Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tuesday Poem: Hairless by Jo Shapcott

Can the bald lie? The nature of the skin says not:

it's newborn-pale, erection-tender stuff,
every thought visible – pure knowledge,
mind in action – shining through the skull.
I saw a woman, hairless absolute, cleaning.
She mopped the green floor, dusted bookshelves,
all cloth and concentration, Queen of the moon....
poem continues in this article  (scroll down to the bottom) 
Unfortunately, I don't have permission to post the whole of Hairless, or of Scorpion or any of the other poems in Shapcott's incredible collection Of Mutability (Faber), but I am working on it. The book is the first purchase I've made with the incredible $500 I won last week in the Caselberg Poetry Competition (see previous post). It feels like the right first purchase before all the other clamorous less glamorous things get a foothold.

I admired the beautiful hardcovered Faber book in the bookshop where I work for three weeks before purchasing it. It was the lovely olive green slip cover, it was the sticker that said Shapcott beat off all other contenders (fiction, biography etc) to win the UK's prestigious Costa Award, it was poems that opened: 'Can the bald lie...?' 

A Telegraph article describes this poet's background: 
Shapcott read English at Trinity College Dublin, and later studied poetry at Harvard under Seamus Heaney and Robert Fitzgerald, “a great classicist” and a “very strict teacher” who taught metre and form and whose highest praise was “NTB – not too bad”. There, she says, “my ear was tuned up for language”. These days, she is president of the Poetry Society and teaches creative writing at Royal Holloway.

And there's a great video interview with Shapcott here 


Jennifer Compton said...

very tasy - want more!

Kathleen Jones said...

We seem to be following the same reading track at the moment Mary. I'm also reading Mutability. Some of the poems are quite challenging - they don't give up their meanings easily, but they're all impressive. She is amazing.

Elizabeth Welsh said...

I hear congratulations are in order, Mary! I couldn't think of a more deserving poet than yourself - it is well overdue. I am such a sucker for Faber & Faber books both due to their always classy choice of poet and their stunning design. Hope to see more posts featuring Shapcott!

Mary McCallum said...

It is tasty, Jen, you'd love her. I hope I can post more at some stage.

You're right, Kathleen, the poems don't all offer themselves up - sometimes frustratingly - but I am enjoying the re-reading. I took it up to read to my sick Mum - it was interesting talking with her about them. We sometimes diverged on meaning ... (The other book of poems I took up with me was your 'Barefoot', Jen)

And thanks Elizabeth! A lovely thing to say - I don't know about being deserving, there are so many wonderful poets out there, not least on TP, but it is a huge boost to my sense of myself as a poet. Now I better go chase up Shapcott...

Timothy Cahill said...

Dear Mary, Hearty congratulations on the Caselberg Prize, and wow, what a great way to inaugurate the proceeds. This poem and poet are astonishing. Thank you for letting us in on the discovery. I've no idea how well Jo Shapcott is known in the US, if at all. I assume, since she was a Harvard, she has some following here. Either way, I am happy to fall into her queue.

I like the way you put that, about the "clamorous less glamorous things" that will have their way. Like your blog, too. Very much. Cheers, Tim