"Her voice is at once conversational and conspiratorial; the reader is invited in to observe memories and other less tangible ghosts as they collide on the page in kaleidoscopic prose that’s firework-bright and brilliant. Her subjects are often deceptively simple yet intricately, expansively layered, as in “The First Time with Pay-Per-View”: “Her body was an ostentatious palace/ where he broke all the furniture.” Leyton’s subject matter creates a compelling basis for the work, and her voice, audacity, and dexterity as a poet underscore the book’s decidedly impressive momentum."
All the Gold
Hurts My Mouth
From a Starred review in Publisher's Weekly:
Leyton’s debut poetry collection is at times angry, often deeply sexual, and always captivating. It’s also an incredibly personal collection: unabashedly feminist, inquisitive and self-interrogating, and in many ways transgressive. That, too, is tangled up in eroticism. The speaker’s histories and commentaries are laid bare in plain and staggeringly beautiful free verse, as well as more formal styles. Her voice is at once conversational and conspiratorial; the reader is invited in to observe memories and other less tangible ghosts as they collide on the page in kaleidoscopic prose that’s firework-bright and brilliant. Her subjects are often deceptively simple yet intricately, expansively layered, as in “The First Time with Pay-Per-View”: “Her body was an ostentatious palace/ where he broke all the furniture.” Leyton’s subject matter creates a compelling basis for the work, and her voice, audacity, and dexterity as a poet underscore the book’s decidedly impressive momentum. This is a book that reads quickly and pulls no punches. Though the collection is slight, it feels weighty. Leyton’s writing speaks in soft whispers but hits like a sledgehammer.
Link to review here.
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VIEWS & REVIEWS
Ottawa-based poet Katherine Leyton debuts with a brash, provocative collection centred around how women are seen by men, as expressed in popular culture, and how women internalize that male gaze. She navigates this charged territory with sharp phrasing, a keen eye for telling details and an acerbic humour. In one poem she writes of a young woman who “doesn’t know if she’s an American Apparel //mannequin or a woman with/a body she’s learning.” Elsewhere, Leyton writes from the perspective of women who play along with the sexual stereotype of a flirt or a submissive girlfriend, but even these portraits have an edge — as in one poem of deceptively amicable domesticity, where a lover’s desire is momentarily derailed by the sight of “the sparking edge” of his girlfriend’s teeth, which “she bares up from his lap.”
Katherine Leyton’s All the Gold Hurts My Mouth (Icehouse, 64 pages, $20) is an outstanding debut, filled with complicated yet still vivid imagery: "The trees and sky can be ripped away. / Behind them you’ll find a peacock. / When his tail opens flames eat / what is left of the picture, // including the peacock, / whose feathers are made of a lace / my grandmother gave me / on my twenty-first birthday." A poem titled Instagram perfectly captures the social media experience: "Shame springs from nice, / a prickly beast. So you heart everything, / like a dumb bitch. And you wonder / if real ever was." Other poems serve up more sinuous, dark imagery: "the figure of a woman, // not me exactly, / but a version, // the me that dies in the nightmare."
Leyton’s lines lift off the page to throttle you.
Katherine Leyton’s debut book of poetry, All the Gold Hurts My Mouth (Goose Lane), is a rural coming-of-age sequence preoccupied with the violence, interpersonal opacity and desperate seeking that so often accompanies young sex. An early poem, “Search”—which begins “Type in girls/ and Google pulls up its skirt”—sets the stage for both the incantatory “cunt”s that unspool in that poem, as well as the collection that follows. “Letters for You” builds masterfully from the implication of violence—“Sauvage, that’s what you called me,/but it’s how I think of you, and it’s the opposite/of their want, which can be fed”—to its realization. In several poems, Leyton stages a conversation, imagining a “you” who responds to the speaker, who straddles a sort of diegetic, extra-diegetic presence and anticipates objections to her worldview—the reader is left to decide if it’s an inner voice, or a voice from the masculine rabble. All the Gold Hurts My Mouth is as sharp as a broken crown.
All The Gold Hurts My Mouth, Katherine Leyton’s debut collection of poetry, is as sharp as it is sexy. The stories told in these poems are injected with a strong dose of twenty-first century gender politics, setting Leyton apart from any male-dominated tradition among Canadian poets.
Throughout All The Gold Hurts My Mouth, readers are reminded over and over again of the experience of women as things to be looked at, to be watched, and even consumed. “Photograph” reminds us of Laura Mulvey’s concept of the male gaze – an active and patriarchal male spectator who renders the female passive or even objectified. Leyton writes: “You tell me to look into the lens, / which I think of as your mouth. / The air is heavy with appetite.” Her concise verse packs all that theory into a few sparse lines, as well as creating a tense, carnal visual that brings it to life. Yet, the everyday intimate moments she paints for us reject the simplistic victim-oppressor dynamic that is sometimes associated with feminism. The paradox of navigating opposite-sex relationships is realized fully and without judgment.
Read full review here.
Earnest, direct, sarcastic—Katherine Leyton’s collection is perhaps the most “down to earth” of these three books. That is not to say that it lacks in poetic qualities or depth, but that its feminist politics require a different language than the speculative Farrant or the metaphysical Lilburn. The female body is continually mediated, by photographers (“The woman you’re watching— / What does she look like / […] You like her, I know. / You’ll develop her: / a bit of generosity”), by selfie culture (“I need rousing abstractions of myself”), and by pornography (“Type in girls / and Google pulls up its skirt: // thumbnail upon thumbnail of cunt”). Female representation is problematized and poeticized: “The girl in the paining— / and the one in the magazine— / are, in a way, fucking us, filling us.” And yet, against this tidal force of the male gaze, that fills being, that dictates identity, there stands a bastion of reclaimed words, of self-represented sorrowful, joyful, complex experiences, of parents, families, and lovers. The Mary MacLane epigraph reads, in part, “But before she dies she awakes. There is a pain that goes with it.” To speak, then, to form golden words out of patriarchy, to take this burnished gold into one’s mouth, is to feel a new pain, the pain of an awakening political conscious.