Reviews

Accessible Space in “What Kind of Woman”

A review of Kate Baer's new book, " What Kind of Woman."

“You can be a mother and a poet.”

So writes Kate Baer in “Moon Song,” part of her first poetry collection, What Kind of Woman. She effortlessly spans parenting, friendship, love, and how women perceive and are perceived, with stunning imagery. Poems like “Female Candidate” hit home, upending the current moment to examine it.

“I like her but / aggressive tone / it’s not that she / now that I have daughters / if only she would / in that short haircut / nothing against the way she dresses”

The poem “Things Men Say to Me” is a list of exactly that, including “Tell me why you’re so mad about men,” and “Let me tell you all the ways I see a girl like you.”

From “Like a Wife”: “The week before my wedding, my friend’s dad said: just don’t get fat, like other wives do.”

These familiar moments for females almost seem superfluous to encounter in text because they’re so, well, normal. But perhaps Baer is reminding us that a big part of the problem is when they become trite, innocent, forgotten.

Her words on the real experience of marriage are gutting. In “Curveball,” she writes of love stories and seems to question whether an ending means failure, that it wasn’t truly a love story. One of the collection’s most stirring moments:

“When I took you as a husband I did not know the deaths our love would suffer. I did not know the graves of loneliness. Last week when you asked if I ever thought of leaving, I said no, even though what I meant was that I love the feel of your hands in the morning. That even in our darkest hours, I still wait for the sound of your feet at the door.”

But Baer does something else remarkable. She leaves room, creates space. With each chuckle and eureka moment she so stunningly delivers to women readers, she creates an accessible place where we can accept our realities, however dark they may be. Even poetry skeptics can devour these poems.

“Interview with Self”:

Can I have it all?
No.
Can I have it all?
No.
Can I have it all?
No.

And even with all the obstacles and men exhaustion and expectations and self-consciousness, Baer seems hopeful and forward-moving. Wash your hands and keep going. Yes, reality is bad, but there are generations of women to come who will be just as strong, just as burdened, but just as willing to act and prove and change.

Baer’s last poem in What Kind of Women,“For My Daughter on a Bad Day,” may support the notion that we can live hopefully while still not turning a blind eye to challenging truths, however small, that we have inherited and will pass along.

“There is no remedy for a bad haircut or ruined love like time. Even when death is coming, even when the filth rises in the back of your throat – this is not the worst of it. And if it is? Listen for the catbird calling. No matter the wreckage, they still sing for you.”

This powerhouse debut appears at a time when many of us may need reminders of our strength.

POETRY
What Kind of Woman
By Kate Baer
Harper Perennial
Published November 10, 2020

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