Knithoard, Claire Crowther
HappenStance Press, 2019 £5.00
Knithoard is such a good name for this sequence of poems! It’s strange how, as a lover of knitting and poetry, it’s only now I realise the connection between both creative arts — to write a poem is to knit words together. And, patterns of various kinds are an essential part of both.
I was slow to notice a particular pattern in Knithoard, that of form, how the two italicised lines that lead into each poem are the first and last lines of the poems, binding the poems and the whole together, bringing strong endings. In ‘Tension’ this pattern begins:
fully matches the gauge.
This turns out to be not quite right. There’s an attractive refusal to completely conform to the demands of the (knitting) pattern in the poem. Patterns of repetition draw attention:
When I won’t switch needles,
I screw up the pattern.
But no swatch
fully matches the gauge.
There’s also a kind of non-conformity in ‘A Fit of Difference’ — not through choice, but in the very human one-size-doesn’t-fit-all way:
nor do my measurements match
the superficial categories:
man, woman, child
The preceding lines (‘None of these patterns calls for / my body’) made me think of a ewe, the yearly giving up of her fleece, the sustainability of it. I keep returning to this poem. I like uncertainty sometimes, my not-knowing. I’m still thinking about it. Maybe it’s about both....
Another poem which draws me back is about fit and ‘ease’ (‘The Autocratic Jacket’), but it may be also about a refusal to be bound?
‘A Winter View of the Ness’ begins with a pledge (poems may be ‘abandoned’ too!):
I will finish abandoned garments, cast off all
my Fair Isle.
There’s a turn towards place (‘our neighbouring ness’) through the use of a simile which enables a play on words at the end, where the pattern of repetition draws me from (my) lingering thoughts of intricate Fair Isle patterns towards the beauty of simplicity:
The snow will shrink its own
patterns to show
my fair isle.
At the start of this sequence Claire Crowther gives readers a glossary of the more specialist knitting vocabulary. Some words are new to me — ‘hap’ (a knitted cape) and ‘nalbinding’ (an ancient form of knitting) — but others are words I’d forgotten. I no longer knit so the words had slipped away, fading with neglect. So ‘dec.’ (meaning ‘decrease’) had vanished, as had PSSO, the abbreviation for ‘pass slipped stitch over’. Now, while I type, my fingers are also remembering those movements, the tug and angling of the needles. Crowther’s words are working.
One of poetry’s roles is to restore and keep alive what we knew, not as nostalgia but as part of life’s fabric, something with its own pattern. That’s a metaphor Crowther uses too. In ‘Learning the Pattern’ she begins
My terms are hard.
and ends in the mishearing and misreading of sounds and words (‘Purl?/ Pearl?’). Knitting, despite its precise instructions, is a place of ambiguity if we cease to pay attention, and each piece of knitting is the knitter’s responsibility. No one else shares the holding of the needles, or can take the blame for mistakes.
In ‘Handmade’ a Fair Isle knitter speaks to us —
I am quick but have to be perfect.
Not one mistake
though mistakes are proofmarks of makers.
My heart-side needle is fixed.
The right side needle flashes knives.
Being human means making mistakes; that’s our signature on the work, our individuality. Bringing the Fair Isle sweater into existence is a balancing act between the perfect pattern and the human, prone to error, who works with one needle clamped underarm while the other (right hand) flickers at speed. This poem reminds us, too, that Fair Isle knitters are only paid for perfection: it’s not a romantic idyll.
Nor is knitting an olde-worlde activity. In ‘Auction’ Crowther lets the modern world in: ‘I will win the wool, / bidding tonight on Ebay.’
When one of my friends died, the settling of her affairs included selling her stash of wool on Ebay. This poem reminds me of her, and her partner. Knitting is not just about wool; it holds potent memories, as do these poems.
D A Prince