Mrs Reece Laughs – Martin Armstrong – Commentary

Here is a very different poem from another soldier who fought in the Great War. Martin Armstrong was lucky to survive and was demobbed in 1919. As you can see from his poem below he exhibits great poetic skill in his characterisation.

I have broken the poem up into segments for my commentary. It is usually presented as one continuous stream of text.

Mrs Reece Laughs

Laughter, with us, is no great undertaking,
A sudden wave that breaks and dies in breaking.

Laughter with Mrs. Reece is much less simple:
It germinates, it spreads, dimple by dimple,
From small beginnings, things of easy girth,
To formidable redundancies of mirth.

Clusters of subterranean chuckles rise
And presently the circles of her eyes
Close into slits and all the woman heaves
As a great elm with all its mounds of leaves
Wallows before the storm.

From hidden sources
A mustering of blind volcanic forces
Takes her and shakes her till she sobs and gapes.

Then all that load of bottled mirth escapes
In one wild crow, a lifting of huge hands,
And creaking stays, a visage that expands
In scarlet ridge and furrow. Thence collapse,
A hanging head, a feeble hand that flaps
An apron-end to stir an air and waft
A steaming face. And Mrs. Reece has laughed.

Martin Armstrong (1882 -1974)

The title is Mrs Reece – Mrs Jones or Mrs Smith would just not do for Mrs Reece opens the face to a smile; so this was carefully chosen as the name of the lady.

Lines 1-2 … great rhythmic undulation in the rise and fall of the words … laughter an everyday occurrence as in the rise and fall of the sea … this sets the scene to give contrast on how Mrs Reece expresses mirth … no simple rise and fall!
Lines 3-6 … the slow germination as in a seed that grows in time … from ‘things of easy girth’ to ‘formidable redundancies’ … a nice way of describing the gradual uptake of movement of her constitution … or to put it another way the gradual rolling rumble, tumble of the tummy
Lines 7-11 … one imagines this lady to be of some size … the drama unfolds as laughter takes increasing possession of her body  … a great visual transformation before the eyes of any onlooker … likened to a huge elm tree under the authority of a great storm … I think we can all readily identify with a lady of such proportions and can easily picture a lady of such unfortunate circumstance
Lines 12 – 14 … but now there is great physical disturbance as in a volcanic eruption … the peak of her merriment as she explodes in shakes, sobs and gapes … quite a sight!
Lines 15 – 21 … the climax has been reached … all the bottled mirth has escaped … and the aftermath of such exertion now causes body collapse, and flapping of hands and Mrs Reece uses her apron string as a fan. I imagine her to be a homely domestic lady experiencing laugher in her kitchen because of the steaming face. And the final statement – Mrs Reece has laughed – something to witness in all its glory!

A wonderful poem as a performance piece that will surely generate a smile in the audience!

Martin Armstrong on Wikipedia 

Extra-terrestrial Report – Michael Thwaites

Extra-terrestrial Report

Arrived at the heavenly mansions, the blessed Saint
(female on earth) was welcomed by St Peter
enquiring whom she most desired to meet.
Mother Mary? Positively no problem;
Let me conduct you. Presently, bathed in bliss,
they sat together, in light and joy and fun.
The Saint was charmed. Mother, how can it be –
you so divine, yet still so down-to-earth?
I don’t forget; and here I have my Son –
As a sword pierced my soul, he from the Cross
gave me in tender care to his dear friend,
my Son, my Son.
Yet there, as you have read,
he learned obedience by the things he suffered:
So did we all…
The Saint took courage, asked,
diffidently bold, Those pictures we so loved –
the Babe and you adoring: did we catch
ever a trace of not-quite-perfect joy?
Mother Mary twinkled – I was young:
I’d really wanted a girl.

Michael Thwaites

A novel theme for a poem and of course there are many departed souls where it would be entertaining to have a make-belief conversation – to really find out from the horse’s mouth so to speak the truth of the matter on a personal level. It is very appropriate that the conversation is female to female.

The thing is we are often conditioned to look at people in certain ways. This poem is made by the interesting twist of looking at the traditional mother-child Christ image in a more down to earth light. And let’s face it Mary was an earthly mother and I’m sure she had a few difficult times in the mothering of Jesus! But was he perfect in his response to his childhood mothering?

And perhaps Mary really did want a girl. And did Jesus really understand what it was like to be female? Perhaps JC the one male that truly understood the female! And what if a girl-Christ had happened – now that would be an interesting concept to explore!

Michael Thwaites (30 May 1915 – 1 November 2005) was an Australian academic, poet, and intelligence officer.

Michael Thwaites on Wikipedia

The History Teacher – Billy Collins – Analysis

The History Teacher

Trying to protect his student’s innocence
he told them the Ice Age was really just
the Chilly Age, a period of a million years
when everyone had to wear sweaters.

And the Stone Age became the Gravel Age,
named after the long driveways of the time.

The Spanish Inquisition was nothing more
than an outbreak of questions such as
“How far is it from here to Madrid?”
“What do you call the matador’s hat?”

The War of the Roses took place in a garden,
and the Enola Gay dropped one tiny atom
on Japan.

The children would leave his classroom
for the playground and torment the weak
and the smart,
mussing up their hair and breaking their glasses,

while he gathered his notes and walked home
past flower beds and white picket fences,
wondering if they would believe that soldiers
in the Boer War told long, rambling stories
designed to make the enemy nod off.

Billy Collins

This is essentially a list poem on innocence and the use of word-play in a fun interpretation to give that nice sense of humour behind the question on how we portray reality to children.

I tell the grand children that ‘global warming’ is all about the warm fuzzy generated because of the increase in world population.

But how do we protect children from the horrors that unfortunately exist – they will have to find out sometime that life has an uncomfortable side. They will have to come to terms with this aspect as they grow up. In the playground they already know that a nasty side exists so it won’t be a total shock.

But I think there is a natural tendency to keep that beautiful innocence in the young child by modifying and filtering input. All I can say is use your own judgement in your transactions and give balance so that both the white and the black are visible in some form. And I would add of course that we all know the ‘goodies’ always will win in the end!

And on a much more series note some protection is essential where damaging exclusive ideologies are perpetrated to seriously influence the gullible youth.

But back to the poem, looking at this History Teacher as he walks home in the closing text – past flower beds and white picket fences – we see that he is somewhat detached from the nasties of the world. Perhaps it is the History Teacher who wants to deny what is happening elsewhere and blindly colours his comfortable world in a camouflage of roses – his survival mechanism.

This poem reminds me of that wonderful 1997 Italian tragicomedy movie ‘Life is Beautiful’. Perhaps this is the only mechanism of survival in such dire circumstances as portrayed in this film – using the mind in the creation of another world.

Billy Collins was American Poet Laureate between 2001 and 2003 … a link to Wikipedia.

New Fruit – Ann Drysdale

New Fruit

In the last knockings of the evening sun
Eve drinks Calvados. Elsewhere in her life
She has played muse and mistress, bitch and wife.
Now all that gunpoint gamesmanship is done.
She loves the garden at this time of day.
Raising her third glass up to God, she grins;
If this is her come-uppance for her sins
It’s worth a little angst along the way.
A fourth. Again the cork’s slow squeaky kiss.
If, as the liquor tempts her to believe,
The Lord has one more Adam up His sleeve
He’s going to have to take her as she is—
Out in the garden in a dressing-gown
Breathing old apples as the sun goes down.

Here is a very entertaining sonnet from Ann Drysdale. We were looking at poetry from Wales at a U3A session and a member brought in this poem. Ann Drysdale is now living in Wales but previously spent much of her life in north Yorkshire.

Last knockings = the final stages of something … it is not just the evening sun as we will see later in the poem – a very apt choice of words

Calvados = an apple brandy from France – again later in the poem we will see how apt it is that it is apple brandy – Eve being connected with apple and seducing.

And Eve has obviously led quite an abundant life in a number of relationships including wife and mistress – but all that ‘gunshot gamesmanship’ is over – to me this implies a lack of effort now due to current circumstances – a feeling that she can’t be bothered in making the play of previous years.

She is in the garden by herself, apart of course from the gin bottle – raising her third glass she grins – well how can she do otherwise after drinking gin – and she contemplates her sins and thinks if this is the outcome it’s not too bad – it’s Ok to sin if this is all that happens, but of course there is the downside that she is alone and needs someone.

The fourth gin gives new hope that perhaps there is another Adam to be caught (looking hopefully to God who has supplied previous opportunities) – I love the ‘squeaky kiss’ of the cork bottle – but she lets a future Adam now that she is to be taken as she is, undressed – well apart from her dressing gown and breathing old apples  … the wounds of past relationships  … and you have the distinct feeling she is not what you might call a fresh young pippin – not new fruit!

What a wonderful witty entertaining poem with such well-chosen words.

Here is a link to more of her poetry.