Thursday, 26 April 2012


I've deliberately avoided going over to the other posts on the  5-2 tour in case this poem was already chosen.  It made more sense for me to just do this and find out later.

By way of an introduction, I'd like to highlight my own favourite 'crime poet'.  I doubt he's been called that before, but he writes about injustice and injustice is a crime.  In his words he tells stories that can be violent and very hard-hitting, but it's the rhythm that I love - that dub bass line pattern, the holes and the resonance mixing with the staccato.  Try this link to Linton Kwesi Johnson and I hope you'll hear what I mean.  Or try this one here, or even this one here.  Brilliant.

Now over to the 5-2. 

I've chosen this poem to think about.  It's from The Lineup:  Poems On Crime 3

Articulating Space

by Patricia Abbott

The winter after the assault she made
A series of small quilts patterned on Paul Klee
paintings there were difficulties of course
since the books she used for sources
varied in the precise tint of all those little squares
that sometimes looked like bandages strung end to end
also the squares lost their plumb perfection like
a face pummelled out of it's natural symmetry
and other times the squares seemed rigidly square just
the way he liked things and she felt calm
sitting on the floor amongst the pieces for a minute
before she grew frantic that she could ever
get it right with all the piecing dependent
on what seemed to be but weren't random
choices once finished the quilts were different
from her image of the Klees unframed
they seemed bulky and primitive on the white walls
he insisted on and if she framed the quilts they floated
like fragile fiber sailboats on a chintz black sea.

There are so many things to think about when looking at a poem, but for me the first reaction is usually arrived at without much thought at all.  It's all about discerning the patterns and the flow and the way it feels as it reads.  How the words fit together.  Bounce off each other.  Hold hands or kick hell out of those near.  Architecture with words.

Patricia Abbot gives plenty to savour on a first reading.  It has that flow, like the tide, like the sailboats that finish it off bobbing up and down on the waves.

The opening line tells all we need to know about the back-story, the reasons the quilts are being made.  It's the winter after the assault.  No need to embellish.

Then we come to Paul Klee. 

I imagine the author in a gallery one day looking at one of his paintings and experiencing a reaction, logging it for the day a poem might work.  What I think she might have seen is the contradictions I feel when I look myself.  On the face of things there is order.  Neat shapes.  Symmetry.  Pattern.

Stand there long enough and those initial moments of observation are turned on their head. 

What seemed still begins to move, the kind of movement that you can never actually catch.  It's a confused movement that almost creates sea-sickness.  There is only the illusion of symmetry.  An odd shape or choice of colour might single one piece out from the rest.  Stability at first becomes unreliability, a bit like I imagine a life might imitate after an assault.

And there's the act of quilt making itself.  It would be hard to imagine a more suitable analogy for the reconstruction of a life.

As she works, the assault continually haunts her.  There are the shapes 'like bandages'.  A 'face pummelled out of its natural symmetry'. There are moments of calm shattered by anxieties about her pieces and the choices that have been made, and with them the responsibilities of choice and maybe the choices of her assailant.

So who was the attacker?  The man (?) who shattered this lady's world?  I'm not sure, but I'm going for the partner, the man who insists upon the clean white walls and maybe the squares being perfect the way he likes them, as if pleasing him is not just satisfying but essential.

All the time she's put in and they're not quite right.  They didn't help her to glue her life back together just the way it was before.  They're bulky.  Bloated.  Her life is as fragile as the sailboats on the sea.  For her, the sea might be the eggshells upon she has to walk.

That's what I see as the story and, because I'm not an academic, it doesn't matter if I'm right or wrong.  It's the way it looks to me.

The other factors about this piece which I enjoy relate to the choice of words themselves. 

You have a lovely flow, gentle for most of the piece.  When it comes to the disturbance the words get a little harder and sharper - frantic, dependent, random.  To help it along, the smoothing 's' starts and ends and the more bumpy plosives from 'b' and 'p' (almost 10% of the words begin with a 'b' or a 'p', 25% have a strong 's' or 'sh' sound).

There are those slick alliterations: Paul Klee paintings; plumb perfection like a face pummelled; she made a series of small quilts; after the assault she made a; framed the quilts they floated like fragile fiber.

All of these things point to the skill of the writer.

My feeling?

I enter feeling sad that there was an assault.  I wish it hadn't happened.

I leave with that same feeling of sadness that life will never be the same, no matter how many quilts are made, sensing that the hidden frailties of being human will forever be within the vision of this woman.

Which is why I like to read poetry - to have my senses and feelings played about with without from a tiny dose of reading. 

You can find more poems in The Lineup: Poems On Crime 4


  1. A fantastic poem ... thank you for bringing it to my attention. Is there anything Patricia Abbott can't do? I eagerly await a novel.

  2. Wow, Nigel. Thanks so much for your reading of the poem. I can't think of a better interpretation. So much of writing poetry is intuitive for me--I don't do it much--so seeing it laid out like this was actually informative for me.

  3. Anything she can't do? With a pen and paper, I doubt it (unless she's rubbish at drawing).

    And Patti, I can feel that it's intuitive. I imagine your choices are from a natural understanding of words and wordplay rather than conscious forcing, which make it all the sweeter to read.