It’s brilliant, the things one learns in the midst of editing and compiling a literary anthology. On the one hand, there’s a veritable smorgasbord of technical and sensible methods in which to do certain things: “Aha, so that’s the best way to format this piece the way the author intended,” I might say. “Aha,” I might also say, “so that’s how you embed page numbers. I’d completely forgotten how to do that.” Or even, at the end of a long day experimenting, “Aha! Now I can import this font that previously didn’t exist into InDesign’s archaic font library.”
Things like that.
On the other hand, one can learn about all kinds of fascinating and exotic customs, places and fables from all over the world. Such was happily the case when New South Wales teacher, writer and poet Darcy-Lee Tindale submitted her grotesquely erotic yet darkly humorous open form poem ‘Sculpture in a Groac’h Pond’.
“What the hell is a Groac’h?” I asked myself after finishing this epic poem chock full of swampy imagery, passive-aggressive talking critters, long and yellowed walrus teeth, ruminative introspections about love and time forever lost, themes of violence and sexual satisfaction, and peculiar cooking techniques. I’d never read anything quite like it, and I immediately decided to accept it for my anthology. It was perfect.
The Groac’h, I learned, is a form of water fairy common to the Breton region of France. Largely malevolent, the Groac’h lives in caverns near swamps and lakes, and can change her shape. Her modus operandi in many tales consists of seducing men, turning them into fishes, and then cooking them up to serve as dinner to guests. The Groac’h is often rendered as a solitary witch-like crone, craving nothing more than to exist alone in nature.
Not the Groac’h here. In Tindale’s telling, she is trapped in a loveless marriage to her husband, who’s only referred to as “Him”. She is a frustrated and woefully undersexed being lamenting the irreversible passing of time and the loss of her youth.
And in spite – in spite, she could claw at her face. Rip away the years. Unveil
Lost youth. It’s there, somewhere, hidden under layers of life, etched in lines.
Where did I go? Where did I go? asks the Groac’h.
Her milky white eyes sting
But it’s years – years too late for tears.
I think what I love most about this poem is that it takes a relatively obscure French water fairy (fun fact: Groac’h used to be the Breton term for fairies in general) and it reflects us with her needs and desires. Don’t we all just want to be loved and respected for what we are?
I certainly think so.