Saturday, January 03, 2009

Leontia Flynn

The placement of New Year’s Day makes for a long weekend at home and I’ve been using it productively – I finished all of my Valentine’s Day cards yesterday, made candles and bath salts, and finished two book reviews. In addition, I’ve been in a poetry reading festival of my own making. I read two collections of Elizabeth Alexander, of recent inaugural poetry fame, as well as two recent collections of Sharon Olds, (Oh, I so want to write like her) though not the newly published collection. I also read, courtesy of my friend in Nottingham, Leontia Flynn’s second collection of poetry, Drives. I love this book and am a new fan of Leontia Flynn. Flynn has a keen ear for poetry and fantastic images. She also is thoughtfully informed by formalism. Drives is a fascinating collection of poems that cover travel, responses to famous poets, and other poems of everyday life. My favorite poems in Drives are poems about individual women. I include two here.


‘Why have the body and illness not taken their place
with battle and love as the primary themes of literature?’
Virginia Woolf sits back to admire her phrasing
when just at that moment, an aura – bright, seductive –
starts in one eye. Then voices are heart in the offing.
She leaps from the chair; she is thinking of Lear on the heath.

She is thinking of women in Bedlam, raving, forgotten.
Voices are rising. The tide goes over her head.
As she casts around the desk for some kind of anchor
she is calmed by the solid round of her paperweight.


Oliver Schreiner, survivor of four infant siblings,
works just a handful of days in the Royal Infirmary;
she fumbles a test tube, career going nowhere fast
as Edinburgh sparkles outside: great buildings and radical politics!
She will suffer with asthma, from “asthma of the stomach’,
from heart trouble, wanderlust, bouts of the blues for decades;
‘Oh it isn’t my chest, it isn’t my legs, it’s myself’,
she will write in distress to ‘sexologist’ Havelock Ellis.

Meaning? God doesn’t exist – and Olive Schreiner:
author, progressive, free-thinker, feminist
will burn, like a fuse, from one end of her life to the other.
Her sister is dead, dead too her one-day-old daughter
(her hands quake with passion). . .
the flame is lit, then extinguished.

Here are some places to read more about Leontia Flynn online.

Leontia Flynn at Contemporary Writers.

Leontia Flynn on Wikipedia.

Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to getting a copy of her first book, These Days.

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