by Andrea McKenzie Raine
Kate Braid's most recent book of poetry, Turning Left to the Ladies, published by Palimpset Press, is a personal account of being a woman working in the male-dominated construction industry. The poet weathered the daily battery of sexism and prejudice from her co-workers, and built protective walls to hold on to her position. She endured a series of initiations upon entering her profession, and her thorough knowledge of the work, tools and terminology earned her the credentials to write about being on the job, in her own right.
The poems move through the speaker's self-doubt, vulnerability, determination and, finally, acceptance. The poem, "How She Knows", demonstrates the speaker's dogged strength in a weaker position as she creates a wall between herself and her co-workers in the face of inevitable defeat. In the poem, "Spy", Braid attempts to blend in, to shed the female body and name and become a fellow worker; to learn more than the trade. The serious subject matter of the book also resonates through touches of humour and cheek, in the speaker's defiant attempts to transform from woman to construction worker, and to embrace her inner female again. This is evident in the poem, "The Female Form" in the line: Carpenteress--yes. I work hard at it, this look/ of the great outdoors, doing the work of men.
Strangely, the details of construction work in the poems mirror the construction of poetry in its rhythm of procedure, form, logic and demand for precision. The rhythm and cadence echo a swinging arm. Braid also taps into alliteration and personification, and explores an intimacy with building tools and the art of construction. Who knew there was a wealth of poems in the construction trade?
Braid has a sincere love and respect for the work, despite the need to disguise her gender. She re-emerges in her true skin at the end of her shift, as described in the poems "Day's End" and "Post-modern Breasts in the Bath". Slowly, steadily, she abandons her disguise and the poems move into a celebration of woman, amidst the paradox desire to disappear as woman. The poems ease into a place of acceptance and a stronger comfort with handling the tools, the men and herself. The hidden female voice emerges, still wary but with presence.