Thursday, 8 May 2008

In pieces

Not long ago I mentioned somewhere that Joan Eardley's self portrait was one of my favourite paintings. I first saw it in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery and then I saw it again last year as part of the major Eardley exhibition in Edinburgh. It looks like this:

This is the poem what I wrote about it.

She’s not there
(Joan Eardley – ‘Joan Eardley, 1921 -1963, Artist’ 1943)

There are bad days
Not even half days
And when they come
The broken pieces of her face
Seem so perfectly formed

Reassuring, they say
‘The sky is still there
The colours still worth seeing
Being broken simply isn’t
The worst thing you can be’

Comforted, I brush my crumbs together
And look carefully, cautiously
At the slightly scrappy, sorry collection
Still sad but less lonely
In their fragments than before

The portrait feels like family
Or so I can imagine
We are the not quite whole people
The bits and pieces people
The hundreds and the thousands

RF 2007


Fiendish said...

I really like this. It's gentle and quite lyrical in quality. Is it first draft or has it gone through edits?

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks Fiendish. I think this one came out pretty much done-and-dusted. I made a couple of tiny changes after the first draft maybe...but not much.
It has a lifetime of thinking about the subject in it (well 40 years thinking more or less). I sometimes say I write fast but I think slow....except there are exceptions to that too. Some poems do come out slowly.
I like that you say 'gentle'. The older I get the more I see the importance of gentleness.

Jim Murdoch said...

I enjoyed this poem. Like all poems of this ilk its weakness is that you really need to know the painting. But once you have all the pieces come together beautifully. Actually, to say, "I enjoyed this poem," is a little miserly on my part. To say, "I loved this poem," would be too enthusiastic. The poem made sense to me. It, and this is probably the highest compliment I can pay this piece, touched me in the same way 'Mr. Bleaney' reached me over thirty years ago. It makes me feel uncomfortable. The uncomfortableness is familiar. It's as if you've stirred up something in me and I need it to settle but until it does I'm enveloped by it. Put it this way, I've saved a copy of it and I never save a copy of anybody's stuff.

Rachel Fox said...

Thanks Jim. Your words mean a lot.

Marion McCready said...

today I started and finished Janice Galloway's The Trick..., feeling a bit mixed about it. Okay so it was a good read, which is why I read it all today but found the ending a bit disappointing and I'm not sure I really believed (or liked, maybe) the protagonist. I dunno, will have to think about it but can't imagine that I'll want to read it twice.

Rachel Fox said...

I know what you mean. I think it is a book that would be good to read if you were going through a bad time or just recovering. If you are feeling in a better place...not sure it has so much to offer then. Perhaps the reason it has done well is that so many people are in those bad places or hanging round near them still and when you're in them, boy, do you need friends!

Rachel Fox said...

I've thought about that again...and I'm not sure that is how I feel about it! It's a book I haven't really made my mind up about in any way.
I liked a lot of the writing but I haven't passed it on to any friends or anything like that. The protagonist was a bit shadowy and so hard to know and/or like but I think that is part of the experience of being in a bad way. You do feel like a shadow of whoever the hell you were before. You don't know who you are.

Jim Murdoch said...

If I can add in my tuppenceworth, I think it's a fabulous book and I particularly appreciated the fact that Galloway doesn't do out of her way to make the protagonist likeable. It adds a realism to the work that I failed to capture in my own first novel. I don't like my hero but everyone who had read the book does and it always puzzles the hell out of me that they do. I've not read anything else by her even though I went straight out and bought another two of her books; they've just sat on the shelf for months. It's certainly not an easy book to get into but it manages not to be so full of itself that it disappears up its own backside. (Christ, we Scots have some awful expressions, don't we?)

Rachel Fox said...

Yes, but that backside expression is very useful. There are times (so many!) when it is just the right way to describe something or someone.

On 'The Trick..' I did particularly like the hospital sequences and the 'interviews' with psychiatrists. They are the bits that have stayed alive in my head the longest. It really is amazing how people and systems can be so unsuitable for the job they are meant to be doing. All that was painfully true.

Marion McCready said...

I think the problem for me is that I never really warmed to 'Joy', I found it odd that she was so analytical for instance about the treatment (or lack thereof) she received and about the people around her which seemed to indicate a strong-minded character yet she was so wishy-washy in other ways that I couldn't get a consistent, in my mind, idea of her character. But the hospital sequences did ring true, sadly enough, for me also through a close relative's experiences.

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