Issue 20, Fabric
On finding yourself, a guest post by Rebecca Goss
Right now, a lot of us are seeing the value, the fragility and hopefully the beauty of the human body much more clearly than ever before. Something that we often take for granted has been revealed in a new light, and it occurs to us that we need poetry, or art, for much the same reason – to see ourselves a little differently.
In this issue, we’re delighted to be featuring Rebecca Goss, who was a writing mentor on the poetry course where us co-editors first met, and when Found Poems was first conceived. Her insight and thoughtfulness was obvious to us from the outset, and it’s hugely exciting to showcase her work as we hit the milestone of our 20th (20th!) issue.
Rebecca is the author of three poetry collections – The Anatomy of Structures (Flambard Press), Her Birth (Carcanet/Northern House), and Girl (Guillemot Press) – as well as a pamphlet, Keeping Houston Time (Slow Dancer Press), and a collaboration with the photographer Chris Routledge, titled Carousel (Guillemot Press).
There is a lot to take in this issue, so we’re going to keep the introduction short and leave you to enjoy Rebecca’s beautiful words.
Sana & Henry
We have all come across the expression ‘to find yourself’. Type it into Google and you’re quickly offered assistance via How to Find Yourself: 15 Steps (with pictures); A Guide to Finding your True Self; How to Find Yourself When You’re Feeling Lost. When I talk about finding myself, as I have done, in art, it wasn’t after some earnest process of self-discovery, or a search for a part of me that was missing. It was more about seeing myself, suddenly presented by someone else, and the sudden, joyous, unexpected thrill of that.
I first saw the work of artist Alison Watt in Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery in 2015. Standing before two vast canvases, titled ‘Black Star’ and ‘Hollow’, I was spellbound. I became unaware of anyone else in the gallery space. Motionless, for what felt like a long time, I could only look at the paintings; the twists and openings in folds of white fabric. I saw so much more than the cloth. I saw the female body. I saw that very secret part of me, unashamedly, intimately, beautifully exposed. This act of looking, this act of seeing myself in a painting, made me rethink the value of my own body.
Watt’s work made me consider what my body had achieved, its physical feats as well as its sensuality. I left the gallery feeling more than inspired. Watt’s work gifted me a freedom to write about the female body. Not the nubile body of youth, but the body I found in those paintings, my older body full of valid longing and experience. A sequence of poems came, that are published in my third collection, Girl (Carcanet, 2019).
By Rebecca Goss
(After Alison Watt, Black Star, 2012)
I woke alone,
and searched for you
where I thought the heat of us
might be clouding
in that yawn of fabric,
my fingers pushing into its slate dark -
back into our universe of night
when you gathered the whole of me
and I pulled you under –
so we could explode everything cold
or white about this space
until the breath we had
came out as flares
and I was the one to surface
I found my younger self in Anne Sexton’s poem ‘Young’. Between the ages of 9 and 12, I lived in a remote Suffolk farmhouse. I am the eldest of four and for my siblings and I, this rural idyll was the ultimate playground. We roamed fields and streams and crumbling barns, with only our dog as guardian. But for my mother it meant living with four kids under nine, at the end of an isolated track, whilst my father constantly worked and was hardly at home.
They divorced before my thirteenth birthday. For me that time is full of conflicted emotions, experiencing real happiness in my outdoor surroundings, but finding myself confused and distressed indoors, as I watched my parents’ marriage disintegrate. In Sexton’s poem, a young girl lies on the lawn at night, ‘clover wrinkling under me, / the wise stars bedding over me’ looking back at her family home. Her parents seem to occupy separate rooms: ‘my mother’s window a funnel / of yellow heat running out, / my father’s window, half shut, / an eye where sleepers pass’. She lies there, ‘in my brand new body, / which was not a woman’s yet’ and ‘told the stars my questions’.
Something a wide Suffolk sky can give you is stars. I have lain in fields beneath them, and, in my twelfth year I had so many questions, not just about my changing body but about my role within my fragile family, about what it meant to feel simultaneously part of a unit and very alone. Discovering and reading Sexton’s poem for the first time as an adult, I experienced the same sudden recognition I experienced when I stood in front of Watt’s paintings at the Walker Art Gallery.
Sexton’s poem begins ‘A thousand doors ago / when I was a lonely kid’. A thousand doors on, my life has continued to be a mix of bliss and upset, as it is for many of us. A thousand doors on, my parents have remarried, to each other, and are still together now. A thousand doors on I am grateful to Sexton for making sense of my younger self, and for giving me a poem for when I want to find her.
By Anne Sexton
A thousand doors ago
when I was a lonely kid
in a big house with four
garages and it was summer
as long as I could remember,
I lay on the lawn at night,
clover wrinkling under me,
the wise stars bedding over me,
my mother's window a funnel
of yellow heat running out,
my father's window, half shut,
an eye where sleepers pass,
and the boards of the house
were smooth and white as wax
and probably a million leaves
sailed on their strange stalks
as the crickets ticked together
and I, in my brand new body,
which was not a woman's yet,
told the stars my questions
and thought God could really see
the heat and the painted light,
elbows, knees, dreams, goodnight.
We hope you loved that as much as we did, and highly recommend reading more of Rebecca’s work – her poetry has appeared in many literary journals and anthologies, and been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Arts online. You can read a ‘critical perspective’ of her work at British Council Literature and listen to her read her poems at The Poetry Archive.