Date of publication: 2017-07-09 05:36
BW: Right. Shall we go on to “Little Red Cap”? As well as being based on fairy tale, it also seems to be one of the poems with a strong autobiographical investment, focusing on the idea of yourself as a poet, asserting your independence.
BW: I suppose that’s what Pilate’s wife recognises, isn’t it, that whatever the fate of this figure, I mean it’s as much about Christ as it is about Pilate and Pilate’s wife x7576
BW: The poem has a beautiful form about it. You always seem interested in form and use it in a creative way. This is a kind of sonnet, at least it’s a fourteen line poem, and—like the “Anne Hathaway” poem—you hold off the rhyme until the last couplet, but nonetheless we’re aware of a certain formal elegance to the poem. The three line stanzas—which you’ve also used elsewhere—also recall those last poems of Sylvia Plath, and she is another poet who has written very movingly about a mother and her children. Was there, in any way, a drawing on that?
BW: The next poem is “Penelope” who is taken as the archetype of marital faithfulness. What were you trying to do with this poem? Subvert that idea?
CAD: Yes, it’s the cost of a broken heart, I suppose. I think Diana hadn’t long died when I wrote that poem, and so I was conscious of the national trauma about her death. Attitudes have changed since then, but I did feel terribly sad at the time, as did many others.
CAD: Yes, I suppose that what I’m saying in the poem is that the devil shouldn’t have a wife but there are some women who rely on the devil and what I’m saying is: why? And I’m exploring that. The devil should be single, if a devil were to exist, which I doubt. But what I’m saying is that—as in Nazi Germany—they are women who get hitched up to diabolical men. So it’s saying women do this, we’re not a superior species. There are women who get involved with diabolical men. How can that be?
The first time we meet Higgins he's acting as a combination street magician/peacemaker. He calms down Eliza, then proceeds to show off his skills by telling people where they're from just by listening to the sound of their voice. Oh, and he can mimic them too. Right from the beginning we can tell he's a bit of a braggart and a bit of a preacher—he can't help but tell Pickering all about his trade, his life philosophy, and his ability to turn flower girls into duchesses just by changing their accent and speech pattern—but as far as first impressions go, he makes a pretty good one. He comes off as a cool customer.
When Higgins orders Mrs. Pearce to burn Eliza's clothes and fetch her new ones, the housekeeper stands up for the girl and tells Higgins he can't casually "take a girl up" as if he "were picking up a pebble on the beach."
CAD: I think poets and writers have done that forever! What you can do as a poet is take on a story and make it new. Dramatists do this as well. One of the stories in the book is Pygmalion, which has been used by writers from George Bernard Shaw to Willie Russell in Educating Rita, old stories which are made fresh.
CAD: It’s like the little black dress or the suit that you put on for a wedding or a funeral, a formal occasion. And “Queen Kong”, which follows, is also straightforwardly about love.
BW: But this is a poem about someone who is estranged from the situation she’s in and who finds this figure, the figure of Christ, attractive. I mean, she doesn’t believe he is a god, but he has power and she is attracted: “he looked at me. My God./ His eyes were eyes to die for.”