I was a long bodice partly sewn to a skirt, a hem picking / up everything
About Jane Weir
Jane Weir is an Anglo-Italian writer and designer. She has published two poetry collections with Templar – a third, Anna Magnani, Eat with Me, is published in 2016 – and two pamphlets, Alice (2006) and Signs of Early Man (2009), as well as two poetic biographies of the modernist handblock printers Phyllis Baron and Dorothy Larcher, Walking the Block (2008) and Spine (2012). Her poem ‘Poppies’ is studied as part of the AQA GSCE English Literature syllabus. She is also the author of a monograph on the English poet Charlotte Mew.
Weir’s poetry displays an array of social, historical, political and emotional preoccupations, worrying at its themes with a diverse range of scenarios, situations and voices. The principle motive is language itself; its mutability in representing both the abstract – simple ‘wonder’ or ‘grief’ on one hand – or the real – ‘a Khelim rug wiggles/and stretches,/lounges like a Rossetti cat/in the hearth light’ on the other. In The Way I Dressed During the Revolution (2005), ‘Stomacher’ establishes the template for a forensic exploration of ‘fabrication’ – and the poet’s ethical and humane concern for lost lives; lost to history or value and principally those of women. Such work is distinguished by its sensuous handling of surfaces and textures; the simultaneous description and practical making – through language – of patterns and forms. The forms appear variously as natural (as in ‘Snout of the Mole’), synthetic (‘the citron yellow lights of a breakdown truck’ in ‘Slip Road with Indigo Sky and Pussy Willows’) and traditional, fertility-enhancing ermine ‘recommended’ by Ovid, which the poet conjures (along with other mischiefs designed to bring calamity to women) in apparently casual phrasing (‘I practically wore the weasel to death’), that carries both withering humour and striking pathos. Her poems often remain ambivalent about the value of these forms, and this ambivalence makes for a productive tension; what is important is that she ‘creates arguments in [her] poems. It’s a form of rebellion, questioning norms and dyed-in-the-wool conventions’ (as she tells us in the introduction to ‘We Discuss D.H. Lawrence’s The Fox’).
Before reading ‘Slip Road with Indigo Sky and Pussy Willows’ she mentions that many of her poems ‘explore the nature of creativity and contain processes to do with “making”’, and her work frequently reflects obliquely on the process of writing itself; its power to confer value on artisan, artefact, artist and creativity. In ‘1914, Working in the Field Hospital, Belgium’ (from Walking the Block) her words are measured out like materials, grouping clusters of assonance and gentle slant-rhymes (‘spread or seep, / or smear or splatter’), and the phrasing is deft and intricate even at moments of trauma, or disconnect: ‘where the bandage unravels, / or the flesh stitches bloom & split’. The poems are fascinated by these instances, where the limitations of the form are tested, or where we hear what she calls ‘the break from the uniform’. Other poems in Walking the Block, and the 2012 collection Spine, conduct various experiments with narrative and structure, ranging from prose reflection to moments of intense abstract discovery – ‘Part of the repeat healed & thickened./Some lines sacrificed/to close the throb of chevrons, staunch bleeds’.
Listening to these poems we are drawn into their processes of making, and the speakers ventriloquized often appear sensitive to this fact (‘Take this boy – he won’t mind me showing you […]’). Known for the captivating live delivery of her work, and its ability to reveal fresh resonances, she applies a distinctive Mancunian accent in her delivery; meticulous, carefully inquiring and quizzical in its enunciation; clear and even so as not to linger on a particular phrase or constituent part, but rather to keep a sense of the ‘weave and pattern’, the wider tapestry, throughout.
This recording was made for the Poetry Archive on 26 March 2015 at Soundhouse and was produced by Anne Rosenfeld.
Poems by Jane Weir
Featured in the Archive
Books by Jane Weir
The Way I Dressed During the Revolution
Before Playing Romeo
Walking the Block
Signs of Early Man
Fleas of Eyam & Other Making Poems
Anna Magnani, Eat with Me
Dawson Jackson Award for Poetry
Glen Dimplex New Writers Award (Shortlist) for The Way I Dressed During the Revolution
Wigtown Poetry Competition for 'On the Recommendation of Ovid We Tried a Weasel'