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 meaning in this non-story it was dark, meaning 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, No 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 meaning 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. Crypt-hand ‘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.