Charlotte Wetton

Digital Poetry Reading with Charlotte Wetton

Listen to Charlotte Wetton read a series of poems as part of her July Digital residency with The Poetry Business.

A transcription of the reading has been provided below for accessibility purposes.

Poems by Charlotte Wetton. A recording for The Poetry Business.

My first poem is dedicated to the memory of Olive Taylor. It’s called ‘Silver Service’.

 Silver service 
 There’s no name
 for non-rape;
 for the evening-class Nan didn’t do
 to be a silver-service waitress
 in a smart black dress;
 sibilant promise 
 of champagne silver-service
 in big hotels in town.
 It was eight road-crossings
 two gullies and a stairwell,
 it was not a nice area
 and it was winter;
 is how my mother tells it
 in this non-story
 it was dark, 
 but not saying 
 what that means…
 Nan went for a time                                                                                                    
 learning all the fancy terms                                                                                    
 about hollowware and flatware
 and folding napkins into flowers;
 but it was not a nice area,
 the street-light out at the corner                                                      
 a blind bend on the stairs.
 She walks quick in the dark
 so no one thinks 
 she’s on the game,
 puffing in the cold             
 keys spiked in one hand
 brolly out in the other,
 looking over her shoulder
 listening for footsteps                       
 for any little sound
 heart beating faster                                                                 
 to the gully with no lighting,                                            
 the fancy names going round: 
 cloches, fish-forks, platters            
 goblets, flutes an’ creamers,

 So, logically 
 the ending’s pre-ordained
 in the way my mother tells it, of course 
 she gave up silver-service, of course,
 Four kids plus no husband
 plus a packing-line wage
 doesn’t equal taxis home.
 And the non-taxi 
 in this non-story
 has a name.
 I now know
 as Nan didn’t 
 that universities 
 say ‘intersectionality’, 
 which means the cross-roads of fucked-upness
 the point where no-one helps you
 ‘cause there’s too much going on,
 gets too much to explain, 
 how there’s no word 
 for non-rape
 for non-taxi
 no word 
 for the point                          
 where Nan gets home
 hurrying to the safety 
 of the little locked gate,
 legs aching 
 from the hip down 
 to find                                       
 two kids out of bed                                               
 one with a temperature, and thinks,                            
 I can’t 
 I can’t keep fighting the fear 
 and a full shift at work
 and the worry 
 of the kids waking up 
 and will they be safe
  by the time I get back
 and the dark isn’t safe 
 and the kids in the dark
 and I can’t 
 of course she gave up silver-service, of course
 it’s all so logical
 the way my mother tells it:
 it was not a nice area 
 and it was winter
 but not saying 
 what that means.
 Nan makes them hot milk
 puts them back to bed,                                       
 takes the weight off her legs
 folds up the black dress,                                                       
 and while she’s doing this                                 
 that winter night in ‘66,                                                                        
 four public school boys                                      
 are unloading the canoes, smoothing out their sleeves                                                             
 having paddled down the Amazon in brogues.
 They’re guffawing by the boats                                        
 at the triumph of the trip                                                                       
 well done Bertie, good man Jonty!             
 Now they’re planning                                                                              
 to break Greenland,
 what a journey 
 what a story.
 Eight road-crossings
 two gullies and a stairwell.
 No taxi
 no silver-service class
 no better pay than a packing line
 no saving for a rainy day
 putting a bit by
 and getting on.
 There was no story in it
 no name 
 for the non-rape
 in my Nan’s non-story,
 at the cross-roads of fucked-up-ness
 the universities
 call intersectionality. 

This next poem is also a story about a woman, but written in her own words. I've taken all the sentences in this poem from the diaries of Anne Lister, which were written in secret code and hidden in Shibden Hall in Halifax. I've altered the syntax very slightly for some of them. Cropped sentences etcetera, but I haven't added anything in, so they're all Ann Lister's words. The poem is called 'Crypt Hand', and it has an epigraph.

 ‘I am not made like any other I have seen. I dare believe myself to be different from any others who exist.’ 
Rousseau, Confessions Volume I 
 I have almost made up my mind always to wear black.
 Played the flute without book. The air as mild as new milk.
 The people generally remark as I pass along, how much I am like a man.
 At the top of Cunnery Lane, three men said That’s a man
 And one axed Does your cock stand?
 My eye is quite bloodshot, besides other things I have got cold in it. 
 I would rather be a philosopher than a polyglot.
 Miss B in a white velvet gown & green velvet spencer looked Kallista.
 I wish I was with Isabella and was happy with her. 
 This seems to have been a lost day; I have felt so low
 (tho’ I have not seemed so) nor am I less so now. 
 I am sure Kallista not speaking last Sunday was politic bashfulness,
 I either am, or fancy I am, in love with the girl, felt quite low and vapourish. 
 In the evening making a bag of oiled cotton to hold my sponge and toothbrush.
 All staid the sacrament, I fear I never received it with less feeling of reverence, 
 was thinking more of Miss B- than anything else.
 They say the corpse keeps better in a confined room than a ventilated one,
 besides, there has been a tar-pot in the room now and then.
 Lamented, prayed God to have mercy on me & to help me 
 & resolved never to mention Miss B and avoid her entirely.
 Awoke last night to the dogs barking & put my head out of the window
 & seeing 2 men leaning against the wall below
 declared I would blast their brains out if they did not immediately go.
 I cannot lie happily without some female company,
 without someone to interest me.
 Surely Caroline has a sneaking partiality for me. 

We’re staying in West Yorkshire for the next poem, in Calderdale to be precise. It’s called ‘Commissioning a map’.

 Commissioning a map
 The cartographer and I have had a tiff,
 I don’t appreciate his profession, 
 my slapdash approach to boundaries is troubling, 
 the distance the crow flies is not the same as walking. 
 But that’s just fine because I 
 am more interested in flying than walking.
 He explains my map is not to scale, 
 that I’ve mixed Northings with Eastings,
 that A and B roads aren’t choices made or unmade.
 A variable of five degrees can be the difference 
 between success or failure. 
 But my concerns are not to scale and furthermore
 I want the bridleways unbridled,
 the best bacon sandwiches mapped, 
 where to go sledging and 
 what time not to walk alone at night.
 Maps, he explains, don’t do temporal, 
 and I say, well, the hydrographer did the whales
 spouting beautifully in the ornamental lake.
 He points out the hydrographer got lost
 trying to draw an armada at the swimming pool
 and asks me not to hop-scotch on his grid lines.
 He thinks I’m a slag-heap (dis).
 But he has plotted the silence of the moors 
 (marsh, reeds or saltings)
 and the gorgeous swoop of the motorway.
 The cartographer is sick of drawing dragons 
 and if I have that many dragons
  there’ll be no cattle left in Calderdale.
 BS! I say, I’m the one making this map, 
 you’re just my technical advisor. You need 
 more than technical, he says, more than advice. 
 It’s true my contour lines are scum rings round the bath.
 It’s true that there’s a bubble in my compass. 

This next poem was a commission for the Future Libraries festival in partnership with the new Manchester Poetry Library on Oxford Road. It’s called ‘The Librarian Conducts a Reference Interview’

 The Librarian Conducts a Reference Interview
 The librarian was snorkelling in 800, pondering Africa 
 when the husky-wolfhound-girl bust in the doors, 
 armour freshly beaten, incisors capped with silver, 
 harbouring a question within her left hind tibia. 
 The librarian licks the air and tastes foaming cordite 
 brimming. He saunters behind the octobass, keeps an eye.  
 Untempered disdain makes her burp up a dragonfly.  
 They move like opposing magnets. She lightly mauls  
 a book, but that query in her tibia’s still there,  
 so he shakes out his wings, performs a lazy tour en l’air, 
 then karate-chops a watermelon, and can tell from her paws  
 she’s a little bit impressed; she surrenders 
 the gnawed pieces of a post-it: title and author.  
 The request canters towards them and flops on the counter. 
 They stand looking at it. Aversion blooms. Very slowly 
 he slides the book behind the velvet drapery, 
 very gently, eases onto the counter a new story, 
 shaped like a plum tree covered in snow.  
 She stoops to sniff; volcanic peaks rise in the shadows,  
 she looks to the high pass over the mountain. 
 Japanese Literature, 895.6, just there, left of the window 
 says the librarian, and bends to clear up the watermelon.  

I thought I’d leave you with something cheerful, and this last poem is called ‘Song of the bug’ and I wrote it whilst watching a particular insect in my garden.

 Song of the bug
 Segmented tankman
 with glass-noodle legs, 
 we never stop questioning
 O monk's louse, monkey-peas
 peasie-bug, doodlebug
 medieval perambulator
 buffed to a dull sheen
 both horse and knight
 O butchy boy, boat-builder
 monk's louse, monkey-peas
 tiny-footed scuttle 
 to the dark mulch 
 underbelly of anything
 we’re gramersow, granny grey
 peasie-bug, doodlebug
 when will we stop asking questions
 with our twin antennae 
 half folded like a music-stand
 sing peasie-bug, doodlebug
 cheesy bob, chiggy pig
 corner like a bendy-bus
 articulated wagonette
 the size of a vitamin
 gramersow  granny grey 
 cheesy bob, chiggy-pig
 busy in the garden every weekend 
 in our autumn gabardine
 on our Scottish-reel legs 
 sing monk's louse, monkey-peas
 cheesy bob, chiggy-pig
 peasie-bug, doodlebug
 pill millipedes armadillidiidae. 

Thank you to The Poetry Business for hosting my work, and thank you to you for listening.

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