Needling of jabs, riddle of ducks and feints,
you wait for a clear target.
It comes, as brief as a spark plug’s discharge,
as a flash of knicker. You unload
from the pivoting toes of the back leg,
extend through knee, hip, ribs, shoulder, elbow –
you are industrial, a piston, oiled
metal pain. Misjudge
and your attack could be countered,
your nose smacked ice pack absent numb,
worse, your blow could absorb like melt water
into the padding of your opponent’s gloves.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2013. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2013 was David Robinson.
I loved this collection, which was unpredictable from first to last. This poem is a case in point: how many women poets have you read on boxing? Yet this poem takes you inside the ropes and straight onto the adrenalin edge of inflicting or receiving pain – while insisting that even worse than being hit is for your own blow to fall short, to be cushioned, absorbed, to fail. There's a metaphor there somewhere, mercifully ungrasped, in a poem which has, on all levels, the ring of truth.
‘Cross’ was a painful-to-write final addition to my boxing quartet. It began as a two-part poem: two skinny stanzas, each introduced with a short prose poetry paragraph. The first part was a portrait of the boxer in motion, and the second the same scene portrayed as a comic-book frame, jaggedly 'kapow' bubble and all. Looking back, I still quite like that first 'final' version of the poem, but ultimately it lacked depth and focus. All that remains of the first version in the final are the words 'cross' and 'piston'. The key to the poem came from putting the punch in the context of an actual exchange of blows. It is possible the difficulty I had with the poem informs its anxious nature and the speaker's perspective on the fight – that fear of having your best efforts knocked, or worse, have no impact at all. Because of this, there's a lovely irony in David's choice.