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Poetry Archives #4: Jean Bleakney

In: Showcase

In the latest of our Poetry Archives series, looking back through the Lagan back catalogue, we explore two poems from Jean Bleakney's 2003 collection, 'The Poet's Ivy'.

The Misunderstanding

She went her own sweet way
(there was a touch of the gypsy in her)
and nobody ever thought to say

‘We’d really like you to stay’
-afraid they might discover
she went her own sweet way

because of the sky’s relentless grey.
They couldn’t control the weather,
so nobody ever stopped to say

‘The grass is greener here… Make hay…’
(not even the ones who loved her.)
She went her own way,

flitting from wave to wave along the bay
-a solitary sandpiper-
and nobody ever dared to say,

scared she’d suddenly fly away;
and when she did, they told each other
‘She went her own sweet way;
there was nothing we could do or say.’

The Land of Counterpane Revisited

On this January morning, pillowed up
with two anthologies and a seed catalogue,
I pause between poems for a sip of coffee
and, alert to all epiphanies, survey
the peaks, escarpments and invaginations
of the king-size duvet, whereupon
the years collapse to a quilted bedspread
smoothed under its own weight; and this
collateral notion: before books were books,
they were tunnels; and sometimes seagulls.


Picture for blog story Poetry Archives #4: Jean Bleakney

Villanelles are tricky poems to craft successful, but Bleakney does an excellent job here in 'The Misunderstanding'. Sentences and lines of thought continue across stanzas, instead of the sudden endings usually created through the repeated lines of a villanelle. The B rhymes are loose but clever ('weather', 'discover', etc). The slight amendment of "nobody ever thought / stopped / dared to say" accumulates into a final sense of helplessness, balanced by the idea of someone breaking free.

In 'The Land of Counterpane Revisited', the speaker is going her own way, seemingly awarding herself with a duvet day. The promise of literature, relaxation, protection from a cold January morning, is at hand. However, the speaker is suddenly stuck by an epiphany somehow found amidst the contours of her bedspread. Naturally, the reader asks how books could be tunnels and seagulls; perhaps these are just things to get lost in too.

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