Thursday 30 April 2015

Z is for Ziety

Ann Ziety seems to be a bit of an enigma. She seems to be most well known for a book of children's poems entitled 'Bumwigs and Earbeetles and Other Unspeakable Delights' (which sounds like something that would delight small children and is available very cheap second hand), but I cannot find a photo let alone a website. I found this poem by her in 'The Virago Book of Wicked Verse'.

One Day He's Gonna Cook Me A Meal

one day he's gonna cook me a meal
a big meal
a big monster of a meal
with perfectly roasted crispy potatoes
and succulent garden-grown baby carrots
nesting like sneaky little surprises
beneath some richly flavoured sauce

one day he's gonna cook me a meal
and for once his timing will be perfect

he will go to all that trouble
of scraping and slicing and peeling and dicing
of reaching boiling point
and taking care not to burn
and taking time over all those little details
and stirring and blending and caring and worrying
breaking down over the creme caramel
and not wanting any help or instructions
and never, no never
giving up and instead making pilchard sandwich
with stale bread

he will arrange everything
like an exuberant Egon Ronay
on a willow-pattern dinner plate
swirling with dancing tongues of curling steam
and offer it to me like some long lost treasure

and I'm not going to say thank you
I'm not going to say aren't you having some
I will eat it, insatiable
sucking it up like an empty whale
my head stuck right in there
cramming my mouth with a vegetable paradise
grunting over the creamy white horseradish
gobbling like some hysterical piglet
slopping it everywhere
my face mottled with dark ripples of gravy
which run unstoppable down my chin
my neck my breasts
and congeal
in a brown solid stain
right where my heart is

one day he's gonna cook me a meal
and I'm gonna run my hands through it
feel the squelch of steaming mash
squeeze those pretty little peas till they pop
cram my ears full of pulpy swede
burrow into the thick nest of buttered cabbage
gorge and wallow and swim around
in the sweet-smelling juices
till the cows come home
till I burst with red
till I can't breathe any more

I'll probably die
but it'll be worth it
cos hell
I've been waiting for this meal
a long time

Linking also to one called My Knickers that Dunk found that is just brilliant.

(Linking back for the final time to the A to Z Challenge)

Wednesday 29 April 2015

Y is for Young

Poetry Foundation
I was going to post something by W. B. Yeats but when I went browsing the Poetry Foundation website I found Kevin Young, and I rather liked this one because it contrasted so beautifully with Aunt Julia from day M.


There's a way a woman
          will not

her pocketbook
          even pulled
onstage, or called up

to the pulpit -
          there's a way only
your Auntie can make it

taste right -
          rice & gravy
is a meal

if my late Great Aunt
          Toota makes it -
Aunts cook like

there's no tomorrow
          & they're right.
Too hot

is how my Aunt Tuddie
           peppers everything
her name given

by my father, four, seeing
           her smiling in her crib.
There's a barrel

full of rainwater
          beside the house
that my infant father will fall

into, trying to see
          himself - the bottom -
& there's his sister

Margie yanking him out
          by his hair grown long
as superstition. Never mind

the flyswatter they chase you
          round the house
& into the yard with

ready to whup the daylight
          out of you -
that's only a threat -

Aunties will fix you
           potato salad
& save

you some. Godmothers,
Aunts smoke like

it's going out of style -
           & it is -
make even gold

teeth look right. Shining
          saying I'll be
John, with a sigh. Make way

out of no way -
          keep the key
to the scale that weighed

the cotton, the cane
          we raised more
than our share of -

If not them, then who
          will win heaven?
holding tight

to their pocketbooks
           at the pearly gates
just in case.

And, because I had intended to have more videos during the challenge and not really looked, here he is reading the poem:

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Tuesday 28 April 2015

X is for xxxxx

Cut me some slack on this one, I decided to give you a couple of anonymous poems. Anonymity in writing is sometimes used, to hide behind, when saying something you know will be disapproved of, socially or politically, but these I guess are just really old. 

From 'The Virago Book of Wicked Verse', labelled 12th century AD, translated from Sanskrit by Willis Barnstone:

I like sleeping with somebody different


It's nicest when my husband is in a foreign country

and there's rain in the streets at night
and wind

and nobody

And the second one I read about somewhere on my travels through the poetry universe and found it, coincidentally, in 'The Rattle Bag', titled The Seven, translated from Sumerian by Jerome K. Rothenberg:

They are 7 in number, just 7
In the terrible depths they are 7
Bow down, in the sky they are 7

In the terrible depths, the dark houses
They swell, they grow tall
They are neither female nor male
They are a silence heavy with seastorms
They bear off no women their loins are empty of children
They are strangers to pity, compassion is far from them
They are deaf to men's prayers, entreaties can't reach them
They are horses that grow to great size that feed on mountains
They are the enemies of our friends
They feed on the gods
They tear up the highways they spread out over the roads
They are the faces of evil they are the faces of evil

They are 7 they are 7 they are 7 times 7
In the name of Heaven let them be torn from our sight
In the name of Earth let them be torn from our sight

(Linking back to the A to Z Challenge)

Monday 27 April 2015

W is for Williams

Turning away from the weighty tomes today's poem comes from 'Short and Sweet: 101 very short poems' edited by Simon Armitage, and is by the American poet William Carlos Williams. I love particularly poems which capture something very tiny about life, and express it exquisitely.

This is Just to Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

(Linking back to the A to Z Challenge

Sunday 26 April 2015

The Yellow Wallpaper, The Lighthouse and all that (not an A to Z post)

Dewey's 24 hour Read-A-Thon was a low key affair with no Monkey for company but I did have a nice long evening of uninterrupted reading, which is quite a rare thing for me. I joined a read-along of Charlotte Perkins Gilman 'The Yellow Wallpaper' but could not find any discussion of the story on the host blogs. I was expecting it to be a novella, but it is quite a brief short story, and maybe all the more intense for it. Told first person it charts a young woman's descent from a "temporary nervous depression" into the depth of psychosis. It is the kind of tale that leaves you angry and frustrated, at the treatment and attitudes that women had to endure at that time (written well over 100 years ago), but also at their seeming inability to resist them. The word 'hysteria' is used to silence women, to explain their emotions and behaviour in terms of their femaleness, something that must be kept under control.
Early on she says, of her husband: "He is very careful and loving, hardly lets me stir without special direction. I have a schedule prescription for each hour of the day; he takes all care from me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more."(p.5), and it just makes me fume; she is being patronisingly told to be a good girl and do as she is told, and she ends up feeling it is her fault that she does not want to abide by the prescribed 'treatment'. She spends so much time staring at the vile wallpaper she begins to see things in the pattern: "But in the places where it isn't faded and where the sun is just so - I can see a strange, provoking, formless sort of figure, that seems to skulk about behind that silly and conspicuous front design." (p.10) The presence of this skulking figure begins to dominate here days: "Sometimes I think there are a great many women behind, and sometimes only one, and she crawls around fast, and her crawling shakes it all over. Then in the very bright spots she keeps still, and in the very shady spots she just takes hold of the bars and shakes them hard. And she is all the time trying to climb through." (p.19) Until gradually, she herself becomes the trapped figure: "If only the top pattern could be gotten off from the under one! I mean to try it, little by little. I have found out another funny thing, but I shan't tell it this time! It does not do to trust people too much. There are only two more days to get this paper off, and I believe John is beginning to notice. I don't like the look in his eyes." (p.20) It is very subtle and low key, a rising tension and suspicion of the people around her. A very disturbing and disconcerting tale. 
All the stories in the book are about women's experiences, how they manage life both with and without men. Many of them tell of women who must charm and win over reluctant husbands so that they can make something more of their lives. The next quote now comes from one entitled 'Turned' about a couple who take in a naive young woman as a servant. When the husband goes away on business the wife discovers that the girl is pregnant, and reacts angrily when she discovers the truth of the situation, but then on further intelligent reflection she makes a wonderfully argued case for the defence of the young girl who in this situation would be viewed by society as a fallen woman:
"Gerta might have done better in resisting the grocer's clerk; had, indeed, with Mrs Marroner's advice, resisted several. But where respect was due, how could she criticise? Where obedience was due, how could she refuse - with ignorance to hold her blinded - until too late?
As the older, wiser woman forced herself to understand and extenuate the girl's misdeed and foresee her ruined future, a new feeling rose in her heart, strong, clear, and overmastering; a sense of the measureless condemnation for the man who had done this thing. He knew. He understood. He could foresee and measure the consequences of his act. He appreciated to the full the innocence, the ignorance, the grateful affection, the habitual docility, of which he deliberately took advantage." (p.145-6)
I have not read all the stories yet but some very interesting insights into the early days of feminist thinking.

The other book I tackled yesterday was 'The Lighthouse' by Alison Moore, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2012. (It won the McKittrick Prize, which was interestingly also won by 'Dirty Work' by Gabriel Weston, that I reviewed a few months ago.) Oh, I hated this book ... but in a good way. I hated some of the characters, which is a pretty strong reaction for me. And then I hated the fact that she left the reader in the lurch at the end, though in retrospect it was the right ending, because sometimes, like Carl, you just won't ever know what happened. 
Futh is very mundane kind of bloke, and you almost like him for it, but maybe pity is closer to what I came to feel. He is taking a walking tour in Germany, to escape the reality of separating from his wife. The sad story of his life unfolds gradually as he watch him stagger wearily through the countryside along the Rhine. He seems to inadvertently miss out on a lot of meals, this was what struck me most about the story. It seemed somehow symbolic. The parallel story of Esther, the owner of the first guesthouse he stays in, is an equally sad one; a woman trapped with a cruel man who's affection she still craves, but who has taken to tormenting him just to get his attention. And the fate of a tiny silver lighthouse hangs in the balance throughout the book. 
First is this quote, because it reminded me of something I wrote on another blog:

"The mooring ropes are dropped into the water and Futh, like a disconcerted train passenger unable to tell whether it is his or the neighbouring train which is pulling out of the station, sees the untethered land drawing away from him. The engine chugs and the water turns white between the dock and the outward bound ferry." (p.3)

In this second Esther is contemplating romantic memories of her courtship with Bernard. It is poignant, but I found her nostalgia cloying because of how hard, and how unrealistically, she clings to it:

"She still has these thing. She keeps them in the drawer of her bedside table and looks through them sometimes, putting the dry flower to her nose. She handles the envelope's contents reverently as if these were the memorabilia of a dead pop star rather than the man she married, the man she still lives with.
Bernard, she thinks, would not recall now which film they saw on their first date, might not even remember that they went to the cinema on that occasion." (p.113)

The story lingers repeatedly over the final days on Futh's childhood, before his mother leaves them. Each time little details are added to the telling. It works beautifully as a repeated memory, the way you mind will go over and over significant events, searching for meaning, wishing, if only, things could have happened differently. I think it was these scenes which sucked me in the most, the mundanity of the moment, that then in hindsight takes on this huge significance:

"Futh, deciding to take a walk, stood up and ambled away. He felt his mother watching him go, but when he glanced back she was not looking at him. He wandered further, until he could no longer hear the drone of his father's voice. He was holding the perfume case which he had taken out of his mother's handbag, the silver lighthouse which his granddad had given to his father. His mother called it 'Uncle Ernst's perfume' as if she were just keeping it safe for him, but she wore it a lot of the time. Futh took the glass vial out of its case. He wanted to smell his mother's scent but he did not remove the stopper."(p.145)

And later that evening:

"That night, back in his own bed, Futh heard his mother in the shower. When she came to his room, standing by his pillow in her dressing gown, her face hanging over him like the moon in the night sky, she no longer smelled of violets or sun cream, or the oranges they had eaten on the way home. She smelled of the cigarettes she liked to smoke when she finished something." (p.148)

Smells feature significantly throughout the telling, good smells and bad ones, smells that turn bitter with the passing of time. Both the characters are yearning, Futh for his lost childhood, Esther for her lost marriage, and the crossing of their paths has fateful consequences. What an unexpectedly excellent book (not that I had low expectations, just that the story description is not very promising), easily short enough to read in one sitting, and well worth seeking out. 

Saturday 25 April 2015

V is for Vajdi

Wiki commons

I know a man
who reads all inscriptions on ancient stones
and who knows
the grammars of all languages, dead or alive,
but who cannot read
the eyes of a woman
whom he thinks he loves.

Shadab Vajdi

From the Virago Book of Love Poetry edited by Wendy Mulford.

(Linking back to the A to Z Challenge)

Friday 24 April 2015

U is for Un

Mariusz Kubik
I returned for today's post to the Poetry Foundation website and found Ko Un, a Korean poet. He has been both a Buddhist monk and a political prisoner, and now works for peace and reunification of his homeland. 

Asking The Way

You fools who ask what god is
should ask what life is instead.
Find a port where lemon trees bloom.
Ask about places to drink in the port.
Ask about the drinkers. 
Ask about the lemon trees.
Ask and ask until nothing's left to ask.

(Linking back to the A to Z Challenge)

Thursday 23 April 2015

T is for Thomas

T today brings you a poem from Edward Thomas. He was killed in the First World War and according to his wikipedia page he is considered a war poet, though little of his poetry concerns images of war. This poem comes from 'Heaven on Earth: 101 Happy Poems' edited by Wendy Cope, a retired library book that I bought at a charity shop. I like it for its appreciation of the under-appreciated. 

Tall Nettles

Tall nettles cover up, as they have done
These many springs, the rusty harrow, the plough
Long worn out, and the roller made of stone:
Only the elm butt tops the nettles now.

This corner of the farmyard I like most:
As well as any bloom upon a flower
I like the dust on the nettles, never lost
Except to prove the sweetness of a shower.

(Linking back to the A to Z challenge)

Wednesday 22 April 2015

S is for Szymborska

Wislawa Szymborska is a Polish poet who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1996, one of only twelve women to receive it. I first discovered her in 'Staying Alive' and went on to buy her first collection translated into english, 'View with a Grain of Sand'. 

The End and The Beginning

After every war
someone has to tidy up.
Things won't pick
themselves up, after all.

Someone has to shove
the rubble to the roadsides 
so the carts loaded with corpses
can get by,

Someone has to trudge
through sludge and ashes,
through the sofa springs,
the shards of glass,
the bloody rags.

Someone has to lug the post
to prop the wall
someone has to glaze the window,
set the door in its frame.

No sound bites, no photo opportunities
and it takes years.
All the cameras have gone
to other wars.

The bridges need to be rebuilt,
the railroad stations, too.
Shirtsleeves wil be rolled
to shreds.

Someone, broom in hand,
still remembers how it was.
Someone else listening, nodding
his unsheltered head.
But others are bound to be bustling nearby
who'll find all that
a little boring.

From time to time someone still must
dig up a rusted argument
from underneath a bush
and haul it off to the dump.

Those who knew
what this was all about
must make way for those
who know little.
And less than that.
And at last nothing less than nothing.

Someone has to lie there
in the grass that covers up
the causes and effects
with a cornstalk in his teeth,
gawking at clouds.

And then Brainpickings presented me with this lovely reading just recently and so I thought I would give you a multi-sensory post today.

(Linking back to the A to Z Challenge)

Tuesday 21 April 2015

R is for Roberts

Today's A to Z offering comes again from 'Scanning the Century' (though I think it may appear in several of the anthologies I have), and is by Michèle Roberts. I love it because it is about women's friendships.

For Sian, after thirteen years

oh, this man
what a meal he made of me
how he chewed and gobbled and sucked
in the end he spat me all out

you arrived on the dot, in the nick
of time, with your red curls flying
I was about to slip down the sink like grease
I nearly collapsed, I almost
wiped myself out like a stain
I called for you, and you came, you voyaged
fierce as a small archangel with swords and breasts
you declared the birth of a new life
in my kitchen there was an annunciation
and I was still, awed by your hair's glory

you commanded me to sing of my redemption

oh, my friend, how
you were mother for me, and how
I could let myself lean on you
comfortable as an old cloth
familiar as enamel saucepans
I was child again, pyjama'ed
in winceyette, my hair plaited, and you

listened, you soothed me like cake and milk
you listened to me for three days, and I poured
it out, I flowed all over you like wine, like oil
you touched the place where it hurt
at night, we slept together in my big bed
your shoulder eased me towards dreams

when we met, I tell you
it was a birthday party, a funeral
it was a holy communion
between women, a Visitation
it was two old she-goats butting
and nuzzling each other in the smelly fold

(Linking back to the A to Z Challenge

Monday 20 April 2015

Q is for Qabbani

Q has been a real toughie, there are not many poets beginning with Q. 
The Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani is described as one of the most revered contemporary poets of the Arab world, and was known as a radical intellectual and feminist.

Light is more important than the lantern,
The poem more important than the notebook,
And the kiss more important than the lips.

My letters to you
Are greater and more important than both of us.
They are the only documents
Where people will discover
Your beauty 
And my madness

For anyone interested the Poetry Foundation is offering free downloads of their current issue of Poetry magazine to celebrate National Poetry Month

(Linking back to the A to Z Challenge)

Sunday 19 April 2015

Trinity Buoy Wharf (not an A to Z post)

It is not a journey for the faint-hearted to make your way down to Trinity Buoy Wharf, hidden in the backwaters of east London, for there are strange sights and sounds to encounter there.  

The Floodtide listening post makes music determined by the tide of the Thames. A submerged sensor reads tidal flow data and converts it into notation that is played by the listening post:
Then just around the corner the Time and Tide Bell is one of a series of bells planned around the coast of Britain; the bell is rung by the high tide, but because of the unique shape one ring makes a series of notes one after another (we weren't around to hear it unfortunately).
And across the courtyard a sign outside a tiny wooden shed invites you to enter and experience the sights and sounds of the scientist Michael Faraday, who worked there on the electrification of lighthouses. Here I was thinking it was some kind of mock up but according to the wikipedia page, "His workshop still stands at Trinity Buoy Wharf above the Chain and Buoy Store, next to London's only lighthouse where he carried out the first experiments in electric lighting for lighthouses". 
More strange sights and sounds were in store when I descended into the basement of the Electrician's Shop to see Monkey performing in Midsummer Night's Dream and (here below) As You Like It. The Year of the Monkey are currently doing three Shakespeare comedies for the London season. The run finishes on 25th April and shortly after that they will begin rehearsals for the Edinburgh Fringe.

Saturday 18 April 2015

P is for Parker, Peters and Pound

For the A to Z today I was overwhelmed by choice and so we have a small selection of poems. Firstly from the inimitable Dorothy Parker, for Dunk, who was dropped:


Into love and out again,
     Thus I went, and thus I go.
Spare your voice, and hold your pen - 
     Well and bitterly I know
All the songs were ever sung,
     All the words were ever said;
Could it be, when I was young
     Someone dropped me on my head?

Secondly from the Virago Book of Wicked Verse, edited by Jill Dawson, this one that made me laugh, from Lynn Peters (who claims to style herself after Dorothy Parker):

I suspect

I suspect
There would be more poems
About sex
If it rhymed with more than
Erects and ejects

This begins to sound promising.
I may write one.

And thirdly, to moved completely away from humour, another very short one, this time from Ezra Pound. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding his support for fascism during the Second World War, but I am left feeling that many people supported fascism, including for example the Duke of Windsor, and that society can be very selective about who it decides to forgive. This poem is one of the first in 'The Rattle Bag' and I fell in love with it on first reading, I consider it one of my favourite poems.

And the days are not full enough
And the nights are not full enough
And life slips by like a field mouse
                       Not shaking the grass.

(Linking back to the A to Z Challenge)

Friday 17 April 2015

O is for Oliver

I reviewed 'Twelve Moons' by Mary Oliver only a few weeks ago but wanted to include Wild Geese in my A to Z, so here it is, twice. As I have commented before poetry is an oral medium, hearing it read is such a different experience, and so enhances the meaning.

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
      love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting - 
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

(Linking back to the A to Z Challenge)

Thursday 16 April 2015

N is for Nicholson and Newman

Wiki commons
The photo today shows the Sellafield nuclear reprocessing plant, which was notorious during the anti-nuclear movement when I was a teenager (very probably before that too). The site encompasses the original nuclear reactor and had previously been know as Windscale, renamed by the government to try and hide its horrible history. Having been promised energy that would be too cheap to meter, we are left with a huge pile of crap, over twenty years in the clean-up and not due to be complete for more than another twenty. After that little history lesson I give you this by Norman Nicholson, who unsurprisingly comes from Cumbria. 


The toadstool towers infest the shore:
Stink-horns that propagate and spore
          Wherever the wind blows.
Scafell looks down from the bracken band,
And sees hell in a grain of sand,
          And feels the canker itch between his toes.

This is a land where dirt is clean,
And poison pasture, quick and green,
          And storm sky, bright and bare;
Where sewers flow with milk, and meat
Is carved up for the fire to eat,
          And children suffocate in God's fresh air.

Today's other offering is taken again from The Virago Book of Love Poetry and is by Lesleá Newman.


to wake and find you sitting up in bed
with your black hair and golden skin
leaning against the white wall
a perfect slant of sunlight slashed
across your chest as if God
were Rembrandt or maybe Ingmar Bergman
but luckily it's too early to go to the movies
and all the museums are closed on Tuesday
anyway I'd rather be here with you
than in New York or possibly Amsterdam
with our eyes and lips and legs and bellies
and the sun as big as a house in the sky
and five minutes left before the world begins

(Linking back to the A to Z Challenge)

Wednesday 15 April 2015

M is for MacCaig and McNish

Road to Luskentyre
One of the poems that helped me discover a real love of poetry, coming yet again from 'The Rattle Bag', is by the very wonderful Norman MacCaig. It is very multi sensory, it has smells and sounds and textures, and captures the essential wildness of Scotland. It stopped me in my tracks the first time I read it. It is called 

Aunt Julia.

Aunt Julia spoke Gaelic 
very loud and very fast.
I could not answer her - 
I could not understand her.

She wore men's boots
when she wore any.
- I can see her strong foot 
stained with peat,
paddling the treadle of the spinning wheel 
while her right hand drew yarn
marvellously out of the air.

Hers was the only house
where I lay at night
in the absolute darkness
of a box bed, listening to
crickets being friendly.

She was buckets
and water flouncing into them.
She was winds pouring wetly 
round house-ends.
She was brown eggs, black skirts
and a keeper of threepennybits
in a teapot.

Aunt Julia spoke Gaelic
very loud and very fast.
By the time I had learned
a little, she lay
silenced in the absolute black 
of a sandy grave
in Luskentyre. 
But I hear her still, welcoming me
with a seagull's voice
across a hundred yards
of peatscrapes and lazybeds
and getting angry, getting angry
with so many questions

This wonderful video is by Hollie McNish, a young woman who I follow on Facebook and who writes and performs some very thoughtful and entertaining poetry. 

(Linking back to the A to Z Challenge)

Tuesday 14 April 2015

L is for Labé and Larkin

Today brings you a poem from Louise Labé, a French Renaissance poet, taken from 'The Virago Book of Love Poetry'. 

I live, I die, I burn, I drown

I live, I die, I burn, I drown
I endure at once chill and cold
Life is at once too soft and too hard
I have sore troubles mingled with joys

Suddenly I laugh and at the same time cry
And in pleasure many a grief endure
My happiness wanes and yet it lasts unchanged
All at once I dry up and grow green

Thus I suffer love's inconstancies
And when I think the pain is most intense
Without thinking, it is gone again

Then when I feel my joy is certain
And my hour of greatest delight arrived 
I find my pain beginning all over once again.

And from 'Staying Alive' (again), here is the wonderful and much loved Philip Larkin, because I thought it would be nice to include at least a couple that would be familiar.

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
    They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf,
Get out as early as you can,
    And don't have any kids yourself.

(Linking back to the A to Z Challenge)

Monday 13 April 2015

K is for Kees

I found this poem by Weldon Kees in 'Staying Alive' and, having had a haiku the other day, I decided to include it in my A to Z challenge as an example of another poetic form; the villanelle has a fixed structures of stanzas with repeated lines within it, which lends itself very beautifully to the way a sentence can mean many things depending on the context. 


The crack is moving down the wall.
Defective plaster isn't all the cause.
We must remain until the roof falls in.

It's mildly cheering to recall
That every building has its little flaws.
The crack is moving down the wall.

Here in the kitchen, drinking gin,
We must accept the damnedest laws.
We must remain until the roof falls in.

And though there's no one here at all,
One searches every room because
The crack is moving down the wall.

Repairs? But how can one begin?
The lease has warnings buried in each clause,
We must remain until the roof falls in.

These nights one hears a creaking in the hall,
The sort of thing that gives one pause.
The crack is moving down the wall.
We must remain until the roof falls in.

(Linking back to the A to Z Challenge)

Saturday 11 April 2015

J is for Jarrell

'The Rattle Bag' edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes is, as you can see from the photo, a well thumbed book. This anthology was the first I ever bought back when I started inflicting poetry on my children. A friend bought the twins a book of Caribbean children poems as a gift and I so enjoyed reading them aloud that the interest took off from there. I would lie on the sofa and flick through the book, periodically announce 'this is a good one', and proceed to interrupt everyone else's day. It does not have a theme of any kind and attempts to give a very broad overview of the subject of poetry, with a slight emphasis on the classics. It contains many well loved and known verses; my only criticism would be its over fondness for Shakespearean monologues, which I would not strictly consider poems. 

For J today I give you this poem from Randall Jarrell, that I encountered here and that left my heart in my throat. A whole lifetime told in five lines, vivid and exquisite.

The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner

From my mother's sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.

(Linking back to the A to Z Challenge)

Friday 10 April 2015

I is for Issa

Wiki Commons
For today's post I went browsing the Poetry Foundation website and came across this tiny gem. The poet is question is Kobayashi Issa (Issa, his pen name, apparently meaning most beautifully "cup of tea") who lived from 1763 to 1828. It says something about how wonderfully timeless some formal structures are in poetry, that within the confines of the haiku an idea can be expressed, and it does not feel in any way old fashioned. I think that the simplicity of haiku is deceptive, and to do them well is a refined art. 

On a branch
floating downriver
a cricket, singing.

(Linking back to the A to Z Challenge)

Thursday 9 April 2015

H is for Heaney

Seamus Heaney won the Nobel Prize in 1995, and was a widely respected and well loved poet. He had been due to read at the Manchester Literature Festival in 2013 but unfortunately passed away only days before the reading. I reviewed his collection 'District and Circle' two years ago. This poem, however, comes, once again, from 'Staying Alive'. There is something essential about this poem, about the insignificance of the human being in the face of nature; he makes me want to go and experience it.


And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightening of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong- looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you'll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.

(Linking back to the A to Z Challenge)