08 August 2013

Poetry Thursday - Opera by Robert Crawford

The world needs poems celebrating the sewing machine! (via)
by Robert Crawford

Throw all your stagey chandeliers in wheelbarrows and move them north
To celebrate my mother's sewing machine
And her beneath an eighty-watt bulb, pedalling
Iambs on an antique metal footplate
Powering the needle through its regular lines,
Doing her work. To me as a young boy
That was her typewriter. I'd watch
Her hands and feet in unison, or read
Between her calves the wrought-iron letters:
SINGER. Mass-produced polished wood and metal,
It was a powerful instrument. I stared
Hard at its brilliant needle's eye that purred
And shone at night; and then each morning after
I went to work at school, wearing her songs.

from 101 Sonnets, edited by Don Patterson

At the start of the poem you expect it to be about music, drama, stageyness - but it's something quite different, much more domestic and personal. The mother is "pedalling iambs" - the poetry of work, foretelling the son's type of work, and the "regular lines" of her sewing are juxtaposed with his own sort of lines, produced on a typewriter.

opera (n.) - "a drama sung" [Klein], 1640s, from Italian opera, literally "a work, labor, composition," from Latin opera "work, effort"

Robert Crawford (b.1959) teaches literature at St Andrews University and has written, among much else, an applauded biography of Robert Burns.

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