SUE’S POETRY

‘Sue Burge’s poems often blend known histories with emotional epiphanies. They are immediate and filmic, drawing the reader into small but complex worlds.’ … Tamar Yoseloff

‘widely travelled poems both culturally and historically, journeying deep into territories of collective memory and the individual psyche.’Heidi Williamson

‘Sue Burge has a passion for and deep knowledge of film. It is not surprising then, whatever the subject matter, to find her poems filled with sharp visual imagery. She is as at ease with an interrogating close-up as she is with a panning or crane shot. Her work has movement and surprise as well as contemplation and reflection. Her work is disturbing and rewarding in equal measure.’Maura Dooley

‘I deeply enjoy Sue’s cinematic landscapes, filled with crystalline images, her heartfelt honesty & humility, as well as her gift for linguistically-inventive lyricism.’
David Leo Sirois, Spoken World Online

Sue Burge is a seasoned chronicler serving her readers with bitter sweet paradoxical morning soups, throat scalding metaphoric crank, nerve- jamming and mind spinning metaphor spiced beverages.Mbizo Chirasa (Time of the Poet Republic)

 

The following four poems are from The Artificial Parisienne
 

A reverse abecedarian in praise of Paris

this city is a jazz riff high as a skylark shouting yes yes yes to April   this city is an expletive on the webby wad of your tongue   it is not a valentine’s card or a passive verb   this city is a crucible for umbrellas   a tender prism   a slow dance with no stoplights   this city is retrofitted with cobbles and revolutionary baguettes   this city is acquisitive and pronounceable   a psycho-geographic love letter   this city is overused   a never-ending mosquito bite saying look at my lovely toys all spire and steeple and dome   this city thinks it’s a kingdom   will make a jumble sale of your heart   is an implausible impetuous impinger of your dreams   this city is held in the hands of saints   an unshareable galette des rois   it’s a fickle flirty madame blowing lipstick in your eyes   this city is a raised eyebrow   a dust-bath for little sparrows and all their bright chansons   this city will never be a cardigan   it’s a bourrée executed when the Seine runs red with sunset   this city is an abyss and I’m still falling because this city is

 

Paris is a blonde

and I am stalking her
                            I shake my umbrella
and yesterday’s rain clings to its folds

            today she traces the phantom river from the 13ème
rainbowed with tannery trash tapestry dye

she boards a train at the Gare de Vincennes
                  alights at La Tour du Philosophe
she thinks therefore I am

Paris is a blonde a lèche-vitrine de l’inconscient
                  at Café Riche she orders un café allongé
we no longer have a reflection

there is the coincidence of the abattoirs de Vaugirard
                  waters running red as the Bièvre

it’s pile ou face and I go left and she goes right
                  but I am still behind her

night is a monster nocturne sauvage
        what are the aesthetics of this wasteland? I ask
je suis un collage, she shrugs
        oh meet me tomorrow at the Château Tremblant
for what I love most is the instability of your raincoat

 

She is the woman I should have been

for Jean Hall (née Pestell)

The hour I am born, mewling, into the wrong life,
she’s eavesdropping on Sartre and de Beauvoir
in the days when the streets of Paris
are a showcase and women match
their dogs to their furs.

This woman I should have been
is petite, sophisticated —
her dark delinquent fall of hair
reminds men of that actress
who’s always on the tip of their tongue;
her lips taste of Nuits St Georges
drunk straight from the bottle.

The day they transport Jean Moulin
to the Panthéon, she’s in the crowd
as it susurrates down the boulevard
leaning into the wind to catch
Malraux’ homage… résistons résistons…

This woman I should have been
samples all 127 available cheeses,
drinks Marie Brizard, holds her nose
at the odour colouring the air
over the pavement pissoirs.

Her flatmates fight over a handsome
clichéd man who takes her
to Olympia, kisses her too hard
too long to a Charles Aznavour chanson.

This woman I should have been
leaves Paris for Spain to whisper
in Hemingway’s ear while I start school
and begin to learn French
as if I know who I am.

 

Balade of the Fallen

The streets are noir as a Michelle Morgan film&
      the plaques of Paris whisper their stories, old and new
            Ne les oublions jamais
how trains became prisons
      the velodrome a holding pen
a rock club a tomb
      the Seine a morgue
how schools forgot the thirteen ways to keep children safe
      how the wall of names shouts its pain
there’s a bright new grave in Père Lachaise
      forgotten bullet holes in Rue de Rivoli

A prophetic man under Pont Neuf holds forth to his own echo —
      when she opens her mouth to answer, it is full of plosives.

 

when i was a witch

i thought i could run underwater

when they pulled me out
they said i was smiling & my eyes

had bleached
from blue to jade

i wrote Ten Ways to Recognise a Witch
then looked in the mirror

when they found my list they pricked me
full of holes, held me down

until i became river-sister
nibbler of water-mint, holder of breath

a waterlily seeded in the sponge of my lungs

& i bloomed
with the genus Other

magic, it is said, can’t work in water

yet here i am drying on the bank
still whole, still smiling

when i was a witch i had a voice like hailstones

they put me in a sack
weighed it down with words

chose a good high bridge

i collaged the words into mini hexes

on the back of sweet-wrappers
oh purple oh orange oh shiny

when i was a witch i had a cat called Bert, wore my heart
on my wrists

when i was a witch i built a cairn of hagstones
on the strandline

luck bringers fairy binders
stone stone
with a hole
like a moan for the moon to sail through

they say if you put one to your ear
you will hear mer-speak

rings for my fingers, rings for my toes, breasts
full of amber, but still i float

when i was a witch i could play i spy
with my little eye
all day

with you & you & you

i was the shaking board that said yes, said no

when i was a witch they poured the coldest water
from the highest ledge

& i burnt & burnt

but there was still witch left

(Commended in Mslexia 2023 Poetry Competition)

 

Yellowstone and what the bears mean

after Rebecca Solnit

i.
everyone has a bear story
great bear little bear dancing bear
the frisson of hurtling angersong

we have seen nine
three times Goldilock’s horde

I don’t want to get too close
sleep in their beds
spoon their food into my little mouth

I know what it’s like to be held by a predator’s gaze

ii.

I’ve walked London’s streets by night
keys threaded through fingers into spiky knuckleduster
pushed through pelted bipeds
territorialising every brick with their yeasty pee

iii.

and yet, I’m lucky
a hundred years before I would have been arrested
street woman no questions asked whatever my class
deflowered by an inspector surgeon’s tool
his surprised leer
oh you were a good girl after all
the shameful runnel of first blood

iv.

each step in this park is an act of resistance
a no to skirt corset heel
but this wilderness is not wilderness
it is path
it is trespass

v.

what worries me most is the area of Yellowstone
where the earth’s crust is thin as a fontanelle

vi.

the towns outside are wilder than the park
freight trains so long there’s time
at the crossing
to rewrite our history

grits on the menu –
and gunshops

vii.

I am seventeen walking back from a party
heels dress the bee’s knees
and he stops, says get in
and I say no
and he picks an airgun up from the back seat
and I run
knock on a door down a long path
ask an old man for help
he lets me sit on the doorstep
I fold myself small as a cigarette butt
until I stop crying and the road is empty

viii.

let the dust of my body
return to the damaged sky
let it say enough

(Commended in Mslexia 2022 Poetry Competition)

 

The trees are talking to themselves

sending messages about the sky
from canopy to root
flirting with sunlight
murmuring rain mantras
in all their dialects
the oaks swearing
at the cloudless sky
in flawless Anglo-Saxon

rough bark tattoos my calves
I have always been in love with silver birches
longing to fall into a Russian fairy-tale
feel snowflakes wet my eyelids
smell the pungent truth of wolves

today is brown and dry as late autumn
I crunch leaves underfoot
a child at play in August’s heat

a stumble of long roots
lichen dapples bark
like tarnished silver
a single note of birdsong
catches in high branches

(Winner of the Norfolk Prize, Café Writers Competition 2022)

 

Temple of Fame
Studley Royal Water Gardens

When they peeled the dome
from the damaged temple

it was full of honey, oozing
down the columns like candlewax

the workmen’s hands slathered
as if they were desperate bears

just out of hibernation;
legacy of the monastic bees

who’d swarmed in trees
since the Dissolution.

Imagine them one day
sliding under the dome

not caring about the fakery
of painted marble, hollow columns

the notion of fame;
doing a crazy little charleston

for their fellow bees:
Come, come, we have found a city.

(This poem appeared on The Friday Poem, 10 June 2022)

 

I am building Paris in my bedroom

First, I cut a string of paper dolls from a back-copy of Le Monde – such a city needs a population of a certain kind of girl. Here’s one who arrived in Paris for the first time, shiny, innocent, and left with je ne sais quoi and a fringe like Juliette Greco.

I am building Paris in my bedroom. From leftover lego I snap Notre Dame into higgledy shape, balance a flimsy girl on the Quai aux Fleurs. She easily answers the question Where were you when…? for she is always in Paris when someone famous dies. She will speak of the friend who died with unwritten dances still inside, how she sat in shock in her Bastille flat, brim with unwept tears.

In my dreams I’m lost in Montreuil’s labyrinthine murs á pêches, hands a mess of clawed juice, crushed kernel or I’m deep in the catacombs – conducting a pyramid of skulls grinning dusty harmonies to regretful songs.

I am building Paris in my bedroom. See, here’s the Eiffel Tower fashioned from a cat’s cradle lifted from my lover’s fingers in 1981. Today I plan to craft the silhouette of Sacré Coeur, tear off a wavering girl to place on the steps. She’s a girl who had a doll’s house but no idea of home; a girl who thinks she sees angels, bought a penny string of beads and named them rosary. A girl who looked for love in a scavenged prayerbook.

I am building Paris in my bedroom. Look, I’ll put a girl here on Pont St Michel cupping the silk of the Seine like a sacrament to fill her home with light, Gallic shrugs, the joyful lather of French soap, unexpected brioche crumbs between the sofa cushions. This girl knows she’s a cliché in her belted mac, angled beret, quick slick of rouge allure; some days she is noir to her soul – resistez, resistez! A girl can be too cool you know, instead of strutting the streets as if she belongs she should kiss the platform of the Gare du Nord, ecstatic, papal.

I am building Paris in my bedroom. Here are the chaotic market stalls of Barbès clustered under my bed. I fashion them the old way with matchsticks and twine, colour in polystyrene food with felt-tip pens. The trick is to not want to be somewhere else, not to crave the cracked skin of a perfect baguette. This girl, this girl, when she tries to speak her mouth is dry with the rust of unsaid vowels.

(This poem appeared in the 2021 Live Canon Poetry Prize Anthology)

 

Bryce

I learn this quilt will contain
a hundred thousand unknown names

all forty-two of my facial muscles
try not to cry as I stitch the memory

of the day you showed me your arms
bejewelled with sarcoma,

how I felt the stutter of your
dancing heartbeat.

I re-imagine you flying home
to die in the Australian sun

while we mourned among
the cold grey bricks of Rotherhithe.

Then the others too were claimed,
one by one, long and slow and cruel

as purgatory. I honour your name
in thread the colour of sunlight,

whispering all the news of all the years
you never knew me.

(This poem appears in both Sue’s full collections, In the Kingdom of Shadows and Confetti Dancers. Go here to find out more about these books.)

 

A reverse abecedarian in praise of Paris

this city is a jazz riff high as a skylark shouting yes yes yes to April   this city is an expletive on the webby wad of your tongue   it is not a valentine’s card or a passive verb   this city is a crucible for umbrellas   a tender prism   a slow dance with no stoplights   this city is retrofitted with cobbles and revolutionary baguettes   this city is acquisitive and pronounceable a psycho-geographic love letter   this city is overused   a never-ending mosquito bite saying look at my lovely toys all spire and steeple and dome   this city thinks it’s a kingdom   will make a jumble sale of your heart   is an implausible impetuous impinger of your dreams   this city is held in the hands of saints   an unshareable galette des rois   it’s a fickle flirty madame blowing lipstick in your eyes   this city is a raised eyebrow   a dust-bath for little sparrows and all their bright chansons   this city will never be a cardigan   it’s a bourrée executed when the Seine runs red with sunset   this city is an abyss and I’m still falling because this city is

(A version of this poem was highly commended in The Plough Poetry Prize 2022)