How to hand-raise
First, you must practice on gilding metal, which
behaves more like silver than copper ever does. Then
[but they have given me the most precious thing first. Having cats or dogs or bloody fish, or even relatives and friends – none of that could possibly have readied me for this]
take your sheet of 12 gauge.
Pierce a perfect sterling disc.
File any rags away.
Stone the surface. Take a 2b pencil, draw
concentric circles, half a centimetre apart. Plot
[but I have no way of predicting what will happen. I cannot tell what falls, what climbs, what swims will lie ahead. I cannot tell]
every hammered round.
Cut an aluminium profile.
Be sure to use it – every single course. Sit
[what profile? What shape? He is like no-one else. He is him]
Ensure your former is clasped
tight in the vice. It must not move at all. Strike
[there is no certainty in these moves]
your silver, steadily, precisely. Aim
every hammer blow at that exact same spot.
Work with a steady pace. Do not
attempt to compress your metal quickly or
[there is no even rhythm. Some weeks flame by in a million flaring seconds sharped in sore bright sparks. Some crawl dungeoned into eons. Nothing comes in measured lines]
your disc will surely crack.
After the first, and every course,
anneal your piece dull red.
play the flame for three full minutes. Quench
[how can I soothe these slip plains, align this into workable order? Now, I am not saying malleable, no. What do I do to make him flexible for all that runs ahead?]
in the waiting bucket.
pickle off all the sulphides and the oxides in a bath –
of sulphuric acid – ten per cent. Wash
[there is no way to strip off darkness, no means to walk open, unstained into the hit of hard ahead]
your object. Dry it well.
Raise every course. Coax every line
from the centre to the outer. Always caulk
back the edge. Build it up
Listen to your metal.
Never let it crack.
[but there are fractures everywhere. How can I fill this damaged space? Everything is opened out to air. I cannot see it heal]
When you see your form complete, check
that it matches the profile you’ve prepared. Select
[this is another shape. This will not fit. Nor is mine the only hand in this]
your planishing hammer. Cosset it well.
Keep it papered to a mirror finish.
[I do not want to see my face]
Now watch. Glance this hammer’s fall
across the form.
[yes, every impact builds]
Beth McDonough trained in Silversmithing at GSA, completing her M.Litt at Dundee University . Writer in Residence at Dundee Contemporary Arts 2014-16, her poetry appears in Gutter, The Interpreter’s House and Antiphon and elsewhere and her reviews in DURA. Handfast (with Ruth Aylett, May 2016) charts family experiences – Aylett’s of dementia and McDonough’s of autism.
I defy anyone to read this poem, and this bio, and not have some questions for this wonderful poet. It’s more than we could do. We simply had to contact Beth and find out some more about her silversmithing, her poetry reviewing, her writing process, her use of riddles and plans for funerals. If you’d like to read more about Beth McDonough, and we highly recommend that you do, please click here for our first ever poetry spotlight.