Crow Redressed Against the Manciple

No, Cock’s bones! I think not! No gossip, this.
Did you not hang my cage in Phoebus’ house?
Did he not teach me mimicry? Be honest,
was it not but to spy on that wife he so jealously
guarded? By sadde tokenes and by wordes bold
by sworn testimony of sober observation
I gave witness to that great villainy.
I did my job. I did it well. Why still my voice?
Why fling me to the devil?
Why blacken my reputation?

Let’s hear his confession. It was his rage that killed her.
Would a Lord have deigned to hear her explanation?
Murder is his tag.
You’ve got your tales and maxims all mixed up.
Confuse the issue. Distract us with dissembling.
Wickedness lies not in my tongue but in your telling.

Questions and Answers

What inspired or motivated you to write this poem? How does/doesn’t the poem reflect this inspiration or motivation?

As part of my manuscript, “Poet Without A Country,” I’m writing collaborative poems with dead writers. I love Chaucer so I wanted to work with one of his characters. This poem challenges the protagonist of the Manciple’s tale.

What poetic techniques did you try to use in this poem? How much attention do you pay to form and metre?

Form and metre are important to me. Loose poems become either prosaic or sound like translations. Specifically, I tried to keep the narrative voice speaking in Chaucer’s language.

How did your writing process unfold around this poem? How did you write, edit, and refine it?

This particular poem came out almost full-dressed. It began with:

Speak, your master warned, and be silenced,

be exiled to earth’s end by a tyrant

whether gossip or witness hold your tongue.

A jangler is to God abhomynable

reed Senekke

my sone, spek not, but with thyn heed thou bekke.

I had in mind Ovid who was Chaucer’s inspiration but in the end I thought that to go that route would be too difficult for today’s reader. Too academic. So I decided to concentrate on the Tale, itself, to make my point which is “I gave witness / to that great villainy.” Not the whistle-blowing but the murder that took place after speaking out.

What did you find particularly challenging in writing this poem?

This poem as with all of my collaborative poems is wrought carefully as a triskele which juggles the dead writer’s words, my own, and that which binds us together, binds us so that we don’t know whose words they are—the dead or the living poet?

This poem “Crow Redressed Against the Manciple” originally appeared in Gendering the Archive. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 217 (Summer 2013): 53.

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