Sunday 6 June 2021

Review by Cathi Rae of "Russian Doll" by Teika Marija Smits


I am reading and re-reading this assured and perfectly crafted debut collection by happy coincidence in a room which contains three sets of Russian Dolls. The best Russian Dolls are made with such skill that it is almost impossible to see the join as you open up each figure to find a smaller perfect copy. The very best Russian Dolls lose nothing in detail even as the dolls become tinier. The pleasures are in the craft, the artistry, and the discovery of the very smallest and still beautiful final doll.

This collection provides the same joy – perfectly made poems, exquisite details, and the satisfaction of finding more and more to read, to consider, to discover.

Written in two sections, the first, 'Daughter Doll / Doll-Daughter,' focuses on childhood and relationships with parents. Some of these poems are 'small' – the sensual joy of mint choc-chip ice cream - while some take on the big stuff – suicide of an old school friend, the death of a father, grieving - but all are crafted so elegantly, so absolutely 'right.' Smits can use even the most structured rhyme scheme, as in 'The Pulmonary Embolism,' with a touch so skilled that in other hands could feel cumbersome - but here there is no loss of real pain and emotion.

The second section, 'Mother Doll / Doll-Mother,' is searingly honest about parenting and being a mother with such careful observation that the poems speak to anyone who has cared for small children. The title poem, 'Russian Doll,' contains this: '... As I thin and am worn smooth by little hands that dismantle me daily…” – one of the most perfect descriptions I have read of motherhood. But there is celebration too and a realistic sense of the day-to-day work. I’m in awe of another poet who can find poetry in the quiet hell of sitting pool-side during the weekly swimming lesson.

About the reviewer
Cathi Rae is a spoken word artist and somewhat to her own surprise a PhD student in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.

You can read more about Russian Doll, as well as a sample from it, on Creative Writing at Leicester here.

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