How to Wear a Skin

Book: How to Wear a Skin Author: Louisa Adjoa Parker Publisher: Indigo Dreams Publishing  Price: £9.99 Review by Reshma Ruia

How to Wear a Skin is Louisa Adjoa Parker’s latest collection of poetry. The collection explores themes of identity, race, loss and love in contemporary Britain. In deceptively simple yet arresting images, Parker reveals the complexity of being a bi-racial woman and the trade-offs that need to be made between love and loss, duty and freedom. Her concerns may be particular but the need to be understood and be loved and the resilience of the human spirit are universal in their scope and ambition.  

Parker has a highly skilled and developed poet’s eye. In ‘Kite’, she writes of ‘Her feet on fallen leaves crunch like a child eating dry cornflakes from a bowl.’ She shows compassion and deep sensitivity in elevating the everyday, domestic details into poignant portraits of life. In ‘Duffel Coat’, ‘the kitchen always smelt of cumin. There was a Grand Piano in the drawing room.’ Her protagonists have a rich interior life that is at odds with the mundane smallness of their lives. In ‘Boy at the Station’, the young man waiting on the platform with ‘a cigarette stuck to his lip, his black hair damp with product,’ longs for Paris where he and his beloved will ‘venture out for a pain au chocolat, drink thick coffee from shot-size cups…they’ll be so full of love.’  Yet Parker knows that these dreams will never somehow materialize, that there will always be a disconnect between fantasy and reality. This is vividly brought out in ‘The Best Years of Her Life’ where the narrator accepts that her life ‘went up in smoke; sitting in hazy bedrooms…she’d take anything: drink, drugs, boys(or men) to lift her up, away from the life she was living.’ In ‘Sunflower’, the poignant last lines reveal that ‘most things change, for now, on this August morning, some things have stayed the same.’

Some poems are set in Devon and capture the rites of passage from childhood and adulthood with predators circling, ready to snatch away the last vestiges of innocence. The picture postcard images of ‘white winged seagulls circling’ and ‘white paint on wooden slatted walls inside the beach hut’ in ‘I remember Tasting Salt’ hide a young girl being abused. ‘the warm press of his hand on my head. I’m not sure if I want this…’   

Duality and hybridity lie at the heart of many of these poems. In ‘What I have Lost,’ Parker proclaims that ‘I’m not a half-cast freak but someone who is more than just one thing-a bit of this, a bit of that.’

Similarly in ‘Cream and Roses,’ she reflects that ‘She doesn’t look like me…in her cream and roses skin her pale, kink-less hair…yet she has my arch less feet, my love of sugar, of books. She has my blood, my history, my love.’

While there is pride and celebration of motherhood, there is also an acknowledgment of the complexities of maternal love and abandonment. One of my favourite poems in this collection is ‘Yellow Sheets’ which incidentally was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. The poem describes the anguish of a young mother abandoning her new-born baby in a rubbish bin, swaddled in a ‘bag of shopping…suspended in a plastic womb.’

Parker has an acute understanding of the historical injustices of life, political and socio-economic. There is anger in lines such as these: ‘the grandsons of the men who strung trees with his forbearers as though they were lanterns.’ In ‘Take Back Control’, she asserts ‘Take half the world and wash it pink…Take gold, take spices, land.’ ‘Those wild, pre-Brexit days’ captures the undercurrents of prejudice ‘when immigrants crawled out of gutters …and when the immigrants killed our language’. She recognizes the contribution of women forgotten by history. In ‘Pearls’, addressed to Henrietta Lacks, she writes, ‘She thought she was only good for having babies, growing tobacco in fields…unthanked, she lives on. And on.’  

This is a powerful and accessible poetry collection. It will resonate with readers for its vivid imagery, skilled use of language and universal concerns. 

How to Wear a Skin by Louisa Adjoa Parker is available to purchase here.