Lent 18: 1981

In the PBS Bulletin in which Colette Bryce’s collection The Full Indian Rope Trick was recommended (Winter 2004), her comments contained some excellent thoughts and quotes about poetry. It is with genuine admiration that I include extracts from them here:

“I like to make music with words and music is my main preoccupation when writing. Writing may well be the wrong word for it. Composition describes the process better, the forming of a thing from a combination of parts.

“I like Sexton’s comment ‘I use the personal when I am applying a mask to my face’, and her concept of ‘faking it up with the truth’.

“The nearest I’ve found to a definition of a poem is Mahon’s ‘a thought that grows’.

“I love a poem that conceals as much as it reveals, without alienating the reader. It’s a very delicate balance, and they’re rare enough.

“Larkin thought it fatal to decide, intellectually, what good poetry is ‘because you are then in honour bound to try to write it, instead of the poems that only you can write’.”

The titular Full Indian Rope Trick refers to an old trick (legend?) whereby a child climbs up a fakir’s rope, disappearing at the top. Bryce reframes this as the transition of a child into an adult (“it was painful; it took years. / I’m my own witness, / guardian of the fact / that I’m still here.”)

There are poems about growing up in the troubles in Northern Ireland, bombs assembled and “placed, delicately as a gift,”, about ‘Last Night’s Fires’, and about hunger strikes, the theme of the poem I’m sharing:


     A makeshift notice in the square
     says it with numbers, each day higher.
     North of here, in a maze of cells,
     a man cowers, says it with hunger,
     skin, bone, wrought to a bare
     statement. Waiting, there are others.

     Days give on to days; we stall
     in twos and threes in the town centre,
     talk it over, say it with anger,
     What’s the news? It’s no better.
     Headlines on the evening paper
     spell it out in huge letters.

     Over graves and funeral cars
     the vast bays of colour say it
     with flowers, flowers everywhere;
     heads are bowed, as mute as theirs,
     that will find a voice in the darker hours,
     say it with stones, say it with fire.

See the intro/roundup.

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2 Responses to Lent 18: 1981

  1. Pingback: 40 Poems of Lent: an introduction & roundup | impeus.com

  2. Pingback: Poetry Month 2012. 22: A Spider | impeus.com

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