(REVIEW) Very Authentic Person, by Kat Sinclair
Dylan Williams reviews Kat Sinclair’s new collection, Very Authentic Person (The 87 Press, 2019), exploring its engagement with voicelessness, gender, authenticity, the body surveilled and the charge of capital in language.
> In his Letters Against the Firmament (2015), Sean Bonney promises: ‘shimmering / a language of the barricades’. A language that resists, to quote Adorno, the ‘enclaves’ of capital that ‘obtrude into the spoken language’. Echoing this, Kat Sinclair, too, reaches for the image of a barricade in her new collection, Very Authentic Person (2019):
I was always a little in love with the paunch of the world like tiny communisms since we can’t build them big these days our architecture’s all accommodating only little barricades will do
There is something shared here, with Bonney, but also something different. Sinclair’s barricades seem far from the battleground of social revolution. They are ‘tiny communisms’ - linguistic barricades of the self, the body and the voice. Against the insipid drive of capital into our shared language, Sinclair’s text seeks the personal spaces that we may yet call our own, as well as the trauma already inflicted.
> Kat Sinclair is a doctoral student and a member of the Devil’s Dyke Network, in Brighton. Her first collection of poetry, Very Authentic Person, binds together poems written in a voice that is, in turns, direct and aleatory:
I think I would rather be nodal than not we are all significant, after all even as we sit atop each other so that thigh over cheek over gum disease, inherited, not developed I am always sure to say when I am next to somebody at the sink for the first time flecking them sweetly
The self-conscious, confessional power of Sinclair’s ‘I’, here, quickly dissipates and subsumes into the stuff of the everyday: hygiene, domesticity, the body. A turning from the public voice into a private one. In Very Authentic Person, Sinclair’s narrator repeatedly brings us to this exhausted edge of language. We can see this later, with the lines, ‘to keep hold of all this virtual thinking I’m doing’ and ‘all those thoughts about the commons I haven’t had yet’: these are the words of a voice at the edge of voicelessness – at the edge of an asset-stripped language. The point where a language’s potential for communication begins to flag.
> Sinclair’s narrator is constantly rushed and buffeted away from discovering the fleeting point of it all. In this, Sinclair successfully encapsulates the nausea of the last ten years (in the UK), with daily minds and bodies flickering into consciousness of the social transformations happening underneath our feet. The enclosures of capital on the national common. The narrator we are given is a voice shorn of any counternarrative to these buffeting forces. The deranged voice is, quite intentionally, the imprint left by recent attacks on the social commons.
> For all of this, Very Authentic Person doesn’t read like a catalogue of despair. The confusion between the individual psyche and outer society is played upon with dexterity, and there is, throughout, an affectionate embrace of the kitchness of daily life. More than anything, there is tenderness for those ‘tiny communisms’ of body and voice. In one poem, Sinclair begins starkly, and pessimistically, before emerging epiphanically above the drift and sludge of capital. Sinclair opens the poem musing over a dress, positing, ‘the thing is, is that the black frame is less ostentatious / than the gold’. This presents us with a female body surveilled and policed, desiring anonymity, not ‘ostentation’ – a body claimed by the male gaze. But then, later, the poem reaches a clarity of vision that is all the more powerful for its fleetingness. Sinclair inquires, beautifully, ‘did you know the hymen would not have to be / a metaphor for broken things / if we did not let it become one’. The narrator’s self-confidence and defiance shines through, here, revealing the duality of the female body for Sinclair. A body that is surveilled, but, at the same time, a site where the process of liberation must begin. A ground zero for the reclamation of the commons.
> Moments of clarity and empowerment surface at different points in the text, and they are often similarly concerned with wresting a body away from objectification. Take the first poem, ‘Quiscalus’:
together did language laundry clearing out our mouths this I am a clunking clothes horse this time around I’m paying particular attention to my elbows think I’ve probably never seen my outer wrists before but paying no more attention to that spot just beneath my shoulder blades gone sour medusa born backwards […] my eyes in the centre on a plinth watching my body try.
This poem shows the contest fought over the female body between its true subjectivity and the forces of outward objectification. A struggle fought out in terms of vision – over who beholds and what is beheld. Vision in this passage is destructive (with the ‘medusa’), while the latter image recalls the surveillant control of the panopticon. But the narrator herself uses vision, herself, to pay ‘particular attention’ to her own body, to bring it into consciousness. Furthermore, language is represented as a carnal thing, too, a thing of the ‘mouth’ that must be constantly cleansed and reclaimed, as part of the wider body. For Sinclair, this ‘language laundry’ is the last, best task to which poetry can be put in our era of crisis.
> Very Authentic Person accomplishes the task it sets out to perform, and records the fleeting moments of authenticity in the slipstream of a female self constantly battered and claimed from the outside. As Keston Sutherland writes, ‘the best poetry is also invariably the best at using exhausted language’. Deploying the language and phrases of the everyday, Sinclair, at times, shows us the secret spaces in the exhausted language of the self – the spaces that capital has yet to claim and objectify. In this regard, Very Authentic Person records the process of the struggle for being itself.
Very Important Person is out now and available to order via The 87 Press.
Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer (2002), Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments
Sean Bonney (2015), Letters Against the Firmament
Keston Sutherland (2015), ‘Poetry or Emptying’ in Toward. Some. Air (De’Ath and Wah, eds.)
Text: Dylan Williams
Image: The 87 Press