Friday, 18 May 2007

Jane Holland, Brendan Kennelly and A Girl Hiding in the Cupboard from the Polar Bear

I saw Jane Holland perform at CB1 the local poetry venue in Cambridge. Her new collection (Boudicca & Co) has a long sequence about Boudicca, the first century AD, Queen of the Iceni tribe. This is pronounced, as we all now know, Boo-dee-ka not Bow-duh-see-ya as I was taught back in the mists of time that now passes for my school days. Blood lust, rage, sex and suicide what more could you ask for to ensure people don’t think a Tuesday night out at a poetry reading is about pastoral scenes, limp love loss and the savage breast calmed. Actually there was more than a bit of breast exposed and covered in woad (an unintentional rhyme crept up on me there in quiet carpet slippers). Apparently some of the men in the Iceni tribe went into battle naked, which seems a triumph of hope, or the local availability of herbal drugs, over experience.

Reading her blog afterwards Jane went on from the poetry reading to play snooker until the early hours, now that’s what I call a rock and roll life. Personally I usually find myself turning rather pumpkin like as the chimes of midnight approach. Once in bed of course, head on pillow, sleep is elusive. A friend’s daughter when young was notorious for being able to fall asleep anywhere, under tables, face in dinner, even standing up. She still retains this capacity but has also now honed sleepwalking to a fine art, waking up in a cupboard in her flat once as she was being persued by a polar bear. The Boo(Beloved Only Offspring) and her childhood friend regularly held long strange conversations with her during sleepovers only to discover she was in fact talking to her whilst she was asleep. I had conversations with her myself in which I recall that I endowed her words with meaning, tailoring mine to fit what I thought were left of field but true responses from her. The surreal avenues these conversations used to take were quite interesting. One I remember involved zebras and the fact that we were going swimming the next day.
What has this to do with writing or poetry, I hear you mumble into your beard/coffee/laptop (delete those not applicable)? I have recently read some poems in which I thought I, as the reader, was having a dialogue with the text. I try to respond and then I suddenly think I am holding a one-sided conversation and then I am off somewhere making strange and spurious connections. One wrong assumption and I am off with the zebras. This of course may well centre on whose reality this poem inhabits and does it matter? Certain words have an iconography or a baggage with them that takes the poem into another place for the reader which the poet has no knowledge of, the words just map out a different landscape from that travelled by the poet. Some would say this would amount to reading the poem wrongly, not paying enough heed or doing enough work on the poets intent; personally the magic of words is their power to be in two or three places at the same time.

My friend’s daughter hid in the cupboard because there was a bear roaming her flat. Should a polar bear get into my house, being terrified and hiding in a cupboard seems a very appropriate and a sensible thing to do. What we summon up from the psyche can be as powerful as the substance. Brendan Kennelly has a poem about a fox he dreamt of. I particularly like the three lines

Leaving us with fear
And safety –
Every usual illusion