Welcome to the ‘Look At All The Women’ Carnival: Week 3 – ‘The Eclectic Others’
This post was written especially for inclusion in the three-week-long ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of Cathy Bryant’s new book ‘Look At All The Women’. In this final week of the carnival our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘The Eclectic Others’ (the third, and final, chapter in Cathy’s new poetry collection).
Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants.
When it came to the third section of my book, ‘The Eclectic Others’, my editor and I worked hard to choose the right balance. After all, there was no way we could include every possible take on a woman’s life, unless the book was to have infinite pages! So we fiddled and discussed and put things in and took them out again and scratched our heads and argued for our particular favourites, until we came up with a selection that, if not wholly representative, was at least as strong and varied as we could make it.
Poems we were both keen to keep in included those about some of my personal heroines – those inspirational women who have made a difference to the way I live my life.
One of those was shared with me by an English teacher called Mrs Lawton. Our set text for poetry was a volume called ‘English Poetry 1900-1975’, which contained the work of many wonderful poets – only two of them, however, being women. One was Stevie Smith. The other was Sylvia Plath. (As poet Ali Smith said, between those two you get most of human experience, but still!)
So imagine me at 14, being abused at home by my violent father (who was also headmaster of my school), depressed and suicidal, self-harming and lost, opening the book obediently and finding the nursery rhyme rhythms of a hellish experience not far from my own: Daddy. You can see the poem here. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/178960
It knocked my socks off, and my shoes and mind too. For terms we had been dissecting poems to see why and how they were clever, and now a strange, dead, American woman had reached right inside me and spoken to me in the language of my sorrow and fear.
I loved her after that and read everything she wrote, including her diaries – and found her to be a complex person, often far sunnier and funnier than the myths would have us believe, full of life and charm and brilliance. On the 50th anniversary of her death I went with my O.H. to visit her grave in Heptonstall, and when I came home I sat and wrote the experience down – it was so vivid. It came out partly as prose and partly as a poem. You can see the prose result here: http://www.writeoutloud.net/public/blogentry.php?blogentryid=34328
And here is the poem:
Yellow Roses on Snow
(written after visiting Sylvia Plath’s grave on the fiftieth anniversary of her death)
It’s a plain grave, though thickly meringued with snow;
dark granite monolith open to the sky. The church
is old and friendly, proud with bells pealing
in glorious cascades. There is a sense of celebration
as well as mourning in the tan stone streets,
some cobbled, with views of hills, hills, hills
all covered in snow. But such a small grave.