Different Kinds of Attention
Reading Rachel Piercey’s Disappointing Alice, I’m interested by the different kinds and qualities of attention, especially ways of calling out.
The opening piece, ‘Hwæt’, is a direct call to attention. The word means ‘what’, ‘listen’ or ‘lo’ in Old English. The poem also uses abrupt punctuation; and the phrase ‘Hark ∙See ∙ ’ is later echoed as ‘Listen ∙ Look ∙ ’.
In ‘Song for Amelia’, Amelia Earhart’s first plane, the Canary, calls to her other aircraft and vehicles. The poem is full of insights that apply to life and the world: ‘My singing soul is my open circuit / and how I need your flick-fire to complete it.’ Few calls to attention are more important than those of a pioneering pilot. Always potentially at peril, they may need life-or-death help. This is highlighted in the poem’s ending where ‘Come in, Electra’ is repeated three times. The repetition may be desperation, or because the call is unanswered (and unheard: Electra was the plane that disappeared, with Earhart in it). Only one side of the conversation is given and the setting is historic. But I was struck by how similar elements of it are to modern life, and social media.
Need for attention is a thread that pulls the poems together. It also pulls me into them. In ‘Lost Key’, the ferryman of Hades is beautifully evoked through a modern locksmith. The poem ends with direct focus on (the cost of) sight:
Take the coins from your eyes
and pass through.
‘Kate Bush as Spider Goddess’ is a search for role models when ‘The options are sticking in your soul like flies.’ The teenager realises:
And Kate’s many eyes look right through never
and if you gaze at Kate
you find you are the whole story
Nothing is really the ‘whole story’ though, only a slant in attention. That is one of the pamphlet’s many delights.