I first had the pleasure of reading this remarkable and delightful poem by Janet Fisher in 2001 in the company of a room full of chuckling people with Ann Sansom at the Arvon Foundation Writing Centre at Totleigh Barton.
It is from her wonderful collection of the same name, which you can find on the Smith Doorstop website.
What I felt about the poem then, and still feel now, is that it appears artless, almost ‘careless’, as the poem has it. It is anything but. Comprising just two sentences, it is a bravado display of control which moves between defiance and despair, so neatly encapsulated in the final line.
It is a brilliant example of how a poem can appear to be ‘about’ one thing (dying your hair, secret trips to Boots), but is just as much ‘about’ other things (age, sex and death). The tension between the ‘artificial’ products described and the inevitability of being told you look old by teenagers is what gives the poem its energy and ‘finish’.
If you haven’t read Janet Fisher’s work before, this is a great place to start -but you should also check out her wonderful book Brittle Bones (Salt, 2008). I do think she is one of the sanest poets who has ever lived.
Women Who Dye Their Hair
Some of us have done it since our twenties
when our hair turned white on the death of a loved one
or it ran in the family like baldness, and some of us
spray red or purple on shaved stubble,
and others have let it creep up on us,
counting the odd hair, then the fifth, the fiftieth,
till our teenagers point out how old we’re getting
but our lovers who hate anything artificial
like make-up and sequins, though they accept
icecream and the Pill, say we shouldn’t bother,
so we steal home from Boots with the ColorGlo
and lock ourselves in the bathroom in rubber gloves,
emerge an hour later ten years younger
with a smart grey streak over one temple
and mahogany smudges round the jaw line.
And when the roots start to show we carelessly
pop into the hairdresser and book a colour
which means a cut and finish and takes all morning
so we can catch up on our reading, extending
our knowledge of the stars and multiple orgasm,
but we have to go every six weeks or it starts to fade
and by now the local firm is turning our hair to hay
so we find a better one at fifty quid a splash,
a rollercoaster we can’t get off of,
and we decide to let it all grow out and be our age
which isn’t a hundred and five but might as well be.
Janet Fisher, from Women Who Dye Their Hair (Smith Doorstop, 2001)