Poetry Views

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Month: May, 2012

The Farrier – Owen Sheers

In The Farrier Owen Sheers is writing about his inheritance – the Welsh countryside and country life.  If the man is smoking woodbines – he uses a small w – they were discontinued in 1988, and this poem is a memory, though it is written as a still life observation.

Sheers’ use of images of colour, touch, and perhaps taste is evocative and vivid.  We know from the next poem, Inheritance, that his mother brought him an interest in, an inheritance in horses.  Here the horse and the farrier are the focus of the poem; what are we to make of this image?

There seems to be an element of courtship and wooing – he is the romantic lead, later a seamstress, whilst the horse is a bride.  He does not look her in the eye, but seems to court her.  There is an element of romance, tenderness and love in the relationship between the farrier and nature.

The farrier himself appears to be a far more substantial presence than the horse.  His apron the leather black and tan of a rain beaten bay, the smell of woodbine, metal and hoof.  When finished, he slaps her, places his tools in their beds.  When he touches the horse we are not told what it feels like – as he runs his hand / the length of her neck, checking for dust on a lintel.  He folds her leg, leans into her.  The horse seems barely there – the hoof, the fetlock, moon-silver clippings echoing the white of the bride’s dress.

The whole scene is romanticised, and whilst the farrier is of this world – the wind twisting his sideburns, his weight as he leans into the horsethe horse – moon silver, walking on strange ground – seems to take on a magical appearance, an apparition of smoke.

With his steel, biting at her heels, the farrier has tamed nature.  But this is a nature that is beautiful, romantic, vulnerable.  Sheers seems in awe of the beauty of nature, of the man who can control it, and of the fragile, ethereal quality of this horse, the magic of this moment.

Maya Angelou – Lady Luncheon Club

This poem from the anthology And Still I Rise could be used to support the argument that Angelou is more than a feminist poet.  It seems to apportion blame equally to the female organiser and the male speaker at this luncheon club.

The very word luncheon – middle class, favoured, old fashioned, refined – is a direct contrast to the jobless streets, and indicates the protected and privileged environment she lives in.  This idea of privilege and wealth is emphasised by the golden watch.  She is going through the motions – he is paid from the petty cash – not much then.  She notes next time the / Speaker must be brief: there is no real interest in the topics of homelessness and child abuse that he is talking about – this woman is self centred.  She is preoccupied with the coffee, and the cake, thinking perhaps of the image they will present of her luncheon, or maybe just preoccupied with her decadent lifestyle.

The man too is apparently shallow – going through the motions – he summons sincerity like a favoured pet – he calls up the mood, rather than speaking from the overflow of his feelings – he lacks sincerity.  Angelou is being ironic when she claims he understands the female rage.  Eve and Delilah have long been considered archetypes, stereotypes of dishonest and scheming women – this man is not a feminist – and whilst he raises important social issues – alcoholism, child abuse, unemployment – the audience are only going through the motions, not really listening.

Finally – imperiously – she claps her hands: she is in control, dismissive, selfish, thinking only of her own boredom, unaffected by the problems he has described.

Book Reviews

Walking in England

Maya Angelou – To Beat the child was bad enough

The literal meaning of this poem is not immediately clear, but the fragments of images give a strong impression of its feeling and mood.

The poem opens with descriptions emphasising the child’s vulnerability – young.. light; it talks about the promise of the young life – seeds bursting – a promise which is clearly broken by the end of the poem.  The comparison with broken glass, the shards of broken air – indicates the painful consequences of abuse.

Despite the apparent optimism and innocence of the opening, there is another side implied by the image of winter sunshine – cold and faint – suggesting again the vulnerability of the child.  The image of the string of silence is suggestive, but the meaning is uncertain.  The child is hung from this which might imply pain or being trapped, caught; perhaps the silence reflects the role of the abused child, the loss of its voice: children who are abused suffer in silence, their abuse is in secret.  Alternatively, perhaps more simply, the string is the umbilical cord on which the child literally hangs, awaiting its future.

The conclusion of the first section of the poem implies violent change – new hands, strange voices…tearing, but the image of the boiling water seems very personal, its meaning, symbolic or otherwise, unclear.  In the end the child submits, in terror to the abuser, withdrawing from human contact, submitting only in the flesh.  This is an interesting choice of language with the possibility of biblical and religious allusions – the sins of the flesh, or ironically the one flesh of marriage: this relationship of abuse is a travesty of that loving relationship.

Does the poem end in peace?  Beyond the hunger there is the peace of strange hands. Again the references here seem very personal.  Does the hunger just link with the boiling water, so that the abuse happened in a kitchen?  These elements seem deliberately obscure, perhaps reflecting the confusion of the child.  Certainly the conclusion of the poem suggests shock and trauma: A young body floats.  Silently.  There is a sense of disconnectedness and confusion emphasised by the short, abrupt sentences.

NSPCC

Prevent Child Abuse