Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tuesday Poem - Taking Liberties

for Jeanette Winterson and Janet Frame

We have in common red hair, an appetite
for oranges, a habit of making characters
out of computers, cast-iron baths and cats.

Tonight, I will presume friendship
and arrange a birthday dinner.

Janet and I will come to you, Jeanette.
A Northern Hemisphere dinner under the eye
of a lunar eclipse feels - what word will I choose?
Possible? Overdue? Appropriate? Besides, it's time
we visited Verde's, your green food shop
at Spitalfield's Market. It's difficult to resist
your restoration tales, spitting baths of lime plaster,
Jack the Ripper's blood-stained cobbles,
a dead fruit-seller trading on your initials, JW.

You're emphatic, "Life's too short to eat badly."
So zealous are you, you took pestle and mortar,
ground the fragments of an ancient leaning house
to dust. You added metal, brace and spice, created
a flash new food shop whose lungs now fill
with the scents of French saffron and fugitive
Indian cardamom. You believe in soup
and slow cookers, take time to transform
the letters of your name into endless varieties of tajine.

Janet and I will bring produce from our own
farmers' market. Under cover at Dunedin's railway station,
I will choose blue cod, whitebait, globe artichokes
and Evansdale cheese. She will insist on tamarillos,
feijoas and passionfruit, luscious accompaniments
for the coffee banana cake she'll bake; no need
for the recipe she sent to friends
in letters in the mid-1970s.

Together, as the earth shutters the moon, we will fire
the old coal range in Brushfield Street, create
a simple meal of complex parts. We will speak
of our affection for lighthouses, how we might
seem tame and yet are feral creatures, at home
amongst kelp, flying fish and salt.

I think you will find our whitebait fritters impossible
to resist, Jeanette, imagine your conversion
to blue cod with mashed kumara and fresh crushed ginger
will be immediate and long-lasting.

CB - Dunedin 2007


Janet Frame was born in Dunedin on 28 August 1924; Jeanette Winterson in Manchester on 27 August 1959. In 2007, Upfront - a Dunedin-based women's poetry collective - arranged a poetry event to celebrate what would have been Janet's 83rd birthday. Tuesday 28 August 2007 happened also to be the date of a total lunar eclipse, whose every phase was visible to us in New Zealand.

Total eclipses of the moon are not altogether uncommon but they are nevertheless remarkable spectacles - slow-moving, mysterious and accessible to anyone willing to turn their gaze upwards. A lunar eclipse can be appreciated as an event that vividly illustrates our place amongst the other planets in the solar system; the three-dimensional reality of our universe comes alive in a graceful celestial ballet as the moon swings unhurriedly through Earth's shadow.

I wrote Taking Liberties on Birthdays to mark the coming together of what I considered to me a significant conjunction; namely, the birthdays of two favourite women writers, the lunar eclipse and - rather further down the list - my own birthday which falls within the same week as theirs.


For more Tuesday Poems, click here

(not) Blue at 22


  1. What a complex, festive imagining of what could so easily have been real, given the way time might bend and our simple, generous wishes be granted. I love the textures and flavors and the perfectly-matched companions.

  2. 'As the earth shutters the moon', 'our affection for lighthouses', 'at home amongst kelp, flying fish and salt', the whitebait fritters, and so much more besides... this is a magnificent tale, Claire, superbly told. X

  3. Claire, I hope you've sent this to JW. I imagine JF has it already and is chuckling. Fabulous.

  4. this is a fantastic poem! The food is luscious. And I love the conceit of the three writers coming together. As Mary has already said, there are some beautiful lines. I particularly liked 'as the earth shutters the moon'. Are you going to send it to JF and JW?

  5. Hello Marylinn, Mary, Pen & Kathleen - who knows... perhaps we'll end up having a meal together one day? A Blog Banquet could be a fun thing to set up? (We could nominate a time to suit our N & S Hemispheres, bring our favourite dish, drink, flowers, candles, lay them on a big trestle table...). I know a couple whose work requires them to spend a lot of time apart. They cook together on Skype, prepare the same meal, pour wine, sit down together to eat...

    Thanks for getting into the spirit of this poem!

    (One day, Pen, I WILL send it to JW... the envelope's addressed 'n all!) x

  6. I love this - thumbing the nose to time and geography and organising a sumptuous get-together, with all its sumpuosity. I'd love to think a bit of it could happen in real time ... Px

  7. Dear Map

    What we have - regardless of time, form or place - is this ongoing feast of conversation.

    I was thinking about the similarity between blogs and air plants the other day.


    Air plants are able to - and do - thrive without needing to put their roots into soil. They feed on nutrients brought to them on air.

    I've always loved air plants (the courtyard at 22 was full of them when I first came here) and I see us all as being a bit like air plants in the blogosphere. Another vital thing about these plants is that they are not parasitic. They don't take anything away from their host or companion plants; they form relationships that are symbiotic - mutually supportive, mutually nourishing, mutually respectful and enhancing. I love that about them and about our blog community... ; )

    L, C xx