I’ve not worked much on Salmonweird recently (my crime comedy) but this is a segment of a recent scene that I’m really pleased with. Here, I’m introducing quite possibly the world’s worst Elizabethan poet. She thinks she never made it famous because she’s a woman and because the world had become so obsessed with Shakespeare that nobody could possibly get a look in. Anyway, here is an introduction to how truly terrible her poetry is.
‘I’ll be over there with Harry.’ As I entered, I’d noticed the pirate captain trying to catch my attention. He sat at a table near the bar with Wilhelmina Yorke and the wiry cabin boy who I had only met twice – I say “boy”, but I would guess he was at least 16. He waved at me as I turned away from Ebrel, Philip and his friends.
As I got close to the table, he leapt to his feet. ‘Ah, Mister Blackman. Let me buy you that drink I owe ya.’
‘Actually, Philip is-’
‘No, no. I insist.’ Had he been physically capable, I’m sure he would have dragged me by the hook on his left hand to the bar. As we leaned against the bar, I went to explain that I already had a drink on order, but he muttered just one word at me. ‘Help.’
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked, concerned.
‘Wilhelmina. I can’t stand to listen to it – it’s hideous!’
‘That blasted poem of hers about the man she loved. You know I’m not very cultured, I’m a pirate who can barely read, but even I can tell when literature is a load of sh-’
‘Shush, shush. She might hear you!’ I waved him down.
‘Come and sit with us and maybe you can try to help her?’
‘Me?! What on Earth do you think I know about romantic poetry?’ The closest I ever got was a variation of “Roses are red, violets are blue…” in a Valentine’s Card for my ex-wife.’
‘I’ve no idea what you’re talking about but by the sound of it you know more’n me, I guarantee that. Please help?’
Philip passed me my half pint of cider and I joined the three of them at the table, grateful for the company if nothing else.
Wilhelmina looked perturbed but no less pleased to see me. ‘Ah, Mister Blackman! I wondered if you would help me with some modern language so I may correct my poem?’ She waved a quill at me.
‘I’ll try but I have the poetic talent of-’ I paused (a failed Elizabethan poet?),’ of a three year old.’
‘”My love, when I look at you my eyes get stuck!”’ she said then looked at me anxiously.
I cocked my head curiously, ‘Is “stuck” the word you are looking for? Doesn’t strike up notions of romance to me, more like a medical problem?’
She slumped in her chair. ‘That’s the only line I like so far.’
‘Trust me, it’s the best line at the moment,’ said Hook Hand Harry, the hidden insult lost on Wilhelmina but not on me.
‘So, what do you mean?’ I asked her.
‘When I look at the man I love, I cannot avert my gaze.’ She shrugged. ‘Is that not obvious?’
‘Yes, but the wording is not quite right. Make it flowery and sweet. It’s hard to use the word “stuck” in a romantic context. Could you perhaps find a comparison in nature? How you are drawn to – I don’t know, what are you drawn to in nature?’
‘Trees, grass, a summer’s day.’
I smiled. ‘Then try finding a comparison that works for you.’
‘My love, I compare thy skin to that of a thistle,’ she began.
My heart sank and clearly, so did Harry’s – it seems she just wasn’t getting it. I took a long sip of my cider.
‘Not sure a thistle sends the right image.’
‘What about “Thine arms are like brambles”?’