Archive for May, 2012

Poem: Port Enyon

Port Enyon

 Low tide surrenders the everyday,

the face we show the world recedes

into the sea.

In its place are boulders, fissures, wormcasts,

pools of green so deep they defy the clean

sweep:  the pull of sun and moon

cannot diminish them.

Beautiful/ugly world;

algaed barnacles, the dead husks of

black mussels, slug-like anemones, sea flowers

yellow brown and alien.

And this is life.

 

When the tide turns all is flattened, homogenous.

But you and I know:

Beneath this placidity is darkness,

is decay so slow, wise and stubborn

no power on earth

can wash it away.

 

 

 

 

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sub rosa

Painting a pony: John Betjeman’s wife Penelope and her horse pose for Lord Berners (1938)

I’ve never before imagined a horse to be the answer to my home decorating challenges … but now – ?

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Writer’s Diaries Part V: Louisa May Alcott: Dutiful/Devil

 

 

Now that I have submitted the first 10,000 words of my new novel to my agent I am back to my work on Writer’s Diaries by way of further brain stimulation. Like Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield, Louisa May Alcott kept a diary throughout her life, and on its pages navigated her own split place in literary and familial history— as both the creator of dutiful daughters in The Little Women series and the pseudonymous author of sensational, subversive ‘thrillers.’ One major influence on Alcott’s writing life was her father, Bronson Alcott.  Bronson was, among other things, an educational reformer, and as Karen Haltunen argues in ‘The Domestic Drama of Louisa May Alcott’ ‘the impression that Bronson expected children to convey with their bodies was the perfect repose of their minds […] he required his young students to sit perfectly still, without fidgeting or whispering.’   From infancy, however, Louisa, ‘presented a major challenge to her father’s educational theories […] Louisa was demanding, noisy and even violent’ . Just as Mr March in Little Women sees anger as the sin that will halt Jo’s pilgrim’s progress, Bronson constantly instructed Louisa in calmness, stillness and patience.  And while the fictional Jo March’s boisterousness bristled beneath her calm exterior, so too did Louisa’s own stifled energies need to find expression. 

Alcott found this release by secretly writing and publishing numerous sensation stories either anonymously or under the pseudonym AM Barnard. In tales with titles such as ‘Pauline’s Passion and Punishment’, ‘Doctor Dorn’s Revenge’ and ‘The Mysterious Mademoiselle,’ Alcott escaped from the morality tales for which she had become famous (and through which she single-handedly supported her family) by writing tales of passion, incest, revenge, drug addiction and murder.    

Alcott once wrote that she’d rather be a ‘good daughter’ than a ‘great writer’ and the Little Women series compounds this image of Louisa as conforming like Jo March to the desires of her father.   In her pseudonymous thrillers, however, she avoided Bronson’s  policing gaze by writing not of feminine stillness, silence and governing one’s temper, but of powerful women with uncontrolled desires. Alcott’s journals offer enticing clues towards understanding this split-voiced fiction, as they witness the divide between her private desire and her public duty that was woven into fictions that seem otherwise irreconcilable: the passion, decadence and addictions of the characters in her thrillers are merely the dark reverse of the controlled and dutiful characters of her morality tales.

From the age of eleven to Alcott’s premature death at fifty, images of enclosure and intrusion (physical and moral) in the journals run alongside an anxious recital of financial wins and losses—in which none of her astounding successes ever silence her fear of not having enough to share. In an undated sketch of her childhood cited by Alcott’s first biographer, Ednah Cheney, Alcott noted that ‘[r]unning away was one of the delights of my early days; and I still enjoy sudden flights out of the nest. ’Louisa’s need for escape hints at the dynamics of their family structure and her relation to the moral surveillance of her father.

Bank Holiday Poem

 The Heron

On the rough river that runs behind

the house I live in now

a  blue heron stalks.

He works without movement, one-legged, listening

master of balance, quick on the draw.

Don’t look him in the eye  my daughter

says, freckles across her nose.  He’ll swoop!

I wonder how she judged his gender.

She is already leaving me.

The bird attacks

drilling down in the muck piercing

the head of a small silver fish,

muddying the water with red blood.

Herons like things that glitter, she says.

Which of them does not?

I hold her hand tightly.

It’s time for bed.

That evening the heron has gone.

Water now fills the place where he stood.

All that is left of the battle is this:

Bloodied scales beneath the current

the silence that surrounds me

things our child is too young to know.

You loved me once like that: stoic, ruthless.

Eyes on the glittering prize.

Multiple Sclerosis

A beautiful tribute to a lost sister.

 

Multiple Sclerosis.

A poem for the weekend

Further avoidance of writing fiction has helped me to write this poem (working on a theme in the novel so I feel entirely justified….)

Note Pinned to the Saddle of a Wandering Mare

Partner, I admit

I left you to the graft

wrangling, branding, counting heads:

I forgot to shut the gate.

Things on the ranch haven’t changed.

So empty the echo

deafened you. So dark you gave up

on matches. So quiet at night

I roped you to my ear.

I liked your prairie

eyes, the way we rode like friends

along the trail: my singing, your red kerchief,

the lariat round your neck. I’m sorry

for the handcuffs and the lock

across your door.

I was so hungry

I ate you alive.

Dadhood

Dad circa 1958

Sonhood 1Sonhood 5

Christmas was also the only time of the year that my Dad would join in the usual running of the home. Sometimes on a Saturday morning after work he would cook a fried breakfast. Aside from this he would never do any cooking and he certainly never baked anything at home. The joke, which was also the reality, was that we never had any cakes and the bread was always stale. But at Christmas he would sometimes cook and he would also play a board game with us.This moment in the year was so different from any other that it assumed immense significance for me. We saw my father on our terms as we played that game. It was now a world governed by rules that made us equal. In the world of the board game he was merely another competitor. He…

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