Tag Archives: Amy Key poems

Amy Key’s Luxe

© Image by Travis Elborough

© Image by Travis Elborough

Amy Key was born in Dover and grew up in Kent and the North East. She now lives and works in London. She co-edits the online journal Poems in Which. Her pamphlet Instead of Stars was published by Tall Lighthouse in 2009, and her first collection, Luxe, was recently published by Salt. Amy is currently editing a new anthology of poems on female friendship Best Friends Forever, due from the Emma Press in November.
Luxe (Salt Publishing, 2013) is a magnificent spree in a bric-a-brac shop. A haul of pre-loved and glittering objets – pralines in a crystal bowl, a handful of tame ladybirds, a portrait in vinyl and cola-cubes – are artfully displayed on the poems’ shelves to represent the conflicts and connections of a fabulous circle of friends and lovers, those real, remembered and imagined.”

“”Layer your pulse/ onto my pulse,” she writes in ‘Brand New Lover’. “Dress me.” Only the reader knows if this is an order, an instruction or the sweetest sort of invitation. Read a copy of Luxe, keep it next to your fainting couch.”

– Julia Bird
“This delicious selection is a chocolate-box assortment of the work of one of my favourite poets writing today. Her delicate, dextrous writing belies the raw truths she tells. There are many centres to her confections that only reveal themselves when you take a bite. In her words “Poem with peep toes … Poem to conceal some feelings in … Poem to avalanche in your heart”. I love Amy Key.”

– Lauren Laverne
“If we are living in the material world, I want Amy Key to be my material girl. She makes her pleats and flounces move; she crowds the surface with colour and texture right where it needs to be to draw the reader in like a bee to the velvet bell of the foxglove; or like the silverscreen beauty who eats bonbons from a satin box, she wills our gaze to take it all in and to crave more. These poems are worn on the body, and like all great ensembles, they show just enough; they are hot and memorable.”

– D.A. Powell

© Image by Martine Charalambou

© Image by Martine Charalambou

You Ought To Be In Pictures
In my depression the energy goes everywhere. It’s diffused. And where it’s intense it’s in very short bursts. Enough to scrub the bathroom or change the sheets. Enough to write a poem. My book is as though I pressed play and record each time I had a burst.

Last night I posted lines from my iPhone notes disguised as Twitter and Facebook status updates to see if any of them stuck.

I read someone else’s poetry for the first time and worry that my book will be perceived as being derivative of their book.

Someone asks “What is your poetry about?” I am embarrassed and say “me” but I mean “being a woman”, I think. But then I really mean “my experience of being a woman”. Later I wonder if what I really mean is “what I want my experience of being a woman to be, distress included”. I’d asked the poet Kate Kilalea to read my book and respond to it. She said:

“Aside from all their purely poetic elements, what strikes me most about Amy’s poems is the kind of idea of woman-ness which they work with. It feels like what is happening is a kind of valorisation – as oppose to eroticisation – of feminine vulnerability, which is different from what I’ve seen before.”

This was an important moment for me. An embracing of the woman-ness. After all I had the comment “I can see why girls like your poems” ringing in my ears.

My poetry is endless recalibration of experience.

My poetry is a way of mind-mapping my insecurities.

It’s all mood board.
I’m struck by what Steve Roggenbuck says in his essay ‘toward a more flowing culture’:

“i want to be your poet … i want to inspire you and talk to you. in many cases, I really want to be your friend.”

This idea of friendship compels me.

In my poems am I trying to communicate more effectively with people in my life or who might be in it. To say “Look! I know I come across ‘this’ way, but here is something else I want to share”. This being able to talk without my physical persona intruding is something I need. There are so many ways into the truth of a person.
Grey Gardens 
In the documentary Grey Gardens there is a scene where Little Edie performs to camera. She sings and dances to ‘You Ought To Be In Pictures’. I find this scene very touching. Little Edie is a star, but she’s no longer the ingénue, about to be discovered. In singing it she’s saying to the crew “Look at me. I could have been someone” but also “Tell me I still could be someone”. It’s the “Tell me I could still be someone” that affects me. In my poem ‘On Typing Paper Stolen From Her Employers She Proceeds To Evolve A Campaign’ I get at this idea:

          Hopes should recede with age but this isn’t
          a right seeming present!


          My imagined future is a collapsed soufflé.

Never far away from dancing to ‘True Blue’ in the kitchen a grown-up’s face on. Never far from singing into the cassette. Singing into the dark. Hopeful someone will say what a nice voice you have. Never far away from maybe making it.
True Blue 
Just as Alabama, the main character in Zelda Fitzgerald’s Save Me The Waltz, in her hopeless pursuit of ‘making it’ as a ballet dancer feels that:

“[in] reaching her goal…in proving herself, she would achieve that peace which she imagined went only in surety of one’s self – that she would be able, through the medium of the dance, to command her emotions, to summon love or pity or happiness at will, having provided a channel through which they might flow”

I am my own delusional heroine. But I have to hope.
Save Me The Waltz 
I am also forcing people to look at me. In my poem ‘Emotional State Seen Through A Pale-Haired Fringe’ I am, chronologically speaking, at the beginning of a deep depression. Unable to speak about it to anyone, just quietly falling apart, I write the poem where even:

          […] the at-boil kettle maddens the bully
          of your memory, and no one there to see it blow.

Is it that I’m terrified of no one seeing me live? Is that the role poetry is playing?

I’ve often wondered if I write poetry because I’m scared of dying. I fear I’ve been negligent of my own fortune.

          Inside I fritter soft as cinders.
Where the Wild Things Are 
One of the recurring images in my poetry is of the lost child. The much loved children’s book Where The Wild Things Are was made into a film a few years ago and I became obsessed with it. And heartbroken by it, by the isolation of the boy and his imagination. I began to write a series of poems, inspired by the film and by the soundtrack to the film, written and performed by Karen O from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The poems turned out as childhood memoir and in implicating my siblings I found I couldn’t finish them. One has made the book – Igloo – and in it I try to express the self-imposed, necessary isolation of the child:

          […] Instead of talk,
          we will have stronger thoughts.

This is both a resistance to talking – there are some things I cannot speak to the adults about but it is also a power I can have. The idea of having secrets that I can snap into being, like activating a glow stick appeals to me. The secret as super power and malevolent force.
I should really talk about love.

When I was in John Stammers’ group he asked me ‘what I wanted to be’. I told him I wanted to be ‘a great love poet’.

What I really meant was ‘I want to be loved’.

This was some years ago now. Truth is my experiences in and out of love haven’t been at all happy, but it seems to be all I can write about. Perhaps that’s the recalibration I mentioned earlier. A need to ‘right’ my love experience in poetry. In my poem ‘Your Year in Review’ I address myself:

          […] Your heart went rouge. Desire
          kept in a gold compact, fell loose of its casing. Powder
          went everywhere.

The sense that I make a mess of stuff can’t be escaped. But I lavish my attention on love less experienced, more felt. In absence of the grand, all-consuming Love Affair (in the presence of the paltry, ill-conceived ones) I act them out in poems. My nights pour into the absence of my One True Love. But I know:

          Even this crochet blanket won’t
          address the lack of requited laundry.

Really my ‘it would be better to be hurt than not have any love at all’ from my teenage diary is simply reworn as:

          […] rather a cupboard of cut-off ponytails than this! I want a life
          that warrants excessive exclamation!

I suspect all the poems are just an attempt to neutralise my self-image.

© Image by Rebecca Key

© Image by Rebecca Key

Brand New Lover
I’ve abandoned vanity, since I became a body
of pixels, never quite set, since you rippled
the apparent skin of me.

I’m all texture. Silk rosette, billowing coral,
tentative as a just baked cake. Sensations
slide over my knitted blood.

My mouth is a glass paperweight
to keep our tastes in, like maraschino
cherries and water from a zinc cup.

This is not about a future
with a decorative child. Layer your pulse
onto my pulse. Dress me.
To A Clothes Rail
Dress folded as an envelope and posted to me
Hand-me-down dress taken up, then taken down again
The one worn once, to a party
Age-appropriate dress
Dress the colour of your skin long underwater
Margot dress, Marianne dress, Marie-Antionette dress
Paper dress, never worn, purely decorative
Dress employed as stand-in
Silk dress with scenes from Labyrinth
Pattern for a dress, unmade
Dress embroidered with every song I’ve ever loved
Pinafore that comes with caveats
Two sizes too small dress, bought for its primrose
One last seen doing the hula down the precinct
Shift once worn in a dream
Dress as though assembled from vegetable peelings
Woodland dress in the style of a fawn
Poppy-print shirtwaist, won in a tombola
Dress for slow-dancing to ‘Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)’
Fancy dress in want of a petticoat
Cocktail-drinking dress, un-sittable-down in
Dress best worn with brutalist pendant
Smock to bring to mind a meadow
Old-fashioned dress in crepe with self-covered belt
Little black dresses (numerous)
Acid light projections dress for crazing the eyes
Formal wear gown for selling on eBay
Dress bought for funeral, frequently worn to detach from death
Dress last worn when someone cried for you
Fretful dress, to be cut up for rags
Palladium dress for looking into mirrors in
A cake of a dress – whipped to frou-frou
Scented dress of mustard seed, orange peel and almond milk
Glitter-bellied hummingbird dress
Ex-favourite dress, now not quite right
Perfectly acceptable dress, given the circumstances
Emotional State Seen Through A Pale-Haired Fringe
Dawn is coloured sweet pea and warbles with birds.
From bed, you notice how dust garlands

your fake yellow roses, but what now could
be gained by licking them clean? You could

plan menus, polish the mirrors, call your mother
and sweep the yard. Cleanliness, if not calm

in your reach. But, storm sultry, you lack
resources for comfort: the last velvet sleep;

legitimate wretchedness.
Others tell you, I too have felt alone.

Imagine them, teary on the sofa or wrenched
in the bathtub, all their wishes declined.

And then your own confines of lonesomeness,
where the at-boil kettle maddens the bully

of your memory, and no one there to see it blow.
We Should Be Very Sorry If There Was No Rain
For Sarah Crewe
I mention lately I’ve lacked a honeyed mood,
delicates have evaded me. Again I’ve spent too much
trying to ornamentally tile my life. The sofa’s worn
down where I always sit and though my diary’s
clogging up I don’t know how to project.
I am ashamed to want a someone. Social
engagements are propelled by wine,
as unease goes up, eyeliner goes on. Sometimes
I imagine you in your kitchen, stirring soup.
Sometimes I make broth and pretend it will work.
Darling, it seems there’s no awning
to shelter under. Or perhaps I’m under the awning
unable to step out. Someone might cake crumb
a path for me but it doesn’t do to rely on others
to ice your day. I can see the dead roses
are as pretty as the live, appliqué
sleep to my brittle concerns. I have an aspiration
you will recognise my handwriting, in time.
Igloo (Where the Wild Things Are)
When it is cold enough to slice the snow
we’ll build an igloo and we will live in it.
The igloo will be like a poached egg,
the snow dome hiding a hot yolk. We will grow

sharper teeth and bedtimes will be later.
I will be cook and you will make fire.
I have stolen sausages from mum
and this will do us for tea. There is a story

I can tell at night of a runaway child
and you will ask if it’s you. We have
two brothers, but they never let us take charge.
No one will know we are in the igloo,

but we’ll find a way of telling we’re safe.
Your best friend will be a bird and mine
will be a deer. The bird will bring us berries
and the deer will guard the door. Instead of talk,

we will have stronger thoughts. Our skin
will morph into something more warm. In summer,
we’ll make bricks of mud to dry in the sun.
High Voltage
Just as I woke, you stomped into my head
and I thought of everything that makes me admire you:
not just your sass and nerve (although
it does deserve an explicit mention ), but how
Neverland it is to spend time with you, like a pop-up theme park –
each day abundant with vivid wants,

like how you’re era-less, confident as a portrait,
inconsolably hungry, you talk easy as an adult –
seems even your glamour isn’t at the top of my list,
admiration being such an intimate reckoning of a

friend. If I can’t say it now, when?
Oh, there’s nothing ordinary about decadent warmth
real as foxgloves and glow sticks and winter birds,
did I tell you how much I want you to dance with me?
From Luxe (Salt Publishing, 2013).
Order Luxe here, here or here.
Visit Amy at Leopard-skin Pill-box Hat.
Read ‘Here, For Your Amusement’ and ‘”Too Gruesome!” at The Quietus.

Amy Key: Six Poems

Amy Key’s pamphlet Instead of Stars is published by Tall Lighthouse. Her work has been published in magazines and various anthologies, most recently in Birdbook (Sidekick Books) and Clinic II (Clinic). She co-hosts The Shuffle reading series at London’s Poetry Café. She enjoys collecting clutter.
I wanted to go to the bottom of the sea
in the drop-net we bought to catch edible
crabs. I had thoughts like the sea bed in soft,
but soft like a bed, so you’re not afraid,
that a shoal of black and white fish
– waitresses – will swim around me
and think me strange. But then I had
other thoughts like how might I breathe
and will the net line break? Then the net
became a pod and I had to wear a mask
but then the sea bed wasn’t soft and all the fish swam away.
‘Capsize’ is from a series of poems based on the film
Where The Wild Things Are.
Poem to Chelsey
He made me cry like a girl denied pink bunting
          Left my crockery lustrous with butter
          Watched my school-flirt cartwheels
          Ate the heads of nasturtiums
          Said ‘ruin yourself with these, honey’
          Let his doggy off the leash
          Sang bawdy at the cream tea
          Pushed me over in the daisies
          Mistook my toenails for diamantes
          Stuck his tongue into the Swiss cheese
          Put his linen in the chiller
          Knotted the leash to my ankle
          Wrote I’m sorry in white petals
          Poured cheap brandy on the bite marks
          Had a thing for leatherette
          Rubbed against the hydrant
          Allowed the dog to chew the leash
          Cheerled dances in the bathtub
          Shot the Pepsi off the ledge
He liked me to wear the gold anklet
          Milked it for all he was worth.

‘Poem to Chelsey’ was commissioned for a tribute to
Chelsey Minnis.
His is a Mystery of Cooling Towers
          demolitions and algae.
Oh suitor, thunder me
          your elegant curse. Mobbed,
I will magic us to Siberian igloos
          where lamps bleed a glow
into our symmetrical clinch.
          Or a late shadowed terrace –
cool tumbles of liquor, a hand-painted parasol –
          balmy with glossy austerity.
And though I will admit I was a squeeze
          more drunk than you (given my rabble
of stunted views), I hold dear these inventions;
          last night, after the third time
I noted my wine glass wanting, leaning close
          and whispering my cheek
with mushroom-gill lashes, you murmured
          You, are a very nice girl. 
The Susceptible Heart
Nothing to be done about the sky, its early fall.
You give me match-strike, candelabra, chandelier.
This year, autumn doesn’t matter.
                                        If lit by dawn,
my mind will clamour to recall how our kiss left off,
how the evening’s talk – steeped in dramatics – set off
that wordless flourish. But tonight pours
into your absence. Take this half of ale,
sipped with one eye on your tastes and just now
my fringe swept away with your imagined hand.
Our romance, tracked by a fling of mill-town
horns, an elementary fiction of sweethearts.
With You
     for Rebecca Key
The fish gurgle in their outer space light –
I ask “pass me the blanket” and the wineglass
residues are violet and look back at us, like pupils.
To-do lists cascade from the fridge.
Your to-do lists are often niche catalogue orders.
We both eat showy pralines. Alternately, you eat
                                                       the lychees.
When you’re distracted I like to hide my finger
in the core of your best ringlet. Upstairs the bath
lies empty and I can’t but think bath oils and towelling.
I harvest garden moss and set it on the floorboards.
The garden is flung with a camouflage of twilights.
We turn the lights down and sit on the moss bed,
compare photos of our favourite light fittings.
If you do me a pedicure, I’ll do you a manicure.
Your eating of the lychees suggests the extent
of your gentleness. My favourite: Hotel Kiev;
yours, in this living room. I choose to breathe
in the space between your breaths.
We’ve declined all other atmospheres:
the room turns aquarium. We sit back,
tune into deep-sea light shows.
Your eyes fill in with yet more green. Once
you sat by my bed until you knew I was dreaming.
Tight Dress
I’m in the tight dress. The one that prevents dignified sitting.
The tight dress suggests I’m prepared to be undressed.
Do my thighs flash through the seams?
I try to remember if the bed is made, or unmade.
The wind is wrapping up the sound of our kissing.
I wonder should I undress first or should you undress first.
I’m not sure I can take off the dress in a way that looks good.
I consider if I should save up sex until morning.
We are far gone and I’m better at kissing when sober.
I find that your earlobes provide the current fascination.
On my bedside table are three glasses of water
                                          and my favourite love letter.
I try to untie your shoes in a way that is appalling.
‘His is a Mystery of Cooling Towers’, ‘The Susceptible Heart’,
‘With You’ and ‘Tight Dress’ are published in Instead of Stars
(Tall Lighthouse, 2009).
Order Instead of Stars.
Read more of Amy’s poetry.
Read Amy’s article ‘How to Put On a Poetry Gig’ at Young Poets Network.