Sue Boyle lives in Bath where she organises the Bath Poetry Cafe and the associated Cafe Workshops and Cafe Writing Days. Her work has been published by The Rialto, Acumen, Magma, Poetry Salzburg and The Interpreter’s House.
Her poem ‘A Leisure Centre is Also a Temple of Learning’ was chosen for the Forward Prize Anthology 2009, and her collection Too Late for the Love Hotel was a winner of the 2009 Book & Pamphlet Competition (judged by Andrew Motion).
ABOUT THE POEM
Sue Boyle’s poem is about a young woman on the brink of adulthood. The media teach her that she should be using different exfoliants, scrubs and lotions to have beautiful skin. The young woman could be seen as inexperienced and seeking for romantic love. Hence her maintaining her body by exercising and using all these beauty products. Despite the lighthearted exterior of the poem, there is a much darker meaning, it being that the young girl could potentially be a victim of the more dangerous and deceptive adult love. Therefore the “chorus” of women observing her, sympathise with the girl and feel protective because they know from experience what to expect in life and that not everything is as rosy and charming as the young woman might image. Also, if you turn the prism of the poem one can see that the girl is metaphorically turning herself into a flower which will then be sipped by a “bee”. The old women can see this and think they know “what happens next”, but of course they cannot know, just like the reader they can only speculate. But, between them, they will know enough about the world and what can happen to innocent, optimistic and naive young women. Finally, the poem also rejoiced in beauty, hope and the tenderness the old women feel towards the girl, and that darkness will not triumph over light.
- Starts with the older women being awed by the beauty of the young lady. We get a third person description of her which makes the reader feel as if they are also present in the female changing rooms, observing her every move.
- The tone changes on the line “she is much younger than the rest of us” because we finally focalise on the women’s thoughts and understand that she is the anomaly there. The older women’s views could be interpreted in several ways: either they are jealous of her beauty and want to scrutinise her routine, or they feel obliged to warn and protect the girl from the dangers of the outside world.
- At the end of the poem the space between the lines could represent the women’s age gap.
- “Honey coloured girl”: implies that she is tanned, sun-kissed and had a healthy glow
- “Lithe as a young leopard”: (alliteration) she is graceful, has sex-appeal, ready to hunt/search for love, we get a sense of her powerful slow erotic movements
- “Her hair so clean it looks like a waterfall”: (cliché) the simile is used to describe her hair being long, clean and shiny.
- “A bee could sip her”: (a metaphor), which has a dangerous and sexual undertone, echoing the rest of the poem.
- “She is summer cream slipped over raspberries”: sensory image/metaphor
Artificial things/media influence
- “Showered away the pool chemicals”: removing all impurities
- “Aromatic scrub and gentle exfoliant”: long ritual of making her body look perfect, she is also influenced by the media and has fallen into the trap of following the mainstream cosmetic trends
- “She moisturises then spray perfumes”: wants to smell fresh like a flower
- “Absorbed in making her body more beautiful”: she is oblivious to everything else around her
Young (innocence) vs. Old (experience)
- “She has flexed and toned every muscle with a morning swim”: she is healthy and sporty, maintaining her shape. She is cleaning herself from the chemicals.
- “She has perfect bone structure”: like a barbie doll. The girl is represented as a deity of extreme beauty and perfection, something the other women have lost with age.
- “In dreamy abstractedness, she moisturises”: she is lost in thought about being wanted by men, potential affairs, what men and women would think of her once she’s all set up.
- “She is so much younger than the rest of us”:
- “We know what happens next”: it’s a double-edged sword because the women cannot know what will happen next, only speculate.
- “We twelve are the chorus” – an archaic feel, like a Greek chorus
- “Her secret cleft is shaved as neatly as a charlatan’s moustache”: (simile), extremely sexual image, again by following trends she has shaved her pubic hair. Also, the charlatan’s moustache might imply that she is a trickster, someone with secrets. To the reader as well as the women in the poem, we have no insight as to what she is thinking we are only seeing her exterior. Therefore she appears mysterious and more intriguing.
- “Every part that might be loved”: she is not currently in a relationship. Therefore she’s prepping herself for a future encounter.
- “The kiss points below her ears”: sensual image, tone of desire
- “The nuzzle between her breasts, her willow thighs”: sexually suggest that someone has been there before
By Jenny Shen