Bare George, Claire Crowther
Shearsman Books, 2016 £6.50
The mettle of the metal
Claire Crowther was poet-in-residence at the Royal Mint Museum in Pontyclun for a year, and this sequence is what happens when you get really interested in ‘the coinage of power’. Its central focus is a particular coin – a sovereign depicting George III looking like a Roman Emperor, a laurel wreath crowning his luxuriant locks. On the other side of the coin there’s another George – one with no clothes on (bare George) – and he’s a saint on horseback, about to despatch a cowering dragon with his lance.
The verse form here is varied, incorporating lots of found copy and different text shapes on the page. You could get lost in its apparent sophistication and miss the jokes. In fact, it’s jam-packed with puns. Saint George kills the dragon to rescue the girl. But in this poem the ‘dragon girls’ rescue him by remelting and recasting, which is, in another sense, what the poet is up to. ‘The dragon girls are their own currency here in this mint’ and the poet is playing with the whole story, and playing with language too.
The original coin designer, Pistrucci (or ‘Pissed Strucci’)
dared George to find where coins
end—die, the bullet-headed punch, is not to die for
coins, it’s to remelt
See what I mean? The die (metal stamp) is not to die for? And is not to die for coins – it prolongs their lives. Ho ho, the wordplay sizzles. This is a poet having fun.
The second section invokes another George, ‘The Coin According to George Herbert’ – ‘Death hugged me warmly. / Naturally I baulked, / Wondering what he’d done ...’
You can’t forget this is a female poet, rehearsing male/female powerplay. No question which gender is in control in the mint (and in the poem). The final section (‘Envoi’) sums it up:
A thousand years from now a woman
picks her sovereign up
One trip to the Royal Mint Museum and bare George is anybody’s. ‘Why is he naked? Riding a horse?’ Good question. Either way, he’s vulnerable here and the dragon girls are ‘fully suited with shielded face and helmet’. He’s in good hands.