In Tales From Prickly End (The Hedgehog Poetry Press, 2018), Melissa Fu writes a lovely article about her experience of living with the poems in How to Grow Matches (Against The Grain Press).

With Melissa’s kind permission, her thoughts on some of these poems are reproduced here, along with Sarah’s commentary on them. Hopefully, together these will create a new dialogue – a combined reader and writer conversation with the poems that opens up inspirational, interpretational and other read/writer possibilities.

Copies of the poems discussed are included here, but it should be noted that where this in the form of a poetryfilm, Melissa’s actual ‘conversation’ is with the written versions in the pamphlet.

‘How to grow matches’

Melissa: “Invisibility and appearances. I loved this powerful stanza: ‘Note how easily the wood splits / after years of hidden anger./ A felled forest at your feet,/ and still the pile grows!’ It is the accumulation of so many aggressions, ‘each jibe or slight’, that makes for a tinderbox. Here, the ‘hip-sways and lip expressions/condoned for your office/as a woman’ contrast the appearance of smooth acceptability with a fire and matches ready to ignite and explode. The power of accumulated rage may be invisible, but that just makes it all the more deadly.”

Sarah: “The pamphlet’s title poem was first published in the ‘revolution’ themed edition of Magma magazine and is written in an imaginary female revolutionary leader’s voice. It imagines how, matchstick by lit matchstick, years of sexual bias in the work-place might build up to a fiery backlash. (A bit like the #metoo campaign, though this poem was written before that, and workplace gender politics feels a perpetual concern.)

‘Her cumuli collector’

Melissa: “Relationship mismatch. The opening metaphor of clouds as washed shadows is really compelling. I also liked the idea of sucking out the darkness within and appreciate how the metaphor continues to develop through the poem. Initially, the second stanza may appear to undermine these more striking metaphors with imagery of clouds as soap suds, candyfloss, sheep and polar bears, but it takes a curious turn by ending with mention of dark angels. Within the context of the full poem, the second stanza serves as engine and contrast, showing how the couple’s love progresses from the startling beginnings of love (opening metaphor) to something that appears conventional (second stanza) to an aftermath characterised by a darkness within and a cold empty clarity without. By the end of the poem, a sense of a shared external weather has shifted to unseen inner storms once the ‘he’ is absent and the ‘she’ is left with ‘non-stop inside her: heavy, / pounding — the rain of dark angels.’”

Sarah: “‘Her cumuli collector’ recycles age-old romantic notions of ‘a knight in shining armour’, though this particular modern myth is my own creation. The voice of first love and fairy-tale happy endings gives extra power to the emotions, and drama. Because so much becomes pinned on this first relationship, its failure is heart-breaking – as failed love or idolisation usually is. Behind this story though, the fact that this young woman gives control of her moods and happiness to another person rather than taking charge of them herself. If carried past young love into adult life and relationships, it might become a dangerously unshakeable core belief, undermining personal self-esteem.”

‘All the women left’

This poem can be read on Atrium here.

Melissa: “Invisibility as agency, bestowing or removing one’s presence as a manifestation of power. ‘All the women left’ imagines what would happen if all the female audience members and musicians stood up and left during the interval of a packed symphony concert. Invisibility is often associated with silence or powerlessness, but this poem posits one of the most powerful kinds of invisibility I can imagine. Via the squeaks and absences that are revealed as upturned ‘Velveteened seats sprang back/ like the thud of plush dominoes,’ we begin to fathom the gap-toothed emptiness that would result if all the women left.”

Sarah: “‘All the women left’ was written after a visit to Birmingham Symphony Hall, not for a concert, simply passing through the building. At the same time, I was thinking about apocalypses and women-only tribes. The poem title came to me first, wondering what if there were only women left in the world… But I liked that this also had another potential meaning: what if, as a protest, all the women left an event? Essentially, this is a poem imagining the latter happened for a concert. A potential added irony with this scenario is that, if all the women left, half the audience might leave the concert but if all the female musicians left would that only leave half the performers?”

matryoshka 3 for Rachel P1010430 with poem quote version 3 no web link‘Facts of/for/against survival’

This poem can be found on International Times here or in an article about writer voices (‘Voices – Varied, Various and Vocal’) on Created to Read here.

Melissa: “This poem is like a 3-sided pyramid on which the future rests and the weight of the poem shifts depending on which side we slide down. The sides are the prepositions ‘of’ or ‘for’ or ‘against’. By closing with the image of the mother and son, which expands to ‘thousands of mothers/across the world are holding their child’s hand’ we return again to the theme of inheritance and an admonishment to ‘take care of their roots.’ But the picture is complicated by the final three words ‘above all others’. Taking care is a fact of and for survival. But if we do so for only our roots, ‘above all others’ it becomes a fact against survival. This poem, like survival, is finely balanced with hope and despair.”

Sarah: “‘Facts of/for/against survival’ is a mixture of newspaper headlines, unusual facts and a personal moment between a mother and son which hopefully brings together the many disparate threads by hinting at one commonality, in the lines Melissa picks up on. At one level, love and caring for family and children is something that most of us have in common regardless of skin-colour, country, background. The potential problem though with prioritising particular people and places – even friends, family and home – is that this may mean neglecting others outside those groups/areas. Arguably, it’s at the core of many race, religious and territorial wars. As with the poem that opens the pamphlet, this final pamphlet poem is my recognition of the part all women play as individuals not just in defining how women are regarded in the world but the direction of society overall.”

THANK YOU TO MELISSA FOR THIS CONVERSATION ON LIVING WITH THESE POEMS.

Melissa Fu’s website: https://www.spillingtheink.com/
Against The Grain Press website: https://againstthegrainpoetrypress.wordpress.com/
The Hedgehog Poetry Press website: https://www.hedgehogpress.co.uk/
How to Grow Matches on this website: http://www.sarah-james.co.uk/?page_id=9322