I remember reading ‘Annie’, the opening poem of Francesca Kritikos’ It Felt Like Worship, in our 2015 undergraduate anthology — stood in the campus bookshop just after meeting Francesca in second year. I think I speak for everyone who encountered her poems in seminars and readings when I say we knew she was already a poet, not simply a student of poetry, so it was no surprise to find out that she would be releasing her first chapbook so soon after finishing her first degree — she is also a Virgo sun and moon sign, astrology has never been more accurate.
This collection is timely, a reflective exploration focussing on how it is to be a teenage girl, how that has informed her expectations of femininity in adulthood, by a poet in her early twenties. In writing, adolescence is often cringed at. Men writing about coming of age should be careful, but it can be canonical — see Jack Kerouac, Brett Easton Ellis, and J.D. Salinger. Since the 18th century we have had bildungsroman novels — fiction depicting boys becoming men. This is much rarer for girls becoming women. In literature at least, it can seem that the drama of being a teenage girl is small in comparison to that of becoming a Man.
Kritikos is concerned with the manifestations of this drama. In ‘Under The Pleasure Dome’, the speaker is laid out on a picnic blanket for a group of male psychiatrists. Meanwhile on the page, what is really laid out are stock photos of cis womanhood which are treated by the mainstream media as staples of a generalised womanhood, for the reader to scrutinise. ‘menstrual ketchup’, ‘american girl’, and ‘maybelline’, images which teach a person how to be a woman, but which are about as related to each other as picnic food is to sustenance. The subject of the poem finds out that the box she has been sold is empty. The final lines, though they are satisfied, are starved.
i get what i’ve always wanted
i get to be the meal
In many coming of age texts written by men, the girl-subjects of the book are often curiosities, ‘split open’ by the male characters or the authors themselves, for discovery, for pleasure. Here we have the split-open girl, who has read herself in books, has expected this moment, is thrilled that it has come, even as she thinks about how dumb it is. The Virgin Suicides is one such text, this time the author, Jeffery Eugenides, is aware of the tradition of girls being seen as perfect mysteries. But what Eugenides doesn’t portray is that really the Lisbon sisters feel as awkward as any of the boys who gawk at them.
in all my photos
i am slouching
Despite Kritikos’ cynicism, her poems don’t want to completely abandon the magic and mystique of femininity — although she critiques prescribed aspects of femininity, the language Kritikos uses is very much rooted within them. It Felt Like Worship says that we can keep aspects of the rituals, the aesthetic — the painted buildings perhaps, the costumes — but not without being completely aware of what they are, and not without the agency to choose exactly how much we partake.