19 November 2011

I’ve recently been commissioned to write for the Family Matters exhibition which is at the Castle Museum in Norwich at the moment, and part of the Great British Art Debate. Today, George Szirtes, Andrea Holland, Martin Figura and myself went along to an event in the Castle to read the poems and talk about the writing of them and the exhibition. I think the poems will also be presented in some way as part of the exhibition.

The two pieces I chose to write about fed straight into my existing work which is inspired by folk tales. Not fairytales which are the versions of the stories presented to children by Perrault as didactic tools, or those versions dressed up by Disney to entertain.

One of the pieces I wrote from is Anna Gaskell’s  photograph Hide, which was part of a series of images born from the Donkeyskin story, which is basically a tale of incest.  The Queen dies, the King casts around to find another wife, and looks no further than his daughter.  In the story, the girl asks for more and more impossible things to stave off the marriage.  I changed the donkey to a dog, because it seemed to fit better in the poem.

And here is the poem:



My father made me a dress
from patches of sky
on my mother’s old sewing machine.
He stitched them together
with lengths of her hair
and carved all the buttons
from her neat white teeth
but I would not give him my heart.

My father made me a dress
from the light of the moon
pinned into place
with her fine finger bones.
He made me a dress as bright as the sun
and sewed her gold wedding ring
into the hem
but I would not give him my hand.

My father offered me
the pelt of his dog —
how quickly his knife
freed that beast from its skin.
I climbed inside while it was still warm,
zipped it up tight
then walked into the fire
so he could not give me his love.