Five Years Trying to Win the Flower Show
Vegetable Animal Class by Julia Bird
Highly Commended: a large baking potato –
its shape already reminiscent of the humpback whale –
set on a plate, surrounded by cabbage
shredded from the centre of the head
where its waves are tightest.
Eyes for a blowhole, and also for eyes.
Highly Commended: a crocodile
in cucumber, a sliced out wedge
for a gaping mouth, radish teeth and feet,
and winding down its curving spine,
a double crest of battlements, contrived
from cocktail sticks and arrow-heads of swede.
Highly Commended: a glossy purple eggplant
as the body of a bird of paradise,
wings from tiers of rocket, mint and carrot tops,
comb from sprouting mustard seed and dill.
Beak a nutshell, tongue a nut,
side-dish of summer fruits, its song.
Third Place: the coconut gorilla.
A corn dolly armature whose stooky thighs
and sloping head are covered
in the cracked off shells of coconuts,
the pile of the coconut fibres
precisely a match for the nap of gorilla pelt.
Highly Commended: an aquarium of fish.
Goldfish, guppies and angelfish whittled
from melons, peaches and artichokes.
Highly skilled engraving suggests drift and flurry,
fins and scales. A year’s work wasted on the system
to blow bubbles fat as berries from their mouths.
(copyright 2008 Julia Bird. Reprinted by kind permission of the author)
Julia Bird grew up in Gloucestershire and now lives in London. She works for the Poetry School and as a freelance live literature producer. I asked her a few questions about poetry, place and handicraft.
There’s at least one crafting poem in your new book Hannah and the Monk. I’m thinking of “Five Years Trying to Win the Flower Show Vegetable Animal Class”, it’s very inciteful, are you much of a crafter yourself?
I’ve just been clearing the last of my belongings out of my mum’s house. One of the things I found was an embroidery of a synchronised swimmer’s head I’d made when I was in the sixth form at school, based on a cartoon my friend Sean had done. We were fascinated by the American synchronised swimming team in the Olympics at the time, I remember. She’s all red, white & blue, with a little sequin star on her teeth. So yes, I’ve always enjoyed making things, and there’s a direct link between the poetry I write now and all those teeny weeny cross stitch kits I did when I was a kid. When I’m making a poem, I do think in textile terms – is this one going to be like tartan, with a very strong metrical and rhyming pattern; or like felt – more random, but held together somehow with heat and friction. And you’ve always got to ask yourself of any poem – where do the sequins go?
London is another big influence in your writing. How does that square with being a country mouse from Gloucestershire?
Nice Beatrix Potter ref there I grew up in the country, in Gloucestershire in the South West of England. Now I live in a big city and I enjoy the fact that I’m at home in either place. Tube trains don’t faze me, neither do cows. A lot of the time in my writing though, I try to bring the countryside into the city – I’m thinking about the ‘White Horse’ poem or ‘Covent Garden’. I’ve just written another (tartan-type) city flower stall poem – there’s something wonderful about being walloped with the scent of roses on the Balham High Road, in between the kebab shop and the bus stand. Maybe if I moved back to the country, I’d write sky-scrapers-in-the-wheat-field poems, just so I could keep both my homes by me at the same time.
Which came first the poetry or the promoter?
I had started tentatively writing poetry before I moved to London to work for the Poetry Book Society (where the Natty Knitter and I met, blog-clickers) but the deeper I got into the poetry village here, the more I wrote, and vice versa. Would I have written the way I have if I’d have carried on working in the theatre or arts centres? Not sure. Perhaps I’d have been quieter and shyer about it.
You’re quite a fixture on the poetry reading scene in London, do you still get nervous before you read?
I don’t get that nervous – there’s only so much that could go wrong that’s within my control. If I’ve got my book with me and I haven’t got loo roll stuck to my shoe, I’m half way to a decent reading already. And if a mad dog bursts into the venue or the fire alarm goes off mid-sonnet, I’ll just deal with it, and hope that people are so impressed by my stoical unflappability that they’ll buy double books after the reading.
What are you working on at the moment?
I have just written a poem version of a James Bond film credit for girls, ahem. And I want to write a poem about monkey puzzle trees, before I forget about them. My friend Alice http://www.hollowaysmithfemme.co.uk/ (who made me a brooch to wear to my book launch) is going to mount a jewellery & photography exhibition based on poems by me & six others, I’m highly excited about that. And another thing I found in my mum’s house is a load of my grandma’s unfinished patchwork. There might be a project there …
Please can you chose an item from Etsy that you like the look of
Thank you very much for the interview. May I now retire to the green room for my complimentary fruit tea and muffins? Yes, you may Julia. If you want to know more about Julia and her excellent work, try these links: