Friday, September 6, 2013

An evening of poetry

Just wanted to share this photo first - I took it at Glastonbury Festival this year. The tightrope was stretched across one of the smaller fields, so he was walking, pretty casually, over a field of people, barely even stopping or adjusting his balance.

Last night, I went to a poetry reading by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, and another poet that I had heard of but not read anything by, Ann Gray. It was at the Phoenix in Exeter which is a really good venue and seems to have something going on almost every night (it also hosts the Make, Do and Mend group that I went to earlier this week).

I wasn't very keen on Ann Gray's poetry, and she had a particular way of reading that made every poem sound the same, but I did like a lot of the themes she wrote about. But a lot of her imagery wasn't pushed far enough for me, I felt it was often a little too easy.

Duffy's poetry, on the other, was really good, and despite not exactly having the most musical voice, she read really well (not surprising, as she is constantly touring the country giving readings). What struck me most I think was the way she works rhyme into her poems without it being too obvious, but it (especially when read aloud) really works because it provides the ear with something to hang onto and you find yourself waiting for the next similar sound which drives each poem on perfectly. She mostly read from her 1999 collection 'The World's Wife', where she retells famous stories from the point of view of the hero's wife - she read ones about Mrs. Faustus, Mrs. Midas, Mrs. Darwin, Anne Hathaway and Mrs Tiresias. I particularly liked 'Mrs. Darwin', and it's short so I'll share it here (from here):

Mrs. Darwin

7 April 1852.

Went to the Zoo.
I said to Him -
Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.

And although she didn't read this one, it's one that I really like, so I thought I'd share it too (from here):

Warming Her Pearls
for Judith Radstone

Next to my own skin, her pearls. My mistress
bids me wear them, warm them, until evening
when I'll brush her hair. At six, I place them
round her cool, white throat. All day I'll think of her,

resting in the Yellow Room, contemplating silk
or taffeta, which gown tonight? She fans herself
whilst I work willingly, my slow heat entering
each pearl. Slack on my neck, her rope.

She's beautiful. I dream about her
in my attic bed; picture her dancing
with tall men, puzzled by my faint, persistent scent
beneath her French perfume, her milky stones.

I dust her shoulders with a rabbit's foot,
watch the soft blush seep through her skin
like an indolent sigh. In her looking-glass
my red lips part as though I want to speak.

Full moon. Her carriage brings her home. I see
her every movement in my head... Undressing,
taking off her jewels, her slim hand reaching
for the case, slipping naked into bed, the way

she always does... And I lie here awake,
knowing the pearls are cooling even now
in the room where my mistress sleeps. All night
I feel their absence and I burn.

I think one of the reasons I like the second one is because it reminds me of the novel Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. In it, a maid and her mistress have a similar relationship to those in the poem (they go even further in fact, and actually have a lesbian affair). I just think the string of pearls is a lovely fleshy metaphor and of course pearls are valuable and a maid caught wearing a string of them would probably be sacked for stealing. Oh, also, for anyone that likes novels with unexpected twists, I definitely recommend Fingersmith - there is a HUGE surprise about halfway through.

Here are a couple of stills from the TV series that was made of Fingersmith a few years ago. Also worth a watch - Sally Hawkins is a great actress and it's pretty faithful to the book.

Images from

Bit of a rambly post, this one. Oh well, we can't all be concise all of the time. Happy Friday everyone!

Song of the day: 'Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl' - Broken Social Scene

No comments:

Post a Comment