shadow dogs, Natalie Whittaker
ignitionpress, 2018 £5.00
Having read a number of ignitionpress’s pamphlets, I wasn’t surprised to find Natalie Whitaker’s Shadow Dogs engaging and full of interesting perspectives. Often the poems have an angry political edge coming from personal experience. It was the less obviously political poem ‘Stag-girl’, however, which I enjoyed reading the most. Here, Whitaker subtly replays the myth of Diana and Actaeon in an ordinary pub setting:
It starts with a spilled pint
spreading like a blush across my lap.
Later, this faux-accident of the spilled beer leads to
You aim a sickle of a smile
as antlers sprout, bristling, from my scalp.
When I first read ‘Stag-girl’, I assumed an interaction between a man and a woman. Looking again, the only personal pronouns are ‘you’ and ‘my’. This is most effective. I naturally visualise Titian’s obviously gendered Diana and Actaeon in connection with the myth so it was a pleasant surprise to be forced to rethink here. And doubly so: it is the woman in the poem who sprouts antlers, rather than the male, Actaeon.
I would like to quote the entire poem, but here’s another sharply visual snippet preview:
a glance like a chariot
ploughing the empty air between us.
‘Stag-girl’ reads well alongside the poems commissioned by the National Gallery in 2012 for their series ‘Poems Inspired by Titian’.
In particular, I’m thinking of Tony Harrison’s response to Titian’s Diana and Actaeon, which also, like Whitaker’s piece, brilliantly blends the ancient and modern.