Friday, 20 January 2017

five poems that have caught my attention lately

I haven't shared a fabulous five recently, but it seemed the time for one, considering the other things happening in the world today, so here are five poems that have stopped me in my tracks lately, caught my attention, burrowed into my imagination, all that stuff.

First up is a poem by Mandy Sutter, a poet who won the New Welsh Writing Award last year, I've got her pamplet, Old Blue Car, which you can buy on Amazon here, and from which this poem is taken. Many thanks to Mandy for letting me reproduce it here.

The day - by Mandy Sutter

you hitched home from Woolley Edge
in a van of evangelists going South
saying I won't kiss you to stop me smoking
hiding my lighter inside your shirt
saying small isn't it, Leeds - one bedroom,
one pub - having time for one last coffee
because of the lighter evenings
making me pay because you'd brought me
a bottle of red - what more did I want -
and I was half relieved you were leaving

I didn't know I'd be meeting your parents
at Lewes station, buying red, expensive roses
that would die in the frost but still be worth it,
your dad with dahlias in a pot,
saying there's no roots, just blooms cut off
and shoved in soil and after, we'd order
lunch in a pub and sitting together
in the enormity of it all, smoking, I'd wish
I'd kept all your letter, not just the nice ones,
because only these small things are any help.

I love this poem. I love the stream-of-consciousness of it, I love the intimacy, and the many different ways it can have meaning, and all the meanings it can take, when there is of course only the truths of the ones involved, truths that we can't know. I love the amount of character conveyed in the vignettes given, especially the dahlias. I really like the use of punctuation and lack of a starting capital - we're brought straight in.

A long time ago I destroyed the diaries I had kept for years. Someone had criticised me for holding on to the past, and I had remembered the few times when doing that had caused me hurt, and so had thrown them away. Now all I have is my remoulded memories, I miss the muddiness of the then, everything I remember has a narrative arc. I had letters too, which I got rid of. I wish I hadn't.

For Reading Addicts shared a whole load of little poems by Shel Silverstein, an American poet who is famous for his children's poems. There's this one that really caught my imagination, and also 'Listen to the Mustn'ts, Child' which I really love.

I was looking through some old notes and saw a mention of the poem 'A Poison Tree' by William Blake, which I've recently revisited and been bowled over by. Check it out! It is so pertinent to the division which Britain and America are experiencing at the moment. However, it is an old poem, as you can tell upon reading it, and old poems have the problem that what they say can get lost in the way that it's said. This poem is probably a little too regular and rhymey (although I do love rhyming) to have the impact it ought to have today, it just sounds a little too twee.  So I thought I'd have a go at hacking it to pieces and putting it together again. It is still regular and rhymey, but I've added the element of pantoumishness (a pantoum is a kind of poem which uses rhyming and four line stanzas, and repetition, and which I'm currently obsessed with) to make it go round and round on itself and hopefully bring out the meaning that speaks to me most:

Cut up Poison

I was angry with my friend,
I was angry with my foe,
when I spoke my wrath did end,
when I spake not it did grow.

I was angry with my foe
and I nourished it with fears.
but spoke it not, and it did grow,
nightly watered by my tears.

Yes, I nourished it with fears
and it grew both day and night,
and I watered it with tears,
till it bore an apple bright.

Yes, it grew both day and night
and my foe beheld it shine,
and it bore an apple bright,
and he knew that it was mine.

For he had beheld it shine
came into the garden he,
though he knew that it was mine
and the night did veil the tree.

So into the garden he,
and by morningtime I saw
that the night had veiled the tree
and my foe did breathe no more.

And by morningtime I saw
had I but spoke my wrath would end.
Now a man did breathe no more.
I’d been angry with my friend.

Re-worked by Cara L McKee from the original Blake 24/11/16

Coming back up to date, this poem by Natalie Shapero is absolutely amazing. I am puzzled about the line breaks, although they work, and I keep re-reading it to see if I could possibly unpick it and rebuild it, although I wouldn't, because I'm too busy wondering who it is she's talking about, and what they did, or might have done, or might do from the grave. She doesn't/didn't quite trust them, but she'd name a child after them, so surely it's a relative, but who? And what potential did they have? It's brilliant.

And last up is a song. Songs and poetry, it's all a bit controversial where the divide is, just ask Bob Dylan, but it's the poetic aspects of this song that amaze me (well that, and the overlapping lyrics at the end). I love the amount of character conveyed with the word 'yai' (that's how I'm spelling it), and the huge range of emotion conveyed in the simple repetition at the end. It's an amazing song, well worth considering as a poem: