Friday, 10 August 2012

Sudden Prose Reprints: "Sweet Painted Ladies" by Helen Pizzey

Sweet Painted Ladies

A child sits at her mother’s fancy dressing table. She dabs thinly-scented cream behind her ears and at the pulse of her wrists, then paints her mouth with fat, greasy lipstick: red, the colour her mother wears when she screws up her face and yells “No!” Pressing her lips to tissue, the little girl is pleased with the mothy mark that they make – or is it, perhaps, like a pair of blood-streaked caterpillars? Downstairs, a familiar scratched record is slapped onto the stereogram: “Take these chains from my heart and let me go”. The child gets down and runs outside to the buddleia bush. There she stands with her ruby pout, pulling the wings from butterflies.

Helen Pizzey

"Sweet Painted Ladies" first appeared in Writing Your Self (ed. Myra Schneider and John Killick, Continuum Press, 2009). Pizzey is Assistant Editor at PURBECK! magazine and appears in the anthology This Line Is Not for Turning: Contemporary British Prose Poetry (ed. Jane Monson, Cinnamon, 2011), among other journals and anthologies in the UK and US. She received her MA in creative writing from Bath Spa University in 2005. 


BritPaige13 said...

This starts out so sweet and then ends with a dark haunting twist. Well done. I enjoyed.

Robuscus said...

What makes this successful as a prose poem? Well, personally, I enjoyed the comment "with the mothy mark that they make - or is it, perhaps, like a pair of blood-streaked caterpillars". This is a pretty interesting comment on something mundane and everyday that wouldn't originally be noticed. Are women really wearing murderous caterpillars on their lips? Seeing as this is not a question that normally people contemplate, and how many prose poems seem to exist for this purpose of asking new, odd questions, I'd rate this as a highly successful prose-poem indeed.
I'd also agree with BritPaige13's comment on the story arc twists.

Ben said...

What makes this a successful prose poem? Several things, chief among which is that it revolves around a single image/concept; the red lipstick. There are also several references to moths, caterpillars and butterflies, which, when combined with the likening of the red lips to ‘blood streaked caterpillars’ expands the image. There is a darker underlying theme here, shown by the child’s recognition of her mother yelling ‘No!’, which may be hinting at abuse of some sort to either the mother or the child. The ending image of pulling wings from butterflies symbolises being trapped in such a situation, and allows this to work incredibly well, because, even though there is no journey in the poem, we finish reading it feeling differently about the situation to when we started.

Laura Hill said...

I really liked this prose poem and though it has a very distinctive prose style it reads very fluidly which makes it easy to identify as a piece of prose poetry. Pizzey prose poem has an undeniable focus on a young girl dressing up in her mother’s make up but it feels like there is a more sinister undertone to the piece. The line, ‘then paints her mouth with fat, greasy lipstick: red, the colour her mother wears when she screws up her face and yells “No!”’, implies this. The fact that the lipstick is red and described as ‘fat’ and ‘greasy’ creates a very striking image of a little girl with bright red lipstick on but also makes it haunting because the reader is left with the impression that her mother is a sinister character. I can recall playing with my own mother make up as a child which makes this piece relatable, but Pizzey piece is so successful because of the easily identifiable themes running. The colour red, blood- streaked caterpillars and pulling wings of butterflies all build into the sinister nature of the piece and give it very clear focus.