Katherine McGuigan

A second year BA Creative Writing student shares a poem written for the optional ‘Advanced Poetry’ module, and provides a commentary on her inspirations and editing processes.

The Wife

Sunlight pours through the slats of the shutters.
Shadows of golden hour dance across her face.
There she sits – so still, so perfect
in the warm glow of dusk, masked by
a swelling sandstorm of dust surging skywards.

Her breath so soft.
Her spirit so peaceful.
She tries to dart her gaze away – so coy –
as I reach for her hair – as I do every morning –
stroking it gently out of her face.

But she never says a word.
Day and night she waits
with her wide brown stare.
My helpmeet; glory of God.
I’ve made a fine wife from my chosen maid.

The twitch of a smile behind the gag
as I loosen the straps around her scarlet wrist.
Sighs of delight escape her,
the iron dragging across her neck,
as I curl her soft brown hair.

Just as I like it.

This poem, part of my portfolio for the BA Creative Writing ‘Advanced Poetry’ optional module, was initially inspired by Don Paterson’s ‘The Lie’, included in his collection Rain (Faber, 2009). The dark and disturbing tone of this poem left me with a sense of festering unease that inspired me to write. I chose this title ‘The Wife’ as it is suitably ambiguous, allowing for the gradual revealing of information to the reader, which eventually culminates in the final lines of the poem, revealing the sinister nature of the narrator’s relationship with his wife. While I did consider using the title ‘The Woman’, which would dehumanise her fittingly, I wanted there to remain a sense that, while the reader understands the horror, the narrator does not, and thus ‘The Woman’ would be too impersonal for the level of affection that he feels towards her.

I wanted the details and imagery to convey the sense that the surroundings are dank and uninhabitable. Initially motivated to add depth to the imagery by Togara Muzanenhamo’s description of a ‘rush of rich carmine silt’ (line 4) in his poem ‘Alderflies’, from his collection Gumiguru (Carcanet, 2014), this process was further inspired by the chapter ‘The Five Senses’ from Fairfax and Moat’s The Way to Write (Penguin, 1998). I used Muzanenhamo’s description to inspire my portrayal of the room as thick with dust and sensorily overwhelming. While the poem initially described a ‘dust storm’, I expanded upon this description following peer feedback regarding the vague meaning of the phrase, with this line then expanding to become ‘a swelling sandstorm of dust surging skywards’, which is said to ‘mask’ the woman, elevating the level of sensory detail. Furthermore, I utilised repeating sibilant sounds to create a sense of unease within the reader from the first stanza with the continual harsh, hissing sounds throughout.

During workshopping, interpretations of the initial draft of ‘The Wife’ as having an implication of mutual consent to the relationship led me to seek ways to clarify my intentions without overburdening the poem. I began by focusing on the third and fourth stanzas, where lines such as ‘day and night […] joyfully available’ and ‘she’ll make a fine wife’ became ‘day and night […] her wide brown stare’ and ‘I’ve made a fine wife from my chosen maid’ respectively, which then negates any sense that the woman may be an active participant in the scenario, describing her in a manner that denotes her discomfort and lack of consent. While this lack of clarity in the woman’s discomfort was, in part, led by the narrator’s portrayal of her ‘coyness’, I focused on removing any doubt surrounding the experience of the wife, while still conveying the delusion of the narrator.

Wendy Cope’s extensive use of intertextuality throughout Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis (Faber, 1986) inspired me to explore this technique within my own work, weaving in references to Charlotte Mew’s ‘The Farmer’s Bride’. These references can be seen through lines such as ‘wide brown stare’ and ‘my chosen maid’, which consciously draw on Mew’s Farmer having ‘chose a maid’ (line 1) who is described as ‘lying awake with her wide brown stare’ (13). Additionally, while simultaneously referring to Fundamentalist Christian minister and cult leader Bill Gothard’s fixation with long, curled hair, the ‘long brown hair’ in the fourth stanza also refers to the final stanza from Mew’s poem, where the narrator is fantasising about ‘The soft young down […] the brown of her’ (45 – 46). I chose to allude to this poem as it is one that inspires a comparable level of discomfort and unease to Paterson’s ‘The Lie’.

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