A Coincidence of Two Mexicos at The Swan

How daunting it might have been to find that I was sharing my first ever extended reading of work-in-progress Letters from Mexico with the brilliant Connie Voisine, Associate Professor of English at New Mexico State University,  for whom Mexico is not a poetically imagined unvisited space ( as it is for me ) but an intimately familiar place.  And how beautifully generous of Connie Voisine not to daunt me about this!

Words & Ears last night was its usual vibrant, congenial self with a wonderfully attentive audience of accomplished open mic poets, all so different, all in their turn so worth the attentive listening. The Coach House at The Swan Hotel in Bradford-on-Avon is an excellent poetry space,  compered with such relaxing grace by Dawn Gorman that the evening appears simply to run itself.   ( It doesn’t. Nothing takes more skill than the organising of an apparently effortless happening. )

Connie had come to read from her third collection, Calle Florista. I was riven with anxieties  of course, before I arrived in Bradford for this reading. Which nine of the twenty four sonnets in Letters from Mexico would tell the story best; whether to include the bit I like so much ( for all the wrong reasons ) about the humming sloths; whether I would get away with knowing so little about Victorian microscopes; whether it was true that in Mexico the moonstones came from mines  – the usual things. It was such a joy to sit and listen to Connie’s sparse, vivid, enthralling poems and forget all that.

Calle Florista

 

 

A Leisure Centre is Also a Temple of Learning

What does this poem mean?

All over the country, English A Level students are currently being asked to analyse poems in Forward Poems of the Decade and are worrying whether they are ‘getting’ what the various anthology poets have to say.  Some of these students, alas, are worrying about my poem, ‘A Leisure Centre is Also a Temple of Learning’.  Outside the walls of the examination system, I would quite happily argue that a poem ‘means’ whatever a reader thinks it means.  But these examinations are important to the people who have to pass this hurdle before they can get on with their adult lives .  It is therefore important to the students of my and the other poems to feel that they have at least a fighting chance to get things ‘right’.

Unfortunately, in the context of an important examination, a poem is not a fact. Getting it ‘right’ will be about intuitions, sensitivity to the hints and nuances that different words contain, picking up the little clues which poets scatter around their pieces, or leave lurking just underneath the lines.  Fortunately, in the case of ‘A Leisure Centre is Also a Temple of Learning’, students can at least quiz the poet what she meant via the comments box on my blog.  It has been quite enchanting to read the polite questions which have come in and I try to give the most helpful answers I can find.

I have happily tried to unravel the meaning of the word ‘chorus’ for David and tried to work out for Rebecca why I said that the chorus had twelve members, rather than eleven, or fifteen.  But last night’s fifth question from Jeremy really went to the heart of the problem

What is the overall feel and idea of the poem?

My silent answer to myself, predictably, was that I had absolutely no idea. I was only the poet, after all.  But then I reflected that Jeremy, and others, are being required to answer questions like this about a poem I wrote and allowed to be published, and it seemed very unkind to refuse to help.  So here is my attempt.  I don’t know whether it would be good enough to satisfy an A Level examiner.

Sue Boyle’s poem ‘A Leisure Centre is Also a Temple of Learning’ is a dark poem with a deceptively alluring, perhaps even a rather too light-hearted  exterior. Here is a beautiful young woman, on the brink of her adult life, looking forward dreamily to the physical pleasure of being loved.  She has absorbed the advertisers’ messages that it takes the contents of a chemist’s shop to make her body acceptable.  She has learnt that she must use commercial scrubs, and exfoliants, and scents, and creams if she is to realise her dream. 

Her idea of sexual love is romantic.  She imagines someone kissing the lobes of her ears, stroking her hair, nuzzling between her breasts. These images are quite filmic.  I think the poem is suggesting that she might still be rather inexperienced, and this idea seems to me to be reinforced by the prominent position given to the key word ‘younger’ as the poem draws towards the close.

she should look around

she is so much younger than the rest of us

Some people have suggested on the blog that the older women in this poem ‘envy’ the younger woman for her youth and beauty, but I think that the line ‘she is so much younger than the rest of us’ is actually anxious and protective.  As she prepares herself so hopefully for love, the younger woman seems vulnerable and the ‘chorus’ tries to close round as if between them they could keep the dark possibilities of life at bay.

It might seem strange to speak of dark things when, on the surface, the poem is rather prettily (rather too prettily, I think) concerned with familiar, uplifting images and the more endearing aspects of the natural world. But if you turn the prism of the poem just a little, you realise that this beautiful young woman is actually preparing her body (in the metaphorical sense) to be eaten alive. She is making herself into a flower to be sipped by a bee, into ‘summer cream slipped over raspberries’, into a commodity to be consumed.

The older women can see this. And they believe that they know ‘what happens next’.

Well, actually, of course, they cannot ‘know’.  This line is double-edged. 

But between them they will have seen enough of the world to know the kinds of things that can happen to inexperienced and optimistic young people looking to find their way in a world where adult passions are not always gentle, and sexual encounters and relationships can lead people unexpectedly into dark emotional places, exploitation, unresolvable conflicts, real dangers and deep despairs.  Think perhaps of Tess  setting out so hopefully for her new life with Alec D’Urbeville.  Then think how her life ends.  By borrowing the idea of the ‘chorus’ from Greek drama, and reinforcing it with the word ‘temple’ in the title of the poem, I think I was universalising this young woman, subconsciously, and trying to say something about the hazard which is indivisible from human life.

So is my poem dark? 

Actually, I think not.  We are allowed to rejoice in beauty, and hope, and also, less obviously, in the tenderness the older women feel towards the young. The light and the dark are in tension, but there is no sense in this poem that the darkness will triumph over the light.

Sue Boyle

Tuesday 9th February 2016

An Afternoon of Particularly Good Poetry in Bath

On Saturday 13th February, Anne-Marie Fyfe will be tearing herself away from London’s Troubadour to visit the poets and friends of the Bath Poetry Cafe. During the afternoon she will be reading from her new collection, House of Small Absences, published by Serenand will be accompanied by six poets who read and workshop regularly with the Bath Cafe.  Read how they introduce themselves, below……Anne-Marie flyer 6 Jan

AFTERNOON READERS SATURDAY 13TH FEBRUARY 2016

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Rachael Clyne lives and works as a psychotherapist in Glastonbury. Her latest collection, Singing at the Bone Tree, won Indigo Dreams’ George Stevens Memorial Prize 2013 and concerns our relationship with the wild. She appears in several anthologies, including: The Very Best of 52, Book of Love and Loss, Poems for a Liminal Age. Also Magazines: Poetry Space, Reach, Domestic Cherry, Tears in the Fence, The Fat Damsel & The Interpreters House. Rachael enjoys bringing humour and a touch of theatre to her readings, having had a previous career as an actor.

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Rosie Jackson’s first full collection of poetry The Light Box will come out with Cultured Llama in March 2016, following her pamphlet What the Ground Holds (Poetry Salzburg, 2014). She is widely published. In 2015-16 she won awards in many competitions including First Prize in the Berkshire Music & Arts Festival, Joint First Prize in the Bath Poetry Café, the Hilly Cansdale award at Wells Literature Festival, and Second Prize in the Battered Moons. She’s taught in many venues – University of East Anglia, Skyros Writers’ Lab, Open College of the Arts – and in community and health settings. Her memoir The Glass Mother will be published by Unthank Books in Nov 2016. Rosie lives near Frome. 

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Frances-Anne King is a prize winning poet whose poetry has appeared in Journals such as The Rialto, Poetry Wales, Agenda, and Poetry Ireland Review. Her first pamphlet, Weight of Water, was published in 2013 by Poetry Salzburg Pamphlet Series. She convenes Ekphrastic Poetry workshops at the Holburne Museum in Bath where she is currently editing an Anthology for their centenary celebrations in June this year.

 

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John Richardson has written poetry for almost fifty years. He was a founder member of Poetry Swindon, has MC’d poetry events at Marlborough and Bath literature Festivals and given many workshops and readings. He has published several pamphlets and has had modest success in national and local poetry competitions. John currently designs poetry websites and has just released a poet’s workbench support application named SecretaryBird. His poems are inspired by : his travels to the far East, family, friends and everyday events. John says he write poetry because he has to, in order to go where there are no maps, where no one else has been. He expects to get lost. His poems help him find his way back.

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As a one-time fine-arts journalist, Linda Saunders found an early spur to poetry in a wish for a less analytic and more poetic language in which to speak about art. She is fascinated by fleeting visual events, but also by feelings glimpsed ‘sideways’ ‘between the visible and invisible’. Her fourth book will be published next spring by Worple Press; it includes a sequence about an imaginary sculptor as well as the title poem of the Bath Poetry Cafe’s Anthology, The Listening Walk. Her first full-length collection was short-listed for the Jerwood/Aldeburgh Prize. She was also shortlisted for the BP Arts Journalist of the Year Award. 

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In 2008, Shirley Wright’s poem My Father won the Telegraph ‘Poetry for Performance’ competition, judged by Sir Andrew Motion. In 2014, she won the People’s Prize at the Wells International Poetry Festival for her poem Arête, which can be found in Poems For A Liminal Age, an anthology sold in aid of the charity Médecins Sans Frontières. Her novel Time Out Of Mind, came out in 2012. Her first full poetry collection, The Last Green Field, was published by Indigo Dreams in 2013, and she is currently working on a second collection, a homage to natural examples of longevity.