Women pretty in their petticoats

 
     
 
A Collection of Light Verse by C. John Holcombe 
Women Pretty in their Petticoats book cover

Here are seventy-eight poems written as though the last century of English poetry never happened. It very much did, of course, and still continues as material treasured, taught and emulated by state institutions and serious poetry outlets across the world. But that work is now becoming so prosaic in style, so arbitrary and unsatisfying in content, that it can hardly be said to register as poetry with the common reader.In short, it’s time to start afresh.

So, horror of horrors:  poems that rhyme, that scan, and have something to say on themes that have been anathema to serious poetry since W.W.I. destroyed the European belief in progress and common purpose. It seems idle to argue that most people still seek substance, beauty and meaning in their everyday lives, and often achieve them in a world that has materially improved for almost everyone in the last hundred years.

If you enjoy some of the very traditional re-renderings of the Hesperides here in modern dress, I shall be more than rewarded. If you retort that undress seems more appropriate, then I can only plead a change in outlook, and suggest there is nothing here that we do not see nightly on our TV screens, though I hope expressed in a little more grace, wit and understanding. If that fails, then I respectfully suggest you try Some Still Abiding Fire 2, where there is no prettiness or avoidance of the viler aspects of our natures.

I have simply tried to write something different here, ringing the changes  on conventional themes by re-echoing rhyme and imagery through these song-like pieces. Many poetry books have a central theme, of course, but here the repetition is denser, giving key words a wider connotation as they operate in different settings across the collection.


A free e-book in pdf format: here

 

1. WOMEN PRETTY IN THEIR PETTICOATS

Abroad in flounced proprieties and blessed
through storms of bony underwear, they had to thank
the staff of grand hotels, who, while they dressed
in fine things laundered to their table rank,
had toiled to keep them warm and fed.

The rich, that is, with umpteen maids and trunks —
how many trunks they had: good leather, gilt-embossed.
They swept like popes among their simple monks.
In transatlantic dining rooms they crossed
the others like them, each well bred.

But how they got with child, God knows. A maze
of ribbons met the ravisher, and eons went
in climbing perilously from slips and stays
you'd think that passion would be largely spent
before they ever trooped to bed.

Yet in our prurient world of porn today
when an intimate anatomy is laid
out to queered approval, what's to say 
which one's the mistress, which the maid
with charms and privy looks outspread?

And where is dreamt-on woman in her state
of lambent passion with a famed contrariness,
her petulance, her periods, her urge to mate —
who knows? — it may best that the silk-lined dress
and petticoat left things unsaid.

But if we dwell on form it is because
it adumbrates that well-appointed, inner wealth
of self-delighting womanhood that was:
her moods, her winteriness, her very self
expressed before that shaping fled.

101. FILL WITH PRAISE

Our memories go part way with us, with smiles
or comradeship to show the path before,
and in their charity will shorten miles
that lead us glad or wearied to that waiting shore

where we must leave our erstwhile friends and wives,
and bid goodbye to all this good earth was,
its joys and bitterness, its hurried lives
that never answered to our long 'because?'

But why indulge such questionings, which come
to be but sadnesses that fill the trees
with urgent restlessness. We never plumb
the least of our most pressing mysteries.

We live our lives as other lives are kept
within the scope of shared imagining,
in dreams and conjurations we accept
the insights sudden rain or sunlight bring.

No more than that, although we still would wear
the things not made for us, nor shaped to be:
some hope inhabiting the further air
that goes beyond our brief identity

with this, the world in splendour, given us
to room a little in, and to spend our days
in thought and new-found wonder at, and thus,
through all our ministries, to fill with praise.