I was sad to learn of the recent death of the artist Paula Rego. Last century I saw her work at the Whitworth Museum in Manchester, UK. That’s when I bought Nursery Rhymes. In March this year I went to the first major retrospective exhibition of her work in The Netherlands – at the Kunstmuseum here in The Hague. The museum shop had copies of Power Games.
I admire her as a person and an artist. As she told it ‘art was a way to work through fear and trauma, to soothe and comfort, as well as to erase, attack, scratch out and destroy.’
After a major refurbishment the Whitworth reopened in 2015. I would have liked very much to meet Paula Rego and talk with her about life and art. This imaginary meeting is set in the new café. The poem was published in my pamphlet A Stolen Hour (Grey Hen Press, 2020).
Meeting Paula Rego at the Whitworth, Manchester
Shading her eyes with a small black fan she looks distressed and even out of place. Ash trees cast a greenish shadow on her face. To me she seems older now, frailer than in the short winter days of that other year when the quiet ghost of a drowned baby played with black hen, spiders, women who prayed for open roads, escape, a private den.
There was a boating lake once in the park. We wait for panini, service is slow. Café in the trees, I say, canopy. Her earrings sparkle, her eyes are still dark. It’s from the Greek; “konops” means mosquito. Paula’s face lights up; her imagination set free.
It is an enormous pleasure to introduce this month’s guest poet Hilary Robinson. We met many years ago on writing workshops in Manchester.
Hilary Robinson has lived in Saddleworth for over 40 years. Publications include The Interpreter’s House, Obsessed with Pipework, Strix, The Morning Star, Riggwelter, Atrium and Poetry Birmingham and several anthologies including Please Hear What I’m Not Saying (Fly on the Wall Poetry 2018), A New Manchester Alphabet (Manchester Writing School 2015), Noble Dissent (Beautiful Dragons Press 2017), Bloody Amazing! (Yaffle/Beautiful Dragons Press 2020) and The Cotton Grass Appreciation Society. In 2018 twelve of her poems were published in the first joint DragonSpawn book, Some Mothers Do . . . alongside Dr Rachel Davies and the late Tonia Bevins. Her poem, ‘Second Childhood’ was shortlisted in the 2016 Yorkmix Poetry Competition.
Hilary has collaborated with composition students from the Royal Northern College of Music as part of the Rosamond Prize and was involved in the 2016 Leeds Lieder Festival. She is currently collaborating with composer, Joseph Shaw, on an opera to be performed at the Royal Northern College of Music.
In June 2021, Hilary’s debut pamphlet, Revelation, was published by 4Word Press. Hilary has an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University. The central section of Revelation is a series of poems which explore the aftermath of betrayal in a marriage. From this section I have selected four poems. Nikolai Duffy says that these poems ‘sing with a lyrical precision that is as authentic as it is unflinching.’
And I beheld the last seven years open up before me and they gave up their secrets.
And I beheld my beloved’s face concealed by a fine beard and his feet that were turned to sand.
And I beheld seven office chairs, unoccupied except for two, on which sat my beloved and his shame.
And surrounding my beloved and his shame were all the places they had been while I had slept on in our bed.
And all the places they had been were also all the places he had taken me. And I wept that this was true.
And I beheld his eyes turn to streams as his remorse descended from him. And lo — his arms reached out for mine.
And I tightened my golden belt around my waist, knelt down by his side and said that I forgave him.
Every time he went to the window he saw them. Gangs hired to find us, gangs armed with torches burning even though it was early September and still light. Gangs getting closer.
He’d let everyone down, his partners, clients, staff, his family. Most of all he’d let me down in ways I’d never imagined. Now they were at the end of our drive. Now he’d found a way to stop the fire he’d caused.
It took four of us to prize his fingers from the Swiss Army Knife’s twin blades. I never knew what happened to that knife. I wiped blood from his hand, found the doctor’s home number.
The rest is a history of ashes, scorched earth of a marriage that somehow bore new life after hospital, after ECT, after many hours of therapy. This house still stands.
In the kingdom of glass everything is transparent, and there is no place to hide a dark heart. Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration
To become glass, learn to make yourself fluid as egg-timer sand.
Hone yourself to brittleness with just a little give to accommodate rough winds.
Research your ancestry — try to enter the mindset of silica.
Practise the occasional sharp look, the cutting remark — hide in the shadows.
To become glass, give in — become transparent; melt into the view from this bedroom.
Trying to Take my Husband to the Antica Carbonera
There is no chance I’ll find the Calle Bembo with its kinks, its turns, its lamps hanging above shops of antique Murano beads, its shiny cobbles and those buskers trotting out Vivaldi through the season. No chance I’ll find what translates
where Cath and I ate wild mushrooms cooked four ways and spent so much they brought us Limoncello on the house.
Yet here we are. This is the first Venetian street our feet touch on the way to the Al Codega. The food is perfectly seasoned. Tonight we’re on the roof. I have another angle on this street.