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Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Time refashioned

Beth mentioned Mary and the Annunciation to me. I, an atheist, googled and was reminded of - touched by - Mary, troubled by Gabriel’s awful announcement. Who would not be troubled? I’ve secularised the ending here without, I hope, entirely corrupting it. A timid feint towards vers libre

Dreaming, wishing

A table, sturdy, quite a craftsman’s job,
Supports a cruse of oil in which a flame,
Gutters an orange glow which circulates
Uncertain circles on the heat-baked floor.

Light to inform the evening’s minor tasks  
A rest from daytime’s harder labouring,
More fit for finer fingers and an eye
That understands the lines of warp and woof.

A linen apron needing TLC,
Roughed by the surfaces of plain-cut beams,
Slit by a blade that slipped against a knot,
The wood’s not what it was ten years ago.

It’s woman’s work to make good manly flaws,
A carpenter must choose a useful wife,
And Mary takes the needle in her stride,
Nipping the thread off with an expert bite.

Another hole to darn, her head is bent,
As plangent words fill corners of the room.
With talk of greetings, blessings soon to come,
A child, a son, a kingdom without end.

Mary’s a’feared, is calmed, told not to fear,
Yet worries still about this motherhood.
For who’s to darn and meet her husband’s needs,
As he works wood to pay for infant food?

Raising her head she sees embracing light,
With power that suffocates the oil-cruse flame,
That steers the needle’s point through linen cloth,
That threads the hitch that says the work is done.

Light to proclaim the shades of right from wrong,
To prove the how and why of intellect,
To stem the tide of brutish ignorance,
To point the way to new equality.

15 comments:

mikeM said...

I like it very much...."the wood's not what it was ten years ago"....ever true! Particularly like the last two stanzas. "TLC" seemed out of place, but hey.....poetry.

The Crow said...

I am touched by this, Robbie. It seems a paean to all women, holy mothers and rebuked harlots alike.

Thank you.

Roderick Robinson said...

MikeM: TLC's intentionally out of place, anachronistic. Auden does this a lot and I'm trying it on for size. The whole verse is the best thing I've done which is ironic given: (a) it transcribes a seminal Christian event, and (b) it is my first serious shot at vers libre, something I convinced myself I couldn't do. Thanks for the response.

Crow: I hadn't thought of that (that it addresses all women) but when I reflect it's not so surprising. All my novels and a high percentage of my short stories concern themselves with women. Though you don't say so I assume you've recognised that the line that might be considered dodgy (ie, sexist) - It’s woman’s work to make good manly flaws, - is deliberately reported, a view held generally at the time, and is not my assertion. Pleased you read it, pleased you reacted in the way you did.

Lucas said...

I like this poem both for its subtle conjuring of a situation, a place and time, yet a scenario in which the values and perceptions are very much of now. I like the political slant to the religious theme in the final stanza that has a Wollstonecraft ring to it.
When "plangent words fill corners of the room" the feeling is less of the Angel Gabriel than of men of vision muttering about something big gonna happen. I like this and it wholly justifies the earlier "TLC"
What comes across is Mary's vulnerability in all this: "the power that suffocates the oil-cruise flame..." She's still intent on fining up the needlework, albeit in a strange light.
I'm not sure what your suggestion of "vers libre" means. You have used a non rhyme scheme with a regular iambic metre and a subtle use of rhyme and half rhyme. This for me works because it sets up a dynamic with echoes and doesn't get in the way of the meaning. Vers libre or not it is something you are wholly in control of.
I was fascinated by the previous discussion of acerbs and non birthdays. May the milestones keep looming.

Roderick Robinson said...

Lucas: Many thanks for your techno-eye, for your willingness to address both the content of the verse and the method of putting it across.

As you know I have only taken to verse in the last few years. Whenever I tried to step outside formal structures (mainly the Shakespearean sonnet; once with Joe's help the vilanelle) I felt adrift, incapable of laying one word in front of another. This despite Joe's urging and example, also Lucy's examples. As a result most of what I attempted was personal and limited.

As I mention I was drawn to the Annunciation via a sympathy with Mary's troubled state. Thus at least I was outside my own concerns. This seemed an opportunity to break away from the sonnet too and I gathered up my collected Auden and Larkin and searched for structures. I knew I would have to make do without rhymes but I was astonished to find that both these giants often wrote in iambic pentameter (Actually, both of them also used rhymes but I chose to ignore this). I have never chased down the exact meaning of vers libre so for the purposes of this verse I would go for IP and rhymelessness.

This verse went through many drafts since I was nagged by the lack of completeness that rhymes can give to a line. Often the fourth line of a quatrain would seem to sag away. But as I rewrote and rewrote I began to notice what I believe are assonances; I can't pretend these were planned but at least I was able to take advantage of them. So more went in and I'm pleased you noticed.

I was rather hoping you would see the piece since I knew you would be able to tackle both the technical matters and the way the narrative slides into a sort of "what might have been".

Incidentally as I read your comment I was reminded of something Joe said after we'd struggled through the master/pupil exercise that led to my sole attempt at a vilanelle, The Soccer Fan:

http://bbworkswell.blogspot.co.uk/2009_05_22_archive.html

He mentioned you'd recently done a vilanelle yourself and "it was pretty good". I checked it out (this was back in 2009) and I agreed. Better late than never

Lucy said...

Just read it again, after a late night reading, and it's even better in the sharper light of morning. It's always been a very visual episode, popular in paintings, lends itself to vividness, but that's often centred around the angel: 'wings of drifted snow and eyes of flame', or those great rainbow striped plumes of Fra Angelico or whoever, dramatic chiarusco, bursts of light etc, a heavy cutting in two of the composition, angel on one side, Mary on the other. Depicting angels is like drawing dragons, one's not too obliged to pay any debts to realism. But this is so sharply real, and not only visual but tactile, rough linen and wood, coarse thread broken with the teeth, and the light of the oil lamps, warm but also dim and maybe a bit smelly, and the announcing presence is all around not on the other side of a divide. And it's great that she doesn't stop what she's doing, but the mending itself takes on a transcendent meaning.

It's not quite like anything I can remember reading, though I can see what you say about Auden now you mention it. Makes me want to read it over and over, and in fact not that many poems really do that.

TLC works, I think, it is a bit odd, but it's also a homely kind of expression, a bit banal, that ordinary kind of people do use. I like the last verse but think perhaps you could swap the last two lines round to better effect?

Roderick Robinson said...

Lucy; I'm humbled by what you've put; I mean that, it's not just a form of words cut from a postcard. You know so much more about this than I do and the first para of your comment acts like a frieze, expanding my thoughts in every direction.

There's only one worthwhile tribute and that's to do what you suggest. And you're right about that, too; it is the preferable climax.

As I mentioned to MikeM TLC was utterly deliberate, aping the motives for Larkin's most famous line, half a dozen bits from Auden and bowing the knee towards Prufrock. Joe should take a bow too as should - if you'll excuse me as I time-warp myself into another place, now fallen into desuetude - the author of these lines:

Love (tra-la-la-la!) proposes that we're not alone

and

Once you'd have found immaculate fish-heads,
-tails and -bones like ichthyosaurs, for cartoon cats
to steal
.

Moral: it's OK occasionally to be out of synch and to flirt with the commonplace..

Stella said...

I'm not equipped to comment on the technical of poetry, but I do love this piece -- it is tender and charming and delivers a very sweet punch. You should be very proud of this -- beautiful! (And now I'm going to read what Lucy says as she is sure to be more articulate than I.)

Roderick Robinson said...

Stella: Thanks for that. I suspect you know more about the technicalities of poetry than you let on. With poetry - as opposed to prose - some kind of tech-talk is essential in subsequent discussion; rules are at the heart of the thing. The first draft came pretty quickly and I was suspicious about that (Easy writing = hard reading) but the revisions also arrived handily. I left the thing overnight twice because there's always some slippage after a time lapse in the work and this can be instructive. Now the question is (a) Can I pick another subject that grabs my heart? and (b) Apply what I learned if learning's what actually happened?

edsbath said...

Technically? A ton of consonance in the first three stanzas
#1: "Quite/craftsman's/cruse....gutters/glow...circulates uncertain circles"
#2: "Light/labouring/lines...fit for finer fingers...warp/woof"
#3: "linen/TLC/slit/blade/slip

It diminishes in the 4th stanza and continues to wane, to good effect I think, as the description of the setting gives way to larger themes. There is a downshift, and the engine begins to bawl in the penultimate stanza, accelerating with "power".

Roderick Robinson said...

edsbath: Pure luck to begin with, but once I recognised what was happening I greedily took advantage of it. I'm particularly impressed by the conciseness of your comment. A quick glance above and you'll see it's a problem I have yet to resolve.

I tracked you back to your blog and was disappointed by the lack of fructification. However I take it this bare cupboard is merely a sort of address from which you sally, doing good purely by issuing comments. Feel free to subject me to enfilading fire.

Beth said...

Robbie, I'm embarrassed that you had to write to me before receiving my thanks and my compliments on this very fine poem, since I actually read it here on Wednesday and have been thinking about it ever since. (Reading blogs on my phone is death to comments.) As others have said, I think you've done yourself proud here - and I hope the inspiration of the story and the success of this poem will, in its own way, give birth to further efforts on your part and greater courage to write in informal forms. I appreciated (and wasn't surprised by) your empathy to this prototypical female figure, but what I liked the best is the poem's concreteness: you sketch a domestic scene for us, different, and far more real and believable, from the visitation narratives that put Mary in a virgin's room with an angel materializing out of thin air, and I like that. Still debating with myself, and this is really why I haven't written before: my book was ostensibly for poems by women poets, but this one is so strong I am tempted to break my rule and ask if I can include it. I'll be in touch one way or the other...and just to add this: my favorite little language bit was the "not"/"knot." Kudos to you, both as poet and thinker, on this one.

Blonde Two said...

I was very moved by this. Am currently in the confusing and emotional antipodean throws of jet lag, and found it a comfort at 4 a.m. when oddly, I was thinking about babies and their accompanying lack of sleep.

My favourite line? 'It’s woman’s work to make good manly flaws' - because, quite simply, it is true. A beautiful picture of the male/female relationship.

More of this please Robbie.

Roderick Robinson said...

Beth: That I should possibly become an "honorary woman". That's fraudulence and kudos combined. I shall remain calm if it doesn't come off; the fact that you thought it was worth considering is reward enough.

It must have seemed I was pursuing you on this but I felt compelled to mention that the initial impulse came from your email, even though I had first to check the meaning of annunciation. As I say, I was seized by the word "troubled" but then I reflected further - that these were Mary's last moments as a made-of-clay human being before beatification. That there was poignancy in listing the details of this ordinary state.

Thanks for your response. I'm well aware of how busy you are, a "working stiff" as I've said before, my ultimate tribute.

Blonde Two: I treasure the fact that you have found a favourite line. However I must stress that that line must be taken on two levels as I said to Crow; it may be true but it is not something I would put forward as my own thinking, I am recording what I assume to be contemporary popular belief. The phrase "they say" is sort of implicit.

I'm pleased to imagine you in what might be called your second natural habitat. I know you've been there before and I would expect you to fit right in. Talk the talk, walk the walk. Risen above the frailties I explore in the post that follows this one.

mikeM said...

"edsbath"...I guess I clicked the wrong identity choice for my last comment. Rest assured you are always in my sights.