of words and wild swans

Illustrated capital from opening page of "The Wild Swans"

Open mike nights are a chance to discover the words of other poets, writers and musicians and I usually sit with notebook and pen ready to jot down the ideas and phrases that appeal most, that capture my imagination or that challenge me to think more.

Last night I was a reader at a fund-raising event where the theme was homelessness. One of the phrases I wrote down was from local poet John Turner: “How to compare spring flower to crack den?” It’s a question that challenged me as it relates to why I wimped out of writing new and socially relevant poems for the event, instead reaching into my files, which overflow with spring flowers and poetry of place, to create a set based around the ideas of home, belonging and alienation.

Last night’s event, and many of the open mikes that I attend, take place at The Treehouse, a wonderfully welcoming secondhand bookshop and community centre, so as well as the words of the other performers, there is all the wealth of words in books of all genres and ages.

Today I have been looking through the treasures acquired last night – a book of poetry, a novel, The Dandy book 1955 and a delightfully illustrated storybook with re-tellings of three tales by Hans Christian Andersen: The ugly duckling, The tin soldier and The wild swans; though not The little match girl, which would probably have been more appropriate for the theme of the evening.

Title from opening page of "The Wild Swans"

The storybook was the 1956 edition of Tales from Hans Andersen. Retold by Shirley Goulden. Illustrated by Maraja, and the illustrations for this post are from the story The wild swans.

Illustration for "The Wild Swans"

I think Shirley Goulden’s retelling isn’t quite the same as the version I remember from my childhood, but it has the main elements in it. Perhaps even more importantly, it gives me an excuse to re-post this old poem, where I also took liberties with Andersen’s ideas:

Swansong

When I iron the white cotton shirts, slide creases
from collar, cuff and tail, I weigh the heft and fullness
of a changing power.

The dragon noses mother of pearl, and her hot breath
insinuates the twisted threads which swell
and straighten as she sighs.

My mind spins graveyard nettles, and I
am the sister of swans, accused, condemned and bound
in silence, intent on my task.

Each sleeve, a spread wing, offers hope.

Then he dons the white shirt, puts on
the power suit and quiet socks; he knots a careful tie
and slips his feet into immaculate brogues.

I would be Leda to his Jove.

 

Illustration for "The Wild Swans"

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

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