Beautiful, evocative and hits all my senses
The words ‘evocative’ and ‘beautiful’ were used over and over again to describe Subitha Baghirathan’s ‘Sari shop, Easton’ and it is for this reason and the poem’s sense of place that this vibrant work is the IS&T Pick of the Month for November 2021.
Voters loved how it matched their own experiences, spoke of their own (or another’s) culture and took them not only to Easton but Southall, for example, and beyond the UK to South Asia. They admired the poem’s narrative structure and its flow with some also recognising its ‘subtle, thought-provoking undertones’.
Subitha is Sri Lankan, lives in Bristol. She published a memoir of life in Saudi Arabia- The Colours of Sand (Tangent Books); is included in a local poetry anthology and various journals. Buddhism, Motherhood and Equalities’ Activism influence her poetry.
Sari shop, Easton
A step through a doorway
An overnight ‘plane journey
A month’s ship voyage
Easton to Lahore
By pushing open a door.
A woman closer to death than birth
Lies swaddled in the corner
Atop a pile of rainbow-plush rugs
Princess and the pea.
Her walnut face stretches a smile
A desert-dweller spotting strangers
Supplies and stories borne from beyond the limen.
Her existence decisively proved through our materialisation in this shop
Making an indentation on her life today.
A young woman sprang up upon our entry
Delicate surprise on soft face
Kept distant from the sun.
Sudden alertness of body under salwar kameez.
Ready to pull cloth off shelves
Unravel saris our fingers will trace patterns on
Dangle salwar suits off nails on walls,
As bait for our attention,
With her long boat hook
Prodding us from one potential purchase to another.
The rousing hues courageously fight back against the shop’s twilight interior.
Newspapers stuck to windows
An anaemic light bulb.
The daylight of six minutes ago- dusty ancient history.
Our only shared language corporeal.
Fingers point. Heads shake. Eyes meet.
Prices tapped into a calculator
Presented for our scrutiny.
My guilt heavy, dragging my shoulders down
Like tin-crammed shopping bags
As we return to the door empty-handed.
Scouting mission accomplished, to locate fabrics
Which colours, where, at what price
For my daughter’s daydream prom dress.
Hesitation at the door handle
A final, discerning look around
To imprint the shop, its owners, wares and scent on my memory.
Firm conviction that on re-entry to the pavement
This place will evanesce
Another of Scheherazade’s tales brought to an end for that night.
Other voters’ comments included:
I feel as if I’m there with the women and the colours, it’s so well depicted with mesmerising rhythm.
Beautifully evocative of my own experience. Strikes a resonant chord – I’m there in the shop/land of origin! Although neatly and satisfactorily ended, I wanted more.
A very poignant poem beautifully scripted invoking so many emotions. The reader is made to feel the vulnerability of the individual as well as the motives driving them to seek refuge for their safety and future. Beautiful poem.
I love textiles and rummaging through bolts of fabric imagining what I could make from them. But Subitha’s poem also conjures up the precarious livings a sustained by small businesses and the necessity of families caring for each other.
Sudden alertness of body under salwar kameez. Ready to pull cloth off shelves Unravel saris our fingers will trace patterns on Dangle salwar suits off nails on walls,
Perfectly describes my experience of looking for Wedding Outfits in Southall
Because Subitha beautifully penned down cultural history if South Asian diaspora through her poem
It transported me to the shop.
Brings Easton Bristol to life, a very moving poem
The flow, the feeling it evokes
Live the authentic poem
I enjoyed the way the poem transported me to another culture
I enjoy how vividly the scene is painted and how spaciously the story is told.
It has evocative immediacy which also points to subtle, thought-provoking undertones, a beautiful poem.
I love the story telling elements
Well sustained narrative poem.
I recognised the feeling of guilt conveyed
Because of the plot [which] is where I spend most of my me time, I could feel every movement of the things around me.
I live in Easton and she’s really captured the shop and experience here. She made somewhere rough and ready sound quite beautiful
Such detailed and beautiful prose
How Subitha expresses our guilt at being well off compared to many in the world. She speaks clearly as a poet.
She describes the textures and hues of the experience in such thoughtful detail
THE REST OF THE NOVEMBER 2021 SHORTLIST.
I’m crying in a bar when a wise old cowboy turns to me and says by Honey Baxter
If you found love now, you’d run it right into the ground. I bet you sit around swallowing up everybody else’s light, wondering why you never end up being anything but midnight. I know people like you. People who’d beg on their knees for someone to share their bed then wind up wanting to smother their sleeping breath. I’d bet my life that you’re shit-scared of being caged. That you can’t abide being looked at for more than a spell. You ever sat down and faced any goddamn thing in your life? When I was your age, I burned through more than one chance with more than one good woman. I’d drank myself damn near to death when sadness — this thick, purple sadness — got me in a chokehold, crushed my cheek into the dirt. You think I fought it off? You think anyone’s that strong? I let that sadness fill me all the way up and only when it was done with me did I get up and dust off my knees. You can run ‘til the soles of your feet are hard and cracked as the earth, sweetheart, but I promise you this: there ain’t nobody in this world fast enough to outrun their own damn self.
Honey Baxter is a writer residing in Gloucestershire. They have a BA in Creative Writing and an MA in Writing for Young People from Bath Spa University and their poetry was recently featured in Bad Betty Press’ Book of Bad Betties.
Lifesaving practice by Paul Fenn
We make a strange creature,
him and I. Father and son,
endlessly enacting death and
resurrection in the local pool.
Locked in an awkward embrace,
my back forever to his front.
My heart balancing on his heart;
smooth wet pebble on the jagged rock.
Little point of my embarrassed sex,
crowning the water, sprouting
up from his dull bulb,
sunk deep beneath me.
The web of his giant hand,
clamping my jaw, thumb to the bone,
just by the throat. Paralysing me
into a wall-eyed animal, clutched
somewhere between offspring
His powerful beat, pulsing
up through me. Drowning out
the whole of my life. Constant
reminder that I am no more
than a part of him
drifted loose. Forever
to be brought back and
saved for himself.
Paul Fenn studied visual art and sculpture before becoming a film maker. Two of his poems have been longlisted in the National Poetry Competition in the past and he has most recently had poems published in Obsessed with pipework, One Hand Clapping and The Frogmore Papers.
Car Park Haiku by Steve Harrison
printed using a car park printer.
Steve Harrison lives in Shropshire. He has been published in The Emergency Poet collections, Pop Shot, Wetherspoons News, HCE, and appears on YouTube as steve harrison poet. He performs across the Midlands and has won the Ledbury Poetry Festival Slam.
the hard animal of her body by Laura McKee
the woman next to me
shows me her bones
she delves into her bag
and pulls them out
to show me the strongest
and how it was broken
you know like a tree she says
when they cut it like this
and she lifts her hand at the wrist
to show the angle for felling
it should never have happened
it’s meant to be strong
Laura McKee‘s poems have appeared in various journals in print and online including The Rialto, Under the Radar, Ink Sweat & Tears, And Other Poems, and anthologised by The Emma Press and Smith|Doorstop. Find her on Twitter: @LauraMcKee_fyeh
morphine by Daniel Sluman
the first time i drank morphine
a weight slid over my heart
& the whole summer
collapsed under me
my head packed with ice
phone overflowing with garbled texts
& all because of this vertebra
a firecracker in a closed fist
& morphine the only thing to smoulder it
how all medicine
pulls you away from yourself
just enough to create distance
topless before the fan
in a pool of sweat
dreaming of dusty fields
where the brittle petals of poppies waive
in the breeze
i scratch myself awake
skin blistered red
my nails at my body like a hand
at my throat
the morphine pulling life from me slow as a splinter
a syringe squeezed
millilitre by millilitre
Daniel Sluman is a 34-year-old poet and disability rights activist. He co-edited the first major UK Disability poetry anthology Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back, and he has published three poetry collections with Nine Arches Press. His most recent collection, single window was released in September 2021, and was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize.