Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Couplet of the Day

I’ve been reading Sinéad Morrissey’s collection, The State of the Prisons (Carcanet, 2005).

There are a few humdrum poems in it, but most are of a high standard, some a bit special. The couplet that begins her poem Forty Lengths shows that even with something as mudane as a swimming pool, there are still ways of "making it new":

Before goggles, the pool was a catch of beleaguered heads
being raced against each other by omnipotence.


C. E. Chaffin said...

I find the second line of the couplet puzzling. Why would omnipotence race heads bobbing in a pool against each other? The substance seems sloppy, the image fuzzy--unless surrounding lines rescue it. Maybe I'm missing something?

Rob Mackenzie said...

C E, I've been wrong before in my estimation of poetic lines, and might be wrong again. I think I get the picture from these lines, but I'm maybe deluding myself.

Before I say what I think, does anyone else like/dislike them?

Rob Mackenzie said...

C. E.

Looks like I might be on my own in appreciating this! Ah well, it wouldn’t be the first time.

I saw the image like this: the pool is a mass of bobbing heads, but the speaker imagines them being controlled by an all-powerful abstract entity, a bit like God with a finger pressing or each head at random, except there is no finger. There is no real order in the scene. Probably there isn’t a real race going on, except from the point-of-view of the speaker, who acknowledges that, whatever the race consists of, it’s out of her control. The heads look beleaguered to the speaker, as if they are oppressed by the omnipotent power. I also like the “before goggles”, the mundane, comic object in place of “before Christ”, the b.g. instead of b.c., being played off against the godlike omnipotence at the end of the sentence.

She does return to the theme at the end of the poem. All the poems are about “prisons”, whether mental, physical or whatever, and after the speaker sees how solidly we occur beneath the water, she says it reminds her of being a child, a film she played in her head to make herself sleep. She would be up in the sky:

like Lucy, not needing to breathe, or be tired, or be told, or be older –
wishboning through the stratosphere.