12 July 2018

Poetry Thursday - heroic women

These poems were encountered on Radio 3's "Words and Music" programme about Heroines (Sunday 10 June). The online notes, on the programme's website, gave a bit of background to each work.

Penelope, by Anthony Howell

Hear and read the poem here (it's an "unpublished poem") - the first stanza is repeated with slight variations -
To do what you did
The night before
To undo what you did
The day before 
Anthony Howell’s poem refers to the wife of Odysseus who, while her husband was missing presumed dead on his voyage, is besieged by would-be replacements. She says she will choose one when she has finished making a funeral shroud for her father-in-law. Each day she would weave a section and each night unravel it only to start all over again the next day. By this subterfuge she fends off the suitors.
If you're wondering how Penelope ever got any sleep, having to undo her laborious daytime weaving by night, consider that it's much faster to pull a thread out  than to put it in. She would have been using a frame loom of some sort, putting in the threads with her fingers, a slow process - but so much quicker, just one movement really, to pull the threads out.
Penelope's loom, reconstructed (via)

Rosa, by Rita Dove
Rosa Parks, 60 anni fa il gesto simbolo della lotta al razzismo
Alabama, December 1955 (via)
How she sat there,
the time right inside a place
so wrong it was ready.
That trim name with
its dream of a bench
to rest on. Her sensible coat.
Doing nothing was the doing:
the clean flame of her gaze
carved by a camera flash.
How she stood up
when they bent down to retrieve
her purse. That courtesy.

From "On the Bus With Rosa Parks," by Rita Dove (W.W. Norton) (via)
Rosa Parks was another heroine of the American civil rights movement. In 1955 she refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama to a white passenger sparking a boycott of buses in one of the first direct action protests in the campaign against segregation. This is commemorated in the poem Rosa by Rita Dove, the first African-American to have been appointed Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.

Also from that programme, I can't resist adding a little something that turned out to be by Roald Dahl -

Little Red Riding Hood And The Wolf

As soon as Wolf began to feel
That he would like a decent meal,
He went and knocked on Grandma's door.
When Grandma opened it, she saw
The sharp white teeth, the horrid grin,
And Wolfie said, 'May I come in?'
Poor Grandmamma was terrified,
'He's going to eat me up!' she cried.
And she was absolutely right.
He ate her up in one big bite.
But Grandmamma was small and tough,
And Wolfie wailed, 'That's not enough!
I haven't yet begun to feel
That I have had a decent meal!'
He ran around the kitchen yelping,
'I've got to have a second helping!'

Then added with a frightful leer,
'I'm therefore going to wait right here
Till Little Miss Red Riding Hood
Comes home from walking in the wood.'

He quickly put on Grandma's clothes,
(Of course he hadn't eaten those).
He dressed himself in coat and hat.
He put on shoes, and after that,
He even brushed and curled his hair,
Then sat himself in Grandma's chair.

In came the little girl in red.
She stopped. She stared. And then she said,
'What great big ears you have, Grandma.'
'All the better to hear you with,'
the Wolf replied.
'What great big eyes you have, Grandma.'
said Little Red Riding Hood.
'All the better to see you with,'
the Wolf replied.
He sat there watching her and smiled.
He thought, I'm going to eat this child.
Compared with her old Grandmamma,
She's going to taste like caviar.

Then Little Red Riding Hood said, '
But Grandma, what a lovely great big
furry coat you have on.'

'That's wrong!' cried Wolf.
'Have you forgot
To tell me what BIG TEETH I've got?
Ah well, no matter what you say,
I'm going to eat you anyway.'

The small girl smiles. One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.
She aims it at the creature's head,
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead.

A few weeks later, in the wood,
I came across Miss Riding Hood.
But what a change! No cloak of red,
No silly hood upon her head.
She said, 'Hello, and do please note
My lovely furry wolfskin coat.' 

The role of Grandma traditionally takes on a decidedly sinister tone in the story of Little Red Riding Hood. The way Roald Dahl tells it in his rhyming version, the russet hatted girl is very much the heroine, not bothering to wait for the woodcutter to rescue her but taking the initiative in dispatching the wolf herself.

The girl done good (via)

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