I’m publishing one of my own, to celebrate my latest rejection letters. Hoorah! I rock because I keep on trying when the world says no.
It is a fairly fresh poem, so consider this an online workshop and tell me what you think.
by Helen Lehndorf
I was thirty-three before I learned
people stuck in snow
can die from dehydration
I would melt icicles
on my tongue for you, resist
the drinking down, drip it
into you. Then repeat, repeat
until my lips were raw.
Deep snow squeaks. We
stop on the Desert Road
because of the snow. You
throw snowballs at the
‘Warning: Army Training Area’ sign.
I take macro-photographs of
icicles on tussock.
When we drive up the Desert Road
we lose National Radio, we lose
cellphone reception, we lose
all hope. I was thirty-seven before
I considered not trying to always fix
things. I read an article in the New Yorker
about Wabi-Sabi – the beauty in the
broken and the worn. The integrity
of the much-used utilitarian object.
But then there was an
interview on National Radio
about a woman flying
to Mexico to be put in a coma
so she can wake up mended. “It is
like rebooting a computer,” said the doctor.
Despite Wabi-Sabi, I want that.
To live in snow and not be thirsty.
I want good reception all the way
up the country. I want a shiny, clean
version of myself. Closedown,
I admire the almost mystic writing of American poet Gary Snyder, and especially this one which I think conjures beautifully the other-worldliness of having a baby, the domestic cave new parents dwell in for a while, and the sense of the world made anew. I also love the 60s-hippy detail of the pot of yoghurt…
Not Leaving the House
by Gary Snyder
When Kai is born
I quit going out
Hang around the kitchen – make cornbread
Let nobody in.
Mail is flat.
Masa lies on her side, Kai sighs,
Non washes and sweeps
We sit and watch
Masa nurse, and drink green tea.
Navajo turquoise beads over the bed
A peacock tail feather at the head
A badger pelt from Nagano-ken
For a mattress; under the sheet;
A pot of yogurt setting
Under the blankets, at his feet.
And Non, our friend
In the garden light reflected in
Not leaving the house.
From dawn till late at night
making a new world of ourselves
around this life.
An extended metaphor of a potato growing shoots in the dark.
A poem about tenacity, effort, will and endurance.
This is one of my favourites. I almost didn’t share it here, because I didn’t want to risk anyone speaking ill of it. I love the idiosyncratic syntax and punctuation, which I think adds a lot and is not mere affectation. It doesn’t always make literal sense, but does make metaphysical sense – at least to me.
I often chant the first line to myself in times of challenge.
by May Swenson
Deciding to go on digging doing it
what they said outside wasn’t any use
Inside hiding it made it get ambitious
Like a potato in a dark bin
it grew white grabbers for light
out of its navel eyes not priding
itself much just deciding
it wasn’t true what they said
outside those bumps were
All humped. alike dumped inside
slumped in burlap said
roots are no good out of ground
a fruit’s crazy to want to be a flower
Besides it’s sin changing the given shape
Bursting the old brown skin is suicide
wishing to taste like a tulip
sip coloured light
outside thumps said isn’t right
Deciding to keep on striding
from inside bursting the bin-side
poking out wishes for delicious opposites
turning blind eyes to strong fingers
touching meaning more than sight
the naval scars of weaning
used for something finally
Deciding to go on digging doing it.
I’ve written before that I like poems with an imperative voice, urging me to listen, to do this, try that. In such uncertain times, I am always interested in a poet who has the courage to write “Do this and you will be ok…” It doesn’t matter if I agree or not, I always enjoy the gesture.
I just read Sarah Broom’s recently published book ‘Tigers at Awhitu’ and can recommend it most heartily. It contains meditations on our vulnerability, the disasters that follow allowing ourselves to love, and the very-human drive to live…to stay alive. It is a terrific book.
Well-known Northern Irish poet Medbh McGuckian said of this book (quote borrowed from Booksellers website):
“A book for our times; specifically a woman’s, and more specifically, a mother’s book, it is ‘about time that wears / as ragged as storm-blown wings’. Poems of deep poignancy and unflinching tenderness are presented against a backdrop of encroaching tidescape in which a fierce beauty burns all the more brightly, the more it is threatened.”
Indeed. I especially liked this one, with its reassuringly confident first line:
Not yet, not now
by Sarah Broom
Hush now, I know what to do.
Find the place that always waits.
Is there sand there? Bury yourself deep
in its sun-stores. Lie there as long
as it takes. Are there waves?
Let them dump you. Is there a creek?
Sit and listen. Smell its closeness
to your body, the intimate trickle
of water through leaf-rot. Is there snow?
Fall into it, face down. Feel its aristocratic slap,
the clarity of its sting. Are there mountains?
Climb them, press your body against
the rock’s indifference. Is there a river?
Stand in it. Wrestle for your footing.
Feel its urgency, its desire for you.
Are there hills? Walk your feet
all over them, smell the brawny reek
of sheep dung, lock your ear to the whirr
of the wire fence in the wind.
Now – are you here? Are you here?
I have loved Brian Patten since I was a teenager when my hip seventh form English teacher taught us about the Liverpool Poets (Patten, Roger McGough and Adrian Henri).
Patten was my favourite of the three…and I still have an soft spot for his work, all these years later. I know the Liverpool poets are often derided for how ‘accessible’ they are…(is there ever a more ‘damn me with faint praise’ word for a poet than to be called ‘accessible’? Code word for simplistic, easy, populist…) Nonetheless, I enjoy Patten’s take on the world, the way he examines relationships and pokes gentle fun at neuroses.
When I lived in England I saw a poster advertising that Roger McGough and Brian Patten would be reading at my local South Bank Centre so swiftly approached the ticket office, thinking to myself that although I couldn’t really afford it…I HAD to see Patten read….I had to! At the ticket office, I was pleasantly shocked to be told my ticket cost three pounds fifity, about NZ $7. Heh.
Patten was brilliant live, generous and soulful and lugubrious and dour and funny. He finished with a poem about sitting at his mother’s death bed and I cried my sentimental wee eyes out. Here is a recentish poem from him – you can find more on his poetry blog here.
That Dress, This Shirt
by Brian Patten
That dress will not stop you growing older,
No matter how you wear it-
Nor will this baggy shirt I wear disguise anymore
A stomach growing fatter by the hour.
Now that we no longer have time’s currency to squander
Lets get used to the raw material we are,
Lets celebrate this far harder adventure
And stop carrying about the dead weight of Ago.
That dress, this shirt-
We place them over chairs in rooms
Besides beds that sets sail each night without expectation,
With us the crew, held together by time and by the faith
That we are buoyant enough to see any darkness through.
I don’t really ‘get’ this poem, and yet I love it. Sometimes it is nice to have a little mystery in a poem. It is both whimsical and dark, all at once. I think I relate to it as a maker of things, also. I make small dolls myself and agree there is something entirely sinister about the process – like pretending to be god. Do tell me what you make of it. Here are the other Tuesday Poems.
by Carol Ann Duffy
I put two yellow peepers in an owl.
Wow. I fix the grin of Crocodile.
Spiv. I sew the slither of an eel.
I jerk, kick-start, the back hooves of a mule.
Wild. I hold the red rag to a bull.
Mad. I spread the feathers of a gull.
I screw a tight snarl to a weasel.
Fierce. I stitch the flippers on a seal.
Splayed. I pierce the heartbeat of a quail.
I like her to be naked and to kneel.
Tame. My motionless, my living doll.
Mute. And afterwards I like her not to tell.
Click the feather to the right of here to see more Tuesday poems.
I copied this poem out of The New Yorker ages ago.
I love imperative poems, poems which tell you to go and DO something (but not didactic poems, there is a difference). How can you argue with a poem which begins “be yourself”? It is slightly grim, this poem, and yet…and yet…I find it weirdly affirming (but then my favourite bands are The Smiths and Joy Division, so perhaps I’m a bit of a miserablist.)
by Dennis O’Driscoll
Be yourself; show your flyblown eyes
to the world, give no cause for concern,
wash the paunchy body whose means you
live within, suffer the illnesses
that are your prerogative alone-
the prognosis refers to nobody but you;
you it is who gets up every morning
in your skin, you who chews your dinner
with your mercury-filled teeth, gaining
garlic-breath or weight, you dreading,
you hoping, you regretting, you interloping.