White Queen’s Last Stand, Sally Festing
Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2021 £6.50
When poet and subject merge
This pamphlet is in homage to the sculptor, Germaine Richier, her life and work. In the first poem ‘The Vine-Grower’s Daughter’ a strange synthesis is created between poet and sculptor. The girl Germaine Richier is on a beach in the Midi with her family:
She cut runes in the sand —
‘des étangs’, littoral lines.
Drew circles with a stick.
It's what kids do.
What I did too, laying down bones
beside the slate blue sea
Suddenly there is a young Sally Festing on a Norfolk beach and later:
I took a barefoot run
on mud-cracked hexagons.
The days were long.
There was so much,
so much time.
The last two lines of this poem are Richier again but really by now the two girls / women seem one:
Look! I made a perfect sun.
She balled her fists, signed GERMAINE.
What an amazing beginning to the pamphlet.
I felt myself propelled into the artistic life of the sculptor, who appeared before me, it seemed, as if there was no filter. A rhythm is created, there is urgency: life events, the war years and always the work seen as a battle. In ‘L’Atelier’, the sculptor is at work. The poet speaks of her with complete authority:
This is her world with her figures.
It varies — she laughs. Despairs.
When the hole in her gut feels small
and the sun shines in, she gives them buddings.
When the hurricane whistles through,
she knows what it’s like and punctures.
The sculpture of the White Queen has a hole pierced through it. These are the last lines of the final poem, ‘Queen’:
You count your beads carry on dodging the thistles
rattling chains to Poseidon You refuse to be unsung
Sally Festing’s poems are spare, precise and elegant, lots of white space, sometimes indented lines. Richier is quoted as saying that sculpture ‘renounces a solid full form. Holes and perforations light up the material, which becomes organic and open.’