This is a poem called "Not Art", by Kate Clanchy, an Oxford poet. It is one version of female experience which, as a man, you can only look in on, what it means to visit the place where women show one another wares, their handicrafts, and what is gain: so unspectacular, so unshowy, so not what the dominant ones notice, let alone "count" - and yet what makes us what we are. Our true home is in our childhood. That, and a recommendation that you listen to the three ages of women in Durufle's "Tota pulchra es" make up my Christmas gift to you: more perspectives still.The image of Our Lady is from the Church at Saint-Wandrille — a final picture I took during this year’s stay. It is actually a nineteenth century iron casting (I kid you not) taken of an original in the Louvre.
This is close work, this baby-stuff,
the intricate wiping and wrapping,
the slow unpicking of miniature fists;
village-work, a hand-craft, all bodges
and spit, the gains inchingly small
as the knotting of carpets, raw wool
rasping in the teeth of the comb.
The strewing and stooping, the prising
of muck from the grain of the floor -
I think of gleaners, ash-sifters, of tents
sewn with shoe soles, wedding veils, plaits,
how patchwork is stitched-up detritus,
how it circles on quilts like a house split
to bits when the typhoon has passed.
And the ache in the neck, in the back,
in the foot, are the knocks of wood looms,
narrow as cradles, borne from pasture
to valley to camp. I am learning
the art of mistakes, to accept
that the marks of each day are woven in
by evening too far back to pick out.
This is the work women draw from the river,
wet to the waist, singing in time,
the work we swing from our shoulders,
lay on the ground and let the crowd
hold and finger and value - the young girls
wondering, the laughing old women,
the bent, the milk-eyed, the blind.