Photograph by Pat Maycroft ©2004
Marilyn Longstaff lives in Darlington and is a member of Vane Women, the writing, performing and publishing collective. Her poems have been published in a range of magazines, in anthologies, and on the Web. Her first pamphlet Puritan Games (Vane Women Press, 2001), has almost sold out. Marilyn enjoys reading, performing and talking about her work. She has read on many occasions with Vane Women, and individually, for example, in Middlesbrough, Hartlepool, The Bishop's Palace in York and at The Poets' Table in Portugal.
In March 2003, Marilyn received an Arts Council Northern Promise Award. This enabled her to pay for mentoring towards putting a collection together. The result, her first full collection, is Sitting Among the Hoppers, (published in October 2004 by Arrowhead Press).
My happy, secure-yet-quirky upbringing in a committed evangelical Christian home (and the Welfare State) in the 1950s and 60s gave me strong sense of justice, duty and the bizarre. I discovered (and I'm still discovering) the extraordinary nature of ordinary people's lives and I want to honour this in my writing. I'm full of rage at the virtual world we are being sold — the erosion of democracy and public services under the guise of more participation and choice. Ambition — to feature in the BBC programme Grumpy Old Women. Thank God for poetry.
The poems I am working on at the moment, are forming themselves round the title, Raiment, and the epigraph, The life is more than meat, and the body is more than raiment. (Luke 12:23). These poems reflect an ongoing obsession with all forms of clothing, especially shoes, and sin. Here are three poems from this emerging collection.
started it for me,
it was that string vest, or the ghost
of its diamond pattern
through semi-transparent nylon shirt
in a shade which wasn't mustard, it was paler,
but it was that sort of colour.
You must remember,
this was in the days before sex
on the telly. Mini skirts were just coming in,
but apart from a few tentative Levis and Wranglers
and the odd parka, the boys I knew still wore
grey flannel trousers and sports jackets
(with leather elbow patches).
of course, about where I lived
in a northern backwater, not Southend
or Brighton, with their invading mods
in smart suits, slim ties and fashionable
short-on-top, long-at-the-sides haircuts,
out for a day at the seaside on scooters.
the hint of that vest
pulled taut against his shirt
next to his skin - as he played
table tennis at Darlington
Salvation Army youth club.
But it was a beginning.
My neat breasts had their own elastic.
For years, I didn't wear a bra.
And when I did,
it was fine cotton (Swedish),
that Nordic mix
of modesty and sex.
As kids on holiday we'd laughed
on the end of Bournemouth pier
at Mike Yarwood's Show
The Rawhide Bra -
"round 'em up, roll 'em in".
Not funny now.
In Sadie's changing room,
like a hospital cubicle,
I'm trying to act dignified
as she eyes me up like a surgeon,
diagnoses a completely different size
from "the one you've been wearing, dear",
hoists me high,
as would an old-fashioned corsetier,
in synthetic lace and lycra
A bra that:
takes no prisoners;
snags at the touch of roughened fingers;
transforms your profile into a matron's platform;
says (as you wilt at your reflection
in the Art Shop window),
"Face it girl, your son is right,
who'd want to look at your chest,
The day before her first school photograph,
Susan's enormous green knickers fell down
as she ran home from school.
The elastic just snapped.
The knicker-elastic leg holes held firm,
so Susan's knickers were hanging down
from just above her knees to just above her ankles.
They stopped her in her tracks.
Susan bent down, grabbed the front
of the offending pair, yanked them up
to her chin, carried on running home,
bottle green knickers obscuring
most of the front of her pink gingham frock.
She was not in the least bit embarrassed.
That came later when she recalled
the pity she'd felt
for Janet Brown, the girl with no knickers at all,
the sight of her cold pink bum when they did Gym
in the school hall.
Poems on this page Copyright © 2005 Marilyn Longstaff
Web space provided by Arrowhead Press
Links: [Arrowhead Press home page] [Catalogue: books & authors]
Last modified: March 28th 2005