On with a few more reblogged poems now with added explanation. Hmm… could try a “three poems for the price of two” offer or an extra-long poem for the same price as a short one. No?
Nobody gave me a choice
Of where I’d like to be born
Nobody set me a test
Nor asked me to swear allegiance
To a fixed smile in a dress
I feel as Irish as Scottish
I’m English and Welsh in the blood
How could they accept me as British
Who’d trade in the crown for the mud?
When people become British citizens now, they take part in a ceremony. This seems to be well-received and a happy occasion. Before this, they have to take a test to show they know enough about the country – a test which most British-born people fail, with strange questions and with no internal balancing mechanism so that though the questions are randomly selected from a l;arge pool, it’s perfectly possible for them to be biased towards one subject.
They then have to swear allegiance to the queen, which I would have real problems with, not mainly because I’d prefer a republic, but because as a Quaker and from my heart I reject the whole concept of allegiance, of automatic loyalty and subservience to any human power, as opposed to agreeing to observe the laws and accept punishment if conscience brought me to break them, and to be an active citizen, voting, belonging to voluntary organisations and so on
For myself, I struggle a bit with the concept “British” unless it’s purely a description of a political unit. I’m 3/4 English and 1/4 Welsh. I don’t feel alien in Ireland, though technically I am: I’m as aware of being English in Scotland as I am in Ireland, and I recognise a cultural, historical and scenic alliance or bundle of all the nations and places of the North-east Atlantic islands.
So – a long discussion for a short poem!
The Nasty Women’s Institute
Meets in the Church Hall vestibule,
Discusses who to garrotte or shoot,
Collects for violins for school,
Embroiders rumours, cushions too,
Poisons the constable with tea,
Arranges flowers, makes curates stew
And drops the Bishop in the sea.
The works of God are wondrous strange;
The Nasty women are strange as well.
They spread the mildew and the mange
And pull the bellrope on the bell.
In my county of origin, Hertfordshire, there’s a village called Nasty. On entering the village, you see a sign about the Women’s Institute, but it isn’t the Nasty Women’s Institute: it’s joint with the next village and takes that village’s name. The village of Ugley in Essex had a similar issue.
Here I imagine there is a Nasty Women’s Institute and they really are nasty, along with being the sort of traditional ladies you’d find in Agatha Chrisie’s “Miss Marple” stories. There are two punning double meanings: to make someone stew means to make them wait with a worried mind, but it could be literal; and the Bishop has a see (his area of responsibility), so maybe he’s being givewn a lift to that – or being dropped in the sea.
Come to me: I am strange.
My skin is like a drowned man’s, but my hair
Like some wild animal’s from the hills.
I wear a hat.
I am important: other carry
My food, my bed, my tools, the thing I watch
Speaking hard words and stroking it
Come to me: I am strange.
Come to me, for I threaten:
I climbed the river to this point
To turn and go right back again
I kill the birds but do not eat them
I kill the men, forget and leave them
Come to me, for I threaten.
Come to me, I am rich.
In bags my men have colours and shapes
You never saw, but will see more
I was asleep, you saw me wake
Come to me, I am rich and strange.
This imagines a European explorer in Africa from the point of view of the locals, with some hindsight. The explorer speaks as they imagine he might.
The thing he strokes, speaking hard words, could be the Bible – or a notebook of his travels, maybe, or a map. The locals do not understand why he travels up the river and then turns round and goes back again. They do not understand why he shoots animals not for food (he’s collecting them for science). They perceive that he does not care about human life, or at least, their lives. He will bring enormous change they cannot imagine. They have the idea described for the Australian Aborigines that all that will happen in the world is already there but hidden: so this is the time at which this asleep stranger being wakes up and shows himself.
Next time I think I’ll post another poem for the first time.
all writing on this site is copyright of Simon Banks 2012.