Section II: Words for women

A note on an early version of the poem, Female Ancestor. 
The title poem is in this section because with Sweats it deals with change and what change is more extreme than the constant empty/full state? Ancestry and all its flux is present in the poems 'Female ancestor' and 'Five aunts' that lead into menopause and the end of fertility.

This section starts with a poem of three liners, each of which can be read in isolation. They were never composed as haiku but needed to be short. Each three liner has been attached to a monoprint made by Jane Fordham but this alliance of words and images happened by shuffling both until we felt there was a fit.

'Her year' comes from looking at one of Jane's paintings on wood. 'Canopy' has been made into a one-off wood and paper book, as has 'Words for women'. 

I wrote 'Words for women' after using the historical thesaurus and from an idea that came while I was working with Jane at Chesworth Arts Farm of someone shouting all the words they could think of for women, or nailing them to a tree. 

I experimented with how this list of words stretching back over centuries could be laid out. Initially I put them in a strip but eventually made them into a horizontal block to fit a postcard. In the wooden book Jane's made, they stretch over several pages, but here they have to appear vertically. 

So two poems in this section are influenced by text artists. I have been particularly interested in how Hamish Fulton and Jenny Holzer use text, Fiona Banner too. I like the idea of language triggering a physical response in the reader that doesn't come from narrative. I like the idea of the form and the words being integral, as well as the focus on single words and the accumulated effect of these words so the reader responds on many levels. 

'Female ancestor' was a game that relates to counting generations back to a common female ancestor. I didn't want to write mythically about this woman - it has been done in prose - so I was looking for another approach.

Woman’s head as jug
(after a title by Jane Fordham)

Today she pours the Water of Life – green
walnuts picked in June, beaten with a pestle.

Tomorrow, Melancholy Water tasting of gilliflower,
damask rose, musk and gold leaf.

She steeps pounds of rue for Plague Water,
and to clear ‘mists and clouds of the head’ 

infuses peacock dung and bruised millipedes
in spirit of lavender. Bending over a bowl

she might empty a reservoir, reveal the valley it invaded.
Her head is fired from the same earth.



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