“Vision of My Lover Dressed In Drag”: On Sarah Fletcher’s "Kissing Angles" (Dead Ink Books, 2015) / by Amanda Silberling

By Eloise Sims, Blog Correspondent
 

Sarah Fletcher’s Kissing Angles takes the reader through a world of stark reality and swirling dreams, a world in which we cannot be sure of what is fact and what is a desperate plea for a different life. Fletcher carefully sketches this world with a myriad of characters that we can all recognize – sailors, lovers, and lads alike. In Kissing Angles, a story is told of love and life that alternates between past and present, between nostalgic glory and mundane reality, and produces breathtaking moments of solemn truth. 

Initially, Fletcher’s first few poems continue along the same thread – written of a “sweet boy, pearled boy” who captivates the narrator and her imaginings (“Vision of My Lover Dressed in Drag, 1). This portrait is one of a fighter with a tongue like a “whip”, a self-destructive modern wild spirit, whom the narrator fantasizes of taming into “a scene of domesticity” (“Our Daughter, 3). But these fantasies remain forever beyond reach, as the obscuring mark of the boy’s eventual absence “spreads like a stain across the sky” (“The Matador,” 2). Fletcher’s writings unveil this character through the simplest of prose, her words being the brushstrokes of these tiny portraits of modern life.

However, Fletcher’s poems are also distinctive for her continued, Plath-esque references to Nazi Germany. One such poem is indeed called Kraut Girl, which was the nickname given to Dutch women who had relationships with German officers during WWII, and were thereby treated as traitors when the war ended. In the poem, Fletcher writes of “the red that set across/ my upper-lip for days”- and then, in a later poem titled The Liebling, writes from the point of view of an Eva Braun character, of “bloodied” feet. Fletcher here makes love and sex synonymous with blood and shame, and exposes darkness to a subject usually associated with positivity and life. With allusions such as “I was a page on fire” (“The Liebling,” 18), she portrays love as being desperate, passionate, and ultimately, destructive- much like fire itself.

But, while some poems in Kissing Angles expose a much darker side to the world, some reveal great beauty in the most mundane of areas. Throughout the book, there is a constant and interesting juxtaposition between fantastical beauty and the abhorrent reality. In “The Belle Of New Orleans, a dance between the narrator and a woman takes place in a butcher’s house, which becomes as elaborate as any great ball- the woman asks the narrator to pretend her bloodstained apron is “her wedding dress” (“The Belle of New Orleans,” 19). This strong contrast between the macabre setting and the fantastical air to the dance provides a hazy, dreamlike air to the book. The reader continues to observe life through Fletcher’s eyes, as it becomes harder and harder to tell what is reality and what is a dream. 

But in reflecting our society through her portraits, Fletcher also tackles controversial issues, in her most confessional and confrontational of poems in Kissing Angles. In “Sex Education,” Fletcher exposes a feminist vein, as she writes of her teenage perception of high school sex education lessons. This poem is littered with brutal and bloody imagery, with “mutts/devouring meat outside a butcher’s” being compared to sex in a lesson for girls, whereas, in the boy’s lessons, the boys are told “they are/ gods if they want to be.” In “Third Date,” a character nonchalantly brings up the conversation topic that “his ancestors were gassed,” but “that’s fine.” Fletcher juggles significant issues in our society like they are mere frivolities of a casual conversation ­­– and, in this way, makes them seem far more visceral and real for the reader.  

Above all, what should be taken away from Kissing Angles is the intimate reflection of what modernity actually means. The final poem in the series, “Beach Combing,” returns once more to the subject of the narrator’s elusive lover, contrasting between her imagined beauty of their relationship and its harrowing reality. In her fantasies, she compares her lover to a “washed up” merman. In reality, “he’s as good as drowned as he is now/passed out across the couch/shaking in his drunken sleep.” The combination of fantasy and reality leaves the reader, yet again, with Fletcher’s sharp perception of modern life ­– a world in which, in Fletcher’s eyes, one must continually lose themselves in dreams of what could have been or should be) to avoid the uglier truth.

In a fashion typical of Kissing Angles, Fletcher, in the final line of the book, reflects quietly, “I should have met him on the beach.” Once more, we seek an alternate reality and join Fletcher as she falls back into the world of dreams. 

Initially, Fletcher’s first few poems continue along the same thread – written of a “sweet boy, pearled boy” who captivates the narrator and her imaginings (“Vision of My Lover Dressed in Drag, 1). This portrait is one of a fighter with a tongue like a “whip”, a self-destructive modern wild spirit, whom the narrator fantasizes of taming into “a scene of domesticity” (“Our Daughter, 3). But these fantasies remain forever beyond reach, as the obscuring mark of the boy’s eventual absence “spreads like a stain across the sky” (“The Matador,” 2). Fletcher’s writings unveil this character through the simplest of prose, her words being the brushstrokes of these tiny portraits of modern life.

However, Fletcher’s poems are also distinctive for her continued, Plath-esque references to Nazi Germany. One such poem is indeed called Kraut Girl, which was the nickname given to Dutch women who had relationships with German officers during WWII, and were thereby treated as traitors when the war ended. In the poem, Fletcher writes of “the red that set across/ my upper-lip for days”- and then, in a later poem titled The Liebling, writes from the point of view of an Eva Braun character, of “bloodied” feet. Fletcher here makes love and sex synonymous with blood and shame, and exposes darkness to a subject usually associated with positivity and life. With allusions such as “I was a page on fire” (“The Liebling,” 18), she portrays love as being desperate, passionate, and ultimately, destructive- much like fire itself.

But, while some poems in Kissing Angles expose a much darker side to the world, some reveal great beauty in the most mundane of areas. Throughout the book, there is a constant and interesting juxtaposition between fantastical beauty and the abhorrent reality. In “The Belle Of New Orleans, a dance between the narrator and a woman takes place in a butcher’s house, which becomes as elaborate as any great ball- the woman asks the narrator to pretend her bloodstained apron is “her wedding dress” (“The Belle of New Orleans,” 19). This strong contrast between the macabre setting and the fantastical air to the dance provides a hazy, dreamlike air to the book. The reader continues to observe life through Fletcher’s eyes, as it becomes harder and harder to tell what is reality and what is a dream. 

But in reflecting our society through her portraits, Fletcher also tackles controversial issues, in her most confessional and confrontational of poems in Kissing Angles. In “Sex Education,” Fletcher exposes a feminist vein, as she writes of her teenage perception of high school sex education lessons. This poem is littered with brutal and bloody imagery, with “mutts/devouring meat outside a butcher’s” being compared to sex in a lesson for girls, whereas, in the boy’s lessons, the boys are told “they are/ gods if they want to be.” In “Third Date,” a character nonchalantly brings up the conversation topic that “his ancestors were gassed,” but “that’s fine.” Fletcher juggles significant issues in our society like they are mere frivolities of a casual conversation ­­– and, in this way, makes them seem far more visceral and real for the reader.  

Above all, what should be taken away from Kissing Angles is the intimate reflection of what modernity actually means. The final poem in the series, “Beach Combing,” returns once more to the subject of the narrator’s elusive lover, contrasting between her imagined beauty of their relationship and its harrowing reality. In her fantasies, she compares her lover to a “washed up” merman. In reality, “he’s as good as drowned as he is now/passed out across the couch/shaking in his drunken sleep.” The combination of fantasy and reality leaves the reader, yet again, with Fletcher’s sharp perception of modern life ­– a world in which, in Fletcher’s eyes, one must continually lose themselves in dreams of what could have been or should be) to avoid the uglier truth.

In a fashion typical of Kissing Angles, Fletcher, in the final line of the book, reflects quietly, “I should have met him on the beach.” Once more, we seek an alternate reality and join Fletcher as she falls back into the world of dreams. 


Sarah Fletcher is a young British-American poet. In 2012, she was a Foyle Young Poet, and in 2012 and 2013, won the Christopher Tower Poetry Prize. She has been published in The Rialto, The London MagazineThe Morning StarInk Sweat & Tears, and had her work commended in The Bridport Prize and the Stephen Spender Prize. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and displayed at Olympic Park.