On the first page, in the second poem, we read:
People need contemporary poetry like a hole in the head.
That depends on the poet. They certainly need these poems. We'll come back to that later though, because the next poem is one of my favourites.
"My Five Gentlemen"
Prostitutes have clients, wives have husbands,
Poets, you will understand, have editors ...
She describes the five editors whose hands she has been in, finishing up with:
Five is dead, of course. His failing health
Was a comfort to me, though not to him,
Naturally. His death removed one more market
For battered goods, and proved a welcome release.
Rest in peace, I thought (for I always think kindly
Of the gentlemen who direct me to the pages
I am to sit in). I can only hope to be recycled
And end up more useful than I would appear to be.
She frequently reminds me of Dorothy Nimmo or Sylvia Platt. Consider for example "Guitars as Women", and "With My Body":
With your hand, like that, he said ...
and "There Is a Desert Here":
Come, little creatures, walk on me,
Come, little worms, slide on me,
For no man ever will again.
I watched beetles and ladybirds
Long before you gathered birch twigs
To beat me in a field - in fun, of course,
And I will watch them again,
And grow old ungracefully, barefoot
And sluttish in my ways.
And she is always so human. Read "Ian, Dead of Polio" and "Farewell, Gibson Square". Unforgettable pictures of people she has known and will never forget. Nor now shall we. "Farewell, Gibson Square", for instance, is dedicated to Dr Susan Heath who, if this poem is anything to go by, you would probably fall in love with but certainly wouldn't want anywhere near you if you were ill. She eventually left, and now, Elizabeth tells us:
Professional boredom has settled in
Again, and patients go home whole.
Or "Government Health Warning", or "A Plea for Mercy":
For all the poor little sods who shoot themselves off
in boarding schools and dormitories, jerking into sleep,
and all the prissy girls who ride their horses bareback
or wet their knickers and seats at noisy pop concerts ...
Or "A Straw Mat":
I am guilty, she said to me. I didn't know what to say.
We are all guilty, I said, of something, if it's only living
when turf rests heavy on all the people cut off in their prime,
or buying this old cardigan from Oxfam instead of doing
something real. She said, Like what? I didn't know.
I saw my tears fall on the leper's foot. What a nonsense.
Africa is thirsty for blood and yet more blood, and we
wander round the Oxfam shop ...
With poems like this around, why would anybody not be reading, not be needing, contemporary poetry?
And "Consumers", another of my very favourites - but you need to read the whole thing.
Ask me if I ever liked
small talk, chit-chat,
the smell of a new car,
the fat freezers lingering
like overweight virgins
in shadowy garages.
I have to say no.
In fact, you need to read the whole book. Not having read poems like this IS having a hole in the head. And I challenge you to yawn while you are reading them!
The Jesus Bhakti Poems