In general, I don’t tend to like poems which are about something concrete. Landscape poetry. Odes to a butterfly. No thank you. I’d rather something guttural and emotional, something abstract (or at least layered or metaphorical) enough that I can project onto it as much (or as little) as I’d like.
I am, however, sharing a poem about a primrose. It’s from Alice Oswald’s collaboration with artist Jessica Greenman, Weeds and Wild Flowers. My copy of this book is big and chunky and doesn’t fit on my poetry shelf. It’s full of Jessica Greenman’s etchings of wild flowers that remind me of so many watercolours in the nature books I loved as a kid. Many of the poems in the collection are effectively pisstakes of the daft names we’ve given to wild flowers, like stinking goose-foot (Or at puddles he stands / soaping his hands, but his breath / smells lonesome / his toes are decayed underneath.) and bastard toadflax (Ponderous, obstinate, / cold-skinned person. / Very swollen eyes.). Even when pinning a narrative to the name, Oswald visibly evokes the plant itself too, like this excerpt from Lily of the Valley:
A white-faced hanging-her-head
well-rooted woman used to live here.
Under the hips of the hills
in the arms of the valley.
So, here is a poem about a primrose. About the whole life of a primrose. Enjoy!
First of April – new born gentle.
Fleeting wakeful on a greenleaf cradle.
Second of April – eyes half open,
faint light moving under lids. Face hidden.
Third of April – bonny and blossoming
in a yellow dress that needs no fastening.
Fourth fifth sixth – she somehow stands
clutching for balance with both hands.
Seventh of April and tiredness shows.
No rest for three days in unwashed clothes.
Asks (eighth of April) for a little water.
Asks asks until the lips dry out. No answer.
Ninth of April. Head flopped over.
Contorted with headache. Seated figure.
Twelfth of April – eyes half closed.
No light moving under lids. Tense pose.
April the thirteenth. Almost dead.
Face like wet paper. Hanging yellow head.
Still there. Still dying. Fourteenth of April.
Face fading out. Expression dreadful.
Fifteenth sixteenth. So on so on.
Soul being siphoned off. Colour gone.
April the seventeenth. Dead. Probably.
Skull in the grass. Very light and crumbly.
See the intro/roundup for more.
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