(REVIEW) My Shrink is Pregnant by Katie Griffiths
Rhian Williams reviews Katie Griffiths', My Shrink is Pregnant (Live Canon Pamphlets, 2019), revealing the collection's quiver of duality as pregnancy moves beyond motif and into trope in Griffiths' work.
> The thing about pregnancy is its habit of stealing the limelight, seizing the narrative. Its bizarre spectacle of takeover, its theatrics of transformation, of growth inside growth, its command of the blood vessels, the lines of nutrition, of course shapes the scene for the person hosting the baby, but also – perhaps especially – for anyone in their orbit, anyone seeking to engage the pregnant person in conversation, the fact of this altered state determinedly shadows the encounter. So, can it ever be possible to talk to a shrink who is pregnant? Katie Griffiths’ collection is bold and unsparing in examining this possibility; while the lyric voice is held by the client, Griffiths has a subtle and engaging way of suggesting the confusion of the shrink herself. Despite its manifest drama, in fact, during pregnancy, one can quite often forget what is happening, even when one’s gait insists otherwise. It’s still possible to live inside your head! To think thoughts not related to procreation or nurture! But when we meet with a person one knows to be pregnant, first the knowledge, and then the swelling, distracts and then obscures your view. ‘My Shrink’s Future Child Swaggers / into the room before she does’ (p. 31): Katie Griffiths’ shrink may be pregnant, but the foetus is working the room.
> Griffiths’ meaningful collection (it was one of the four winning pamphlets in Live Canon’s 2019 competition) makes riches from these near-combative dynamics. Therapy, of course, is always a duet, a duo, a doubling – therapist and patient passing batons back and forth, embracing, then side stepping; transferring and resisting; releasing and blocking. It is fertile ground then for scrutinising interrelations since its point is to trigger recognition of habitual dynamics, to observe the ecologies of symbiosis that have (usually unwittingly) become the mere conditions of existence for the client, an inevitable ‘back and forth’ drama that has become the longest running show in one’s private picture house, and has long since stopped being reviewed. Griffiths writes that when ‘My Shrink Asks Me to Describe / what is on my mind / right now’ (p. 5):
… to have to find words for this
is asking to make sense of red algae
that colonise the inside of closed eyelids,
or find significance in staying awake. (ibid).
> If we go to a shrink to re-enter that dyadic drama with the blinkers off – seeking to separate things out so we can occupy our own singularity peacefully – what on earth do we make of a third body entering the room? In My Shrink is Pregnant the dynamics escalate, things become messy, but also revelatory. Well, kind of revelatory – Griffiths is raw, bitter, clever and capricious about candour (‘My Shrink Surely Realises’, p. 23) and throughout she has a poet’s instinct both for the clarification that metaphors bring, and their tendency to obscure just as they reveal. Drawn along by Anna Steinberg’s mesmerising (often blood red and visceral) illustrations that recall gestalts and Rorschach tests, we are entering a world predicated on recognising that two different conditions do – must – in fact exist simultaneously. Perception and interpretation – the collection’s key processes – cannot settle, but are instead tensely held in an endless quiver of duality as pregnancy moves beyond motif and into trope in Griffith’s work, its knot of 2-in-1 becoming the conditional figure for the whole collection, pointing at Griffith’s own mood of waspish vulnerability (this is understandable when there is a foetus in the room; as ‘My Shrink Confirms My Suspicion’ (p. 6) knows, no one wants someone listening in on their therapeutic time), at the repeated interchanges of doubling between the therapist and her client (who both wear the same t-shirt and boots), and at the overlaps and swaps between mother/daughter family roles that the therapeutic patient fantasises their way through (like psychoanalysis itself, these poems are committed to the family as archetype):
Some people think, she says,
that pregnancy is passed on
like a virus.
Maybe I can be a virus to her,
an insidious worm
sucking at her wisdom
until the day I explode out of her mind,
reassembled. (p. 15)
(It’s a great poem, but I think we all agree that virus as a metaphor is cancelled for now.) By the end, it is this ‘reassembling’ that seems most pressing, this storytelling (in Griffiths’ gorgeous figuration notes flutter like parchment, sheets of paper become muslin sheets in the breeze) that preoccupies the poet’s reckoning and rumination. The point about pregnancy seizing the narrative becomes more clear – it is pregnancy itself, a phenomenon so pushy and yet so enigmatic – that forges its way through. And if Griffiths is suspicious that ‘My Shrink is Planning to Peddle My Dreams’ (p. 35), she knows that risks are being taken on all sides, that none of the persons in the room will be unscathed; that birthing a new person – whether a baby or oneself emerging from therapy – is a process of undoing, of opening up, of blurring: ‘me distilled through her through me through her, / our leakage, our botched edges’ (p. 35). The centre of gravity has to shift.
My Shrink is Pregnant is available to order from Live Canon.
Text: Rhian Williams