look… feel that…

Feb 13, 2020 poetry appreciation

Phew. Someone else writing a poem involving sheep (which I seem to do a surprising amount of the time). Good to know I’m not alone! That’s one reason I picked ‘Sheep Fair Day’ by Kerry Hardie. The other is simply that I loved it: I find it very alive and very moving. Seeking to take God on a journey round her life, Hardie takes us along too. Read this vivid and lovely poem here. (I had a look on Youtube but found only a lot of vlogs about marts, so you’ll have to read it to yourself!)

I love the way the poem starts ‘So I took God with me to the sheep fair’. The ‘So’ suggests we’re joining the poem in the middle of a thought process or conversation; makes the taking of God to the sheep fair seem like the some kind of logical consequence of whatever has preceded (‘so’ as in ‘therefore’); and also adds a casual, personal note to the encounter with God. This is not a formal relationship but one where the speaker demands intimacy; seeks to be known. Like the ‘A’ in last week’s poem, that one tiny word ‘so’ does a lot.

The poet wants God to grasp what it is to be human—to be these humans, living this life, in this ‘shit-milky place of animals and birth and death’. The descriptions throughout are minimal but vivid—I particularly love the image of those here on business as ‘Those men… with their faces sealed’—and throughout the poet speaks and shows things to God in a way which seems both informal and urgent. There’s a sense of really wanting God to see it, feel it, get it all—from the shit and the fear, the splashing sun, ‘the force in that hand/ That’s twining her wool as he talks’ (a man no longer doing what he really loves because of ‘sound commercial reasons’), the scald of tea, the ‘sickness’, the drifting in the river… it’s a long, full day of being and feeling really alive. Not all of it is good (‘This is pain… there’ll be more’) but all of it is real.

In the final lines, after this day so vividly felt and precisely evoked, the poet shows God ‘how it feels to let the light coil of yourself/ dissolve and grow age-old’. I find the sense of dissolving, relinquishment, extremely moving: this has all been special, and yet none of it is special. The speaker is at once herself—the woman who’s friends with Liv and Fintan, goes to the Sheep Fair, feels ‘the sickness [rise and]… the muscles burn’ and swims the ‘green slide’ of river—and also ‘nameless’, simply ‘a woman sweeping a floor, darkness growing’. Alive and then dead, light and dark, particular and universal, mattering totally and not mattering at all: the poem manages to hold these contradictions in beautiful juxtaposition—showing it all to God; and, of course, to us.

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