Geraldine Monk


Working Note

As part of an ongoing series which requires research into the techniques and history of needlework I came across Opus Anglicanum. Medieval England was the time and place which produced embroideries of such exquisite beauty and craft that England became the eponymous hero of sacred and secular embellishment.

As I began working on the notes, the sifting and shifting towards a finished text, an extraordinary event happened: Dr David Kelly the Iraq weapons inspector and expert on biological and chemical weapons committed suicide. Pink pink pink / go the shears…

The eschewing Hutton Inquiry into the doctor's death would throw up daily revelations on the duplicitous fabrications and hoodwinking that formed the British Government's pretext for invading Iraq. The text took on a new dynamic.

This method of allowing current affairs to insinuate into my text is not new but this was such an unlikely coupling. Medieval decorative craftwork became stained by present day power spooks stalking the halls of Downing Street and Whitehall. The lavish expense of Queen's Golden Jubilee year followed by one of the most ignominious episodes in British political history would leave many British citizens reeling with powerlessness and alienation.

A reference that may be lost to readers outside the U.K. concerns Tony Blair's fanatical and very public craving that he makes his mark on history. On the subject of Iraq it over-reached into psychosis. He not only personified history but dictated to it, ‘History will be my judge' implying history would find him innocent. For Blair the awful and guilt-ridden present of his illegal ‘war' took refuge in a future forgiving history. It was an astounding and alarming feat of mental (pun intended) time travel which rendered the British electorate conveniently dead ipso facto totally irrelevant. But the death of Dr Kelly lay in wait in the wings. Dong/The history drowns.

From its original accolade for the production of beautiful artefacts Opus Anglicanum takes on new and darker connotation and the poem becomes a lament: What beauty we unravelled .


Opus Anglicanum



taunts sewn daily
a cluster
of ad-ages: history history history
will be sore-winged with
selective forgiving

A cast shedding envy
throughout Europe. oui ya sí
we gave them
a-needling to die for
couching ore sprigs
into brand ancient chasubles of awe
so much so they named it after us
             O-Opus Anglicanum
‘England is for us surely a garden
of delights - an inexhaustible well' –
so sang Papa Innocent to our choral copes
and mitres.



what beauty we unravelled



With every fibre of spin
Ministers of Misrule
thread-paint moral empires on their
sleeves.. pink pink pink
go the shears at the wrists
on the edge of the wood

secular embroidery
- what stands still long enough -
catches trappings
banners palls purses
underneath and hidden linen
outre vestments
couched bed hangings
misleading cushions
lips lying in wait
you name it
and a pair of shin-new
leg-long buskins found
in a power-tomb in Canterbury
where a cathedral is


a metre of petersham
stiff out a great coat
sham to spare for
fair war





stuckup on thorn hedge
hemmed in
broderie anglaise
pearlies kink the may day
blossom floss
a fly pass is
buzzing her maj
at enormous expense
the sky streaks red white
on blue

Intelligence born in sour light
cramps eyes guiding the gilt ~
a sequence of sequins
is a chain of glitzer
on the slope
going blind for an
            anthem is a song
                                       too high
on a hot bright morning in
a strained voice
he sang
across the waters:

‘we have not yet found shiny
pointy things we call weapons'

finger their bodkins
weaving empires

upon time

threads get knotted


Dong! The history drowns.


Bio: Geraldine Monk's Noctivagations: a collection of poems and other texts was published by West House Books in 2001. Her Selected Poems was brought out in 2003 by Salt Publications.

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