‘Satyress’ by Audrey Molloy – reviewed

Reviewed ByEmma Lee

Emma Lee reviews Audrey Molloy's ‘Satyress’

Satyress by audrey molloy reviewed

‘Satyress’ Audrey Molloy

Southword Editions 

ISBN 978-1-905002-71-9,


‘Satyress’ is a pamphlet that explores a woman re-discovering herself after losing her identity under the labels ‘wife’ and ‘mother’. The title comes from one of the early poems, ‘On Reaching 45 the Poet Realises She Is Only 23’, where the poet discovers she can peel away her skin to discover, 

‘the creature in my bathroom mirror, then grabbed each ear and pulled upwards. A lake of hair fell over my shoulder and down to my navel. My eyes were ringed with black paint, my mouth, cleft as a hare. This was no dream, I tell you; this was just the beginning. In my zeal I trod on my tail three times before draping it over my arm and, grabbing my best bag and throwing in the knives, I was off to where the wild ones go to dance among the boabs.’

It’s a sensual poem, the narrator discovers she’s not really disappeared, but she’s not put herself front and centre and now her desires are being met. The knives, concealed in ‘my best bag’, are a warning she’s not to be messed with now.

‘A Brief History of Smoking’ is a biography through cigarettes, although the opening part of the sequence, ‘I blame Madonna’ seems a little unfair as, although Madonna has waved cigarettes around in videos, she actually anti-smoking, but it turns out it was copying Madonna’s habit of wearing fingerless gloves that gave away the teenaged smoker to her mother. Part iii has hints of regret, 

‘all those things we don’t do now, like cigarettes after sex—crackle as leaf becomes ash, sheets of smoke suspended, up-lit by a candle in a Mateus Rosé bottle. On the nightstand, like a carriage clock, Dunhill’s claret-and-gold pack; alas, now gone, replaced with images that would put you off coming.’

The last phrase ambiguous. The final part, vii., still contains a note of defiance, 

‘And now we live to a hundred, nothing left to spare us from days spent lap-rugged in a wheelchair, staring through glass at pariahs huddled outside cafés and bars. (Viva! Vivienne Westwood, at the ball, pack of Marlboro tucked up the puff sleeve of her gown).’ 

The narrator still has sympathy for the rebels. ‘Seriously, Siri’ brings readers firmly up to date as a satyress waking in ‘The forest is a test: escape or find food—make your choice’ and Siri attempts to guide the satyress home,

‘Now sun’s up, bees bitz and bitz

      and you lead me to honey-combed morels

                            near the crater’s edge.

                               A pebble click-clacks to the lake.

             Proceed to the route.

                     Are you serious?

                     I’m not allowed to be frivolous

It captures that sense of trying to knock some common sense into an intelligent being who prefers data to real life and can’t see the dead end the person under direction can.

The final poem, Anna Karenina Smiles as She Steps off the Platform’, starts, ‘Admit it, woman, to die not having lived is common.’ And continues,

‘They say

      a woman only has so many heartbeats in her life

and yours are running low. You will have a sudden

      death—savage (yes!) as all best endings are, blood

returned to iron. Know you can hold your lovely head

      high in the station lamplight. Know you tried.’

‘Satyress’ is obviously in favour of trying, of striving for a life and not losing yourself in everyday routines and definitions that rely on a relationship to another, e.g. wife or mother. The narrator wants to keep her own identity, her own space so she doesn’t become lost. Audrey Molloy’s poems feel satisfyingly complete: they take recognisable scenarios and ask readers to look again at something familiar from a new direction. Not a word is wasted.