is a jet-
black fan from Galicia and it
opens with a hard lacq-
uered snap. Look. One side is painted,
of leaves and flowers and filigree,
intricate pinks and greens,
worked on a moonless night that never
on my mind is not this, but the un-
marked back, matte silk that shuns
the eye. In Spain, you inform me,
business. Men walk among the pinks
and greens but may not think
to touch or use one. Men wear white
black. Their hands
are vehement, their habits strict. Men
strut and act. Men talk. Men’s
eyelashes swoon when they’ve been kissed.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2005. 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 2005 was Richard Price.
The shape of the poem isn’t just visually about the flicking fan, it sets up a flirtatious rhythm and the text reverses gender roles with its surprising last line (is flamenco a dance that is both strictly gendered and yet indulges in the ‘masculinity’ of women and the ‘femininity’ of men?).
This poem is about display and disguise.
What interested me about the fan was that it was painted on only one side. That got me thinking about what – and who – the display was for. It seemed to me that the fan was quite an elaborate object and could be used in many ways – to hide, defend, lie, invent, attack, flirt, and so on. Its difference was complicated and playful.
The other person in the poem thinks he knows what fans are and who uses them. He is quite confident that ‘in Spain’ only women use fans. He’s wrong, of course, and the shape of the fan mutates (rather sneakily, I hope!) into those ‘swooning men’s eyelashes’.
This poem has something of a relationship to Marianne Moore’s ‘The Fish’, from which it takes its rattly, exaggerated form. The fan itself was an airport souvenir.