Lifesaving Poems: Connie Bensley’s ‘Sunday Lunchtime’

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I first came across ‘Sunday Lunchtime’ in a copy of Sunk Island Review, edited by Michael Blackburn. You can find the poem in her marvellous Bloodaxe collection Choosing to Be a Swan (1994).

As I have written before, this was a period of my life when reading and writing poems seemed to me as important and necessary as breathing. I subscribed to everything which moved, partly in the hope it would increase my chances of having my poems accepted. (For the record, this strategy never came close to working for Sunk Island Review, a fact I remain curiously proud of to this day).

What struck me then and still gives pleasure now is the way the poem deals with difficult everyday material in an apparently artless fashion. Biblical and religious references share the same earth as the Sunday Sport, Concorde and corner shops. It is a perfect working model of propriety and tact.

I have used Bensley’s poems ‘The Star and the Birds’ and ‘Rust’ (which are also to be found in the same book) as exemplars of writing which successfully blends imagery from two contrasting vocabularies. In ‘Sunday Lunchtime’ the ‘whirlpools of the launderette’ recall the miracle at the pool of healing at Bethesda in John’s gospel. It comes as no surprise when ‘The Church of Healing’ itself is mentioned: this is a world where ‘smells of soapsuds and roast beef’ reside next to ‘celestial’ cities.

None of this would count for much, however, without the low-key exhilaration of the poem’s final lines. The shift of perspective offered here is both sudden and deft. Concorde arrives silently across car windows and is caught up as it were by its own jet engines. Our most soaring and complex invention is reinvented ‘tiny as a paper dart’, a true and rueful coming back to earth born from a gaze that is heavenwards in reverse.

Sunday Lunchtime

 

The whirlpools of the launderette

do not recognise the Sabbath,

 

so the air in Worple Street

smells of soapsuds and roast beef.

 

The Church of Healing is silent

with endeavour – and the Oddfellows

 

have gathered in their Hall –

now they’ll be there till evening.

 

Mr Patel leans on his counter

and reads about HEAVEN ON EARTH –

 

A celestial city discovered by Sunday Sport

as a change from sex. In the street

 

Concorde glides across car windows,

noisy as hell, but tiny as a paper dart.

 

Connie Bensley, from Choosing to Be a Swan 

Lifesaving Poems

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