The Wedding in Marseilles, Michèle Roberts
Melos Press, 2021 £6.00
Various and vibrant
The opening poem of Michèle Roberts’ pamphlet playfully hints that we will be bobbing about a bit. The poem, ‘Bob’, presents around two dozen definitions of the word, from ‘A bob is a bunch or a cluster’, to:
And so to bob
is to move up and down
hence to dance, to move to and fro
to snatch with the mouth at apples.
The poems are vibrant, varied and confident. ‘Boy’, delivers a hefty punch with minimal words:
he wanted a baby
So his sister
made him a wooden doll
he held in his arms.
His father burned it.
There are poems about the writing process, the letter ‘f’, Baudelaire, Bach, lockdown; and much more. The poem ‘The Visit’ answers the well-known quotation ‘happiness writes white’ with a catalogue of brightly-coloured images:
White cherry blossom
& snowshowers & cowparsley
in Burgess Park. Periwinkle
and buttery celandines
lining the green froth path
to Peckham Rye
your red front door.
My yellow cardigan & blue earrings.
Your charcoal scarf’s patterned
twists of burnt orange.
Your honeysilk dog.
But it’s the three-page title poem, ‘The Wedding in Marseilles’ that steals the show for me. It recalls a family wedding in Marseilles from 1987 (Roberts is half-French). The poem, interspersed with French words and phrases, plunges us into a warm but repressive culture of rustic French Catholicism:
Our little cousin’s brow
is bound with silk flowers.
Her gloves are clean satin, her anxious acned skin
repressed by pink makeup.
The cine-cameras purr
to guitars, jolly pop songs.
My ex-favourite cousin says Mass
le Bon Dieu to Noah:
“you have dominion
over toute la terre.
Go forth and procreate and multiply.”
Their union will reproduce itself on video.
The buzz word is communauté
It’s a wonderfully immersive, sensuous poem, ending:
But one of my cousins, bow-tied
Emile, the tall beautiful boy
who lives in sin
has given me my French soul.
I carry it carefully through Customs
smelling of pastis and wild fennel,
tasting of rain and juniper […]
green as the new crop
of olives cassées.