Mary MacRae’s second collection
published Aug 10 by Second Light Publications. See order form (pdf file) for discount offers
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August, the end of our annual round (the 9th) of the monthly online poetry competition. Dilys Wood has selected her overall winner, Mrs Tennyson is Interviewed in the Morning Room at Farringford, by Maggie Norton. A recording of Maggie reading her poem will be added to our digital archive later in the year.
It was very hard to make a choice from poems already chosen as ‘winners’ by others. The modes covered were widely different – intense personal and autobiographical material, profound meditations, and two life-stories of women of the past, of which the chosen poem (Mrs Tennison is Interviewed in the Morning Room at Farringford) was (marginally) the more ambitious. Maggie Norton’s poem is on the lines of Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife collection – that is, a monologue from a woman married to a famous man, in this case revealing his condescension and her self-sacrifice to the point of wearing herself out (“a weary dragging pain that chains / me to this sofa”).
Mrs Tennyson’s gushing delusions about her god-like husband are conveyed in the language, tone, pace and music of the poem, reminding us that this is the work of a poet as well as a writer with an excellent sense of dramatic irony. There is full appreciation of the submissive language and expectations of a period when women were called ‘helpmeets’, but the poem’s conscious evocation of Old Testament ideas of women eternally subordinate to men has also up-to-date relevance.
And Life with the Great Poet?
I feel so privileged, being Alfred’s helpmeet
copying his works, for his hand is clarity itself.
All correspondence I attempt to answer in his style
and ink the pens for signatures during tea.
Oh, yes, indeed, of course I have.
His poems I set to music on the pianoforte
and compose the hymns for family celebrations.
Between ourselves, my dear, I confess
to writing fiction of an autobiographical derivation,
but pray don’t make a note of that, for he
does not know of it but it is a comfort
that I might show it to the grandchildren.
I always have, yes indeed.
Being late to marry at thirty-six
I had a very full life before and during
our long engagement, when dear Alfred
and I together made a name for him.
He’s built a sphere of love around us
in the houses I run both here and Aldworth.
So much to thank God and dear Alfred for,
so much, so much, and bless him,
he allows me to place upon his desk
handwritten notes (in what he charmingly
calls ‘my poetic prose’) on subjects
he might care to work up into poems.
Ah, yes – your interests?
Though not so much of late have I attended
to his needs, being easily fatigued
with a weary dragging pain that chains
me to this sofa, and dear Alfred
is so patient with what he terms
‘a womanly trouble’. He is my rock,
my fortress and my strength. What would I do without him?
Poem: Strokestown International Poetry Competition
in collection Onions and Other Intentions