September 25, 2006

Oxford Poetry Conference: Kate Clanchy

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Kate Clanchy spoke first about the difficulty for the woman poet or the male poet for that matter who writes about the female body. She read aloud Simon Armitage’s poem, ‘Roadshow’, from T-Rex Versus the Corduroy Kid . When asked by Clanchy, Armitage said that he intended this poem to be an account of a miscarriage, yet the review by Robert Potts in The Guardian read as follows:

In ‘Roadshow’, in a moment of (surely self-mocking) solipsistic hyperbole, ‘by pure chance, it’s precisely at this point / that the universe – having expanded since birth – / reaches its limit and starts to contract’, before the crowd ‘dopples past … inexhaustibly young and countlessly strong, / streaming away, always streaming away’.

Clanchy notes that the sections of the poem on the subject of the woman’s body are ignored: ‘We were heavy and slow, each footstep checked / by the pendulum of our unborn child – / a counterweight swinging from Susan’s heart.’

Another poem by Armitage dealing with miscarriages is ‘Birthday’ from The Univeral Home Doctor . However, Sarah Wardle has this to say in her review:

The book’s title comes from the scene in ‘Birthday’, where he finds his lover pouring over entries on infertility. It seems his infidelity has triggered her psychosomatic stony ground…’

The lines of the poem read as follows:

bent double, poring over
the Universal Home Doctor
that bible of death, atlas of ill-health:
hand-drawn, colour coded diagrams of pain,

chromosonal abnormaties explained,
progesterone secretion ,

cervical incompetance ...
Susan, for God’s sake.


The point of Kate Clanchy’s talk is that the female body is ignored and sidelined in the interpretation of poems and their reception, something that her collection Newborn suffered.

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