The Bell Jar: Jo Bell's blog

"She lives the poetry she cannot write" – Wilde

It is not enough to succeed: a friend must fail

My finest moment

Yes, alright, this is another cheat. I am easing myself into NaPoWriMo with a recent poem, not written specifically for the challenge but (in my defence) finished only last week – and like yesterday’s piece, destined to appear in our Riverlands show later this month. A gongoozler, if you can’t tell, is what boaters call the people who stare at us from the bank and take photographs just as you are buggering up a particularly difficult manoeuvre.

It is not enough to succeed: a friend must fail

Our inland challenges are not those of the sea.
Something in me settles like a bee
on those gongoozlers who
stand, arms crossed, on the bank
expecting me to fail –
because I am a woman
because I am younger than them
because I am 5’ 6” –

in steering a big boat through a narrow space
you’ll never get through there love
and watch me with their chins raised
and who do not call me love
when I do it
though I may have done it
with my tongue between my teeth.

Something in me’s not above a compliment
from a passer-by
who, seeing me reverse
not expertly, but sure enough
into a berth just big enough,
is sure enough of me
to offer me no guidance:

but who watches me
and shares my small success
so that I step down from the counter
with an added grace,
with thankfulness for small skills
and revenges.


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4 comments on “It is not enough to succeed: a friend must fail

  1. carolinadelacruz
    April 2, 2012

    I really enjoyed how you brought this poem to its conclusion, it makes such a satisfying end for this particular reader. The word ‘gongoozlers’ is wonderful!

    • Jo Bell
      April 2, 2012

      Thank you. Not my own word – it’s an old boating word!

  2. Sleepless Knight
    April 3, 2012

    In poetry, as in those graceful boating manoeuvres… beautifully done.

  3. Ashley
    April 5, 2012

    Look, listen & learn, always the preferred behaviour.

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This entry was posted on April 2, 2012 by in Boating life, Readings and writings and tagged , , , , .
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