Monday, 7 February 2011

Tuesday Poem: Pat VT West

The outdoor rotting wooden fire escape

he ushers you up leads* into a cluttered flat
where you perch on his bed to be served doorstep slices
of organic bread piled high with smoked fish
and with clots of home-grown jam.
Jazz is spinning on the record player.
You think we are both aging poets now.
From shelves in another book-infested room
he picks out for you New Selected Poems. On the cover
Denise Levertov wears red as if she might be gushing blood.
Out from between its pages swoops a yellowed cutting:
a recipe for gooseberry fool. You read

some days, living alone, there’s only knowledge of silence ....
solitude within multitude seduced me early ...
what magic denial shall my life utter to bring itself forth?


Pat VT West

* For non-Brits ‘leads’ are the lead-lined inside sections of rooftop parapets - sometimes part of fire escapes for attic flats.


I met Pat in Bristol in the 1980s. We were both single parents, both poets and writers struggling to establish ourselves, both living in rooftop flats. She was older and more experienced than me and I admired her sheer tenacity and courage. Pat had made a little garden on the leads outside her kitchen window, I used to sunbathe on mine on hot days but my efforts to grow things out there didn’t succeed. We drank a lot of wine, read a lot of poetry and argued. Pat was very active in the feminist movement and often despised me as a ‘wet’. She struggled - like most feminists at the time, with the idea that men were the enemy, which could never be reconciled with men as the object of desire. How can you make a relationship with a man she used to ask me? Why not? I used to say. And then that other question that vexes single mothers - How do you bring up sons responsibly? Pat had two sons - both healthy and growing like her rooftop garden. Her relationships with men were less successful. Her poetry, even at its most personal, was always political.

We formed - with poet Liz Loxley - a small poetry in performance collective called Invisible Lipstick and published two pamphlets - Invisible Lipstick and Rumours of Another Sky. We read in shopping malls and arts centres and pubs and schools, sometimes with an improvised music group called Vanilla Allsorts. It was more post-feminist than feminist (much to Pat’s annoyance) and great fun! Here’s the three of us - Pat is the glamorous one without the hat.

Kathleen, Pat, Liz

Sadly Pat died in 2008 from cancer at the age of 69 - still writing, still performing right up to the end. The poem comes from a collection called ‘It was not & never would be enough & ...’. Published in 2010 by Rive Gauche Press.  Copyright the estate of Pat VT West, reproduced by kind permission of Rohan Van Twest.

For more Tuesday Poems visit the website at http://www.tuesdaypoem.blogspot.com/

3 comments:

  1. That's a fine poem, and a lovely recounting of Pat's life - but (shallow fool that I am) I have to admit my first reaction was: love the hats!

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  2. It seems ageing poets, and a touch of sadness are the theme for this week's Tuesday Poem. You seem to have hit on the theme with a seemingly simple - but utterly beguiling poem.

    I agree with Tim - the hats are great!

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  3. I really like this poem, there's a great deal in it--and it went so well with the tribute to Pat.

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