He Said I Was a Peach, Katie Byford
Ignitionpress, 2021 £6.00
Telling the tale again and better
My favourite poem in this pamphlet is ‘Postcard from Aulis’. It retells the story of Clytemnestra killing Agamemnon in the bath, placing the story in a modern holiday resort setting. Why is this re-telling so successful? I think it’s because it makes the characters everyday and palpably physical, really making us feel that this sort of treatment of women is going on still.
The ‘postcard’ of the poem is in Agamemnon’s voice, and introduced as being sent when ‘our daughter wasn’t dead yet’:
picture it - -
a beach wedding for our little Girl !
its roasting here
we’re sweating Daggers. dragdress her up pretty
you’ll see us at the Alter
Agamemnon is a pretty gross yob, who has brought another woman back to the resort bathroom he shares with his wife. The images are exquisitely nasty:
You’ve been sunbathing with another girl
(Doris, or maybe Chloris), two sets of bleached
florescent teeth clicking together on the bathroom tiles
[…] You fish up
lager and sand from your stomach
into the bowl, spit out a seashell. Resume snogging.
I looked up Doris and Chloris, and they’re quite minor in the pantheon. Doris is a sea goddess, one of the 32,000 Oceanids. There are various Chlorises. I love the bathetic rhyme of the two names, which makes me think of Briseis and Chryseis, sex slaves in the Iliad, and all the other interchangeable naiads and dryads and background women of the myths.
This poem gives the girl at least the dignity of a characteristic, even if we don’t like her: ‘Chloris has a gull laugh.’ Even Agamemnon has some complexity: ‘your big vowels smudged, nervous’.
The poem ends cleverly, balancing seeming victory with the ongoing subjugation of women. We know it’s no permanent resolution, but the single line on its own gives us at least a breath’s respite before the cycle continues:
I’m summoned and I come,
gaze lowered. I am your girl.
I rub sunscreen between your ribs.
I run the water hot and salt and beachy
and hold you under.