Friday Poem – The Tall Thin Tenor


The Tall Thin Tenor comes from Kathryn Maris’s collection God Loves You published in 2013.

Kathryn Maris borrows rhythms, vocabulary and themes from the Bible in this collection of poems. The result is more than artful parody, although a sly wit is in evidence. It is an approach that accommodates large themes, unravelling them in new ways.

The first section, ‘What will the neighbours think?, is a kaleidoscopic view of the sins and sinners of the modern city and opens, appropriately enough, with a vision of a flood to rival Noah’s. The poems feature domestic discord, gossip, suicide, celebrity and anxiety about the safety and behaviour of children and spouses. It says much about this poet’s meticulous poise and tone that we are lured into these scenarios with our sympathies fully engaged.

The following sections subvert scripture more directly. A mock-prayer opens: ‘My father, who art in heaven,/ sits under an umbrella that is his firmament’; a sonnet begins: ‘Kyrie eleison! I said it in the pub.’ Such burlesque moments mask poignant themes of praise or blame, as well as being funny. A skilful use of form is characteristic, as in the sestina ‘Darling, Will You Please Pick up those Books?’ Other pieces are set out in the numbered style of psalms or parables but have an entirely contemporary edge.

The Tall Thin Tenor

The tall thin tenor sings
The tall thin tenor sings to the young soprano
The young soprano sings the part of Poppea
The young woman Poppea has seduced the king
The tall thin tenor is king
The young soprano Poppea becomes the new young queen
The young soprano replaces the old queen Ottavia
The old queen Ottavia sings of replacement

The tall thin tenor sings over the soprano
The tall thin tenor sings over her to his small thin wife
His small thin wife holds a child in the stalls
His thin wife holds their quiet daughter
His small wife sings quietly to their daughter
The small wife is quiet when the queen sings

Kathryn will be reading at the Stanza Poetry Festival alongside fellow poets Carolyn Jess-Cooke and Hollie McNish on Friday 6th March. Find out more on our website here.

Order God Loves You from Seren’s website.

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