Frozen Charlotte

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07/10/2014 by funnomad

frozen charlotte

I missed this year’s White Knight medieval art fair in Toronto by minutes. With a car full of family, and bathroom break inclined children especially, we skirted along King street and down Bathurst as the Nuit Blanche barricades were erected behind us. That our car was bathed in the soft glare of oncoming traffic was about as close as we came to the theme. We barely made it out in time. I swear I could feel Damien Hirst’s diamond cold stare on my neck.

That said, I did have one small contribution to the extravaganza: a poem which served as the wrapper to a series of multiples by the venerable Toronto artist Catherine Heard. The last time Catherine and I collaborated together was for the Great Canadian Beaver Ball series in St. Catharines — which, poignantly, ended with a whole network of art-filled vending machines scattered around the city. In this project in 2014, Catherine created a series of earthenware dolls wrapped in poems by four different poets (one of whom is my collaborator Gary Barwin). They are being sold via vending machine at Artscape Youngplace and at The Lucky Penny cafe on Shaw Street.

The dolls are a reminder of a widely popular doll from the late 19th century based on the folk ballad of tragic “Frozen Charlotte“. Lots of versions of the song abounded, but all were the 19th century equivalent of contemporary slut-shaming: the girl won’t cover herself up to impress her date, and so (naturally) freezes to death. The porcelain dolls served as reminder of the fate of this original bad girl.

My poem linked that story up another folk ballad, “The Frozen Logger” and maybe a hint of Emily Dickinson. I think the poem should be dedicated to Monty Reid, with whom I once played this song at the end of a long, chilly but lovely literary evening in St. Catharines.

Here’s the poem:

“Frozen Charlotte”
For Monty Reid

Who’s the villain-elle? Me? I crack into dust.
Blame me? Try you to see beneath my frozen glow.
For as I went out one evening, without fuss,
to a café filled with loggers, I burned into blush
to see such a man step in from that porcelain cold.
Who’s the villain-elle? Me? I cracked into dust.
They said don’t be proud, don’t be vain, don’t lust,
but find a man or your life be foretold.
For as I sat down that evening, without fuss,
he fired my life like a kiln; I combust.
And it seemed a chance respite from life’s scold.

Who’s the villain-elle? Me? I crack into dust.
From the mountains I came before I wasted away,
one night in a thousand free, and today not yet old.
For as I went out one evening, without fuss
I stepped into that cold with him by my side
as it froze clear to China, and I, ne’er his bride, ask,
‘Who’s the villain-elle now?’ Me? I cracked into dust
for as I went out one evening without fuss.

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