and the desire to pull free. However, it only leads to a longing for erasing mistakes that somehow become part of the history of us. The poem brushes up against the desire to tuck away our failings and complications, to compact them neatly into something smaller. Sometimes the world feels too big, too overwhelming. It’s messy, this life, and Unsworth knows that.



Treading in the Shallows


“We are repellent to our neighbours. The side mouth, the trying-to-be-neutral eyes. Agents of holiday death, a lighthouse, a light. We float, we know we float, I have dropped goods into the wetness and witnessed. Shallow, we stick to the shallows where the sand in the water sometimes

splinters the sky.”

Leave the Fish in the Deep, Lydia Unsworth, Yield


This poem is crafted carefully to begin with a line that acknowledges how depth can affect us: Growth hormones push through the ground; give a girl a cuttlefish and see what comes out. As we read it becomes clear that even though deeper waters are available to us, often we choose the shallows as a home for human interaction. As I read this, my mind went beyond our physical neighbours to the virtual wider neighbourhood I often inhabit. Though many times I fail, I often find myself being so careful with words that they skim the surface of what I want to say. I think there is a balance to be struck between sensitivity and truth. Sometimes the two don’t always mesh well together. But, when I read about the shallows here, it makes me consider how much of myself I am connecting with others. Where is it safe to do so? Where is it necessary? While the poet doesn’t offer any advice, she certainly offers up an observation that is well worth contemplating.


Stepping Away from the Grid


“The best state is small, from such a position you can only be favoured, teased, coerced up into this wild life.”

Like This So Near, Lydia Unsworth, Yield

This is a poem that I feel I could interpret in a few different ways, as is often the case. After all, with every book that I read, I bring my own experience and lens. This colours things. When I read the above line I was struck by this idea of smallness. We all start out physically small and grow into a life. That life is borne of our social surroundings, opportunities, geography and education. How does this shape us and how has it shaped me? Perhaps my initial smallness made me more malleable. I was brought up to please authority figures. Later in life, this contributed to an internal smallness that went on to try and ‘prove’ myself and lead to trauma.

But, what if I could pare myself back to a small state from which to grow? I do this in the fall and again in the spring when I prune my roses. I coerce them back. As a gardener, I feel I know what’s good for them. I could garden myself in the same way, I think. It’s worth taking the time to evaluate, to re-consider what has become mundane and normal. Towards the end of the poem, Unsworth says: “Fields are knocked back to make way for the roads.” She speaks of going on one last sojourn. This tempts me to consider what it would take to sow the field wild once more and let it close behind me.


In Conclusion

Yield, by Lydia Unsworth, feels like a journey into living. Unsworth’s intricate language and deft playfulness with words is a delight. I suspect that each reader will come away from this book with an entirely unique experience. For me, it was a reexamining of my values and connection with some of the deepest parts of myself.


Yield, by Lydia Unsworth, is available for purchase at The Knives Forks And Spoons Press.


About the Author

LYDIA UNSWORTH has published two collections of poetry: Certain Manoeuvres (KFS Press, 2018) and Nostalgia for Bodies (2018 Erbacce Poetry Prize), and two pamphlets. Her latest pamphlet YIELD (KFS Press) and debut novel Distant Hills (Atlatl Press) are forthcoming in 2020. Recent work can be found in SPAM, Bath Magg and Blackbox Manifold. Twitter: @lydiowanie Longlisted for the Women Poets’ Prize 2018. Reader at Structo.

About the Press


KNIVES FORKS AND SPOONS PRESS is an independent publishing house based in Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside, United Kingdom. It was established by Alec Newman in April 2010. The press publishes avant-garde and experimental poetry, full collections, pamphlets and anthologies.  (information quoted from Wikipedia)

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