The sunday poem; 6. Jo Shapcott

Every week Ruth Padel discusses a contemporary poet through an example of their work

The only poet to win the National Poetry Competition twice, Shapcott trained in America as well as Britain. Powerfully original and imaginative, with a playful, feminist-surrealist wit, Shapcott writes about bodies, smells, sexual politics, identity, language and myth. One of her poetic alter egos is a "mad cow" who denies she's mad. This poem is from her third collection, shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize - the winner of which will be announced tomorrow. Mrs Noah: Taken After the Flood

I can't sit still these days. The ocean is only memory, and my memory is fluttery as a lost dove. Now the real sea beats inside me, here, where I'd press fur and feathers if I could. I'm middle-aged and plump. Back on dry land I shouldn't think these things: big paws which idly turn to bat the air, my face by his ribs and the purr which ripples through the boards of the afterdeck, the roar - even at a distance - ringing in my bones, the rough tongue, the claws, the little bites, the crude taste of his mane. If you touched my lips with salt water I would tell you such words, words to crack the sky and launch the ark again. The block form says everything belongs together. "No separateness" is the formal message, for a poem which mourns separation. The title changes the Shakespearian echo ("tide in the affairs of men, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune") into the "after " of aftermath ("afterdeck" suggesting "aft" and "afterglow"), wittily comparing men's "affairs" with women's conventional passivity ("taken"), and their "flood" of sexuality which ends up dry, though "real sea" still rages in plump bodies. Half-rhymes ( "beats" with "bites", "ribs", "ripples" and "lips") forge relationships between aggressively sensual words in a syncopated pattern, like jazz, taking the poem forward in a sea-choppy movement, underscored by each line's changing rhythm. Vowel-harmonies are in threes ("here", "fur"; "roar", "boards"; "turn", "purr"; "rough", "tongue", "touch"; "claws", "salt", "launch") but all related to the "roar" of the sea - or a lion. This is about a man's lionlike impact on a woman; about female sensuality so strong it could launch its own ark, but which still needs contact from outside ("if you touched"). This is female sexuality as voyage; the ark is sexual pairing; animal adventure; sex itself.

c Ruth Padel, 1999 'Mrs Noah: Taken After the Flood' appears in My Life Asleep, OUP

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones