Monday, March 13, 2006

The Brief History of a Disreputable Woman

I had a hot flush today and decided to post up another old poem, give it a public airing. This time, to temper the rather avant-garde nature of my Umbra pieces - see archived posts for January 2006 - I've decided to post up the title poem of my first collection, 'The Brief History of a Disreputable Woman', which is a long poem about snooker and deals with how I started playing, the progression of my career in the game, and my eventual ban.

If you don't know the story, in 1995, I was banned for life from playing snooker by my local governing body - NOT the World Ladies Billiards and Snooker Association - for allegedly 'bringing the game into disrepute'. I was offered the chance to apologise for various comments I had made in the press about corrupt officials, in return for the ban being lifted.

I refused, and stopped playing competitively soon after that. At the time, I was ranked 24th in the world for women's snooker.

To accompany the poem, there's a photograph below of me practising for the 1992 Women's World Snooker Championships.

The Brief History of a Disreputable Woman

It starts here
as a table
in a small back room;

a busy pub, a sideways look,
the girls all cheering
when I drop the black,

a moment in between the kids,
a breath of silence slow
but true

across a table
in a small back room –
saying yes for once, not no.

Like Lazarus, I walk
from sleep, still stripping off
the winding sheet,

and take a cue from the rack
at the back of the club,
into the darkness

like a somnambulant.
Here hatred
breeds in corners at my step

and whispers fall
like evening
through these hanging lamps,

these gold-fringed shades.
The cloth is a lawn
to lay my head on, listening

to the beat of earth. They stare
from bar-stools, stalk me.
The men close ranks;

their shields reflect
like mirrors
as I clear the slate.

I am unwelcome here.
The door is there, they say,
and take the time to show me out.

But I am back again tomorrow,
sliding the new cue
like a blade from its sheath.

They cannot shut me out.
I have a right, a claim to stake
across this battlefield,

this bed of slate.
Their smiles are baited,
locked in place

until their silence is a war
that I seek out,
no choice of arms.

I play the men.
I lose.
And then I lose again.

I learn to stroke the ball away –
to catch the centre
when I can,

to find that timing
when the going’s sweet,
the baize is running like a race-horse

and the bets are down.
To take the risks
and never cheat.

I watch the best,
mesmerised as body
moves to wrist,

wrist falls to hand,
this silent discipline
of heart and mind.

I hammer home
each lesson
like a goldsmith,

working a delicate grip
into the hit,
the pendulum arm true

as a perfect right-angle
when the cue
goes through.

I start to win;
short sharp burst
of pure adrenalin.

I learn to dodge
those empty shafts of sunlight
in the club

when a woman
who walks alone
through rows

and rows of tables
dares to call them home.
Then others come.

They walk in,
taking the dust-covers
from the baize

with an awkward hand,
learning the touch of the cloth,
the deep furrow

left by a still hand,
fingers spread like a starfish.
First we are two,

then three, then four.
I pull them in from businesses,
supermarket queues,

from raising kids, from streets,
from empty doorways,
darkened rooms.

we are stronger.
We take a name for ourselves

and make it ring.
We play
each competition

in the spirit of the game –
a name engraved
in silver on a cup.

Retribution comes
not from games on baize
but changing truths

to fit the end, till nothing’s
what it seems. And in their lies
I recognise revenge.

I’ll not give them what they want ¬–
a public apology.
This ban is straight and true.

What started as a sideways look
will run for life,
for disrepute.

First published in SNOOKER SCENE and subsequently THE BRIEF HISTORY OF A DISREPUTABLE WOMAN (Bloodaxe 1997). For more on my first poetry collection, click here.

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