Category Archives: Poetry

Emergence

I came out from my hole, from my dust pit, from the rubble and rubbish of myself, like a worm coming out of the ground. I found myself in a field. In the centre of the field was a chair and a man seated on it maintaining a constant silence. The trees were undressing with sly secret smiles.

All roads are the same road. Destinations. We set out in different directions past fallen signposts. I prefer hilltops to valleys, clear views to a dark sleep, and the birds thrown up like a cloud of fertile dust. The sky sends me baffling directives — a twisted tree on the skyline and, when I reach it, the way the sunlight grows into the bark.

Making love, my alter ego waiting behind the screen, she is a mirror of my left side. If I rub her body some breath will cloud the glass. A column, a trunk covered in bark like lizard skin, this is how she was found, escaping from the tyranny of verse.

Behind a stilled screen of eyes bodies are marching down the street, more or less upright. The countryside has to be tamed with titles.

And now the desk is cleared for breath.

John Welch

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.

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

*

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

In the haze your image

In the haze your image
Trembled; it troubled
And eluded me: mistakenly
I said, ‘Good God!’

The name of the Lord — a large bird —
Flew from my breast.
In front: a swirl of mist.
Behind: the empty cage.

— Osip Mandelshtam

In broken images

He is quick, thinking in clear images;
I am slow, thinking in broken images.

He becomes dull, trusting to his clear images;
I become sharp, mistrusting my broken images.

Trusting his images, he assumes their relevance;
Mistrusting my images, I question their relevance.

Assuming their relevance, he assumes the fact;
Questioning their relevance, I question the fact.

When the fact fails him, he questions his senses;
When the fact fails me, I approve my senses.

He continues quick and dull in his clear images;
I continue slow and sharp in my broken images.

He in a new confusion of his understanding;
I in a new understanding of my confusion.

— Robert Graves

Squeeze

In his canvas bag, the pair
of skates could’ve been a valentine.

It’s February. I slice across the rink
thinking of blood oranges:
the squeeze, his hands,
the clockwise rotation of the juicer.

He follows my motion on ice
the way I know he’ll follow me home.

And again, I’m angry as only
an other woman can be angry
when her last triple salchow
of the day ends in a fall, a bruise.

His thin figure in the bleachers
chips my concentration.

Like a head cold. Fruit pulp.
That stubborn clog in the drain.

Arlene Ang

I stopped to listen

I stopped to listen, but he did not come. I began again with a sense of loss. As this sense deepened I heard him again. I stopped stopping and I stopped starting, and I allowed myself to be crushed by ignorance. This was a strategy, and didn’t work at all. Much time, years were wasted in such a minor mode. I bargain now. I offer buttons for his love. I beg for mercy. Slowly he yields. Haltingly he moves toward his throne. Reluctantly the angels grant to one another permission to sing. In a transition so delicate it cannot be marked, the court is established on beams on golden symmetry, and once again I am a singer in the lower choirs, born fifty years ago to raise my voice this high, and no higher.

— Leonard Cohen, Book of Mercy

Fictitious biography

At first a childhood, boundless, with no aim,
no self-denial. O unconscious bliss.
Then sudden terror, school and rules and shame,
constraint, temptation, fall into otherness.

Defiance. Now the bent becomes the bender,
makes others pay in kind for his defeat.
Loved, feared, a champion, friend, defender,
bully and conqueror, to beat and beat.

Then on his own in the cold, wide, weightless air.
Yet deep within the second self’s redoubt
a taking breath for what at first was there…

When from His ambush God came rushing out.

— Rilke (trans. M. Hamburger)

Carrion comfort

Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Nor untwist – slack they may be – these last strands of man
In me or, most weary, cry, I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.

But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
They wring-earth right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruised boned? and fan
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?

Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart, lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, cheer.

Cheer whom though? The hero whose heaven-handling flung me, foot trod
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? that night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God

— Gerard Manley Hopkins

Out of the thousands

Out of the thousands
who are known,
or who want to be known
as poets,
maybe one or two
are genuine
and the rest are fakes,
hanging around the sacred precincts
trying to look like the real thing.
Needless to say
I am one of the fakes,
and this is my story.

— Leonard Cohen