A Young Woman's World


The Watering Can. Caroline Bird (82pp, 9.95, Carcanet)


                       After I bathe. I neatly shave my crack.
                       I dress. I take my library books back.

Now I have your attention I'll begin.

The first thing that struck me about Caroline Bird's poems was the informal register, almost chatty style - and of course the confessional. There's a lot of the first person: 'I miss my Tuesday so much /'; 'Popped out / showered off' ; 'I will be sober on my wedding day'. We are let in to a poet's world and in no uncertain terms - as the opening lines reveal. And this is a young woman's world - of which I know very little; a world of tennis lessons, plates of tagliatelle, red bull, rugby clubs, abortions, University Poetry Societies, smouldering relationships, and pubic shaving. I also detect a certain undercurrent of judgement:

                     
The Alcoholic Marching Song

                   
  For every nip of vodka, he sipped
                      a problem in the bud, Piss easy.
                      Bobbly friends with static jumpers
                      warming their whisky cockles.

                       He's sailing . He's taming the floor
                       in a spinning bed. He won't fly
                       the white flag until he's done
                       a million, a million miles at least.


                   
Impartial Information

                    Police cars are available, medical attention
                    is available / Group therapy is available /
                    Anger management is available// so when
                    you fall to your knees in a final plea
                    it's not for the lack of
                    availability.

I'm seeing Margaret Hilda Thatcher penning one of her self reliance speeches before the Brighton Conference - or more succinctly Norman Tebbit telling the unemployed in the early 80's to get on their bikes. But then perhaps a young woman conditioned in the world of tennis lessons, trendy bars, red bull, rugby clubs and pubic shaving - whilst munching plates of tagliatelle might see life this way. Yip help is available if the voices in your head allow you enough space to find it. Yip help is available if the depression or addiction allows you to open your eyes and crawl from your bed. As is writing good poetry is available: if the market and your own ego don't capitulate to bubble gum art and self obsessed inane lifeless claptrap. So much is available sitting on the poetic sofa stuffing down the saturated fat and sugar diet of the poetic past. So much is available but for some reason poetry editors prefer water to tagliatelle.

I'm searching for some poetry and can't really find it. There is narrative chatty, there is trying to be clever chatty and attempts to shock chatty, but where are the pure lines of beautiful poetry? Where is my 'I'll arise and go now...'; where is the fishing boat bobbing boat - black black thingy!' Ok this stuff will sell, as this stuff always does but its not for me. No new ground is being broken; the reader is not challenged except in well worn and cheap emotional ways. But I can see why it has been published. It's very much in the Carcanet house style which favours safety before the market, popularity, and easy listening. So if we come in at this angle then these poems are good at what they do and represent another taste - but not mine.

We need to get away from this stuff and stick the patient back on the etherized table. For me Bridgette Jones meets Molly Weir has had its day. And I've really had enough of the internal workings of the female body laid out before the world to see. I detect a political agenda in this stuff and I'm saying no.
                   
                               James McLaughlin 2010