Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Mad Cow Talks Back, a poem by Jo Shapcott.

Post 622 - Jo Shapcott FRSL, (born March 1953, London) is an English poet, editor and lecturer who’s won the National Poetry Competition, the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, the Costa Book of the Year Award, a Forward Poetry Prize and the Cholmondeley Award. She’s Professor of Creative Writing at Royal Holloway College, University of London, and is the current President of The Poetry Society.
But if it hadn't been for "the intervention of really important teachers" in her life, she might well have ended up not in poetry, but in synchronized swimming. She started writing stories and poems as a child, at a time when "playing with the language" is "almost like Plasticene or mud or clay." When her focus shifted, first to synchronized swimming and then to boys and dancing, good teachers kept bringing her back to poetry and "chance and luck" kept her on track. She read English at Trinity College, Dublin and at Oxford, came to America to do a PhD on Elizabeth Bishop and started attending writing workshops. One of these was taught by Seamus Heaney. Shapcott was hooked and "poetry won, the PhD lost." She’s highly engaging as a poet, luminously intelligent as a critic, anthologist and broadcaster, and a widely admired and influential figure in British poetry today.

The following poem first appeared as the concluding sequence of Phrase Book (1992), a brilliantly imaginative response to the-then crisis over Mad Cow Disease.

The Mad Cow Talks Back by Jo Shapcott.

I'm not mad. It just seems that way
because I stagger and get a bit irritable.
There are wonderful holes in my brain
through which ideas from outside can travel
at top speed and through which voices,
sometimes whole people, speak to me
about the universe. Most brains are too
compressed. You need this spongy
generosity to let the others in.

I love the staggers. Suddenly the surface
of the world is ice and I'm a magnificent
skater turning and spinning across whole hard
Pacifics and Atlantics. It's risky when
you're good, so of course the legs go before,
behind, and to the side of the body from time
to time, and then there's the general embarrassing
collapse, but when that happens it's glorious
because it's always when you're travelling
most furiously in your mind. My brain's like
the hive: constant little murmurs from its cells
saying this is the way, this is the way to go.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is really useful, thank you. Just wondering if you could cite your source for her quotes about her teachers helping her? I'm writing an essay on Jo Shapcott as a 'woman' poet! Thanks