Sunday, 27 May 2012

A Bracelet of Bright Hair - Frances Thomas

This was a book I never meant to write. When I say ‘meant’ there were none of the usual scribbled plans and dodgy diagrams and imaginary family trees that usually precede starting a book. I hadn’t dreamed about writing it, or worked out various versions of it inside my head. It simply started as a plan for myself, as I realised with a jolt that I’d more or less stopped reading poetry and it was about time to start again. So – a new poem every day – that was my plan. Still didn’t mean to write a book. Of course I had to keep a list of the poems I’d read, and I had to jot down my impressions, otherwise with my fairly rubbish memory, I’d forget everything.

But then a strange thing happened. The poems I chose and the day’s events started to become closely linked together. Sometimes it was obvious – a snowy day, so a poem about snow. Sometimes less so; I found that a particular experience in my mind was always bound up with a particular poem. For example, as I sat in a speeding express train, a child’s poem would always be running through my head in time to the rhythm of the wheels; Faster than fairies, faster than witches… Sometimes a line from a half forgotten poem just flashed into my head and I had to track it down – only to find that it too was linked to what I was doing that day. Sometimes I found a poem new to me and was so excited I couldn’t wait to share it. By now, I was starting to imagine a reader. The thing is, even though I’d forgotten it, poetry hadn’t forgotten me; it was embedded in my bones, entwined in my DNA.

And I knew that I wasn’t alone in this; most people of my generation have had poetry instilled into them at school. We didn’t always like the poems, or appreciate having to learn them by heart, but they’re still there, inside us. And maybe there’s a younger generation who feel more tentative about approaching poetry – I hope this might be a book that will open a door into traditional poetry for them. Traditional – because I had to regretfully take the decision to exclude copyright poems from the finished book; it would have added too many costs and complications. But though I lost some lovely poems that way, so many remain. Here’s a poem that I remember first reading as a student – I loved it then and I love it now. The image of a lonely Caesar in the tent poring over maps - even though he’s probably planning to slaughter hapless Gauls – is one which has haunted me for years: the intense concentration of a moment that’s a turning point in history.

Long-legged Fly
W.B. Yeats

That civilisation may not sink,
Its great battle lost,
Quiet the dog, tether the pony
To a distant post;
Our master Caesar is in the tent
Where the maps are spread,
His eyes fixed upon nothing,
A hand under his head.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence.

That the topless towers be burnt
And men recall that face,
Move most slowly if move you must
In this lonely place.
She thinks, part woman, three parts a child,
That no-body looks; her feet
Practise a tinker shuffle
Picked up on a street.
Like a long-legged fly upon the stream
Her mind moves upon silence.

That girls at puberty may find
The first Adam in their thought,
Shut the door of the Pope’s chapel,
Keep those children out.
There on the scaffolding reclines
Michael Angelo,
With no more sound than the mice make
His hand moves to and fro.
Like a long legged fly upon the stream
His mind moves upon silence


Lynda Waterhouse said...

Exquisite! Love the title and the cover and the way the idea flowed from the heart. Where can I get hold of it? I think it would make a wonderful app too.

Penny Dolan said...

Such a lovely idea for a book - and so true about those poems being there inside you.

Sue Purkiss said...

I've ordered the book and am very much looking forward to reading it!