Written by Hazel Burke

Arts

Could Be Verse

Fancy getting stuck into a sonnet or cosy with a canzone but no idea where to start? In this month’s column, our poetry doctor*, Hazel Burke, has found a tiny, generous friend in Vanessa Kisuule’s Brickdust. *She’s not a real doctor.

Emily Dickinson illustration by Louise Boulter.

Brickdust
by Vanessa Kisuule

Your body is a house. For better or worse this is where you live. So needless to say, you should have no desire to engage in love affairs with pyromaniacs, redecorators, graffiti artists, squatters or cavemen who wish to use the staircase of your ribs as kindling. Sometimes you may find your own face amongst the throng of demolitionists at your door. People will bring flowers to your gate but you may not be ready to let them in. You may still be far too afraid of wasps hiding beneath petals. But wave from a window so people can see that you are there and that you are trying your best. Soon you shall welcome the right guests with open arms. Look forward to that day. We’re all just trying to make homes from brick dust.

***

A new year often feels like a good time to get your house in order, literally and metaphorically. So here is a poem by Vanessa Kisuule on the kind of housekeeping and homemaking that really matters.

Brickdust tells it like it is. It starts “Your body is a house” and the whole poem goes on to play with this metaphor. This direct opening is one of the things I like about this poem: it subverts a popular preconception that poets are wilfully cagey about meaning. It also neatly sets up a tone of voice between the poet and the reader. In fact, I should probably say ‘between the poet and the audience’ because most people will come across Kisuule performing her own poetry, live or on YouTube.

So, five words in and we know what the poem’s all about. That means we can settle in and enjoy the linguistic playfulness, fitting the ideas that follow into the main metaphor. (If my body’s a house, what kind of person is a squatter? A pyromaniac? A redecorator?) Some people reading or hearing this poem will no doubt look back and fit people they have known into some of the characters or scenes that Kisuule paints.

She paints well. These are deft sketches, capturing a vast amount in a few lines: “cavemen who wish to use the staircase of your ribs as kindling” is a discordant mashup of prehistory and domesticity that gives me goosebumps. And the sweet “People who bring flowers to your gate” that you don’t let in because “You may still be far too afraid of wasps hiding beneath petals” is – I think – a heartbreaking little scene that a lot of people will relate to.

“This is a kind, generous, wise poem. It acknowledges life’s inevitable challenges, and our inevitable weaknesses.”

Yet, despite these vivid warnings against a long list of villains, dickheads and self-sabotaging tendencies, this is not a depressing poem.

I find it calm and reassuring. The tone of voice throughout the poem is slightly formal with the use of forms of words like ‘needless to say’ and ‘shall’ which gives an air of authority and confidence to the words of advice at the end of the poem: “But wave from a window so people can see that you are there and that you are trying your best. Soon you shall welcome the right guests with open arms. Look forward to that day.”

Beautiful. Yes, Brickdust is well-written and clever, blah, blah, blah, BUT isn’t it also the poem equivalent of that friend/sister/auntie who always knows exactly the right thing to say in a sticky situation? This is a kind, generous, wise poem. It acknowledges life’s inevitable challenges, and our inevitable weaknesses. Yes, it says, somebody has left you flowers which you could easily nip out and collect but – you lovely Womble, you – your wasp-phobia makes this impossible, so let’s make do with a friendly wave, and tomorrow we’ll work on the rest.

The final sentence, “We’re all just trying to make homes from brickdust” swaps from addressing us as ‘you’ to an all-encompassing ‘we’ which is another reminder that whatever we think and however sorted we sound, we’re all just really works in progress.

Most clever, though, is the switch between ‘house’ at the start of the poem and ‘home’ here. Kisuule leaves us with a reminder that what we’re really aiming for is to find a way to feel at home, with your body, and yourself.

Brickdust is from Joyriding the Storm by Vanessa Kisuule, published by Burning Eye books.
Follow Vanessa on Twitter @Vanessa_Kisuule or Facebook for events and new videos.

Read all of Hazel’s previous poetry columns here.

@oxpecking

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Written by Hazel Burke

Hazel likes seed catalogues, maps and toast. She lives in Manchester. @oxpecking