When poets don’t appear

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I have been thinking a lot recently about the career trajectory of poets, including my own, whose work briefly becomes visible then vanishes as quickly as it appeared.

I was reflecting on this especially the other day on picking up another favourite-obscure anthology, Faber and Faber’s Hard Lines 3, edited by Fanny Dubes, Ian Dury and Tom Paulin (1987).

I have always been very struck by the first poem in the book, Caroline Yasunaga’s ‘Morning’. It seems to me a marvellous example of unadorned simplicity, both tonally consistent on its own terms and entirely suited to its occasion.

Ann Sansom has a great workshop exercise involving writing about mornings using the poems of Billy Collins and Jonathan Swift. Readers of this blog will know how much Mark Strand’s ‘A Morning’ means to me. I think Caroline Yasunaga’s poem is up there with them. And I know less about her, or what happened to her and her writing, than I do Susannah Amoore or Shirley Bell.

That is a shame, because ‘Morning’ is perfect.

It is a poem of presence and paying attention. In drawing attention to its own noticing, of ‘gentleness’, ‘greetings’ and ‘fluttering’, the poem requires us to observe what is otherwise forgotten before ‘the day sets in’, transforming its occasion as it proceeds, but never seeking to outstrip it. I can’t ask for more.

 

Morning

 

The gentleness of secretaries in the morning is something

to behold. When they are arriving, fluttering through the

office and settling to their desks. They are cheery when

exchanging greetings and stories. I have noticed the

gentleness of secretaries before the day sets in and

before they are no longer available to themselves.

 

Caroline Yasunaga, from Hard Lines 3 (Faber, 1987)

13 comments

  1. Mark Granier

    Lovely Anthony, I like the repetition of the opening phrase and that’s a great last line. But I don’t get the odd lineation (particularly in lines 2,3 and 4); something of a prose poem about it.

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    • Anthony Wilson

      Hi Mark
      Thanks for your comment. You are right, it is prosy isn’t it? It is exactly as printed in the book, and I wonder if the lines fell where they did because that’s where the edge of the page is… Somehow if it were more polished on the other hand I wonder if it would retain the same charm and directness….?
      As ever with thanks
      Anthony

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  2. socialbridge

    Thanks Anthony for introducing me to Caroline Yasunaga’s ‘Morning.’ What perception! I wonder its prose-style was selected to highlight the informality associated with the ‘pre-work’ chatterings.
    That last line will stay with me for a long, long time!

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  3. Mandy_S

    It’s strange when real talent vanishes from the poetry scene, isn’t it. I remember a brilliant young woman poet from Huddersfield who I saw read once, years ago. I looked for her name in mags and anthologies for years but no luck. I can’t remember it now, of course!

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    • Anthony Wilson

      Hi Mandy. I have that experience constantly. Where is that poem about a fry-up I once read in the Rialto? It’s gone. My fault for not carrying the proverbial notebook around with me absolutely everywhere.
      As ever with thanks
      Anthony

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  4. Stephen S. Power

    What I find interesting about the poem is what it says about the narrator. S/he is not a secretary. S/he is out of fashion (secretaries are now executive assistants). S/he is dismissive of their work because they are female (would a writer use “flutter” and “cheery” and “gentleness” re men, as if they are chickens; hence the use of the word secretaries). And s/he has assumes that being a secretary makes one powerless (“gentleness) and submissive (“no longer available to themselves”) as opposed to whatever his/her jobis, even though it’s likely the narrator is a wage-slave too, just higher paid. Clearly the narrator never had to deal with the EAs who help their bosses keep the wheels running smoothly and are forces to be reckoned with themselves.

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    • Anthony Wilson

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment on this poem, Stephen.
      I’m not sure I agree with you. I find nothing dismissive in the poem’s tone at all.
      If anything the speaker is as gentle towards the secretaries as the secretaries appear to each other.
      I think the line about workers being ‘no longer available to themselves’ is a good example of how poem’s speaker communicates solidarity with those she is speaking about. I don’t find it condescending at all. If I did, I don’t think I would have posted it.
      Yours with good wishes and thanks
      Anthony

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Mandy_S

    Also, the poem was written in 1987, when secretaries were still secretaries. Though I remember the term ‘personal assistant’ too, and in fact trained to be one in 1982, when the role mainly entailed making your (usually male) boss’s life easier. Still, ‘gentleness’ to me doesn’t indicate powerlessness, rather a subtle and mature take on life, and ‘no longer available to themselves’ seems a brilliant way to describe being very busy working for someone else and therefore having to put certain aspects of oneself on hold. That’s a different thing from submissiveness.

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  6. Rob Miles

    To me it reads like old fashioned Larkin in a way, but from another perspective – at least these aren’t ‘loaf-haired’ secretaries. Gentle or not, I like those odd line breaks – like an old typewriter skidding to the end and back again.

    Liked by 1 person

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