'The Farmer's Wife' by Cynthia Buell Thomas is Poem of the Week
The Write Out Loud Poem of the Week is ‘The Farmer’s Wife’ by Cynthia Buell Thomas, a poem that is based on memories “about my mother’s people who were simple country farmers in eastern Ontario … I understood the hardship of such a life for my grandparents; maybe especially my grandmother, but I could also see the magic.” It is the second time that Cynthia has won Poem of the Week. Here are her replies to a new set of questions:
How long has poetry been an important part of your life and can you remember why it became so?
I first began to love poetry with the nursery rhymes, mostly those from the “old country” as many Canadians called England, Scotland and Ireland. The rhymes were snappy and funny, tripping off the tongue effortlessly. And then in Sunday school, from ages 4-10, singing Hymns Especially for Children. The books were in verse only, and I soon realised I could read the “poems” with great delight: the words alone were “full of music”. At age 10 I became part of the senior choir and sang from the adult hymn books. In them I found the same thrill of poetry but with more sophisticated ideas, and intricate melody. For me, regardless of form, poetry must have “music” as a fundamental force, pulsing from the diction chosen to express the writer's ideas.
Can you remember the first poem that you wrote, how old were you, what spurred you to write it?
I was dabbling by age 6, but I have one from age 8 that still astounds me, one about the stars that I would not be ashamed of today. It gives me goose bumps.
If you could only have one poet’s work to read which one would you choose and why?
I have so many beloved poets. As a teenager, 'In Time of the “Breaking of Nations” ' by Thomas Hardy smote me; Browning and Yeats; and May Sarton. Too, too many from so many eras, including Write Out Loud these past few years. I could not choose.
What was the inspiration for this week’s Poem of the Week?
The inspiration for 'The Farmer's Wife' was the word “trug” which opened a flood of memories about my mother's people who were simple country farmers in eastern Ontario, with a very small holding. I understood the hardship of such a life for my grandparents; maybe especially my grandmother, but I could also see the magic. I knew even then that I was privileged. My grandfather died shortly after electricity arrived, and my grandmother became a listless, unhappy woman for several years before her death. She was well cared for by the family, but I think the change was too great for her personal happiness. She was no longer “in charge of running a business” and she had nothing important to do. I think she just wanted to die, and she did.
Do you perform your work and if so, what advice would you give to other poets just starting out?
I “read/perform” in Sale, Greater Manchester, and also with Word Central in Manchester City Library. For new “performers”, I encourage you to practise at home until the words of your own work feel comfortable in your own mouth; then, on the occasion, stand tall, read clearly and speak up, and out. It will work wonders for engaging your listeners who want to hear every word.
What would be your desert island luxury?
On a desert island, I would like to have a heavy crystal goblet, presuming there would be fresh water to drink. I would love dipping and sipping from fine glass; it would keep me connected to civilisation. Besides, it might build me fire, too.
THE FARMER'S WIFE
by Cynthia Buell Thomas
'Easy, Boss....So-oo-oo, Boss.'
The small barn is dim, stuffy with rotting wood
the smell of summer hay, urine and fresh excrement
of rich hot cows their breaths meadow-sweet.
The building rustles with little movements
in the rafters, the old plank walls
restive animals cropping in their troughs.
Three sloe-eyed cats sleek with mice and milk
sit and mewl, and they wait
strategically short of an irritated hoof.
The woman settles securely on the three-legged stool.
She heaves her heavy skirts up and aside
baring her ankle boots, her knees, almost her thighs
quickly glancing left and right, and behind
to secure her privacy beyond doubt.
Expertly she wedges the heavy trug between her knees
and strokes the cow's golden flank.
'Easy, Boss. Soo -oo – Boss.'
A mantra sibilant, restful and intimate.
The gentle Jersey shifts and lows softly
its udder swollen, eager for the woman's fingers on its teats.
She begins to caress, pull and press over the wooden pail.
She milks the cow rhythmically, sympathetically
cooing to herself.
She savours the smell of the thick warm milk, the cow's pulsing hide
the pungency of the close barn.
She likes the scent of herself released from thick clothes.
She breathes deeply and speaks softly,
'Ah, Flora Jean, 'tis a fine cow you are.'
PHOTOGRAPH: WISCONSIN HISTORICAL SOCIETY