With a cough, I opened our bedroom door
and surmised from the quickened pad of feet
I’d startled you out of self-appraisal
in front of the black-spotted cheval-glass –
cold highlights on your shoulder and thigh,
a cotton chemise held close like a child.
‘Are you still here?’ you snapped, at my daily
song and dance to quit the house for work.
My father did knock on his bedroom door,
then loudly clear his throat – just in case,
I assume, my mother was indecent.
They rarely touched: on days of natural highs
we’d hear the shrieks of a sudden horseplay –
they’d be pushing forty – and come running
to marvel at my mother’s open face;
my father’s hard grunts, his flaring nostrils.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2006. 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 2006 was Janice Galloway.
How relationships refer to each other, a constant source of fascination, meshing over time, space, generations. Complex emotions subtly, and fully sensually, rendered.
'Entrances' is a poem about private spaces, both exterior and interior. It's also about discretion. I think we are losing what our predecessors took for granted as a feature of social intercourse: i.e. tact. The poem is also about a lack of tact in the original sense (tactus, touch) and a lack of tact or understanding of the needs of the other to have her emotional and physical space and have it guaranteed. Socially the poem arises out of a culture in which touch was difficult and regarded with suspicion. The space in between the octets represents a generational divide, but I think one of the points of the poem is probably that the younger generation, the children of liberty, are really no further forward than the benighted generation with its so-called hang-ups and discomfort with the body. It's just a new set of complexities, plus some of the old ones.
The form of the poem, or rather the form of the line, is one I come back to again and again: decasyllables. I like the link to the traditional line of English verse, the iambic pentameter, and still believe that is the bass-line, the industry standard, the container for most of the best poetry in the language. I think the modern voice, however, is less well suited to variations in the accentual-syllabic form of the line. Other than in the hands of an expert practitioner (and they are few) the result is too often overly rhythmical and grating. The decasyllabic line on the other hand has a great deal of flexibility. It allows you to range from a conversational tone to any combination of what would have been known as inverted feet, trochees, anapaests, or spondees. The poem is unrhymed because again effective rhyme (i.e. that extends meaning) is very difficult to achieve, and best left to the few. What I do look for a lot is assonance – making the vowels work off each other to nuance and deepen the music of the poem, after the example of Heaney, the master of the art.