The Significance of a Dress by Emma Lee
ISBN: 978-1-909208-83-4 £8.99
27 February 2020 POETRY 48 pages
Poems informed by and immersed in politics. Everything has a significance beyond the surface. Beautiful, hair-raising words and form, utterly from the heart.
The Significance of a Dress
Refugee camp northern Iraq
Even if home is makeshift and her carriage is a borrowed
pair of shoes that dance over gravel baked in the desert heat,
a bride still wants to feel special, at least for one day.
No one can afford to buy when twenty neighbours share
a latrine and there’s a constant vigil against disease.
Tulin, named after a daughter, offers gown hire, make-up
and hairstyling that will withstand humid evenings.
‘I don’t ask how old they are,’ says the beautician. A mural
outside shows a girl in a white gown holding a teddy bear.
The future is tomorrow. Next year is a question.
A wedding is a party, a welcome, a sign of hope.
The dresses sparkle with sun-reflected diamanté
but the gravel paths of the camp leave the hems stained.
Nothing is unimportant in The Significance of A Dress, where next year is not the future but a question. Each refugee, suffragette or shushed voice and narrative encompassed by the poems is personal and individual, yet simultaneously universal in its reach and significance. In ‘Dismantling The Jungle’, flames form “an echo of a former life”. This vivid collection is full of such flames and echoes. Whether it’s “Each dress hangs from a noose” (‘Bridal Dresses in Beirut’) or “Everything Abdel sees is smeared, despite his glasses” (Stories from The Jungle), Emma Lee’s focus is precise, poised and packs emotional punch. Her evocative imagery is reinforced by taut lines, striking juxtapositions and intimate, moving details. The Significance of A Dress is a beautiful, powerful and haunting collection.
S A Leavesey
From the title page of The Significance of a Dress, Emma Lee cleverly fashions a feminist metaphor for #MeToo into uncompromising forms. These include the terrible symbol of bridal dresses hung from nooses in Beirut, signifying rapists absolved of their crimes through marrying their victims, a figure walking home in the UK uncertain whether she is safe from rape after a recent attack in the area, and further victims of rape and domestic abuse. The reader is never let go, with head dunked into the murky waters of domestic life until forced to accept Lee’s compelling argument of a grossly unequal world. The poet does this with immense skill in versification, giving her audience no option but to pay attention.
This is daring, well-imagined poetry with global scope, giving voice to women from myriad backgrounds and cultures. It goes far beyond the boundaries of #MeToo, arguing the world has become one of disturbing realm of sexual inequality, in an atmosphere of constant threat. Lee’s collection addresses unfairness, advocating for those who have been denied the ability to speak for themselves.
Dr James Fountain