Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Elizabeth Bishop - 'Songs for a Colored Singer'.

Elizabeth Bishop is a favourite poet of mine.  My attraction to her work makes me acutely aware of how few female poets I have among my favourites.  Why is that, I wonder?  Are there not women who quirk my soul; whom I can read and say, ‘oh, yes’!?  It does worry me, enough for me to grab a dictionary and look up the meaning of ‘misogynist’ when our prime minister, Julia Gillard accused Tony Abbot of being one when he kept making negative comments about her style.  Anyway, for the time being Elizabeth is one of the few women whose poetry says ‘oh, yes’ to me.  Doesn’t mean I’m not looking for others.  One of my ‘oh yes’ poems from Elizabeth is her Songs for a Colored Singer.  And that’s where it’s not about gender.  It’s about capturing the voice of the person (in this case the character talking to herself, or a friend).  This is another poem that I want to recite aloud and I want to do it in a sassy, negro accent.  I’ve heard that voice and I love to listen to it, and Elizabeth has recorded it in high fidelity and it is beautiful.  I’m aware of two things in a poem – content and construction.  The content of this poem appeals to a quirky humour (my sense of humour).  People say honest, funny things (or in a beautiful way), and Songs for a Colored Singer influences me to listen more to what people are saying – in public, at work, on buses, in coffee shops……and write the sayings down.  That’s how I was influenced to write my poem, ‘Jason and the Hypnotist’.  But first -
Songs for a Colored Singer
 A washing hangs upon the line,
   but it’s not mine.
None of the things that I can see
   belong to me.
The neighbours got a radio with an aerial;
   we got a little portable.
They got a lot of closet space;
   we got a suitcase.
I say, ‘Le Roy, just how much are we owing?
Something I can’t comprehend,
the more we got the more we spend…..’
He only answers, ‘Let’s get going.’
Le Roy, you’re earning too much money now.
I sit and look at our backyard
   and find it very hard.
What have we got for all his dollars and cents?
   - A pile of bottles by the fence.
He’s faithful and he’s kind
   but he sure has an inquiring mind.
He’s seen a lot; he’s bound to see the rest,
   and if I protest
Le Roy answers with a frown,
‘darling, when I earns I spends,
The world is wide, it still extends……..
I’m going to get a job in the next town.’
Le Roy, you’re earning too much money now.
The time has come to call a halt;
And so it ends.
He’s gone off with his other friends.
He needn’t try to make amends,
This occasion’s all his fault.
Through rain and dark I see his face
across the street at Flossie’s place.
He’s drinking in the warm pink glow
To th’ accompaniment of the piccolo ….
There’re three more verses.  You should get a copy and have fun reciting it.  The other thing I admire in this poem of Elizabeth’s is the free and easy rhyming – worked repeatedly and not forced.  I’ve got enough to contend with thinking about the accent and voice in my poem to have to worry about rhyme – rhyme can come later.
2007.  I’ve never volunteered to be a hypnotist’s subject myself, too timid, but I have attended the odd club act with less reserved mates and smiled wryly at their performance on stage.  The accent in this poem was inspired by a subject being interviewed after a street performance with Jason Brown in the UK and, in attempting to understand how Jason had performed his trick, the guy says, “me ‘ed is chaos inside”.
Jason and the Hypnotist

You know,
Dat bit where we is s’posed to be thinkin we is chickens,
An I flops me hand on da lap of dat girl sitting next to me,
Like it is not in control of meself,
Gives her leg a right touch up,
Dat bit I wuz fakin it mon,
An I tells you, dat girl,
I knows she is fakin it too,
When she does lift da hand and puts it back to where it belong.
But dat thing wit da money, mon,
At da moment me ed is chaos inside,
From tryin to know ow ‘e is doing it,
Goin thru me purse and pockets from on da outside like dat,
An all the time seein what is being on da inside,
Da mon is bein a genius, when ‘e is tellin me
I is got five quid in ma top pocket,
When ah knows Carolin is borrowed already,
An I is only lef thirty-one P dis mornin.
                                                                                      J.O. White

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