Poets make the best writers. Ways To Fold a Swan is a chapbook. I remember Rachel Smart from when she was an editor at ABCtales (she probably still is). I read everything she wrote. Poetry mostly, but also prose. Story of the week stuff.
I like her writing because she writes about people I recognise. People like me. Working class, and unashamedly so. Words she recognises come preloaded with meaning.
‘Rouse, ravish, rape.’ Roe versus Wade. Tens of millions of poor women have suddenly been disenfranchised by a coterie of rich white guys. Hierarchies of hidden meaning.
The narrator, Leda, is on a journey. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance on push bikes. Leda has to find out how to be more herself and not what other—men—want her to be. She needs to grow up.
‘Leda is different to others. She has been different her whole life. Her parents never made a meal out of it.’
First lines are important. It needs to ask questions of the reader, but also draw us in.
‘Her companion reckoning she’s got nice hair shouldn’t tip her mood, but it’s the one adjective that turn Leda wretched.’
I had to read that line several times. I’ve grown proficient with words. I even know what semantics means. But I wasn’t sure what adjective Leda was referring. Then it hit me. ‘Nice,’ is hell of an insult. Nations don’t go to war, when they’re called ‘nice’. Relationships don’t break down over niceness. Leda is saying they do.
D. H. Lawrence wrote a poem about it. The English are So Nice/so awfully nice.
Lust doesn’t turn to hate, but an escape from the fate of so many other nice girls that can’t see who they are, or what they will become.
Leda claims a different self. An autonomous self, guided by a rejection of a male reading of Greek mythology. Zeus, and how her namesake, was raped by an Olympian God who’d turned himself into a swan to claim her beauty. How Leda was meant to feel grateful for this, because, after all, he was a god.
In the same way, the driver of a ‘Vauxhall something drives by her. It’s a flashy white model and it slows right down when the driver gets close.
he says: Get in.
And then: Sweetheart you do hand jobs? She calls him a dirty bastard and legs it all the way to the hotel.’
He was simply kerb crawling and claiming dominion. In another story, she could think herself lucky.
‘The thing that really riles Leda about the word nice is it’s a cop-out.’
Leda isn’t willing to do that or play that role. Neither is Rachel Smart. I used to have a verbal jibe at her: Smart by name and Smart by nature. Jesus, I wouldn’t dare call her ‘nice’.