Pessimism is for Lightweights is the new volume of poetry by Salena Godden, which was released a few days ago. I was so excited to read this.
The cover is quite bold, which I like. The colour, though, is slightly harsh, however this works to its advantage. (Because it’s so unusual, you’d be tempted to find out more, right?) I also really like the tagline: “13 pieces of Courage and Resistance.” In times like this, I think this is exactly what is needed.
The book itself:
I think the introduction is brilliant. The book is dedicated to “every person who is using their muscle…” to do something good in the world. And that is what sets the tone for this volume.
Courage Is A Muscle opens the book, and I like the weight of it. To me, it’s also about events-such as The Woman’s March in 2017. As a self-identifying feminist, I also heavily identified with the verse: “And when we get weary, we march side by side, 100 years we’re still marching, with courage, and with pride.”
The next poem has a kind of sadness to its tone; Soup is a poem that I like for its language, but I’m not entirely sure what it’s about. It seems to be about kindness, if that-a mixing bowl of a metaphor. My favourite line is “Make love and make soup.”
Up next is It’s All About The Pathways. Its composition reminds me of Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath, for how sparse it is. “We create/love and hate/we get stuck/and we/cannot see/reason or light” is a particular stanza that I find eerily prophetic.
The Day We Stopped is a poem for now, right now in this moment. It’s a longer form poem, again reminding me of Plath’s The Tulips. (It starts “The tulips are too excitable/it is winter here…”) It’s almost like prose; although I think it’s maybe one of the slightly weaker poems, this serves as a warning. The day that we stop will not be good.
I like Sorry To Trouble You for its cultural references, such as naming Yarl’s Wood. We should be thankful to those who trouble themselves-and I would extend that to journalists, activists, protestors, etc. It also made me feel reflective about poetic stereotypes in popular culture; people like Sylvia Plath are demoted to “that person who put their head in an oven.” We owe them, people who dare to dream and write, and we should not stereotype.
Old Blood and young teeth is one of my favourites. It’s full of hard truths-like “a life is so short/when you consider the age/of the temples and cathedrals.” I like the conflict between the ages.
Red is perhaps the most explicitly feminist poem there is. It’s about periods-I think?-and it makes a good point about the hypocrisy of the Tampon Tax.
I have many, many thoughts about Sushi. “Do you remember?” is a phrase repeated throughout-and it signals the sudden, dramatic change. It’s because of this poem-and a few others-that I think this should be gifted to teenagers. The last verse brings it together: “Remember the first time. Remember the last time. Let that be the last time.”
The Letter is a beautiful poem; that’s all I have to say. It reminds me of the Carly Simon song, Never Been Gone.
I would like to know, though, what was It isn’t punk to seek permission was written about.
Godden hits the nail on the head with Christine; “how fast they all turned their backs/so quick to betray daughters/to protect the goof old boys.” Again, this seems to be about feminism; this type of poem makes me wish I could be friends with Godden. She, from her writing, is that uber cool, hip aunt that teen girls should have.
Sage is the poem that shows Godden’s mastery of language. It reminds me of I Capture The Castle-where Cassandra creates spell at the castle, and dances round the fire. One of the verses is also going at the front of my new notebook: “You are the survivor of ideas that cannot burn.”
Finally; Pessimism Is For Lightweights. It’s a masterful epic poem; it is now one of my favourites.
Can we have Godden’s poetry in schools? I’d have loved to have read something like this at secondary school, or written essays about it at A level. (Obviously, from that, you can tell it has bought back my nostalgia for poetry.) She is also someone that I would love to interview, as I think she’s a very interesting poet.
I also think that this book-although small-is something of a powerful masterpiece; I enjoyed it more so than I thought it would. This collection shows off Godden’s command and mastery of the English language; for the reason alone, I think she deserves the title of “Modern Day Sylvia Plath.”
Pessimism Is For Lightweights is available to buy from Rough Trade Books. Or you can buy other works by Salena from her online shop. Don’t miss Salena at Byline Festival later this summer. Make sure to also visit her website.
Disclaimer: I was given a proof copy of this book to review, at my own request. This is my honest opinion; you can read about this in my disclaimer.