21 January 2011

A second Corbie cark...

While I was fretting away yesterday night, trying to find the crow wummin's opening disquisition from Lochhead's Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off, I received a number of interesting suggestions for alternative Liz Lochhead pieces, worthy of mention. One came from the helpful Sean McP (whose blog I commend to all of those who haven't already taken it in) who suggested the following poem. Being unfamiliar with the piece, its subject matter struck a chord with me and echoes a familiar phenomenon I've encountered in my own life.  Looking back on what has become of the small band of sticky-fingered, scraped-kneed pupils who took in our first formal learning in a very small primary school in Argyll, their adult fates proved to be very much determined by their parents' attitudes and whether they could envisage universities as places for them, places they could be welcomed at and belong to.  I don't want to conflate academic learning with happiness or fulfilment - but as a soul who sets great store by our public institutions of knowledge, reflection and education - I can't entirely lose the sense that folk I knew didn't come to study for poor reasons that had little to do with a lack of interest or the want of capacity, but which were largely the consequence of feeling an abashed, constraining disavowal epitomised by the phrase "that's not for me". Lochhead's poem neatly captures some of the anxieties of the alternative choice, leaving one thirled to books and the papery comfort of tomes, and the reader reads alone. Although I no longer live in the area, from sundry scraps of scuttlebutt that navigate their way out of Dalriada, my sense is that that atmosphere may be changing.

The Choosing
~ Liz Lochhead

We were first equal Mary and I
with the same coloured ribbons in mouse-coloured
and with equal shyness
we curtseyed to the lady councillor
for copies of Collins’s Children Classics.
First equal, equally proud.

Best friends too Mary and I
a common bond in being cleverest(equal)
in our small school’s small class.
I remember
the competition for top desk
or to read aloud the lesson
at school service.
And my terrible fear
of her superiority at sums.

I remember the housing scheme
Where we both stayed.
The same house, different homes,
where the choices were made.

I don’t know exactly why they moved,
but anyway they went.
Something about a three-apartment
and a cheaper rent.
But from the top deck of the high school bus
I’d glimpse
among the others on the corner
Mary’s father, mufflered, contrasting strangely
with the elegant greyhounds by his side.
He didn’t believe in high school education,
especially for girls,
or in forking out for uniforms.

Ten years later on a Saturday-
I am coming home from the library-
sitting near me on the bus,
with a husband who is tall,
curly haired, has eyes for no one else but Mary.
Her arms are round the full-shaped vase
that is her body.
Oh, you can see where the attraction lies
in Mary’s life-
not that I envy her, really.

And I am coming from the library
with my arms full of books.
I think of the prizes
that were ours for the taking
and wonder when the choices got made
we don’t remember making.

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