Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tuesday Poem - Taking Liberties On Birthdays


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 - tantalizing
                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 badlySo 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, barnacles, flying fish, salt.

                You will find our whitebait fritters irresistible, Jeanette. Your conversion 
                to blue cod with mashed kumara and fresh crushed ginger will be immediate 
                and long-lasting.

                     CB - 2007


Janet Frame was born in Dunedin on 28 August 1924; Jeanette Winterson in Manchester on 27 August 1959. We share a birthday week. In 2007, Upfront - a Dunedin-based women's poetry collective - arranged a poetry event to celebrate what would have been Janet's 83rd birthday. Taking liberties on birthdays is one of the poems I read that evening. 

Tuesday 28 August 2007 also happened to be the date of a total lunar eclipse whose every phase was visible to us here in New Zealand. Total eclipses of the moon are remarkable, slow-moving spectacles; the deep, three-dimensional reality of our universe comes alive in a graceful celestial ballet as the moon swings unhurriedly through Earth's shadow.

Jeanette Winterson in front of her Spitalfield's Market shop, London

      University Book Shop's display of Janet Frame's latest collection Gorse Is Not People

Over on the TP hub this week, our editor is Australian poet P. S. Cottier with Piecemeal by Sarah Rice, described by Penelope as ". . . one of the most intellectually energetic people I have met.  Stand by her and the ideas swarm out like bees, but multi-coloured bees without stings. . . "


  1. A fantastic poem, Claire. A fantastic idea - gorgeous language - love the ending. If only you'd be able to do such a thing! X

  2. What a lovely idea and a lovely poem! Two of my favourite authors too.

  3. Great poem, Claire. Yes, Jeanette Winterson could not resist blue cod. What mere mortal could?