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Black cover with white lettering on its side up left hand side. Image of three coloured sculpturesWhite Queen’s Last Stand, Sally Festing

Knives Forks and Spoons Press, 2021    £6.50

Writing about looking at everything

This pamphlet starts with an epigraph:

A work of art can create no greater effect than when it transmits the emotions that raged in the creator to the listener [viewer], in such a way that they also rage and storm in him, said composer Arnold Schoenberg.

For me, the fascinating thing is how the poems here show us that storm in the poet. The preface provides enough of Richier’s biography to helpfully frame the work. But it also talks about Festing’s life and the similarities between Richier’s childhood landscape and her own: ‘I swam in her sea and felt at home’.

The first poem (‘The vine-grower’s daughter’) brings together Festing’s childhood beach memories with her imagining of Richier’s:

Four siblings, rough-footed,
smelling of garlic, made plaited tracks
down wide grey shores.
                 ‘Plus vite, Maine!
Our youngest looks at everything.’

[…]

Every day with all our gear,
and several times
when the water bottle was left behind,
I took a barefoot run
on mud-cracked hexagons.

Those great underfoot details of the plaited footprints and dried mud hexagons show us the poet as Richier’s equivalent, looking at everything even as a child.

Reading as a poet myself, it’s particularly interesting to me when Festing puts herself into the mind of Richier as artist, as in ‘Women aren’t made for art’:

École des Beaux Arts
remembering what her father said,
she enrolled. And she grew strong

on possibility, a rearing horse, lit with light

Or in ‘War’:

but the Valais region
         roused her
to create strange hybrids,
darn space
              with armatures.

[…]

Challenged by the spoiled,
the humanoid, to grasp
necessary art
                      and fix her figures
in other people’s eyes

Or in ‘The world of form’:

The Paris spring
                       flickered.
The part of her head with a horse in it
                                                        galloped.

The last poem, ‘Queen’, ends appropriately with a nod that brings together Richier’s art and this pamphlet’s tribute to her: ‘You refuse to be unsung’.

Ramona Herdman