'Poppies' Jane Weir interviewed by Luca Brancati
Primafila Café, Vicenza 2010, Italy
by Luca Brancati
Luca Brancati: How did your poem ‘ Poppies’ come about, what made you write the poem?
Jane Weir: The poem came out of sadness and anger, the two emotions combined, and it was written quickly, which is fairly unusual. I don’t want to dissect the poem, bit by bit and spell out completely what the poem’s about because I think it’s important to let the reader have space to make up their own mind, but I suppose if I’m pressed I’d say that the poem is a contemporary war poem; by this I mean ‘war’ in all its various guises; after all there are lots of different ‘wars’.
Anyhow, I’d been reading a lot about womens’ experiences during the First and Second World Wars and was particularly struck by their diversity; women working not just as nurses or VAD’s, women working in munitions factories, shipyards, on the land; women working outside the home environment in a wide variety of occupations. I was aware of the variety of women’s voices, in particular Mothers, wives and girlfriends, writing from the ‘homefront’ to the ‘battlefield frontline’ in letters. I read letters from all sorts of women, including some by Susan Owen, Wilfred Owen’s mother.
At the time the news was full of conflict; Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, and of course we’d had the Balkans, and various ‘tribal wars’ in Africa….
We very rarely hear the women speak. I have two sons myself and I’d read in the newspapers, seen on TV the verdicts from the inquests on soldiers killed in Iraq. Who could forget the harrowing testimonies of the soldiers families, and in particular their Mothers…and I was angry and frustrated at the apathy, or what I perceived as ‘voicelessness’ and ability to be heard or get any kind of justice. I wanted to write a poem from the point of view of a mother and her relationship with her son, a child who was loved cherished and protected… and it had led to this…. heightened and absolute fear that parents experience in letting their children go, the anxiety and ultimately the pain of loss… I hoped to somehow channel all this, convey it into something concise and contemporary, but also historically classic, in terms of universal experience.
I also wanted to ‘do’ something about what I was witnessing, the futility of war, and in my own way; ‘doing’ is ‘making’ a poem, it’s my way of participating, and although writing a poem about losing a child, in one way or another, may appear to be ineffective, I believe that speaking out, just as poets have always done about injustice, as did Shelley or Byron or Blake, is part and parcel of what poetry is about, - does that make sense?
Luca Brancati: You’re a textile designer as well as a writer - how do you think this has impacted on your poems?
It’s inescapable, its what I do and moulds the way I think and ‘see’ things. I think in pattern, it shapes my world, not only in the forms I apply to my poems, but in the sounds the poems make when read. ‘Poppies’ draws upon ‘stitch craft’, as does the companion poem I wrote to ‘Poppies’ called ‘A Hank of Yellow Wool in a Landscape’.
Appropriating and applying the language of the too often condemned ‘domestic’ front is, I suppose, a political act. I’m not from the school of women poets who consider we should relegate this aspect of our experience in order to win favour or acceptance by a male establishment which even after the horrific wars of the twentieth century and witnessing their cost in human terms still wage physical conflict with little understanding of the social consequences.
As I said earlier I’m a ‘maker’ in the traditional sense, and writing poems is part of the ‘making’ I do… Did you know that William Morris also recognised the affinity poems have with the construction of cloth; Morris was a designer but he was also a poet. I’ve written extensively on costume and textile techniques; their practice litters my work. My poetic biography on the handblock printers Barron and Larcher, examines their ‘printed stuffs’ by exploring how the two womens’ lives was linked completely to their work and practices.
I write a great deal about dye, and have a poem, ‘1916, Working With Red In A Field Hospital Belgium’, where I examine what it means to be a creative, imaginative person, and how you deal with this, as did Phyllis Barron, when faced by extreme wartime trauma.
Making a poem for me is like designing a pattern for cloth, all I do as a poet is think through my prints, explore motifs, and colours, and somehow the poems come out, like lengths of cloth.
A selection of relevant poems
- ‘Hank of Yellow Wool in a Landscape’
- ‘Hand Knits’
IN: The Way I Dressed During the Revolution
- ‘1916, Working with Red in a Field Hospital, Belgium’
IN: Walking the Block
- ‘Slip Road with Indigo Sky and Pussy Willows’
IN: Before Playing Romeo