By Carmina Masoliver

August saw the five-year anniversary of Lauren Kaye’s ‘I’m All In’, a poetry collection described as a ‘seductive collection of romantic and sensual poems that speak on the inevitable episodes of love, sex and relationships’. The occasion was marked on social media – at a time where artists are forced to be more resourceful than ever when the stage is taken away. As Kaye outlines in the introduction, her poetry ‘is written much how I speak’, and it is best to have seen her live or see live videos so you can then hear her voice as you read coming through the pages.

The whole book is centre-aligned, echoing the performer on the stage. This introduction sets the tone with girl talk over cups of tea, which is how I sit now reading it, with lines provoking thoughts and feelings as I do. Although described as colloquial and written of the moment – ‘words that come directly from my thoughts and expressions… in a way I felt necessary at the time’ – Kaye also sets the intention of the collection as an ‘R&B/Soul album’ where you might find ‘your favourite love song or slow jam’, and indeed it reminds me of the 90/00s when I would often listen to these genres, sing along with lyric sheets in hand, the rhyme alluding to the musicality of such songs.

The collection acts less as a poetry book, and more like reading lyrics sheets, taken straight from the stage, and aiming to contain the raw emotions of the live performance. As I read, I remember laughing at the line in ‘Urs’ that plays on marriage vows, stating ‘I don’t need you to Love, Honour and Obey / I need you to Love, Honour and Foreplay,’ with the cheekiness and relatability of the wordplay. The language of subjugation is subverted to focus on female pleasure. Yet, coming to the end of this piece, Kaye ends her list of loving demands, with a pleading, ‘Please don’t let it just all be in my head.’ The poem then takes on a deeper resonance, suggesting we can build up these fantasies of what we want from love and relationships, yet in the early stages, we can be led on and let down. These experiences can make us more certain of what we do and do not want, but due to previous experiences it can be hard to believe when someone seems to manifest these dreams. Indeed, poems such as ‘Unpack’ use the extended metaphor of luggage to express doubts and hesitation, being ‘afraid’ and ‘taking steps back’, speaking of a fear of commitment.

Here, a romantic place becomes a person, and romantic assumptions of love are turned on their head

In ‘All to Myself’, I enjoy the references to the cartoon ‘Hey, Arnold!’ in this exploration of the unhealthy ways we can act in love, whether obsessing over social media, picking on the one we like to feign nonchalance, or spending money to impress them. It’s only part way through this poem that we get the twist of pain that there is another woman, that this love is unrequited. There’s also a realisation that this is a case of ‘wanting what I can’t have’. It is hard to always know whether such pain is due to the significance of the person, or the rejection. A number of the poems in the collection almost take on other characters as Kaye has included poems from her greeting cards business. In these poems, love is likened to another of Kaye’s passions: food. Here, a romantic place becomes a person, and romantic assumptions of love are turned on their head with a poem on self-love. In this one she states, ‘The best relationship I have right now / is the one I have with me.’

Much of Kaye’s poetry seems to flow out like a stream of consciousness connected by rhyme. The best examples are where this is more unexpected: ‘deep voice with thunder / makes my heart plunder’. As the book also deals with relationships other than Kaye’s own, pronouns switch between he/she. Although not overtly pushing against gender roles, in ‘Laid Bare’, as the title suggests, we get a level of honesty that uses love to look at issues such as body hair:

‘Even when my legs aren’t shaved
And my hairs are raised
He still gives me praise’.

Here Kaye portrays a love that goes beyond patriarchal beauty standards, focussing on a deeper, more personal soul-connection.

Female pleasure is explored in ‘Thing on the Side’, where she asserts her ownership, telling the person she is addressing to ‘be my side piece’, emphasising the possessive pronoun. In this piece, she is able to explore what the potentials are of a non-monogamous sexual relationship, and that if someone is able to meet these expectations, she will ‘do the same’. Whilst much of the collection is emotionally-driven, the interior monologue of ‘Pearl Thong’ can be easily imagined on stage almost as a comedy routine. However, in the ‘Loathe’ section of the book, the comic beginning twists into something more sinister. Still, it is a darkly comic look on betrayal, as she tries to calm and count her breath: ‘1 min, 2min, 3min nothing / 4min, 5min, 6min I hit something’. It explores the feelings of vengefulness: ‘you’re not going to get away with this’, which comes from a place of helplessness, where her ‘breaking heart’ makes her want to ‘break your bones’.

One of the most powerful lines appears in this particular poem, where the man in question had described her as a ‘delicate rose’, and she asserts now, ‘He was mistaken / I’m a grand rose / But one with thorns.’ This line encompasses Kaye’s presence on stage in person, able to share her vulnerabilities, yet ultimately show her strength of being, in a way that empowers audience members and readers alike.

I’m All In by Lauren Kaye is published through

Featured image credit: Lauren Kaye

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