Doris Gray pictures regret

by Jennifer Bennett
Second Place (tie), August 2009
Judged by George Szirtes

the old woman has a
guilt edged
box on the wall
and in it sit her
two buttons
and she cuts through the wrists of
the doll her mother made for her sister
removing the buttons imbued
with a glistening green hate
with the wish it was her sister’s hands she had hacked off
with those sweet little scissors
in the shape of a heron
the shell that looks like a shoe
takes her walking the isthmus
where they said you would find nothing
grow nothing
leave nothing but footprints
and there it was
hard as love
a matchbox boat her daughter made her
so many years ago
before floating away
on a sea of years
wet with neglect
that tower of torn letters
small dried flowers

An interesting poem from the narrative point of view, moving through stages, developing rhetoric as it goes through its sinister twists and turns to great effect. There may be a difficulty in 'telling a story' that so clearly has a context outside the poem since poems generally have to be their own complete worlds. The emotional intensity of the last three lines must be coming from somewhere, presumably from the cutting of the wrists of the doll and that 'green hate'. The appearance of a they and a you in the middle - they disappear again - is a little disorientating. There is a really interesting question here regarding the world and the poem since, clearly, poems are set in the world and cannot be entirely self-referencing, but there must, I suspect, be a negotiation with that world within the terms of the poem. This feels a little like a dramatic speech from something longer. It would help me - my ignorance - to know who Doris Gray was. --George Szirtes