Eleven days to go. The pressure’s on. Fifty of you waiting till the last minute. Not to worry. Or perhaps not. I’ve been thinking that it’s a harder business than I thought when I blithely thought it would be A Good Idea to be inspired by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s Swineherd. I keep going back to it, and realising that it’s so much smarter than I thought it was…and I’ve always thought it was remarkably smart. It’s the business of never actually saying what his job involved, leaving it all implicit, all to be inferred from what he dreams of ‘when all this is finished’. The skills he’ll acquire. The conversations he’ll have, the way the trees will be, and so on.
I said that I’d post some poems about occupations and professions that doe the opposite…that actually describe the job, and then I’ve wondered, if the narrator really wanted something different, what that different thing would be. It’s a lot easier to celebrate the craft of a trade, because, when you think about it, that’s a given. And in any case, I probably wouldn’t have been writing about it if I didn’t think it was interesting. Why would the narrator want to give it up, or imagine that the person he’s writing about would want to.
One of my cousins was a milliner. She made amazing hats for weddings and so on. She had a cramped little shop she’d inherited from her mother, and I loved going there, just looking, wanting to touch and feel: the fabrics, the textures, the colours. For some reason, I wrote this. The motivation still puzzles me.
I think I would have liked, just once,
a fitting at a milliner’s, a jumbled space,
a comfortably fussy woman with small scissors,
pins between pursed lips, and wisps
of hair escaping, wayward, from a bun.
I think she’s wearing black, and a cameo brooch
and touch of rouge. I think she smells
of Parma Violets, Cussons talcum powder.
I think there are muticoloured reels,
ends of rickrack, bias bindings, tiny satin flowers,
and hats with floppy brims on blank-faced Nefertiti heads,
and lots of little drawers, gilt mirrors, and a hush.
And I want a cloche in soft velour, dove-grey
or dusty-pink, and a deep, deep violet band,
and one white linen rose.
I think I would have relished that.
If I was going to tackle this imagined milliner in homage to Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin’s poem, I’d have to be thinking of what would be banished. Multifariousness, finicky stitching, maybe the shop-door bell, all the pretty clutter, like the dressing table in The rape of the lock
Here files of pins extend their shining rows,
Puffs, powders, patches, bibles, billet-doux.
Maybe I’d be wanting some stripped back minimalist whiter than white bit of modernism. And vistas. Or maybe I’d want to work on a farm, a sheep farm, a dairy farm. And so on. So I’m writing this in solidarity. It’s hard. Thank you for joining in.