silk slippers by Marilyn Francis
by Sarah James
to be Red and Read!
I wouldn't start a review of a poetry collection by praising the cover
and title. I know this risks sounding pretentious but, though I might
let these influence my choice of novel in a supermarket, somehow it
doesn't seem quite serious enough when it comes to poetry. Instead, I
tend to select collections based on knowledge of the poet's other work
or personal recommendation.
in the case of red silk slippers I chose it for all of these
reasons, though I rather suspect the cover and title alone would have
been enough to make me pick up the book. Not only is the cover design
stunning in itself but, like the collection title, aptly epitomises the
the word 'red' and the striking single image of the bright
hanging bird from Singapore. These are a taster of the boldness and
colour of Francis's poems, which take you from these “red silk
slippers from Thailand” of the title poem to thoughts like “yellow
jelly seas” ('Alice B Toklas Has Second Thoughts'); and the “oiled
rainbow gutters” of 'Evening in Paris'.
hints at the sensuousness of sound and description throughout this
collection; from the “confusion of bramble” at the kitchen window
“scraping the panes with black thorns/tapping witchy-fingered on the
glass” ('Dressing Table') to “sound/slicing/like a wire/through the
dark” ('Nocturne in St James' Park') and two old ladies, “Brillo
hair on seashell skulls” ('Sisters').
symbolises for me the way particular experiences, memories and events
are made as familiar in this collection as a pair of slippers. However
surreal some of the poems may at first appear, they still strike a
chord. And yet, taking the title as a whole, familiar things are also
made exotic or unusual, as we see when 'Mme de Chirico goes shopping –
a song of love'.
bird-shadow of the cover can also be interpreted metaphorically. While
Francis may employ a light-hearted tone in poems such as 'The Last Fairy
In The Pack', 'Pig Philosophy', 'Mona Lisa', 'Bananarama', there is a
shadow, or darker side, to many of her poems. Even on second reading,
the last stanza of 'Birthday Present' (ostensibly about the gift of a
kite which leads a boy to become a bird) made me physically gasp.
can find with a single author collection that one grows too used to an
individual poet's style. But this collection avoids that danger.
Francis's variety of rich description and sometimes rather surreal
contents – from 'Guerilla Gardening' to 'Unrequited: The Love Song of
a 5B' (a pencil!) – keeps one very much engaged. And, while most of
the poems are free verse, Francis takes advantage of a range of poem
lengths, stanza lengths and line lengths, making particular use of shape
in her unusual 'The Jarrow Crusade'.
could continue; there are so many more poems worthy of mention, from
waiting for “the table to shrink/to the optimum size/for a nuclear
family” ('Protect and Survive') to the the explosive 'The Machine
Aesthetic'. Like Francis's ghosts that “still wait at the platform's
edge” ('ghosts'), this is a collection that leaves a presence. The
poems linger long after the book is closed.
James, poet and short story writer: website
we celebrated all the Christmases
missed since you left and this morning there’s sunshine
a light frost and I have red silk slippers from Thailand.
blackbirds peck for worms
the square of turf where the old cat is buried
I have bright wooden birds from Singapore to dangle
from the bare branches of the lilac tree.
heating pipes grumble, wind lullabies
the chimney and I have a lucky Chinese cat
silvered paw waves back and forth
yesterday and tomorrow.
morning there’s sunshine and a light frost
I have red silk slippers from Thailand.
Marilyn Francis 2009
Janet and John I read the cumbersome
of upholstery samples whose soft pages
both hands to turn and feel the textures
roughs and smooths, the brocades, chintzes
cut and uncut moquettes.
father spoke through metalled teeth
of tin-tacks beneath his tongue
of pencil behind his ear.
beside a beached and gutted settee
strips of webbing
the lenses of his National Health specs.
worked somewhere behind Marylebone Station,
lock-up that stank of mildew and sweat
fibres floated in low-watt light.
wore a chair-surgeon’s apron, bibbed and cross-tied,
bristling with bradawls and bodkins;
like pirate’s swords, scissors with crocodile teeth.
time, the revamped ottomans, the Louis Quinze,
button-backed, bow-legged chairs,
Chesterfield in blue cretonne,
restored to the drawing rooms of NW8
my mother wiped wine rings
the porcelain figures.
the peke in the private Square gardens.
Marilyn Francis 2009