Poetry Month 2012. 16: The Sari

I mentioned yesterday Duffy’s anthology Out of Fashion. Like Answering Back, it invites contemporary poets to submit a poem on a theme, and choose a poem on the same theme by a poet from another time or culture. However this time the theme is fixed – clothing. The back cover has some words from Manolo Blahnik of all people:

‘The poems evoke the immediacy and the direct relationship between the fashion object and the human body like only a poem can do. This is an exquisite compliation of the most delicate poems.’

Ok, whatever. I don’t think there’s much delicate about the one I shared yesterday. Since I’m sharing one cover blurb, here are the others. Alexandra Shulman says “Dress and undress have long been one of poetry’s favourite themes as this book compellingly shows.” and Vogue magazine helpfully add “What better fashion accessory for a girl’s home than a book of fashion poetry?”

Ass. These quotes do nothing to sell the book. I couldn’t give a flying fig about fashion, as anyone who has met me can attest. However, there is still much in the book to enjoy, relate to, appreciate, whatever. I like the idea present in both this and Answering Back – the contrasts and the collaborative nature. The rich and varied array of poems despite a particular brief.

I’m sharing a poem by Moniza Alvi, and the one she chose – an 8th century Japanese poem translated by Geoffrey Bownas and Anthony Thwaite – original author unknown.

     The Sari

     Inside my mother
     I peered through a glass porthole.
     The world beyond was hot and brown.

     They were all looking in on me –
     Father, Grandmother,
     the cook’s boy, the sweeper girl,
     the bullock with the sharp
     the local politicians.

     My English grandmother
     took a telescope
     and gazed across continents.

     All the people unravelled a sari.
     It stretched from Lahore to Hyderabad,
     wavered across the Arabian Sea,
     shot through with stars,
     fluttering with sparrows and quails.
     They threaded it with roads,
     undulations of land.

     they wrapped and wrapped me in it
     whispering Your body is your country.

     Poem by a Frontier Guard

     While the leaves of the bamboo rustle
     On a cold and frosty night,
     The seven layers of clobber I wear
     Are not so warm, not so warm
     As the body of my wife.

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