Saturday, 2 February 2013

Feminine Gospels by Carol Ann Duffy

One of my resolutions for 2013 was to read a poetry book a month and this is an account of January's reading. Sarah Salway has generously offered to prescribe a book whenever I need one, and for the first month she bravely lent me one from her own collection: Carol Ann Duffy's book Feminine Gospels.
Flicking back through our emails on the matter I see I asked her for '...something spare and clean but with a dark understorey (or understory), please?'

I made a Pinterest board to help  me get a handle on the visual side of things. I found it especially helpful in my reading of 'Beautiful' which recounts a series of reincarnations as iconic women.

Some of the poems deal with transformations in the Ovid's 'Metamorphoses' sense. Transformation and change is, I've always thought, a vital part of the womanly experience. Men seem to stay the same (they age, of course, and grow fat or thin or sicken and heal just like women) but women are at the mercy of hormonal tides as the month progresses, and our lives seem to have delineated stages like maiden-mother-crones where men have no obvious equivalent. In this collection 'The Woman who Shopped' turns into a shop; and the protagonist in 'The Diet' finds her regime more effective than expected. 'The Map-Woman' loses the thing that makes her extraordinary (and I think perhaps beautiful).

My two favourite poems in the collection were 'The Laughter of Stafford Girls' High'; and 'A Dreaming Week'.

'The Laughter...' is a short story poem showing the effect of infectious laughter on a stuffy grammar school. It is a marvellous tonic for individuals but a disaster for the institution. The poem reminded me rather of St Trinian's -- although I think these girls and teachers were less empowered to start with than Ronald Searle's girls.

'A Dreaming Week' is a week's worth of excuses (I imagined it was turning down dates or perhaps sex) all starting 'Not tonight, I'm dreaming...' It is a wonderful recommendation to make dreaming an active activity, as opposed to a passive while-you-are sleeping passtime. It's the sort of poem that makes me want to tell Sarah I've lost her book.

Next month's collection will be Chris Emery's 'The Departure'.