This is a poem I wrote a few years ago but tend to re-visit and revise now and then. I once planned a series of fairy tale poems, but then art got in the way of writing. I see them moving in together in the future…
let down your hair
to be twisted and pulled
and wrenched from the roots
at your towers foot…
No gentle Prince awaits you there…
No… we of old pain
worn down, harsh, raw with grief
we seek to punish…
We do not care
As we trample on fragile endings
our boots, encrusted with ancient mud
we close our eyes
we do not dare…
to see… To feel..
or let some kind word
escape through parched lips.
From these hardened hearts
no compassion we share
let down your hair
for we are weary…
Allow us some sanctuary
shelter from harsh reality
where we will remain
the bastards cut your hair
Shorn of strength
disempowered in your tower
for those lost ones…
and the dreamers
who felt only their pain
never allowing for your sorrow
Yet still you bow you head
and weep for them
As those proud
but snagged locks
fall to icy flint floor
come down from your tower
it is no safe haven
but your prison
Afraid of your strength
they blinded you
and kept you there
with threats of dragons and witches
and blackhearted suitors
come down from your tower
Hold your head high
bring forth your pride
and watch those cheats and liars
and feint hearted triers
as they tremble and cower
in the shadow of your power
as you pass them by
I found this while looking through Transformations, a collection of Anne Sexton’s poetry which is based around the tales of The Brothers Grimm. Sexton was a confessional poet, like her contemporary Sylvia Plath she suffered from depression and mental illness. I feel at home with the work of both these women. They tell life as it is.
In Transformations Sexton has told these stories as they were portrayed by The Brothes Grimm, but within a darker context. The stage set has changed, the props are different, the lighting is altered but the stories are still there, to be interpreted as we will, or as society dictates.
Red Riding Hood by Anne Sexton
Many are the deceivers:
The suburban matron,
proper in the supermarket,
list in hand so she won’t suddenly fly,
buying her Duz and Chuck Wagon dog food,
meanwhile ascending from earth,
letting her stomach fill up with helium,
letting her arms go loose as kite tails,
getting ready to meet her lover
a mile down Apple Crest Road
in the Congregational Church parking lot.
Two seemingly respectable women
come up to an old Jenny
and show her an envelope
full of money
and promise to share the booty
if she’ll give them ten thou
as an act of faith.
Her life savings are under the mattress
covered with rust stains
They are as wrinkled as prunes
The two women take the money and disappear.
Where is the moral?
Not all knives are for
stabbing the exposed belly.
Rock climbs on rock
and it only makes a seashore.
Old Jenny has lost her belief in mattresses
and now she has no wastebasket in which
to keep her youth.
The standup comic
on the “Tonight” show
who imitates the Vice President
and cracks up Johnny Carson
and delays sleep for millions
of bedfellows watching between their feet,
slits his wrist the next morning
in the Algonquin’s old-fashioned bathroom,
the razor in his hand like a toothbrush,
wall as anonymous as a urinal,
the shower curtain his slack rubberman audience,
and then the slash
as simple as opening as a letter
and the warm blood breaking out like a rose
upon the bathtub with its claw and ball feet.
And I. I too.
Quite collected at cocktail parties,
meanwhile in my head
I’m undergoing open-heart surgery.
The heart, poor fellow,
pounding on his little tin drum
with a faint death beat,
The heart, that eyeless beetle,
running panicked through his maze,
never stopping one foot after the other
one hour after the other
until he gags on an apple
and it’s all over.
And I. I too again.
I built a summer house on Cape Ann.
A simple A-frame and this too was
a deception — nothing haunts a new house.
When I moved in with a bathing suit and tea bags
the ocean rumbled like a train backing up
and at each window secrets came in
like gas. My mother, that departed soul,
sat in my Eames chair and reproached me
for losing her keys to the old cottage.
Even in the electric kitchen there was
the smell of a journey. The ocean
was seeping through its frontiers
and laying me out on its wet rails.
The bed was stale with my childhood
and I could not move to another city
where the worthy make a new life.
there was a strange deception:
a wolf dressed in frills,
a kind of transvestite.
But I get ahead of my story.
In the beginning
there was just little Red Riding Hood,
so called because her grandmother
made her a red cape and she was never without it.
It was her Linus blanket, besides
it was red, as red as the Swiss flag,
yes it was red, as red as chicken blood,
But more than she loved her riding hood
she loved her grandmother who lived
far from the city in the big wood.
This one day her mother gave her
a basket of wine and cake
to take to her grandmother
because she was ill.
Wine and cake?
Where’s the aspirin? The penicillin?
Where’s the fruit juice?
Peter Rabbit got chamomile tea.
But wine and cake it was.
On her way in the big wood
Red Riding Hood met the wolf.
Good day, Mr. Wolf, she said,
thinking him no more dangerous
than a streetcar or a panhandler.
He asked where she was going
and she obligingly told him
There among the roots and trunks
with the mushrooms pulsing inside the moss
he planned how to eat them both,
the grandmother an old carrot
and the child a shy budkin
in a red red hood.
He bade her to look at the bloodroot,
the small bunchberry and the dogtooth
and pick some for her grandmother.
And this she did.
Meanwhile he scampered off
to Grandmother’s house and ate her up
as quick as a slap.
Then he put on her nightdress and cap
and snuggled down in to bed.
A deceptive fellow.
Red Riding hood
knocked on the door and entered
with her flowers, her cake, her wine.
Grandmother looked strange,
a dark and hairy disease it seemed.
Oh Grandmother, what big ears you have,
ears, eyes, hands and then the teeth.
The better to eat you with my dear.
So the wolf gobbled Red Riding Hood down
like a gumdrop. Now he was fat.
He appeared to be in his ninth month
and Red Riding Hood and her grandmother
rode like two Jonahs up and down with
his every breath. One pigeon. One partridge.
He was fast asleep,
dreaming in his cap and gown,
Along came a huntsman who heard
the loud contented snores
and knew that was no grandmother.
He opened the door and said,
So it’s you, old sinner.
He raised his gun to shoot him
when it occurred to him that maybe
the wolf had eaten up the old lady.
So he took a knife and began cutting open
the sleeping wolf, a kind of caesarian section.
It was a carnal knife that let
Red Riding Hood out like a poppy,
quite alive from the kingdom of the belly.
And grandmother too
still waiting for cakes and wine.
The wolf, they decided, was too mean
to be simply shot so they filled his belly
with large stones and sewed him up.
He was as heavy as a cemetery
and when he woke up and tried to run off
he fell over dead. Killed by his own weight.
Many a deception ends on such a note.
The huntsman and the grandmother and Red Riding Hood
sat down by his corpse and had a meal of wine and cake.
Those two remembering
nothing naked and brutal
from that little death,
that little birth,
from their going down
and their lifting up.
I was looking through some of my old poetry and I found a couple about identity, I like this one, it is full of names and labels that defined me in the eyes of others, I may use this in a future piece of work which will also use some of the fragments that I created for this project and then decided not to use.
Anyway here is the poem:
The Naming of Me
The one who came at 4.00am
The one whose spring was autumn
She who was born on a Friday
New baby for St Swithin’s Day
Woman they call a Witch
The child who came from a caravan
Princess of a thousand books
Siouxie with hair like an Indian squaw
Who is a builder of towers
The dreamer who wakes up contented
(although she rarely sleeps)
She who ran away to the bottom of the world
Mother of Shoog, Chickpea and Beetroot
Mother of angels who walk through her dreams
Mother of Tabby and Polly and Phoebe and Boo
Sister of the worlds best sister (and aunt)
Hippy Tripp and the attachments
Bib best forever friend and soulmate of Dilly
She who cooked Bob Dylan’s breakfast
One he calls Bonegirl the lover
She who can burn in her passion
One who loves once and forever
She who plays guitar late at night
She who wants to sing like Janice and Patti
but who sings just like herself
Brighid the Goddess of Poets
Dylan the wanderer from the sea
or a rabbit on The Magic Roundabout
Daughter of the Moon
Daughter from the wild side of life
Daughter and Sister who was lost (and so
collects waifs and strays)
Daughter who was a boy named Sue
Wife who was a girl named Bob
She who followed the hares
She who whispers with goats
She who waits to be found
She who you all gave names to
She who misses you all, in every moment
Wow, I just watched this TED talk by French artist JR.
I am so inspired and humbled by this guy, and his projects. What a beautiful mind! There will be more abut my thoughts on this but for now, I am too filled with awe to make words here.
Just go and watch it…
The theme this year for the Nelson Arts Festival is Vintage Tattoo. Our graphics tutor, Klaasz, organised an installation of several large illustrated boards to decorate Founders park as part of the festival. Wanting to support the project and be involved I decided to submit a design on behalf our writing class. We decided to use an anchor as a basis for the design, the anchor is a classic tattoo symbol, and with Nelson being a port, it seemed appropriate.
In one of our writing classes, inspired by this article about the tattoo’s of a 2,500 year old Siberian Princess, we wrote a series of poems on the theme of tattoos. After some editing and decision making we came up with the following collaborative poem which we painted on the anchor:
A message in blue venom
Spells warning in a foreign port
She wears the signature of her soul
Printed on her skin
A mark hand crafted
Telling a tale from a forgotten past
How it felt – the pain that becomes
that age old scar
She lives now
As they did then
Words by: Bobby Besley, Paula Cunliffe, Katherine Dowie, Nat Haslam, Matt Mason, Ann Nighy and Leigh Smart This is how our anchor looked when installed in the park, we were very pleased with the result. The design seemed even more significant when I discovered that Founders Park has an Anchor Inn!
Austin Kleon is young, brave, smart, and entertaining. He is a writer, a thinker, an all round creative person, and a thief. As a thief he is in good company as he tells us in his talk. Kleon traced the history of newspaper poetry back to 1734, to prove to us that nothing is original. I admire this kind of passion in a person, especially when presented with such a cute chuckle.
I just bought the book, I watched the movie, waiting to buy the T shirt. Just to remind me, that if it was worth doing once, it’s worth doing twice, and also that 1+1=3.
Having written about Jane Hirshfield and her book Heart of Haiku in my previous blog post, I thought I would share one of of the author’s own poems.
This is one of her best known poems, but I chose it because I like it myself. I like how the poem changes throughout, it grows old and yet the love doesn’t, love doesn’t change with age. In this poem I see love as a roof, like Basho’s straw hat, or a sun that touches everything, no matter how many thousands of days it has risen up over the horizon.
I like how it drank beer for breakfast, I have an old photo of another me, doing just that. I like how the poem itself is the subject. I like how it shows us that poems have a life of their own, beyond words, and beyond the page, beyond the reader and the writer.
This Was Once a Love Poem
This was once a love poem,
before its haunches thickened, its breath grew short,
before it found itself sitting,
perplexed and a little embarrassed,
on the fender of a parked car,
while many people passed by without turning their heads.
It remembers itself dressing as if for a great engagement.
It remembers choosing these shoes,
this scarf or tie.
Once, it drank beer for breakfast,
drifted its feet
in a river side by side with the feet of another.
Once it pretended shyness, then grew truly shy,
dropping its head so the hair would fall forward,
so the eyes would not be seen.
It spoke with passion of history, of art.
It was lovely then, this poem.
Under its chin, no fold of skin softened.
Behind the knees, no pad of yellow fat.
What it knew in the morning it still believed at nightfall.
An unconjured confidence lifted its eyebrows, its cheeks.
The longing has not diminished.
Still it understands. It is time to consider a cat,
the cultivation of African violets or flowering cactus.
Yes, it decides:
Many miniature cacti, in blue and red painted pots.
When it finds itself disquieted
by the pure and unfamiliar silence of its new life,
it will touch them—one, then another—
with a single finger outstretched like a tiny flame.
I have just finished reading this treasure which I found on Kindle for 99p. The Heart of Haiku by Jane Hirshfield, is a tiny book that you cannot afford to miss. If you have any love for poetry, zen, words, nature, or beauty, you will delight in this work.
The Heart of Haiku brings us a brief history of Haiku, Renga and Tanka, how they first came to be written, which is interesting in itself. I particularly like the way the author compares the origins of haiku and its fellow forms, with today’s online gaming and other interactive media.
The larger part of the book focuses on the life and work of the 17th century Japanese poet known as Matsuo Basho. The book opens with Matsuo Bashō’s own words on poetry :
In this mortal frame of mine which is made of a hundred bones and nine orfices there is something, and this something is called a wind-swept spirit for lack of a better name, for it is much like a thin drapery that is torn and swept away at the slightest stir of the wind. This something in me took to writing poetry years ago, merely to amuse itself at first, but finally making it its lifelong business. It must be admitted, however, that there were times when it sank into such dejection that it was almost ready to drop its pursuit, or again times when it was so puffed up with pride that it exulted in vain victories over the others. Indeed, ever since it began to write poetry, it has never found peace with itself, always wavering between doubts of one kind and another. At one time it wanted to gain security by entering the service of a court, and at another it wished to measure the depth of its ignorance by trying to be a scholar, but it was prevented from either because of its unquenchable love of poetry. The fact is, it knows no other art than the art of writing poetry, and therefore, it hangs on to it more or less blindly.
Words taken from: Journal of a Travel-Worn Satchel by Matsuo Bashō
Hirshfield’s writing is a joy to read, and with this subject is would be hard for her to go wrong. As well as a fascinating insight into the life of the poet, there are some entertaining stories of some of his poems and how they came to be written.The book is only 29 pages in length, I really don’t want to say much more, other than read it. I will leave you with one of my favourite Bashō poems. This one I particularly like, because he wrote it inside his straw hat, that was his roof while he traveled. He walked in the shelter of his own words.
under this world’s long rains
poetry’s makeshift shelter
When I think of this ragged poet, wandering the roads of 17th century Japan, wearing these words in the brim of his hat, I feel total pure love. A 21st century tweet really doesn’t have the power to make me feel like that…