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Monday, 25 July 2011

Janet Kofi-Tsekpo and Jee Leong Koh on Lucy Tunstall's 'One Day a Herd of Wild Horses Came into the Garden and Looked at My Mother'

One Day a Herd of Wild Horses Came into the Garden and Looked at My Mother by Lucy Tunstall

Well, this is extraordinary, she is saying, this is quite extraordinary.
The horses stand on the grass and look at my mother. My mother stands on the path and looks at the horses. The horses nudge and shift; their manes tangle; their hooves are caked in mud.
Not until the mare has turned her head, like a sail in the wind, away from the
house and
                               out toward the hills, and led each straggling foal away,
will my mother go back into the house; close the door; pick up a book, a coffee,
a cigarette.

from New Poetries V © Lucy Tunstall

Jan: What I love about this poem is its apparent simplicity and clarity. The narrative of the piece is already contained within the title -- we know what's going to happen -- and yet what happens inside the telling of the story is very interesting. We hear the voice of the mother -- 'extraordinary' -- from her apparent background of domestic comfort. We then see her standing almost trance-like, as if being called away from that daily life. It reminds me of the Scottish myth about silkies -- half woman, half seal -- who live domesticated on land but must eventually return to the sea: 'the mare has turned her head, like a sail in the wind'...

Jee: Yes, I love its clarity too. I was going to say 'economy' when I realized that it isn't true. The poem is short -- mirroring the brevity of the moment -- but it is involved with expressive redundancy. The mother repeats herself in wonder. Looks are exchanged in nearly the same words in the second stanza, the chiasmus depicting simultaneity neatly. The encounter is brief but it expands in the poem. I especially admire how, in the third stanza, the poem finds a way to say what happens next without leaving the present moment. 'Not until the mare has turned her head...will my mother go back....' What a superb trick! Using the present perfect and future tenses to fix the present. The poem is so clear in its focus.

Jan: This echoing or repetition quite literally creates the poem's resonance. The words circle around something that can't be fully articulated, although we feel its vibrations.

Jee: Like you, I wonder what to make of this unexpected break from domesticity. They meet in the garden, the liminal grounds between hills and house. The mare, who is also a mother, leads her foals 'away from the house and out toward the hills, but the mother returns to the house and 'close[s] the door', as if turning her back on wildness. What is she thinking and feeling as she picks up, and puts down, in turn, a book, a coffee and a cigarette? Regret? Relief? Gratitude? Unrest? I think the poem's strength derives in part from its open-endedness, but I also think that the poem wants us to wonder.

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