Poetry Shelf Winter Season: Chris Price off-piste

 

Six Thinkers

 

Six thinkers

 

Anne thinks that Brian should stop pestering her to marry him.

Brian thinks if only Anne would only stop worrying about how they were

going to live.

Catherine thinks that Dean would be a far better choice for her daughter.

Dean thinks that Erica is the hottest thing since Elvis Costello.

Erica thinks that accountancy students may be the most boring people on

earth.

Frank thinks that Catherine should just leave Anne alone to make up her

own mind.

 

Brian thinks it looks like rain as he hesitates on the porch.

Catherine isn’t sure, but she offers Brian an umbrella.

Dean sees that drip Brian leaving Anne’s place as he pulls into the next-door

 driveway in his Ford Capri.

Erica has been ready for ages but she still goes to the mirror to check her

make-up when she hears the car.

Frank thinks That boy’s got his head screwed on the right way, Erica’s a real

 doll, if I were his age . . .

Anne thanks God (in whom she no longer believes) that Brian’s gone at last,

and wonders what her father is looking at through the kitchen window.

 

Catherine says Would you like to join us for a barbeque, Dean?

Dean leans over the fence and says No thanks Mrs Franklin, I’ve got some

serious studying to do.

Erica says Yes, he’s got exams next week.

Frank says Gotta get your priorities straight eh Dean?

Anne says Well, maybe after exams, then?

Brian says nothing, he’s halfway to Forrest Hill, grateful that the rain’s held

off, whistling, not a clue in the world what a no-hoper he is.

 

Dean passes that git Brian on his way home and pretends not to see him so

he won’t have to offer him a lift.

Erica wonders whether Dean really is the man for her, when accountants

 are so uncool, even if he does have a Ford Capri and a flat on his own

with a view of the Harbour Bridge.

Frank lingers at the window, which affords him a good view of Erica’s

 cleavage as she stands at the fence talking to his wife.

Anne finally twigs to the reason for the amount of time her dad spends at the

kitchen window.

Brian gets home and puts on a cup of tea for his mum, who is asleep over

the racing pages, radio cantering on in the background.

Catherine wonders why her daughter doesn’t get out more, meet a few

boys like Dean.

 

Erica thinks Dean just wants to get into her pants, he’s like any other boy,

in the end.

Frank thinks he wouldn’t mind getting into that girl’s pants, if he were a

 younger man . . .

Anne thinks I know what you’re thinking you dirty old bastard.

Brian thinks I wonder what’s for dinner?

Catherine thinks that young women today just don’t know how easy

they’ve got it.

Dean thinks about slipping his hand down Erica’s jeans as he slides into

the bath with Elvis Costello up loud on the stereo.

 

Frank starts guiltily as his daughter clatters the knives and forks onto the

tray with unnecessary force.

Anne decides she’s never going to get married, at least not until she’s finished

her degree and got a few year’s work behind her.

Brian sets the table, and puts the steaming cup quietly down where his

mother can’t knock it over when she wakes.

Catherine comes inside and says, Well, time to light the barbeque, eh Frank?

Dean flings some Brut about his steaming person, wraps a towel round his

waist, strolls into the lounge and flicks through his address book.

Erica walks in her parent’s front door and sits thoughtfully by the

telephone in the hall.

 

Anne begins buttering the bread, but her mind is elsewhere, and she butters

the teatowel thoroughly before she realizes.

Brian finds some fish fingers and frozen peas in the freezer and thinks

that’ll do us as his mum’s snore begins to ruffle the pages of the paper,

 ever so slightly.

Catherine wonders if her daughter might be pregnant, she’s been so vague

lately, and now this thing with the teatowel.

Dean finds Glenda’s phone number and begins to dial.

Erica decides it’s time to begin again.

Frank begins to build up a nice wee blaze.

 

©Chris Price, from Husk (Auckland University Press, 2002)

 

 

‘Six Thinkers’ was a response to an exercise Bill Manhire set the IIML’s MA workshop of 1998. The exercise was simply to write a poem in the form of a list (although Bill did hand out a couple of example poems along with that instruction, one a recipe poem by Gary Snyder, the other an Allen Ginsberg poem that used anaphora – every line began with the word ‘Because’).

My initial idea was simple: I would write down the first six letters of the alphabet, in order, a bit like a multi-choice test, and use each letter to begin a new line. The next step was to assign a name to each initial, so I found myself with a cast of characters whom I needed to set in motion.

The added constraint was that I applied the rotating end-word pattern of the sestina to those six names at the beginning of each line, which gave me a template for a story in six six-line stanzas plus a three-line tailpiece that also had to (once again, drawing on the sestina) use all six names. I may have had the formal pattern in place, but the poem itself came to me very early one morning, and I got out of bed to write it down. I’ve never repeated the mongrel sestina form, nor have I produced another study of multiple characters like this one. It’s the first and last time that I’ve tricked myself into writing a story in poem form.

 

Chris Price‘s latest book is Beside Herself (AUP,2016). She convenes the Poetry and Creative Non-fiction MA Workshop at the International Institute of Modern Letters. ‘Six Thinkers’ appeared in her first book, Husk (AUP, 2002).

 

From Paula: For Poetry Shelf’s Winter Season, I invited 12 poets to pick one of their own poems that marks a shift in direction, that is outside the usual tracks of their poetry, that moves out of character, that nudges comfort zones of writing. It might be subject matter, style, form, approach, tone, effect, motivation, borrowings, revelation, invention, experimentation, exclusions, inclusions, melody …. anything!

 

 

 

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