We always remembered that Spanish still life
of walnuts and oranges. We loved the coherence of its browns
and gold and almost green, the harmonious
light. The boxes held our eyes
with their persuasive geometry. Angles, triangles,
curves – the language of pure form in a world
of things, of imperfections. You began
to talk about that lone orange almost
out of the picture - the one I’d missed: a reject,
was it, in a society of mellow affluence?
And yet, I said, the atoms of this fugitive fruit
have come from the fire of stars.
© 2009 Daphne Gloag, and used by kind permission of the author
Editor: Belinda Hollyer
Editor: Belinda Hollyer
Daphne Gloag is a poet whose work I encountered only recently, and entirely by happy chance. ‘Poems in the Waiting Room’ (www.poemsinthewaitingroom.org) is a blessed – and tiny – UK charity that produces leaflets of poems for display in doctors’ waiting rooms, and encourages you to take and keep a leaflet for yourself. How wonderful is that: to find poetry amongst the dishevelled and out-of-date magazines! And that’s where, last month, I found this poem.
I love the apparent simplicity of the poem’s brevity and precision, and I am especially struck by the pace and power of the last two lines: the ‘fire of stars’ imagery is breathtakingly good. I freely admit that I am often charmed by poems about paintings (the first I remember encountering was by another British woman poet: U.A. Fanthorpe’s ‘Not My Best Side’). I love considering the relationship between visual art and poetry, partly because both seem to extend and enlarge the strength of their partner. And in this case I also love an additional contrast, that between the National Gallery’s description of the painting, and Daphne’s interpretation. Here’s the gallery speaking on their website. (I like what they say, and it’s interesting as well as informative – but oh! how different in tone and engagement from that of the poet.)
“In addition to the oranges and walnuts, on the wooden shelf there are chestnuts, a melon, earthenware jugs, a small barrel and some circular and oblong boxes. The jugs probably contain wine, while the barrel possibly contains olives. The round boxes were normally used for cheese, while the rectangular ones were used for sweets, such as 'dulce de membrillo', a thick quince jelly eaten in slices.”
Daphne Gloag worked for most of her career as a medical journalist and editor. Many of her poems have appeared in magazines and anthologies, and several have won prizes and commendations. Three collections have been published: Diversities of Silence from Brentham Press (1994), and A Compression of Distances (2009) and Beginnings and Other Poems (2013), both from Cinnamon Press. The long poem sequence ‘Beginnings’, which takes up half of this last collection, has a cosmological setting but its chief focus is Daphne’s relationship with her late husband, the poet Peter Williamson. ‘Oranges and Walnuts’ was originally intended to be part of ‘Beginnings’ but in the end was published as a separate poem in A Compression of Distances.
This week’s editor is Belinda Hollyer, a New Zealander who lives in London most of the time, and in Key West the rest of the time. Belinda doesn’t write poetry – she thinks it’s far too hard – but she blogs here, and writes children’s books when she can.