Kristin Garth's 'Candy Cigarette Womanchild Noir' - a review from AHP Managing Editor Amanda McLeod

Featured Artist Kristin Garth has written many books in her poetry career. Today, AHP Managing Editor Amanda McLeod shares her thoughts on Kristin's full length collection Candy Cigarette Womanchild Noir, out now from Hedgehog Poetry Press and available for purchase directly from the author.

If there’s one thing Kristin Garth excels at, it’s the art of the sonnet in all its forms; and she makes good use of her tremendous skill in this area in her collection Candy Cigarette Womanchild Noir.

The book is something of a memoir-in-poetry, divided up into different sections by a series of free verse, almost prose-poetic pieces that define each element of the book and tie all the poems together under an overarching narrative. The poems are not necessarily in chronological order, but in an order which follows events that inspire Kristin to reflect on aspects of her life. A poem about recent events sits within the same section as one about events of twenty years ago; the link is not time, but theme.

Garth’s use of language is masterful; she flirts with rhyme throughout her sonnets in both expected and unexpected places and this brings a beautiful rhythm to her words. Everything is accessible and never sounds overwrought (although, given some of her subject matter, it could be excused if it was) – and yet it never sounds tired. The poems are mostly sonnets, which are Kristin’s specialty, and her creations show not only that she knows the structure of these inside out, but also knows when to break the rules of syllable and rhyme to tell her story to best effect. Amongst these traditional shapes, the anomalous pieces stand out even more and are a refreshing reminder of Garth’s strength in writing, and her versatility.

Kristin’s poetry goes beyond simply exploring her own life, although she uses the lens of her own experience to explore the world. She references the social and political, particularly when they involve the dehumanisation and commodification of women. A standout is ‘Even Assholes get to be Anonymous’ in which she writes of a support group which is anything but supportive. Her introduction to the section ‘Bracelets’ is particularly intense, as she explores the Madonna/whore dichotomy so prevalent in the representation of women, especially by men.
And yet for all the time Candy Cigarette Womanchild Noir spends exploring the darkness, there is no denying the note of victory in the final couplet:

It’s who you become not how you begin
How they will know you is girl with a pen.

This is a book for survivors, for phoenixes, for those who emerge from dark places stronger. It is also a reminder that poetry is far from dead. The most traditional forms can be reinvigorated through fresh lexicons, and used to tell stories of today by contemporary voices. In this respect, Candy Cigarette Womanchild Noir truly triumphs.