Read the second instalment of our top ten unmissable poems published in Poetry Wales from the last 5 years. To celebrate 55 years of publishing poetry, every Friday we’ll be releasing two poems from the list, with our final post including a downloadable PDF edition of the poems. The ten poems in this short collection were selected by Nia Davies, editor of Poetry Wales (2014-19). Our top 5 poems are included for free with our Summer 2019 issue.
Bobbie Gentry, Shangri-Las, Sonic Youth
by Chrissy Williams
Bobbie Gentry was twenty-five when she wrote ‘Fancy’.
Fancy is a girl whose mother buys her a red dress,
a red dancing dress, and sends her out to sell her body.
This work turns out to be something Fancy enjoys
but her enjoyment is measured against her sense of obligation.
“Here’s your one chance, Fancy, don’t let me down”
At sixteen The Shangri-Las sang ‘Give Him A Great Big Kiss’
and the kiss was represented with sound <mwa> and a gesture.
“Is he bad?” asks the song, “Hmm, he’s goodbad. He’s not evil.”
There are no mothers in this song. It’s just the girls
and Mary’s description of dancing with a boy is rapture:
“We were close . . . very very . . . close”
Kim Gordon sings with Kim Deal on Washing Machine,
Sonic Youth’s album-as-machine for early sexualisation.
This sexualisation is at its best in ‘Little Trouble Girl’
where the Shangri Las’ line is poached and sung by women
(if there are bad girls, so there must be bad women):
“Close . . . very very . . . close”
I listened to these songs a long time after puberty,
around the time I started having sex. Urgent, always fumbling,
never planning . . . DESIRE . . . to be . . . collapsing . . . DESIRE . . .
fuelling further DESIRE, and more, both before & after.
Quiet now. Something is getting broken.
“Close . . . very very . . . close”
In the Sonic Youth, Kim transforms the Shangri-Las’ line,
acknowledging the way things really change, and how mother
and a sense of obligation to win her love are not the aim.
How past intimacy can be replaced. Fight DESIRE with fire.
How past intimacy can never really be replaced.
“Remember mother? We were close . . . very very . . . close”
I allowed my lust to deprioritise her and I ask forgiveness.
I never wanted to be killed with kindness. I was afraid of love.
I think you will love me only if I am good. The girls sing.
I think you will love me only if I am good. And if I’m bad?
The long kiss. The pull of any part of any body. And if I’m goodbad?
“Close . . . very very . . . close”
This is the DESIRE I backed myself into,
the DESIRE I have always been running away from
& all I am now, heart, is DESIRE and soon there will be nothing,
ash & DESIRE, DESIRE & bones & nothing, so . . .
close . . . this DESIRE
to be good
Chrissy Williams is the author of BEAR (Bloodaxe, 2017), which featured in the Telegraph‘s 50 Best Books of the Year, and various poetry pamphlets. Her pamphlet Flying into the Bear was published in 2013 by HappenStance Press and was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Awards. She edits the online journal PERVERSE. Her poem ‘Bobbie Gentry, Shangri-Las, Sonic Youth’ was first published in Poetry Wales 51.3.
For Inger Christensen
by Ailbhe Darcy
apricot trees insist; apricot trees insist
but brand-names insist; and battlefields, battlefields;
bombs still insist; and blackface, and blackface
concrete insists; cappuccinos, cathedrals;
cancer-treatment centres, electric cigarettes,
corn syrup, cattle prods, automated cash machines
dams insist, dreamcatchers, and dolls,
drones insist, and daybeds, and daybeds;
drills, derricks, and data; data
insists, data and death squads; dwellings
insist; dwellings, online dating sites, data
early morning insists, eely hour, evilling hour;
Einsamkeit und Engeln, uaigneas agus aingil;
dreams of widowhood and elk, half fled, insist;
Europe nestling in an elbow’s crook, too abstract
at this hour; eider feathers insist; every
possibility insists, each future history,
here beneath our eiderdowns with earnest breath
earth insists its way into our future
flashmobs insist, with their fleeting
raid on community, the flash a fire
that frees through them and fades;
in cities they insist, in what we flatter
public space; foreplay insists, and forecourts, foreclosures;
flatbreads, flatmates, and flatpack furniture;
flowcharts and the funds of financial advisors;
errors insist: instrumental, random,
systemic; flexitime insists, and fuchsia;
and fruit still insists, fruit here in the supermarket where
somewhere apricot trees exist, apricot trees still exist;
the weight of fuzzed flesh forthright in a palm;
the five-finger discount still insists
given prickles insist, yellow-gemmed, grizzly
going where the ground gives itself
generously, greedily, giddily
geometries ginnelling into galaxies,
the gambrels made by generation, elbows
of the giving shrub insist,
the grimoire hatching woody riddles,
the darkening thatch of glossary
growing in our wildernesses;
gadabouts seeking getaways,
for whom given limits don’t insist;
we inherit only what we generate;
grief insists on itself, grief moves by whim,
grief would be a fire break,
but fire fans grief; and grief feeds caterpillars,
homes stonechat, yellowhammer, linnet;
low-growing where the ground is bare
enigmatic as the gun I give
my child to gloss, grip right, handle,
little goose, blonde gunsel;
when grief ’s out of blossom, kissing’s out of fashion
human remains insist, human remains insist
on whispering a last hyacinth, one last honeyed hiss
sinking back into their own hollows and hidey-holes,
their own holy places, softnesses and hardnesses,
hummocks losing height, hips unhanded a half-life
here in places where there once sproinged hair,
happened wetnesses, quick havings, slow hallelujahs;
where a man labored on pleasure with his two hands;
how it dawned on us what the happenings in my body meant;
how we lay and waited to know what to say;
how at last we confessed we wanted this;
how little more we could say about it;
how the heat of other humans made me want to heave;
how my boss said that when his pregnant wife went to the obstetrician he wanted to
hit the obstetrician;
how the pain only let up when I crawled on the sitting-room floor;
how the pain only let up when I swam in the town pool;
how the happening was a cat on my lap I could never throw off;
how the obstetrician said first thing Monday he would hoist the human out;
how he said no breakfast but I scarfed nectarines and coffee;
how we listened to TC love his honeybear in the car;
how the receptionist said I was ready to pop;
how we hardly had to wait for the nurse to hook me up;
and Pitocin insists, Pitocin insists
on hypnotizing the body, synthetic hysteria,
Charcot’s hands making the drawing passes
hexing away my objections to any of this;
and hospitals insist, charts hang their insistence
on the ends of hospitable beds, hospital gowns insist
and hospital breakfasts; a little yellow card insists
I’ll feed him x times before they’ll bathe him, a nurse insists
I try placing this small contraption; they dress him before I can insist
on his nakedness; the hospital hat doesn’t fit him; I insist
on more ice before I’ll sit another minute; they bathe him screamily insisting;
he screams like this all night long but it seems only I hear him