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Poem of the week: Bodies by Miriam Gamble

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An aspect of a horse’s training provides some unsettling analogies with the powers that humans learn to accept

Miriam Gamble’s new collection, Pirate Music, extends her interrogation of human-animal relations, and includes an affectionate focus on horses. But no one approaching this week’s poem, Bodies, should be lulled into thinking “Oh, another horse poem – been there, read that …”. Gamble’s anthropomorphism is distinctly not of the obvious or sentimental kind.

Bodies contains a parable woven around the two particular things the junior horse “must learn” – namely, “to carry its own weight/ through the use of its quarters” and “to take a contact on the mouth”. The colt learns instinctively to balance upright on four legs, although the word “use” might hint at more intrusive burdens later on. But the “contact on the mouth” implies a sharper curb, the horse made subject to a human control that’s immediately seen as problematic.

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