Sunday Poem – Katherine Stansfield

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Hares I have seen – Katherine Stansfield

The first crashed a fence in a field near Shrewsbury.
It was after lunch of lamb slow-roasted for a night
and a day, its grease still slick on my fingers when she broke
from the stubble.  I forgot her later when I sat on a swing
and cried.  That time it was for loneliness.

The second raced the train taking me to Edinburgh.
A break in the hedge revealed for a blink the reach
of her stride, the gathering of feet beneath belly before
the hedge snapped back.  I forgot her later when I cried
into moussaka.  That time it was for loneliness and drink.

The third hung from a hook in a butcher’s in Ludlow.
Her legs were primly crossed and bound, her head
shrouded in muslin but there was no mistaking
the checked spring, the white flag beneath her tail.
She was too big that close though her ears were shorn
because what good are ears when paying by weight?
I couldn’t forget her but by then I’d given up crying.

That night she was in the mirror.  She pulled off muslin
to parade her holed skull, rolled her pale eyes and –
<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<worst of all –
flashed a stiff grin of yellow teeth bared to chip any dish
I’d try to jug her in.  I went to bed without flossing.  I cried
into dry fur.  That time it was for everything.

Last Sunday I was at my friend Lindsey Holland’s house and we took her dog for a walk in the fields.  The landscape with the flat fields and the wide open sky reminded me so much of Leicester, where I’m from that it was a little bit painful, in that way that homesickness is painful.  Anyway, as we were walking along, we looked right across another field, and saw two hares, one disappearing into a hedge, and the other sat for a while before making off into the undergrowth.

They were far away and could have been rabbits, except it is impossible to mistake a hare for a rabbit. This unmistakable quality about hares does come through in Katherine’s poem.  In Stanza 2 we read about the ‘reach of her stride’ and in Stanza 3 she says there ‘was no mistaking/the checked spring, the white flag beneath her tail’.  This poem is about so much more than hares though.  It made me cry the first time I read it, which doesn’t happen very often.

This is a poem where what is not said is as important as what is said.  We don’t learn the nature of the loneliness that has the power to make the speaker cry.  By the second stanza things have got worse – the tears are for loneliness and drink. Something terrible is happening in the background of this poem, behind closed doors, while someone is eating, traveling on a train, shopping at the butchers.

The speaker in the poem cries for loneliness in the first verse, for loneliness and drink in the second, and finally, and heartbreakingly ‘for everything’ by the end.  What happens to bring this about? I don’t think it’s too dramatic to call it despair by the end.  What do the hares have to do with this?  Nothing and everything. The wildness of the hare in the first and second stanzas – crashing through a fence in a field or racing a train is partly tamed in the third stanza, with the ‘shorn ears’ and the ‘primly crossed’ legs but it isn’t erased by the end – the hare still has the ‘stiff grin of yellow teeth’.

This poem comes from Katherine’s first full length collection ‘Playing House’ which was published by Seren in 2014.  ‘Playing House’ has been on my shelf of books to be read for a while now and I finally got round to it this week.  It’s a great book with poems that cover a wide range of subjects – you will not be bored reading it!  You can order it from Seren and get 20% off as well.

Katherine Stansfield grew up on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. She moved to Wales in 2002 to study at Aberystwyth University where she worked as a lecturer in Creative Writing for several years before deciding to concentrate on writing full time.  Her novel The Visitor was published by Parthian in 2013. It went on to win the fiction prize at the 2014 Holyer an Gof awards.  Playing House, her debut poetry collection, was published by Seren in 2014. It includes ‘The woman on my National Library of Wales library card’, winner of the 2014 PENfro poetry competition, and ‘Canada’, Poem of the Week in The Guardian.  You can find more information about Katherine at her website here

Apart from reading Katherine’s book, this week has been another week of trying to catch up with myself.  On Monday I went to Manchester for the prize giving for the Manchester Cathedral Poetry Competition.  It was lovely to meet the winner, Alex Toms and the other prize winning poems and a privilege to hear them read the poems.  It felt like meeting old friends again when I heard the poems and I will admit to being chuffed with myself for finding them amongst the 500 odd poems that were entered.  I thought reading that many poems would be hard work, but actually it was a real honour.  It felt like I was being given a window into 500 different lives – it was actually quite a moving experience, which I didn’t expect it to be.

This week I’ve been rehearsing with the South Lakes Brass Ensemble.  We have our next gig at Brewery Poets on November 13th, where we will be providing the music in between poetry readings by David Borrott, Kerry Darbyshire and Barbara Hickson.  I’ve had my Young Writers Group this week as well, a performance management meeting with my manager and my big sister, her husband and my lovely niece and nephew were up from Leicester for a brief visit.

We had a day out and got the steam train from Haverthwaite to Lakeside and went to the aquarium.  My niece spent the whole of the train journey writing a poem and apparently she carried on writing poems when she went to stay at my twin sister’s house as well.  My nephew has apparently written a story as well! Ha! My work here is done.  My big sister might possibly kill me if my niece or nephew become poets and she has to go to lots of poetry readings.

On Saturday I ran a workshop at Kendal Wool Gathering. It was a small workshop group, but it was actually really nice – there was lots of time to talk about poetry, to listen to what people had written and I met some really interesting writers.  Afterwards there was an open mic – again a small group of attendees but interesting people.

Throughout this week I’ve been cutting my milage back.  I’ve had sore shins, probably due to building up my milage.  I’m doing a half marathon next Sunday and every time I train for a half marathon I pick up some sort of injury.  I’ve been for two massage sessions though and I think I’ve got on top of it.  I ran 14 kilometres today with no problems, so I’ll just be cutting back now until next weekend.

If I have any readers that are within striking distance of Barrow, I’m running an all day poetry workshop on the 14th November which you would be very welcome to attend.  Please get in touch for more information, or have a look at the ‘Readings and Workshops’ tab.  There are about six spaces left.  The price is £15 and it includes tea or coffee and chocolate biscuits.

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4 responses »

  1. I love hares and this poem captured them perfectly for me. I’ve only ever seen three in my life so they can take on a symbolic nature as they have in this poem. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Pingback: Sunday Poem – Katherine Stansfield | Observations of Life seen through autistic eyes by Andy Smith

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