What a privilege it is to take part in this online discussion of the honey-coloured girl and her strange ‘chorus’ of older observers in the leisure centre in Bath. Today has been particularly rich in absorbing, intelligent enquiries – far too rich for me to reply to all of them in one evening, even if I could find the helpful answers they all deserve. Thank you so much EMILY and PHILOMENA and EVELYN and ABI and JOSIE and REMY and LOLITA – and DAVID, too, not for asking a question this time, but for letting me know why you like Dr Seuss and that reading Keats aloud did help you overcome some of your resistance to this fascinating and tragic young poet’s work.
If I could give one answer to today’s readers, it would be to tell all of you how delighted I am is that every one of you , in your own way, understands my work so well. The questions you all ask are exactly the responses that this poem wanted to provoke. Why is this young woman required to devote all this detailed and expensive attention to her body? what has taught her to see herself in this way? for whose benefit is she honing herself so assiduously? why are the older women so attentive to her and so fearful on her behalf? are they partly responsible for shaping the world around the honey-coloured girl, or are they also victims of a culture which requires women to make objects of themselves? are we, the readers, simply celebrating beauty as we watch this poem unfold, or are we voyeurs of a spectacle we ought not to watch? and why is Remy so right to be asking how different this poem would be if a male character were the centre of attention rather than a young girl?
What today’s comments are proving is that a poem, if it works properly, is not a COMPLETED STATEMENT made by a poet instructing a reader how to think, but the written half of an OPEN-ENDED CONVERSATION between a poet and a reader, where very often ( perhaps always?) the most interesting and important questions are not the ones raised by the poet but the follow-up questions the poem brings into being in the reader’s head. What is so wonderful about this conversation about the honey-coloured girl ( for the poet ) is that, thanks to the new technology, she has the unusual privilege and joy of being able to listen to what her readers have to say.
THANK YOU, EVERYONE….