Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pascale Petit: The Hieroglyph Moth

When the white ermine wings
opened at night

like a book of frost
smoking in the dark,

I understood the colours of vowels
painted on moth fur –

the black, red, saffron signs
of a new language.

Antennae grew from my forehead,
my tongue was restless in its chrysalis.

I felt lift-off
as if my bones had melted.
I stepped out into the snow –

not even an exoskeleton to protect me
in this strange country.

Pascale Petit
From 'The Treekeeper's Tale'

__________                                                                      Editor: Kathleen Jones (UK)

Pascale Petit was born in Paris but brought up in Wales. She studied art and became a sculptor before becoming a poet. She’s won, or been shortlisted for, almost all the major prizes in British poetry including the T.S. Eliot award. Her poetry always shows an awareness of visual as well as oral languages and the intricate relationships between signifier and signified.

The poems in her latest collection (which I reviewed here) take the paintings of Frida Kahlo as their starting point. The collection is called ‘What the Water Gave Me’.

'The Hieroglyph Moth' is from an earlier collection called ‘The Treekeeper’s Tale’ and I love its subtlety - the delicate depiction of the moth, and the layers of meaning underneath just glanced at in the spare language  - our lack of understanding of ‘dumb’ animals, insects and birds and our whole relationship with the natural world.

The moth is also a perfect metaphor for the process of metamorphosis that occurs in the mind between the idea and the finished poem. When you begin to write a poem you step out into unknown, dangerous territory and when you put a poem out for public view you really are going naked into a strange country. Pascale Petit says all that in a few words - a perfect demonstration of how poetry wins over prose!

This week's editor Kathleen Jones is a biographer and poet living in England.  She has published 11 books, most recently a biography of  Katherine Mansfield called 'The Storyteller' (Edinburgh University Press and Penguin NZ) and a collection of poetry 'Unwritten Lives' (Redbeck Press).  A winner of the 2011 Straid Poetry Prize, her new collection of poetry 'Not Saying Goodbye at Gate 21' will be published by Templar Poetry in November.

For more poetry posted by the Tuesday Poets, please visit the sidebar and look for the posts marked 'Tuesday Poem'.

With thanks to Pascale Petit for permission to use the poem.


Helen Lowe said...

Kathleen, I "adore" this poem, the collection it comes from, "The Treekeeper's Tale", and the artistry and power of Pascale Pettit's poetry generally. Thank you for posting this poem today.

Mary McCallum said...

Yes, this is thrilling, Katherine. Thank you! There are echoes here of the Thought Fox (Hughes) and perhaps Shapcott's Scorpion?

Melissa Green said...

What a lovely and delicate and masterful poem, Kathleen. I'm not familiar with Pascale Pettit's work, but I certainly will look for her. Thank you for this wonderful poem.

Claire Beynon said...

An exquisite, masterfully distilled poem; thank you, Pascal Petit - and Katherine, thank you. (And congrats on your recent, wonderful win!).

AJ Ponder said...

It's very pretty, it's got a beautiful finish. Thanks Katherine, and congratulations on your well deserved success.

Harvey Molloy said...

Thank you so much for introducing me to Pascale Petit. This is such a beautiful poem.

Ben Hur said...

I can only echo the comments above. "like a book of frost/smoking in the dark" - what an image! what a couplet!

Pascale Petit said...

Dear Kathleen,

Thank you for a perceptive interpretation of my poem, telling me things I didn't know about it. This poem came out of a postcard I'd bought at the Natural History museum about fifteen years prior to it. I'd always looked at the card and got the feelings in the poem, but it took me that long to find the words. Then it has that magnificent name. Thank you all for your very encouraging comments.

T. said...

This is brilliant in its brevity, rife with metaphor.

It embodies a notion to be embraced.

Thank you for this.

susan t. landry said...

what a beauty! i want to sit quietly and observe.
thank you so much, Pascale & Kathleen.