My wonderful career …

Found this in the latest London Review of Books:

My wonderful career …

Social Study

I read this at school – it must have been around 1970 – and have never forgotten it. The poem – called Social Studies is by Michael Baldwin:

While my mother ate her heart out,
and my father chewed the chairs,
my sister worked in a factory,
calmly degutting pears.

The green ones like spinach,
The yellow ones like sick,
she gently disemboweled them
with a deft little flick.

She never seemed to worry,
about the family fears,
but thoughts, like bees, were buzzing
inside her golden ears.

She jilted the tin carpenter,
and then the labourer’s mate,
and finally she married,
the man who nails the crate.

She had two lovely children
called Dorothy, and Clem.
They’re hanging her tomorrow,
for calmly degutting them.

Social Study

Kiss me again

Extraordinary that the writer – Louise Labé – died in 1566 (From Modern Poetry in Translations Advent calendar ):

Kiss me again, kiss me, kiss me more:
Give me one of your most mouth-watering ones
Give me one of your most smouldering ones
I’ll repay it with four, hotter than any embers.

Weary, you say? Here, let me find a cure:
I’ll give you ten, all different, of rare softness.
Then as we mix up happiness and kisses
We two will please each other at our pleasure.
Now you and I will live our lives twice over
Once inside our self; once in our lover, and
Love, if I dare think this thought aloud,

Living in reserve makes me impatient:
How will I ever satisfy my ache,
Unless I rouse myself to seek, astride.

Who could resist the sonnets of Louise Labé? The tone of voice is immediately compelling, weighing face-to-face directness with fully rounded wit. These are poems which speak to everyone – candidly assertive, warmly human – as if five hundred years were nothing.

Louise Labé’s life – like the lives of so many women of talent – has frequently received more attention than her work. It has been shaped into a scandal (she was a courtesan), a legend (she rode to war), and most recently, a sham (she was a man). But perhaps she was just born in the right place at the right time: to an enlightened father who gave her access to the same education (fencing, riding, poetry, other languages) as her brothers; in Lyon, thriving cultural crossroads of the Renaissance.

The importance and pleasure of the work, notably the 24 Petrarchan sonnets she published alongside her Débat de folie et d ’amour, in 1555, seem indisputable, at least. Labé’s language is limpid, uncluttered; each line often a unit of sense, a clear foil for the aural underpinning of the logic, or argument, of its sonnet: rhyme, alliteration and assonance chime and fuse with unmistakable authority.

It seemed to me that I needed to hold onto, or recreate, that clarity, and cohesion, if I was to have any chance of capturing the bravado and enterprise of the sequence as a whole. These twenty four sonnets explore the way the imagination unlocks sensual pleasure; they enact, through form, an elusive reciprocity; they reclaim ringfenced areas of language and culture.

In short, Louise Labé rewrites the male Petrarchan tradition, giving it a blast of positive, debunking energy, a strong female voice and an intelligent physicality.

Kiss me again

Couples #2

We came across these two in a museum in Volterra, in Tuscany. They are an Etruscan couple – a memory of a society that – as far as we can tell – valued women as equal partners with men.

The figures adorn a funerary casket and I thought this poem from the Dorset poet William Barnes, made a good match. It’s called Wife A lost and is written in dialect:

The Wife A-Lost

Since I noo mwore do zee your face,
Up stairs or down below,
I’ll zit me in the lwonesome place,
Where flat-bough’d beech do grow;
Below the beeches’ bough, my love,
Where you did never come,
An’ I don’t look to meet ye now,
As I do look at hwome.

Since you noo mwore be at my zide,
In walks in zummer het,
I’ll goo alwone where mist do ride,
Drough trees a-drippèn wet;
Below the rain-wet bough, my love,
Where you did never come,
An’ I don’t grieve to miss ye now,
As I do grieve at hwome.

Since now bezide my dinner-bwoard
Your vaice do never sound,
I’ll eat the bit I can avword,
A-vield upon the ground;
Below the darksome bough, my love,
Where you did never dine,
An’ I don’t grieve to miss ye now,
As I at hwome do pine.

Since I do miss your vaice an’ face
In prayer at eventide,
I’ll pray wi’ woone sad vaice vor grace
To goo where you do bide;
Above the tree an’ bough, my love,
Where you be gone avore,
An’ be a-waitèn vor me now,
To come vor evermwore.

Couples #2


Conversations by Oscar Kokoschka (1917)

I think we need more poetry about love that lasts. Here’s a beginning from Kathryn Simmonds (from her collection The Visitations)

We wash up side by side
to find each other

in the speakable world,
and, lulled into sense,

inhabit our landscape;
the curve

of that chair draped
with your shirt;

my glass of  water
seeded overnight with air.

After this bed
there’ll be another,

so we’ll roll
and keep rolling

until one of  us
will roll alone and try to roll

the other back — a trick
no one’s yet pulled off — 

and it’ll be
as if   I dreamed you, dear,

as if   I dreamed this bed,
our touching limbs,

this room, the tree outside alive
with new wet light.

Not now. Not yet.