David Green

David Green (Books) is the imprint under which I publish booklets of my own poems, or did. The 'Collected Poems' are now available as a pdf. The website is now what it has become. It keeps me out of more trouble than it gets me into. I hope you find at least some of it worthwhile.

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Julia Copus - Girlhood

Julia Copus, Girlhood (Faber)

The last book of poems by Julia Copus, and one poem in it in particular, was exceptionally well received at this address and so the next was awaited patiently but with expectations. It arrives ahead of her biography of Charlotte Mew and begins well by enhancing Faber's unimaginative house-style cover with rich shades of indigo and girl-referencing pink.
We are immediately back in the territory of Stars Moving Westwards in a Winter Garden with The Greivers, the loss vividly captured, made shareable and finally made universal. But before that realization, grief seems very much one's own, assuming, we are

                                           among the crowds
of those who have not happened yet on grief.

And that interpretation of time recurs in subsequent poems,

                              Your final battle 
tucked in the future still,


            in the unknowable meanwhile
the sunlit length of garden where we'd meet

Any Ordinary Morning is, as far as I can work out the genealogy, in memoriam the poet's husband's great grandfather, Adolf Buker, who was presumably not on our side, that builds back from the trenches to an epiphany of the everyday, not unlike Andrew Motion's poem on Ann Frank's house and a picture worthy of Vermeer.
Creation Myth could be Julia's re-make of Abba's The Day Before You Came because the book's title retrieves much family history in its various approaches to 'girlhood'. But not before the latest addition to the corpus of Copus poems, perhaps officially known as 'mirror poems' but properly acknowledged in places as belonging to their finest (and most fastidious) practitioner because for all that the first line mirrors the last and ever onwards into the same line being the middle two, over two whole pages, they need to be flexible enough to work syntactically and look natural as well as being very hard to do. The Great Unburned evokes witches, those sinister females that perhaps were invented as a place to put so much of what men fear about women.
If feminism were always so beautifully done it might persuade more of the many still unreconstructed among the male gender, or maybe not, and it's unlikely to be expressed like this anyway so progress will remain slow in the wider world while female poets currently provide much of the best poetry being written and men retreat to a defensive, curmudgeonly irony.

Acts of Anger and A Thing Once it has Happened are memoirs of types of violation, not as explicitly explained in the latter as it might be but we don't need to know all the details.
The first may or may not be haibun, incorporating passges of prose (I don't mind whether it is or not), which provide a long historical and literary context for the abusive behaviour. If there is a tendency towards 'case study' in it that we are to find again in the second half of the book, it remains powerful, only perhaps requiring the gentlest of reminders that not all such red mist bad temper is the province of the masculine and domestic tyranny can, and has, come from matriarchs as well as patriarchs.
In A Thing Once it has Happened, the understatement and reference to Propertius somehow distances and objectifies the #Me Too theme but one would expect no less from a graduate in Latin. But it remains uncomfortable reading, in direct contrast to the mild fetishism of Sunday Morning at Oscar's, where the most damnable sin appears to be a little bit of surely fictional shoplifting. The poem is as silkily seductive as the hosiery and accoutrements it relishes, which is how poems should work.

The second half of the book is taken up by Marguerite, which looks suspiciously like a 'sequence', that insidious invention of workshop-attenders and those who take it all too seriously. I have a pathological aversion to the idea that there even is such a thing, but I enjoy it. And I have no trouble classifying Marguerite as a long poem in parts, as is The Waste Land, rather than a collection of poems with concatenated themes, like Shakespeare's Sonnets. It depends on the coherence of the themes and any would-be sequence can be ushered politely into one division or the other should anybody be concerned to.
Marguerite Pantaine was examined by trainee psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, in 1931, 'after attempting to murder the actress Huguette Duflos', ostensibly blaming her, as a fellow female, for being a
       woman who gets
                            whatever she wants.

like not losing her first child, for instance.

Poetry that has to carry such a heavy freight of ideas can suffer as poetry as a result. There is necessarily some narrative involved here, too, but if anybody can make it happen it is going to be a 'natural' poet like Julia Copus, whose first instinct is that of an imaginative writer, rather than one who can't prevent the subject matter overwhelming the art.
There is a thematic parallel to be identified between,

                         a puddle in sunlight
drawn up into the air by degrees, or....
                                        a knot of wasps
pulled from the trees to a sticky pot of jam


He is assembling a theory
and I am the proof of it.

Lacan's search for a theory needs his case study to suck Marguerite in like the heat draws up the puddle, 'how the catalyst itself...has merely to make itself present' or the jam draws in the wasps.
If Marguerite might once have been regarded as an overly-sexualized hysteric, she has become, in the post-Freudian period, interesting raw material for study. And therapy, the 'dripping water hollows out stone', from Ovid, so that the Benediction where, after,
                                his brimful voice,
his sly and careful ways and the brawn of his
brown arms - that indeed was the undoing, then 
was the wretch of me

until achieving,
                              the calm
that is here and for the elsewhere of it
ever on me now

But Girlhood doesn't leave us with that harrowing ending, but saves Stories for last in the hope of not leaving us with nightmares. It is midsummer, gardens again and people joined together by some discovered continuity,

Their laughter was made of the same

air that moved as a breeze across you, & the dew likewise
was bits of sky, nestling where it could

One can worry for one's favourite poets, those with their careers still only halfway through, not all their work done yet. Not like those who have finished, done what they could and are now beyond mistake-making or loss of form. But I won't be worrying about Julia Copus any more. Girlhood did all it needed to, if not a little bit more, to confirm that.