Lorna Goodison: ‘I am becoming my mother’, a closer look

I am becoming my mother        By Lorna Goodson


Yellow/brown woman

Fingers smelling always of onions


Lorna Goodison cover pic

published by New Beacon Books 1986

My mother raises rare blooms

and waters them with tea

her birth waters sang like rivers

my mother is now me.


My mother had a linen dress

the colour of the sky

and stored lace and damask


to pull shame out of her eye.


I am becoming my mother

brown/yellow woman

fingers smelling always of onions.


This is a poem of fourteen lines.   A classic format is the sonnet, a poem of 14 lines, most expected as a love poem and considered to have a strict format of scan and rhyme, divided into two verses. (Note: this is poem isnot a sonnet). Such models as Shakespearean and Spencerian are common but several other variables are also set.  However, where does variation move a poem away from being a sonnet?

The paragraph above is probably slightly misleading but this poem does have fourteen lines and it’s subject would seem to be ‘love’ between mother and daughter/ daughter and mother.  Other than that it falls away from any standard sonnet form so is not a sonnet!

Another interesting section is the repeat of the first two-lined verse as the last verse but with an additional first line of: ‘I am becoming my mother’.    This line is the core of the poem and the repeating of the first verse’ two lines completes a circle……..     A circle that satisfies in many respects:  as the ending of the piece, a reinforcement of the original idea (image/emotion), and is a technique especially used in poems.  (Rondel, Rondeau are classic French verse styles).  Short stories may well use this repetition idea but using the idea rather than exact words:

‘I am becoming my mother  //   brown/yellow woman  // fingers smelling always of onions.’

In the second verse:

‘My mother raises rare blooms’      Seems to odd with her watering them with tea?

There may well be benefits to watering plants with tea and this is the initial image that we see.  A nice image but could it be the author is describing her mother raising her children with special care, attention and love, yes, even tea?  Problems and tempers are said to be solved ‘with a nice cup of tea’.  A subject repeat comes in this verse too, starting with ‘my mother’ to ‘blooms’ and the last line of the verse with ‘my mother is now me’.    Seemingly similar to the main idea of the poem but has less weight as in this line the emphasis is on ‘mother’ rather than ‘me’, the author.

Verses two and three have rhymes on lines two and four and two and five.    The other lines do not have pure rhyme but half-rhyme (or is it sibilance, assonance or alliteration?  I stick with half-rhyme)  with the words: blooms, rivers; dress, damask and tablecloths.

‘tablecloths’ gets a line to itself.    This brings the poem into fourteen lines but is likely to have been separated as it would make the previous line too long and visually unbalanced for the poem. It has enough weight and the assonance to appear alone plus it enables a slight pause before the next line that starts with the harder sounding ‘to pull’.  ( t of to pull echoing t of tablecloths).

Storing the lace and damask tablecloths, is common as saving the best for special occasions, visitors,  as would be the blue linen dress, it would seem.  Perhaps less common today.     The mother cares about what others may think of her and her home: ‘to pull shame out of her eye’.    This is a simplistic explanation and there is more that can be considered from this verse about a caring, hardworking woman, mother.

Returning to the last verse and it’s repeat of the first.  ‘Mother’ was previously the subject, now the author  ‘I’  has become the subject.  A simple image from the first verse has been amplified in some ten short lines into a description of a mother and family, a loving childhood and adulthood and more widely, on the ‘circle of life’ and its continuity.

Often acknowledged in life but beautifully celebrated here, is simply the fact that children frequently see the ways, genetic and learned habits, of their parents in themselves as they mature.  Not only see but feel. (In a similar way that parents can see the visual and emotional elements of themselves in their children.)



Poetry by Jeffrey Wainwright and Ruth Padel’s 52 Ways of looking at a poem

Two books I have now lined up, should I read them both at the same time?  Or which one first?   I think its heads or tails time:

I have not checked out current availability of either.   I like Ruth Padel’s style of writing but was recommended to look at Jeffrey Wainright title by a Uni. tutor as useful  for students.   So, I had better get on with it.   More on their specifics  in later items.


The Basics:  poetry

Jeffrey Wainwrightthe basics  poetry  cover

£9.99      ppr        978 0415287647



52 Ways of looking at a poemruth padel 52 ways cover

Ruth Padel

£12.99       ppr

978 070117318 0

Chatto & Windus


Of Corfe

Of  Corfe

In my recessed mind I see the layout of the station.
Platform perched before a backdrop of stone-blocked,
Empty-windowed ticket hall and waiting room.eng shed
The lines, rusted brown but silver stripe atop
Sneaking ahead passed a short, stubby siding
That ends in a secret shed for goods or cattle truck,
Or maybe for the last Western Pannier Tank with its whistled croon.


And wiring into the station, gleaming green with brass valve, stack and sills,
It’s hooped plate announcing the ‘City of Truro’ over high drivers
With steamless piston valves, to stop for the waiting porter
And the commuter to Weymouth, and maybe his wife and daughter
Who stand endlessly still.  Until the signal drops and the train
Plus coaches of brown and cream hesitate forward and click over the points,
Past that point, into the imaginary tunnel.

High above the station, above a layer of green sea-sponge trees
Above the steep angled, green-as-felt grass, sits a golden ruin,corfe gate
Stone-arched bridge over the chasmed moat leading to gated mouth.
Presented by two low, bulging towers of smooth stone.
A gate-house, no dogs of war, just silence but the whirr of a train going south
And the burn of the sun like a spot-light on the scene.
The commuter, his daughter and his wife still stand waiting, aloof and serene
For the train to return at the click of the drivers dream.

The castle, the motte, the strait-sided ruin,pic. by Wordparc
The shafts where sun, stone and gaping holes meet,
Stand waiting.
The history related, the facts well known:
Victors sated, gaping holes blown in the carcass
Of gold Portland stone.
The castle stands waiting, a ruin, a myth.
The castle stands waiting til Arthur comes home.



poem   j.Johnson Smith

in memory of a model railway of Corfe Castle

Odd and a poem, with a little light j.Johnson Smith

Poem                                                                   28/7/15
A poet said to me  ‘the way to write, is to bring to light the germ of the idea
using adjectives and verb to round the poem out
but then to seer, excise, wipe-out the non-
essential words to leave a core of substance
on which the reader weaves their heart round yours’.

Now, you can guess.
A bull-head,
Old in tooth and claw.
Almost ravaged, ghostly maw.

It was a Bird’s sigh.  Few,
I thought me herded the wynd
But I was wrung and we clapped eyes
On the belles that parodied on the sea font
With church of the aisles high behind skies
Like a cigarette, blackly stippled in blue beyond.

From the story balcony like grey fenced greats
You could hang and leer at the satirised dresses
And open cups below.  As whines flow in a stream,
Grapes bobbing over broken black and white creases,
Through holes draped over the steppes, late,
To emerge, droll over glistening crystal.

Gambling on whether, dry or knot,
Gambolling on sheers, brushing high ears.
Walking like ants in a purple haze.  And the wind
Curling the rain and slipping the sheets of the boots
Wading on metal water to metre or not.
Glistening as the wind hits drums, wavering giants.

Pounding down stares, past satyrs,
Broken as looking glass giving years
And the sun steeples across lost tracks.
Through wrack, twinned feet, fore feet hounding across.
The steppes, the sand-paper lawn littered with tan-bleached forms
And origami stilted hats.

The gulls creaked as they flew overhead spilling their craw
And the bells rang from the cliff-high steeple.
From its doors crawled the people edging the sheep-strewn lawns.
And below, the sea-view villas, and below the sea-salt road
And below the balmy beach.
And below; the empty strands.


A little light
‘Raise the light, sonny, I can’t see your face no more’
The dark was crowding in, cold fingers round the door
So I gently, gently lifted the flickering charcoaled wick
Toward the stricken face of the man, so sick.

‘I am done-for, killed, but slowly-slew’
He hoarsely spoke and wagged a finger to closer come,
To listen and to linger.
‘Don’t be ‘fright my lad, I’m just a candle going out.   Boo!’


Guy Butler: Stranger To Europe, Poems 1939 to 1949

Published by A.A. Balkema. Capetown       1952                  23 poems

Sth Afr image

Guy Butler 1918 – 2001

Another rummage for old poetry books, this time in a charity shop and I found this title tucked away, also a selection by John Pudney, maybe more of him later……..

This is a collection of early poems by Guy Butler, recalling a moment in 1939 when the recruitment troops went round the townships of South Africa for volunteers to the Second World War.  Ending with a poem entitled,  After Ten Years,  a contemplation of his homeland, South Africa, after his travels round the war-zones of Europe and a period in England.

I took to the Internet to find more information about him and his writing.  I found  few sites and they only gave basic details of birth, death, marriage and children’s names.  Plus brief bibliographic details of his poetry, plays  autobiographic works, and his positions in a South African University.  But, despite the quality of his poetry, nothing seems to be currently available unless tucked into anthologies. There was a collected volume published some years ago (1999), now o.p..  Maybe he was not prolific or did not persevere as a poet.

I did find two poems on the site of ‘Poetry Nation Review 9’  (1979) and that was it.  From the same pages, written by David Wright, is a quote from an unnamed friend of his:  “were I asked to name the first wholly South African poet writing in English, I would point to someone few readers of poetry outside South Africa are likely to have heard of: Guy Butler, born 1918, the first to stick it out at home.”

I have no idea of the solidity of these words, I only recognise Butler’s use of language as a young man of twenty in 1939 and his acute observation of scene and mood as he was shuttled round various European theatres of war, followed by four years in England.  His subjects are different perspectives of his life throughout that period.  By 1949 his voice is still clear narrative, full of his native country though time has given him an older voice made harder, maybe, by the sights seen and time lost from his homeland.  He deserves a place as a war poet for this collection alone and I have read that his later poetry often reflected his war years and the losses and difficulties that echoed from them.  I believe his love of South Africa, its lands and heritage, drew him back to his homeland.

His remaining in South Africa through the years of apartheid may well have restricted if not  stifled his work and recognition around the English speaking world.  However, he may have felt it more important to remain in the landscape he loved.  Certainly the poetry in this book gives us colours, views and perspectives that are South African and obviously different to a strictly UK writers world.

The first poem in the book, written when he was twenty-one establishes his stance at once:
Karoo Town, 1939

In a region of thunderstorm and drought,
Under an agate sky,
Where red sand whirl-winds wander through summer,
Or thunder grows intimate with the plain, and rain
Is a great experience like birth or wonder:
By the half-dry river
The village is strung like a bead of life on the rail,
Along whose thread at intervals each day
Cones of smoke move north and south, are blown
By the prevailing winds below the clouds
That redden the sundown and the dawn.

Here the market price of wool
Comes second only to the acts of God:
Here climate integrates the landsman with his soil
And life moves on to the dictates of the season
Sth Afr image

The recruiters arrive and 31 more lines show their effect on the small town and people, but finally the landscape is superior to all:

But cannot shake the rockstill shadows of the hills
Obeying remote instructions from the sun alone.

Karoo town 1939  sets the scene, the almost timelessness of the African scene of the day.  Even the village along the railway line and the way of life seem to fit within the overall scale and continuity of a natural, unhurried flow.

And then in brief lines, the call to arms, like a sudden bugle call disrupts the scene.  The second half of the poem changes tone, focusing on people, colonial war and control.  The words harder and lines sharper, imitating the shock of war and harsh reality it brings.
But the circle is closed with a movement back into the last two lines that despite the seeming man-made tumult, the land continues, implacably influenced by greater things in the Universe.  Little rhyming, natural rather than designed, a nice alliterative, effective line towards the end but the final word has for me a rhyme, a reverberation with five lines back which effectively closes the poem.  In turn it offers a little wider reflection.

A formative poem, setting the scene for what is a set of poems, a narrative over ten years. But be aware for the last poem, After Ten Years, as the man, the poet, the landscape, has changed.

The poems have a timeline of ten years; they always retain their direct image and story but later ones stretch through the emotional hardships and losses of the war and its effects. When finally back home, in   After Ten Years   he describes this new, city-view and bemoans the dramatic changes in the streets, as the city itself and for those living there.

Mostly, this poem moves to confirm the losses of contact with the soil, magnificence of Nature and God, by the world and especially himself.  Politics of the day is not mentioned but knowing a little of the period you feel that this last poem encompasses that distress in those cities, for all its inhabitants.
Finally he vows to put past encumbrances (effects of war; reasons for loss of faith) and look to the future with an open mind.
Poems picked out: Though the whole book gives a rolling perspective of aspects of life and the poet and should ideally be read at one sitting:
Common Dawn;   Mirage;   Air Raid Before Dawn;   Bitter Little Ballad,   and Farewell in a Formal Garden

Final comment: I am so pleased to have discovered this poet and will look for his collected works, just hope I can find one.  Guy Butler could join the ranks of war poets;  also a poet to be considered for an anthology of Writers in English around the World if he is not already included somewhere.

Check out  Useful links Tag.

Extract of Karoo Town, 1939 from copy of above book, acknowledgement to AA Balkema, Capetown 1952.

Andrew Motion: A Graph Review

Andrew Motion:

Natural Causes (Chatto Poetry 1987)
Love in a Life     (faber & faber 1991)

A Graph Review: 50 with high points 70

Two books, several years apart.  The first published some 25 years ago and the other four years later.  Written by a poet immediately recognised for his skill and quality and now stands with the best of English Poets.  I am more than happy to read these, his style is of narrative, rhythm and variation, with images that both show and threaten to break away from the theme of the poem, the collection.
The two books are written by the same hand but the later,  Love in a Life shows a growth in strength of handling verse, dexterity in imagery and story-telling that stands alone.  Confidence in his own voice fills every poem of this second collection.

Natural Causes            9780701132712.    Paperback

AM natural causes coverBoth books contain many stark images.  Elements of death feature throughout.  Yes, you might say, but such good death!  He is by no means alone in having death trailing around his poetry, it is a theme well taken by many, past current and no doubt future.  It is a common theme for poets of any age and Andrew Motion links in with a full range of ability.
Love in a Life        9780571161393.     Hardback.             0571161014. Paperback

AM love in a life coverAll I can do, apart from be jealous, is let you know that here are two books worth reading, in order, together, however you fancy!   There are 19 poems in the second and 9 in the first.  A pleasing variety in length, some poems much longer than many in newer books I have read/reviewed.

UK Poet Laureate from 1999 to 2009, the first poet to accept the laureateship on condition he carried it for ten years rather than for life.  Seems a sensible arrangement as the award, though an honour is no doubt something of a burden with the expectations of ‘writing to order’ for National Events.  Mind you, either it happens or it doesn’t, is good or is not. Would it be a snap of the day that survives, good or bad in the public arena?  Any art is of the day and sits somewhere in the eye of the beholder.  If it survives on a scrap of clay or an apple tablet for a thousand years, when it is discovered, art/a poem may be still be judged as either good or bad.  Labelled art or artefact.

Natural Causes, won the Dylan Thomas Prize, 1987.

The skill in producing these two volumes shines through.  The use of language and rhythm, line lengths that vary and break like a conversation, sometimes with rhymes and par-rhymes tucked in.  His poetry contains the smooth and staccato of speech and mood. Language is part of the schematic, with dramatic changes of word-tone having the effect of an unexpected prod in the ribs.  Shifting images that break away from the scene but add balance to the subject work like cinematic shots that flick from subject to subject or current time to memory.  Much is in free verse but some cling to a little more formality.
Labels like narrative and imagist can sit easily but like all labels I prefer to use them in broadest sense and often just tuck them out of sight.  There is a quote likening him to Edward Thomas (about whom A.M. has written) which is okay by me but you can add other links like Dunn, Hughes and Larkin, (who appears in one poem and is nodded to in another).  I have also read that he liked Ivor Gurney for his spontaneity, something which A.M. also appears to have.
His tone is more strident than Ed. Thomas, tender meets anger meets confidence and he certainly does not tie himself down to rhyme that Gurney did.

I usually select a few favourites, with a total number of 28 over two books I just picked four.   I am fond of:

‘This is your subject speaking’. In memory of Philip Larkin  (Natural Causes)

Partly because I visited Hull University a few times when Larkin was still Librarian, never met him but the red brick building is impressive and sticks in the memory just because I knew he was there(!).  As with Larkin, Andrew Motion’s poetry sticks in the mind.

And also:   A Blow to the Head;    Toot Baldon;      Tamworth; ( all from Love in a Life)

Andrew Motion, poet, read him.