NEW – The Way the Crocodile Taught Me, Seren, 2016

The Way the Crocodile Taught Me

Katrina Naomi’s The Way the Crocodile Taught Me is the eagerly-awaited second collection by this lively and popular poet.

Of this collection, Vicki Feaver says, ‘I love Katria Naomi’s cool voice and fierce eye’.

With warmth, flair and a certain ferocious wit, Naomi tears into her subject matter: a childhood fraught with dislocation and violence but also redeemed by more tender memories of a sister and a kindly, although at times comically obtuse, grandmother.

In the first half we meet the family which also includes: an often glamorous mother, a truly scary step-father and the sort of relatives where one can expect fistfights to erupt at family weddings. The second half of the book is informed by the tragi-comic events of the first and includes: a bleak hotel, an attempted rape and a description of the sadistic relish with which the Kray twins dispatched their victims. The Way the Crocodile Taught Me will delight people who know Naomi’s work and undoubtedly win new fans for her courageous and unabashedly entertaining poems.

The book is available directly from Katrina by clicking here.

Vicki Feaver

I love The Way the Crocodile Taught Me for Katrina Naomi’s cool voice and fierce eye. For her humour and compassion. For her cast of colourful characters: from a cross-dressing step-father to the Kray twins and a dubious lama. For the journey she takes us – from a childhood a lesser poet would have miled for its sob-stuff to a pass high in the Annapurna mountains where, taking the lama’s blessing for her dead mother, she allows her emotion to pour out in a passage all the more moving because of her previous reticence.

Gillian Clarke

These are fiercely and triumphantly female poems…written with brave truth. It’s a vivid collection of elegy and celebration.

Katrina NaomiKim Moore, writing about Katrina’s poem ‘Letter to my Mother’, chosen as her Sunday Poem.

I can count the poets who have written about domestic violence one hand.  Katrina explores how childhood can be impacted by domestic violence in her collection.  The poem that I’ve chosen for the Sunday Poem is heartbreaking – the violence is both subtle and explicit.  The controlling behaviour of the stepfather is detailed in the middle of the poem, but the atmosphere of threat and tension is set up right from the first line,  when we read ‘You lie underneath him’, and later, this is elaborated on: ‘his 17 stones/pressing down on you’.

The sadness in this poem is unbearable – the line ‘I can’t talk to you,/knowing he’s also there, listening’ contrasts with the beautiful image at the end of the words ‘in a flotilla of paper boats’.  I love this image, the idea of words being the thing that you send to communicate, and the feeling of moving on created by the idea of the boats.

When I got to the end of this poem, with its lines about forgiveness, I had to put the book down and catch my breath. 

Judy Gordon – Write Out Loud

This is a stunning collection.

Richie McCaffery’s review in The Compass Magazine

McCaffery finds himself  drawn towards Katrina Naomi’s style enjoying her condensed lyrical intensity in poems that are unafraid to make big dramatic disclosures to the reader. To read the review in full, click on the link below. 

Out of this world and back again: Review by Richie McCaffery

Matthew Stewart’s ‘electric’ review

Matthew Stewart titles his review of  The Way the Crocodile Taught Me as ‘Electric Coherence’.  Stewart writes:

Katrina Naomi’s The Way the Crocodile Taught Me shows that she is a compelling poetic storyteller, capable of creating intimacy via distance, layering characters, bringing them alive and generating emotional resonance. Read the full review here.

Josephine Corcoran – Poetry Wales

I particularly enjoyed Naomi’s representation of working class lives. Women’s lives are given full attention and respect in poems that deal with female relationships across time, marriage, domestic abuse, illness and death. Katrina Naomi conveys a sense of the vastness of the human spirit.

Claire Williamson’s 5 star review in Goodreads

I have just finished ‘The Way the Crocodile Taught Me’. What a fantastic collection from Katrina Naomi; I was swept along on its white knuckle ride, swallowing the swamp water and tasting the grit.

Ashley Owen – New Welsh Review

Katrina Naomi has the ability to turn a poem on a dime with a single word.

Jen Campbell also features The Way the Crocodile Taught Me in May’s Book Haul video

Martyn Crucefix compares The Way the Crocodile Taught Me with writing by Angela Carter and Pascale Petit: ‘Katrina Naomi’s The Way the Crocodile Taught Me operates in two modes: documentary and mythic. The documentary focuses on childhood and her mother and abusive step-father – a couple whose poems “won’t be set in couplets”. These concerns culminate with ‘Mantra’, a long-lined, prose-like, moving account of a blessing ‘taken’ by the daughter for her dead mother. The mythic poems are rooted in the daughter’s disgust that the mother’s body lies buried “beneath” the violent step-father. Via Angela Carter, via Pascale Petit, this gives rise to images of men as dogs, wolves, bears, crocodiles and though there are powerful moments, such poems can feel a bit derivative.’

 

The Way the Crocodile Taught Me

I swooned at the large god of him, sunning.
A tooth for every day of my life.
He performed his run along the bank,
as males do. I brought my boat closer.
He took to following, at a distance.

I wasn’t taken in, knew his four-chambered heart
pumped love out and in, in and out,
knew his tongue had few good uses,
knew all about his grin. Yet whoever said he was cold-
blooded has never truly known this beast.

He brought out the prehistoric in me. I dived.
We swam, belly to belly, to where the Niles meet,
tussled as we thrashed among the weeds. After, I lay
the length of him, a limestone lilo, studs patterning
my skin. He smiled at me, often. Taught me all he knew.

Years later, when a man tried to drag me under,
I practised the force my lover had held back –
levered my small jaws open to their furthest extent,
splashed them down on the human’s arm.
My attacker still carries the mark of my smile.

(First published as part of the project, ‘The Argument: Art V Poetry’, exhibited at London’s Poetry Café and at StAnza Poetry Festival in Scotland)

What Nan Said

On my first trip home from college:
You’ve got ideas above your station.

As if I should’ve stayed below stairs,
never ventured out of our sitcom.

I’d probably been showing off –
talking politics in French.

Nan didn’t get to study:
Some of us had to work for a living.

I can translate all of this
now I’ve travelled above ground.

If Nan were here, I’d try to tell her
I’m still the same girl, la même.

(First published in Yellow Nib)

Willpower

He couldn’t say no to a fried egg sarnie, smeared with Daddies sauce,
eating two as a snack. Other days, our step-father barely ate,
yet was up at 4, his engine running, as he lifted truckloads of turf.
He was always jumpy, mostly in a temper in our front room,
we were all hemmed in by the giant sofa. When he didn’t eat,
he was worse; resenting the lack of food, his 17 stones, me,
the eldest, who ate what she wanted and stayed slim.
And he couldn’t eat or sleep after work, but sprawled on the couch
in silk pyjama bottoms, lolloping breasts bared as he flicked
between channels, riffled through The Sport and The People.
He bought his slimming tablets – whizz, amphetamines, speed –
in bulk in Thailand. Gave my sister two when she said she’d put on weight.
She skipped breakfast, lunch and tea, her brown eyes buzzed
through school, her heart sprinted for days. She learnt to say no
to his pills, his fried egg sarnies. His moods darkened,
though he never hit us like he did our mother.
I once told him to punch me and his ice blue eyes screwed into mine,
acid in the crease of his lips, his florid face too close;
then he’d catch the tv’s whine of motor racing and heave his frame
back to the sofa and I’d escape, another drug bolting through my veins –
sometimes hate, sometimes pity, but always cut with fear.

(First published in The Poetry Review)

————————————————-

 

Hooligans

Hooligans has just been reprinted after 9 months.

Katrina Naomi wrote Hooligans after learning that her great-grandmother was involved with the Women’s Social and Political Union – one of the more militant Suffragette movements. Hooligans considers the nature of women’s protests for the vote, ranging from violent demonstrations and window breaking, to imprisonment and force feeding.

The book is available directly from Katrina by clicking here , from the publishers Rack Press and from good bookshops, priced £5.

Alluring.

Rory Waterman, The TLS, November 2015

A satisfying amalgam of personal and political…The challenge for the poet writing about violence…is to ensure appropriate poetic transformation of the material…Most of Naomi’s poems meet this challenge triumphantly, particularly the opening work which makes a potently original analogy between a Suffragette and a chimney…The poem packs its punch with great economy ending on a deft pun on ‘house’ conjuring the Commons as well as home.

Ellen Crannitch, Poetry London, Autumn 2015

Katrina Naomi wrote the poems of Hooligans after discovering that her own great-grandmother was (unusually) a working-class member of the WSPU. ‘My mother was a Suffragette, you know -‘ her grandmother remarks ‘as I helped her make the beds’.

The matter-of-fact description of this revelation and of the women’s continuing domesticity, is typical of these profound, pared-down poems. Naomi’s lines depend upon ferocious verbs: ‘even a chimney / will delight in bringing your house down.’ As she notes in an epigraph, the WSPU slogan was ‘Deeds Not Words’. The poems’ laconic stule honours their main subject: Eliza, the Suffragette, ‘a woman of few words’.

Naomi’s briefer accounts of better-known women can be a little threadbare. But her imagining of their physical experience is unforgettable. Her women become forceful presences in her poems, a ‘dorothy bag’ of stones ‘tied about each solid waist’. ‘The Assault’ describes a torture ‘No one can see’: force-feeding. Even after the poem’s detailed account, the final line – and its bare verbs – still echo shock.

And after it was done,

the tube withdrawn, I was sick bringing up milk and blood.

The doctor slapped me on the face and was gone.

‘I can’t know what my Great-Grandfather said / of your views’, Naomi admits history’s gaps. But her poems plunge into them. Historians have never agreed about Emily Davison’s exact plans on Derby Day, 1913, five years before British women gained limited right to vote. Naomi’s final lines, with the beat of their wild verbs, imagine ‘her exhilaration’

she took her decision and ran     as the horses

ran    her hat flying as her body flew

tumbling and tumbling    all the way to 1918

Given Naomi’s precision, it is worth noting that her pamphlet does not end with a full stop.

Alison Brackenbury, Poetry Wales, Summer 2015

Hooligans…reflects upon the nature of women’s and occasionally men’s protests for the right to vote and stand in an election.

The poems here, many incendiary in tone, range from visions of violent demonstrations and window breaking, to imprisonment and force-feeding.

Phillip Clement, New Welsh Review, Summer 2015

For Eliza (My great-grandmother)

‘Go home and darn the old man’s socks.’ – Popular anti-Suffragette insult

You ran away to north London,
never spoke of home, fled as a child
from that gap on the form
where your father would have been;
a mother you rarely mentioned. You ran
to a life of needles and silks, martyred
your eyes for those who could pay,
embroidering a cape for the Coronation;
never a dress for yourself.

When you straightened up,
out of the poor light, you thrust a pin
through the crown of your best straw hat,
worked among those with a larger vision.
I can’t know what my Great-Grandfather said
of your views as you patched his shirts,
kissed him off across the Channel;
or where you were when the telegram messenger
came running, just days before you won the vote.

First published in Mslexia

The Girl with the Cactus Handshake

This impressive collection is rich with colour, black comedy, and surprise. Katrina Naomi’s inventive work locates a ‘beauty, a balance in watching’ as it explores unusual lives at key moments. – Todd Swift

Katrina Naomi’s first collection ‘The Girl with the Cactus Handshake’ was shortlisted for the London New Poetry Award and received an Arts Council England writer’s award. The book is available directly from Katrina by clicking here or from Templar Poetry www.templarpoetry.co.uk priced at £9.99.

Naomi’s poems often establish surprising contexts from which to explore the intimate codes of relationships. The farmer’s boy is up and away or a woman recollects lying on the floor of a pub with a man while her partner watches. Allusions and an acute psychological interrogation make the poems incisive and unpredictable and keep us on our toes for the possible mischief ahead. This arresting and vivid first collection is full of dark humour and affectionate address to dark circumstances.’
Judges of the 2010 London New Poetry Award (Daljit Nagra, Tamar Yosselof, Adam O’Riordan)

Katrina Naomi’s poems are fresh and surprising…with their sharp diction, salt tang, blend of dark and light, and their unexpected last lines, these are satisfying pieces which dock in the memory.’

– Roddy Lumsden

This captivating book offers a riotously imaginative landscape – sometimes lush, sometimes prickly, and often rooted in delicious noir.

Todd Swift

Daring flights shadowed with edgy, deep, intimate foreboding.

Anne-Marie Fyfe

A unique way with imagery.

David Cooke in ‘The North’ No 48

A felicity of spot-on observation.

– Eyewear

Gladioli

A shriek of red, which blinds my window,
plaits braid up from water
as if they don’t need it. Six petals,
four stamens; a wodge of green
spears the light.

It’s the upper buds
that capture, their sly wink, a dog’s
penis, a lipstick among the folds,
loving that sheath before the entrance
of flame, of shock.

A small bleed
of white on the largest sepal,
a landing strip, a lowdown scent
as I’m striped with pink pollen.
I pinch out the dead.

At the base,
still two to be born, drained,
as if they’ve walked the streets all night,
pale coral against a grey October.
A life that’s unambiguous. Quiet.

 

The New World

I live in Ana’s caravan,
strew it with poppies and moss.
She adds cornflowers, cow parsley,
liking colour, greens and blues.
I position the van towards the moon.

She’ll sleep here
or in the woods.
I can never be sure,
but if it’s a night when she’s playing
with wolves, I undo the latch

and sew. I cover her bed
in Kente cloth and matted grass,
find a pink Formica table
from a seaside café that’s selling up,
place it by the window,

so she can paint the stars
by numbers. I leave her
offerings of a bamboo bar,
a solar-powered record player,
scratched jazz.

I love to watch her dance,
how quetzals lift her step,
lizards pull her to the ground.
I cook a dish of cacti,
leave it steaming at her feet.

Visitors

The windows were open, but they usually knocked at the back door,
and you’d hear them, not just the toy town tinkle of Mr Whippy
that my friend’s mum told him meant he’d run out of lollies and ice cream,
but the calls from the Corona lorry, lemonade, lemonade, though
he had limeade, orangeade, cherryade, Tizer, ginger beer, sarsaparilla.
The milko had already been but Mr Corona only visited Edinburgh Walk
on Fridays, took the empties for a penny off, as I thumbed the bumps on the bottles.
There was the rag-n-bone on a Saturday, in a mesh-sided cart,
and my new dad doubled up winter and summer, delivering coal and turf.
The fish man called on Fridays too, he didn’t need a jingle,
you could smell him all the way from the sea. At Christmas
it was the Sally Army Band and mum always had the same request,
sent me out in my Led Zep sweatshirt to ask for In the Deep Mid-winter. Once
or twice there was a knife sharpener, on a bike, who also did scissors.
When the Christian Aid collectors came mum said to put a few tuppences in,
made it feel like ten pence pieces in the red paper wallets. One year,
the Sally Army brought us a grocery box, covered with silver foil
and inside, a ham, oranges, cake. It made mum cry, even before they’d played.
The clairvoyant arrived, unannounced. Told mum her future, wanted no payment.

Corset

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Charlotte Bronte’s Corset – SOLD OUT

Charlotte Bronte’s Corset is not just about the Brontes, or even the museum. In this creative setting, Katrina Naomi has been able to map out her own creative force. – Tara Hanks

Katrina Naomi’s latest pamphlet ‘Charlotte Bronte’s Corset’ follows her writer’s residency at the Bronte Parsonage Museum (from 2009-10) and is published by the Bronte Society. Copies are available from Katrina directly by clicking here. To order a copy get in touch or contact the Bronte Society on 01535 640188 or www.bronte.info.

Charlotte Bronte’s Corset is sensitive, sometimes provocative, its non-reverential tone wry and refreshing. Katrina’s almost ‘forensic’ examination of the Bronte relics explores them through new eyes, challenging our over-familiarity with the Bronte myths. Yet she is also drawn to the present life of the Parsonage, and her poems vividly re-imagine life behind the scenes of a museum dedicated to literary genius.

– Jenna Holmes (Contemporary Arts Officer, Bronte Parsonage Museum)

These poems are so good.

– Barbara Trapido (Novelist)

This subtle, evocative collection bears endless readings.

– Bronte Blog (Barcelona)

Anne’s Last Letter

(dated 5 April 1849 to Miss [Ellen] Nussey)

Such clear handwriting, as though etched
with a fine Berol in brown ink. To save paper

she wrote across the page, turned it 90 degrees.
I hold Anne’s letter (last valued at £180,000)

in its folder of thick plastic. I daren’t touch
the original for fear I’d start to cough, my lungs

in revolt. I have no horror of death she writes,
God’s will be done.
I have no religion and want

to live. Though Anne is my favourite, I won’t bring
her letter to my face, lick this pricey envelope.

 

Die Küche, das Bröt

Emily pummelled the umlauts
of her name into that bread. Kneaded,
pushed and pulled: Küche, kitchen.

The clock struck those consonants
into her Yorkshire-Irish dialect –
the ‘k’ of Küche and the Liedenschaft

of (hidden) passion. She rocked
to the rhythms of German, the yeasty
cloy of verbs, the floury taste

of nouns. Patience and virtue
she already knew. Only now can I begin
to learn the Wärme of her words.

 

Charlotte Bronte’s Corset

I’m sorry Charlotte for this disservice.
Of course, your corset is discoloured,
these padded cups no longer coral pink.
Strips of whale plunge the depths
of your bodice, the slightly rusty metal
strip grips from breastbone to wasp-waist.
I feel like a tabloid reporter, sniffing around
the armholes of your life.

I once wore a corset

in my late teens, black PVC over a black skirt,
fishnets and suede stilettos. I didn’t know
a lot of things then, hardly knew who I was,
had barely heard of you. So what gives
me the right to go searching through
your smalls, to lay out your stays
in the library?

I don’t have so many scruples,

can’t be tight-laced. I need to breathe
the length of my lungs. And I do know
I’ve made your tiny body so much larger
than in life. Forgive me, my waist
is so very different to yours.

lunch

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Lunch at the Elephant & Castle

Katrina Naomi is not afraid to take risks and knows how to ‘tell it slant’. So her restlessly varied and wide-ranging poems – whether touching, shocking, entertaining, compassionate or sinister – have a vital freshness. – Michael Laskey

Katrina’s pamphlet ‘Lunch at the Elephant & Castle’ won the 2008 Templar Poetry Competition and was published in October 2008. The pamphlet is £4 and is also available from Katrina directly by clicking here or from Templar Poetry www.templarpoetry.co.uk


It’s rare that you read a collection of poems and actually want to meet the poet. But Katrina Naomi’s personality comes through so strikingly in Lunch at the Elephant & Castle where she recollects instances from a life that we can all relate to. These recollections are frequently convincing, generous and infused with a tenderness that is the very cornerstone of her poetry.
-James Byrne, Editor, ‘The Wolf’ Magazine

Katrina Naomi…has the chatty, confiding tone of a friend taking you aside for a natter. There’s a great deal of the gossip’s guilty pleasure to be had picking over the matter of the poems…but the poems go deeper than confessional anecdote. By assuming alternate identities, Naomi opens up a wider and more objective world.

– Julia Bird in ‘Poetry London’

This is a vivid and vibrant collecion, Naomi’s voice is distinct and definite. For a first collection this is assured and confident.’

– Victoria Buckley in ‘The Frogmore Papers’

Lunch at the Elephant & Castle

I hadn’t thought of you, hadn’t thought of
you walking into The George, but you did.

And through the smoke and people standing up,
you saw me lying on the carpet with

Andy, was that his name? I’m not too sure.
I do remember how much I’d fancied

him. He was blond, while you’re dark, blue-eyed while
yours are grey. I don’t think you’ve forgotten

have you? I don’t have much of an excuse,
except it was lunchtime and I hadn’t

eaten, but I had drunk nine bottles of
Becks, so lying at the back of The George

with (let’s call him) Andy seemed OK.
Perhaps it was, until I was aware

of your leopard print shoes next to my head,
and the way you said nothing. I’m grateful

for that. You put out your hand, helped me to
my feet and walked me back to Lambeth North.

It was then that I knew I wanted you.

B Movie

You have to be blonde
or jet black, either way, sister
there’s a lot of dyeing.

You have to forget what you see,
remember aliases,
but don’t get smart.

You’ll get used to the eyes
of the rest of the mob,
they’ll go no further.

You’ll smoke at all hours:
first thing in your silk camisole,
4 am in your fox fur.

You spend days alone,
turning his diamonds in your palm,
arranging imaginary flights to Rio.

You spend nights waiting,
ready by the phone,
pistol out of the bedside drawer.

You know there’s a wife, Italian,
that he’s got children
and you won’t have any of your own.

You know you’ll live
in a series of apartments,
each less elaborate than the last.

Tunnel of Love

It looked uncertain.
I tottered in, heels
skittering on the pink plastic.
There were water trails
before the pleasure boat rocked.
My rocker was on board.

I say ‘my’ he was anyone’s,
with his bleached, blond quiff,
curl caressing his left eyebrow,
scar bisecting the right,
so he looked almost symmetrical,
apart from his hands.

His hands were all over me,
before we’d even sat
on the wet, moulded seats.
And I never did. I sat on his lap.
My neat, white pencil skirt,
tight as a condom.

He couldn’t pull it up or down.
It wrinkled along my untouched body,
wedged against his heaving drainpipes.
Yet we bobbed, as one,
bashed into the fake grass
and the fibre glass cave, together.

I had so little for him to squeeze,
as we juddered through the darkness.
His hormones masked by Brut,
£1.99 from the precinct,
and that gorgeous roll-up,
which tasted all the better on his tongue.

He called it his ‘shag break’,
his other recreation,
aside from riding the dodgems,
leaping from one to another
with balletic ease in his narrow jeans,
like a sexy bus conductor.

And he was thin, tight muscles
alert in his black t-shirt,
little more than a boy.
Yet he looked so much older,
cruising the dodgems with his sneer,
chipped tooth and chiselled hair.

I knew enough to keep my hands
out of his hair. I kissed him hard,
slid off his lap in the sunshine.
He didn’t help me out of the boat,
just lit another cigarette, its tip
sparking the way to the electric cars.

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