Pauline Yarwood’s pamphlet ‘Image Junkie’ is full of accomplished and energetic poems. I’ve chosen this one because it’s great fun with its mixture of mischief and menace and also demonstrates a certain brio present in much of Pauline’s writing. The fact that it’s set in a supermarket check-out queue, a relatively ordinary and safe place, underlines the slightly unnerving nature of the encounter. I enjoy the way the poem plays with the reader’s emotions, just as the protagonist plays with the innocent shopper’s emotions. The writing has a natural energy making the voice sound authentic despite the fact the situation is out of the ordinary.
I’m all mouth, a mega-mouth, an over-confider,
I want to tell you everything. I want to talk.
I hunt in supermarkets, bask in surface warmth,
and feed on conversation.
I have a bag of apples and a packet of biscuits,
and a woman tells me to go first, I don’t have much,
but I’m not in a hurry and I’ve nowhere to go.
She steps back from my drabness and unwashed hair
and looks at me as though my brain’s no bigger than a peach.
You can pay for these if you like,
and I hold out my shopping over her trolley.
There’s panic in her eyes, and I reel her in.
She’s in over-drive. She thinks she should pay,
she knows she could, she’d hardly notice it,
but then maybe I do this all the time, it’s begging really,
but she thinks she should, and I have her.
I tell her I’m a real Polly Garter, no better than I should be
and isn’t life a terrible thing, thank God,
and she gets the reference and off we go on Dylan Thomas,
touch on Heaney, Motion, O’Donoghue,
and I tell her about Marcus Aurelius advising us to avoid
talkativeness but that I think that’s rubbish advice and
I can talk to an empty bus seat if there’s no-one there to fill it.
I tell her I’m a mega-mouth and she could swim inside and out again
if I could keep it open long enough, or I could swallow her whole.
The title seems ideal. For although a basking shark is in fact harmless, by its size it nonetheless can cause alarm, ‘that roomsized monster with a matchbox brain’ as Norman McCaig puts it in his poem Basking Shark.
The way this poem opens immediately pulls me in, that in-your-face confessional. And the description does reflect the actual features of a basking shark, with its enormous mouth and tendency to cruise and feed near the surface.
Then we’re quickly into the detail, a bag of apples and a packet of biscuits, and the awkward interaction between the two women. I enjoy the way the shark registers the look of disdain and reserve of the other woman, the projected judgements of ‘drabness and unwashed hair’, the ‘brain no bigger than a peach’ and uses this in a quite predatory way, remaining in total control of the situation, exploiting it until that satisfied ‘I have her.’ The fish doing the fishing.
The discomfort of the situation takes a lighter turn with the lovely Polly Garter reference and as a reader I’m relieved and able to relax. Or am I? The pace of the poem charges on and the by now disarming shark retains all the power in the situation. Never mind the poor hapless shopper, this mega-mouth could indeed swallow me, the reader, whole.