after Ciara Phillips’ Every Woman Dazzle Ship
The skin of a ship, caulked and unique, can be a weapon,
and its steel womb is a woman’s, guarding the life within.
The limbs of her body, just dashes and dots, shine out
through darkness. She shimmers, hidden in plain sight,
as we have always been, behind the washing line, lipstick,
the telegraph key. Our body, the message, the messenger,
razzle dazzles at sea. In time of war, or at all times,
we leave our livery, take up new posts and paint. We lay
our delicate hands on this ship, streak stark geometry
to conceal her. We lay our tactical words on this ship,
draw lines in her slant camouflage. Her direction cannot
be judged. When our ships reach open water, confusion.
Who can gauge our range or pace? Every woman,
a signal tower, an illusion, a ship bearing dead ahead.
About this poem
During the First World War, the Admiralty in Britain tried a remarkable experiment with a form of camouflage that made ships more, not less, visible. Co-commissioned by Edinburgh Art Festival and 14-18 NOW, the Every Woman project remembered and celebrated these ‘dazzle ships’. AS part of the project, female poets wrote poems responding to a ship decorated by Turner Prize-nominated artist Ciara Phillips. These poems were published by the Edinburgh Art Festival in SIGNAL, a pamphlet.