Poem of the week: 'The fuss you made about your wedding veil' by Abigail Parry

Tristram Fane Saunders
·2 min read
Claude Rains (left) in The Invisible Man (1933) 
Claude Rains (left) in The Invisible Man (1933)

Of the 100 or so poetry books I have reviewed for this paper since 2017, there’s none I’ve returned to more often, or with more pleasure, than Abigail Parry’s Jinx.

Dark and mischievous, it’s a perfect Hallowe’en read – a parade of silver-screen monsters. There are poems about Creature from the Black Lagoon and the 1925 version of The Phantom of the Opera, as well as an unforgettable monologue in the voice of The Wolf Man’s Lon Cheney Jr.

But in this poem, via a “rainy Sunday afternoon” re-run, Parry wryly summons up The Invisible Man and its famous unmasking scene. In her telling, the scene leaves actor Claude Rains uneasy: was this the moment his talent was eclipsed by mere spectacle?

The poem hints at the idea that a wedding veil might turn its wearer into a kind of Invisible Woman, as she disappears into her new role. Even the names for different kinds of veil – “illusion”, “birdcage”, “juliet” – each seem to offer a cynical commentary on matrimony. But Parry doesn’t labour the point. It’s just as much a poem about the power of cinema, “the ruthless magic of a spectacular age”.

Half the pleasure of these lines is in their smooth, sinuous rhythm and rhyme. Take a moment to read them aloud. The title, itself a perfect pentameter, offers an elegant off-rhyme with the poem’s closing line (veil/well) – neatly tying the knot.

Best poetry books of 2020
Best poetry books of 2020
The fuss you made about your wedding veil

When thin enough, it’s called illusion
which will always mean to me
Claude Rains, in 1933,
hurling his nose at the gathered crowd.
The villagers look on dumbly (as do I
from several decades down the line
one rainy Sunday afternoon).
The landlady, screwed up into her bun,
shrieks her famous shriek. Off come the goggles,
off, in furious rounds,
the wound-round bandage covering no wounds,
no face at all. The bobby’s first to speak.
Look, he says.
He’s all eaten away. A horrid phrase
and one I never could dislodge –
not when the credits rolled, or when I learned
about mattes and velvet screens, and Rains
fussing, claustrophobic in his suit.
Afraid of what? Perhaps to be the first
to feel himself winked out
before the eyes of the gathered crowd, and by
the ruthless magic of a spectacular age.
How seamless it all seems –
how easily one might just
fade to black
                                     or slip between
twelve different shades of white,
and edged or plain, and tulle or net,
bandeau, birdcage, juliet –
yes. I think I’d make a fuss as well. 

 

From Jinx (Bloodaxe, £9.95)