Friday, June 3, 2016

Poetry Friday: A Pantoum Fit for a Harpy

This month's image comes from Tanita Davis, who photographed this magnificent sculpture of a harpy at the Kelvingrove Museum in Scotland.

"The Harpy Celaeno," by Mary Pownall Bromet*

Her name is Celaeno, which means "storm-cloud," as the harpies were originally that: female weather spirits. Later, they became known as agents of justice and revenge, often with an ugly streak and potent stench, but I see no foulness here---only focused power. Power that challenged me to do it justice.

It took me several tries to meet her challenge. At first, I wrote this creature a free verse poem, but she was having none of that. Choose a form! she cried. Let me breathe my fury into a known shape, like wind into sails!  Chastised, I began again, this time with the repeating, swirling lines of a pantoum to guide me.  I got lost, several times, but she steered me true to the end.

I'm particularly happy with the title. Women, unlike winds, are "nor fair, nor foul" as legends try to make us. Why not just be magnificent?

Nor fair nor foul
(a Pantoum for Harpies everywhere)

In her naked marbleness she’s stern knots,
 even to her stomach’s creases—She’s a woman
-tall instrument, stroking a blood tune from
wrong-doers. Celaeno wrings life from life;

Even to her stomach’s creases—she’s a woman.
With wings close to her ears, furiously beating
wrong-doers, Celaeno wrings life; from life she
tears justice; squeezes her breast until it cries milk;

With wings close to her ears, furiously beating
clouds, fingernails like tractor screws, she harps
tears. Justice squeezes her breast until it cries. Milk
and honey people the earth but women are storm

clouds. Fingernails like tractor screws, they harp
at naked marble. They’re stern, not
honey, they people the earth. Women are storm
instruments, stroking a blood tune.

----Sara Lewis Holmes

My poetry sisters also wrote to this image, and yowza! We stirred up some powerful poems:


Poetry Friday is hosted today by Jone at Check It Out.

*Tanita passed along the following information about the artist:
 Mary Pownall Bromet was an English-born Lancashire lass, b. 1890, d. 1937. She was a pupil of the great Rodin, and studied with him for four years around 1900... Much of her work ended up in private collections, or smaller British galleries so there's not much record online. She was known for her technical prowess (which netted her the Watford War Memorial job) and was commissioned to do a great many bodies/faces.