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Bibliographical Information
Playing House
Katherine Stansfield
ISBN: 9781781721933 (1781721939)Publication Date: October 2014
Publisher: Seren
Format: Paperback, 215x138 mm, 64 pages Language: English Available Our Price: £9.99 
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Katherine Stansfield's first collection from Seren, Playing House introduces us to a vibrant new voice in British Poetry. A concise wit, a distinct voice and a unsettling view of the domestic, characterize these poems who's subjects are the ordinary as viewed through the author's satirical yet sympathetic eye.

Mae casgliad cyntaf o gerddi Katherine Stansfield yn cyflwyno llais newydd bywiog a nwyfus, gan arddangos hiwmor cryno ynghyd â golwg ddychanol a thrugarog ar gymeriadau cyffredin o fewn muriau eu cartrefi.
Better known as a novelist and reviewer, Katherine Stansfield here presents her first collection of poetry. It is a collection which combines the domestic and the surreal, as Heather Landis’s cover image deftly suggests. The poems are witty and surprising both in their humour and sudden depths of feeling.

Domestic disarray is wryly depicted in such pieces as ‘No room at the inn’, ‘To my cat’ or the frenetic ‘Cream teas, Sunday’, but takes off into the blue in ‘How I know I need a biscuit’ and ‘Socks or cheese’. Stansfield’s self-mockery and talent for telling detail is exemplified in ‘Brief encounter with recycling’, in which every aspect of bumping into an aggrieved neighbour on the stairs suggests an alternative romantic outcome, which won’t happen because ‘I’m in love/with someone else’.

Stansfield’s relationship with the natural world is certainly not conventional for a poet (compare ‘Red Admiral as a teaching aid’ with a similar scenario described by Gillian Clarke). The delicacy of description is undercut by the last three lines. Her poems on hares evoke the speed, grace and shape of the creature but are quirkily linked with very different emotions. She refers to an irrational fear of birds but describes them with humour and sympathy, whether it is a ‘busty’ pigeon or dancing albatrosses.

A few of the poems take on an entirely different voice – a returned sailor in ‘Hospitality’, a Titanic obsessive in ‘Anniversary voyage’ – and the vigour and subtlety of these made me wish there were more in this mode, but Stansfield’s more personal explorations, like ‘Soundings’, beautifully capture the experience of being between two homes and the selves that belong there. The outstanding poem for me is ‘Paragliders off Pen Dinas’, which is not surreal but has startlingly accurate imagery (‘the big lips/that kiss the hill with shadows’), and whose narrator has ambiguous feelings towards the flyers.

There is a different tone in four poems near the end of the collection, inspired and haunted by regions of extreme cold and emotional isolation which leave a sense of a crevasse beneath the sparkling surface. The title can sound cosy but Playing House suggests something temporary, not secure and, looking back, the reader is struck by how many of the poems have a loneliness at their heart.

Caroline Clark

It is possible to use this review for promotional purposes, but the following acknowledgment should be included: A review from www.gwales.com, with the permission of the Welsh Books Council.

Gellir defnyddio'r adolygiad hwn at bwrpas hybu, ond gofynnir i chi gynnwys y gydnabyddiaeth ganlynol: Adolygiad oddi ar www.gwales.com, trwy ganiatâd Cyngor Llyfrau Cymru.
Author Biography:
Katherine Stansfield was born in Cornwall. She studied with Matthew Francis, Damian Walford Davies and Tiffany Atkinson at the University of Aberystwyth and is recognisably of their ‘school’ of writers. She now teaches Creative Writing there to undergraduates. Her reviews of contemporary fiction and poetry have appeared in New Welsh Review, Poetry Wales and Planet. Her own poetry has appeared in Poetry Wales, NWR, Poetry Cornwall, The James Dickey Review and in various anthologies. Her first novel, The Visitor, was published in 2014. She was long-listed for the Eric Gregory Awards in 2011.
Further Information:
John Lennon’s tooth, an imaginary ‘Canada’, bees in Rhode Island, jetlag and office politics are all peculiar grist to this author’s mill. She presents both historical subjects, such as Captain Scott of the Antarctic, and common objects, such as household bleach, with a skewed perspective, adding humour, drama and a quietly distinctive pathos. Not only a very promising, but already a quite polished writer.


Playing House is the debut collection of poetry from Katherine Stansfield. A concise wit, a distinct voice and an unsettling view of the domestic characterise these poems whose subjects are the ordinary as viewed through the author’s satirical yet sympathetic eye. John Lennon’s tooth, an imaginary ‘Canada’, bees in Rhode Island, cats and office politics are all peculiar grist to this author’s mill. She presents both historical subjects such as Captain Scott of the Antarctic, and common objects, such as household bleach, from a skewed perspective, adding humour, drama and a quietly distinctive pathos.

‘Striking imagery, strange leaps of thought, wit and menace aside, the unmistakeable thrill of Katherine Stansfield’s poetry is in the voice. It addresses the world directly, takes it personally, and comes at the reader from constantly unexpected angles, a tangible, physical thing.’
Philip Gross

‘Tightly-wrought and multi-layered, Katherine Stansfield's poems are a wonderful alchemy, touching on a range of experiences, each one lit with rhythm and wordplay, from the "laminated skin" of the library card to the hymn to bleach.’
Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch ‘

...Her recent work is the best I have seen from her: highly distinctive, charged with a wit that has nothing to do with trying to be funny and everything to do with the strangeness of being in the world. Her last lines are devastating, not just in themselves, but because they make you realize how far you’ve come in the few stanzas that preceded them. I’ve always thought she was going to be a star in the poetry world, and I believe that more strongly than ever.’
Mathew Francis
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