Monthly Archives: August 2008

Judas

What if Judas hadn’t hanged himself but the real punishment had been to stay and haunt the Garden like a second Adam, to watch his past gain power by the hour? I can almost see him, shuffling between the trees, a barely tolerated tramp mumbling to the lost Messiah.

The only poem

This is the only poem
I can read
I am the only one
can write it
I didn’t kill myself
when things went wrong
I didn’t turn
to drugs or teaching
I tried to sleep
but when I couldn’t sleep
I learned to write
I learned to write
what might be read
on nights like this
by one like me

— Leonard Cohen

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Mist

Finally I can breathe.
The dying geyser seethes
The retreating tide respires
I took you way down deep
Drank you to the bitter lees
Now the poison’s left the heart
And mist blows over the trees.

God’s little mountain

Below, the river scrambled like a goat
Dislodging stones. The mountain stamped its foot,
Shaking, as from a trance. And I was shut
With wads of sound into a sudden quiet.

I thought the thunder had unsettled heaven;
All was so still. And yet the sky was cloven
By flame that left the air cold and engraven.
I waited for the word that was not given,

Pent up into a region of pure force,
Made subject to the pressure of the stars;
I saw the angels lifted like pale straws;
I could not stand before those winnowing eyes

And fell, until I found the world again.
Now I lack grace to tell what I have seen;
For though the head frames words the tongue has none.
And who will prove the surgeon to this stone?

— Geoffrey Hill

On speaking poetry

Do not act out words. Never act out words. Never try to leave the floor when you talk about flying. Never close your eyes and jerk your head to one side when you talk about death. Do not fix your burning eyes on me when you speak about love. If you want to impress me when you speak about love put your hand in your pocket or under your dress and play with yourself. If ambition and the hunger for applause have driven you to speak about love you should learn how to do it without disgracing yourself or the material (…) The poem is nothing but information. It is the Constitution of the inner country. If you declaim it and blow it up with noble intentions then you are no better than the politicians whom you despise. You are just someone waving a flag and making the cheapest kind of appeal to a kind of emotional patriotism. Think of the words as science, not as art. They are a report. You are speaking before a meeting of the Explorers’ Club of the National Geographic Society. These people know all the risks of mountain climbing. They honour you by taking this for granted. If you rub their faces in it that is an insult to their hospitality.

Leonard Cohen

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The finest poetry creates its own place of power through words. It does so by itself, not through somebody selling the words. The words in the best poems don’t need any more than speaking. You don’t have to put emotion into them. What you have to do is to hear their strangeness and, within the strangeness, to hear the emotion in them, the whole odd electric experience vibrating as in a diaphragm. The diaphragm is all you really need. You could practically whisper poems like prayers. Their words will fall into the silence of the transformed space like a meteor shower.

George Szirtes