Sunday, October 31, 2010

I've been reading over the last while Jim Murdoch's poetry collection This is Not About What You Think. It's refreshingly different to my normal poetry reading and written in a style entirely different to my own. I've been following Jim's blog for a couple of years now. He writes lengthy, essay-style informative and thought-provoking posts about authors, poets, books and writing. Many of his poems can be found scattered amongst his posts, mostly there to illustrate a point in his discourse.

Jim's poems are, by and large, rather short and aphoristic in style, there are several poems devoted to giving advice to children for example. Many of the poems come across almost like a series of proverbs in verse. The poems move between providing the reader with glimpses into the narrator's life and relationships on the one hand and poems providing us with universal 'truths' gained from the narrator's experience on the other.

One of my favourite poems in the book is 'Failing'. In many ways such a simple poem and yet the pathos really strikes home.


My mother taught me
how to be old.
I watched her falter
then fail and fall.

At least she tried to
teach me but what
did I care to know
about such things?

Now I'm old myself
I wish I'd paid
attention; I'm not
sure I ache right.

I am sure she'd have
something to say
about my limp, how
I hold my hip

and her “stupid cough”
I can't get right.
I must be such a

Another one of my favourites from the book -


My dad used to give me marks out of ten:
homework – seven out of ten,
the dishes – eight out of ten.

Anything less than a five
came with a clip on the ear.

Marks is merely another word for scars.
I have those too, the ones you
can see and the ones you can't.

I'd give my childhood a three.
That's me being generous.

Dad's no longer here and so I have to
mark myself. Is that what you
were waiting to hear, doctor?

What do you think this poem
might be worth? Maybe an eight?

In these two poems, as with most of Jim's poems, just as much of the poems exists between the lines as in the lines on the page. There is subtle insinuation at work, hints, question-begging. The poems can be funny too -


"Just because you have a hammer
it doesn't make you a joiner."
My father had his way with words.

So I took a handful of nails
and boarded up my heart
against him and against the world.

And safe on the inside I yelled:
"Screw you!"
but he was never one for puns.

You could say of many of the poems  that they verge on psychoanalysis, philosophical questioning and a hint of the absurdity of life when examined. These can be seen in statements such as "The first lies we tell / are generally to ourselves". "I never understood / what they meant by "in" / as if love could somehow / change into a place / to crawl inside and hide".

It is also evident in this poem -

Advice to Children III

It's supposed to feel good
when you do the right thing.
And sometimes you do.

But mostly you feel
like you had no real choice,
that somehow they made you.

And that can't be right.

The power of understatment is a quality that runs right through this collection and at its best carries the full weight of emotion with great impact.
Overall an enjoyable read, and it bears re-reading well. I'm very glad to have this collection to mull over and go back to.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A blog I gladly stumbled across recently is Poems Found in Translation. It's a wonderful blog, not only does the blog author/linguist translate poems from literally dozens of languages including Persian, Arabic, Hebrew and Chinese, for most of the translations he uploads a recording of himself reading the poem in its original language. I love this! I love reading poetry outwith the anglo/american traditions but I always feel I'm missing out by reading translations and not being able to hear the poem's original cadence, rhyme scheme, rhythm etc. I'm also really enjoying the translations themselves, they are translated as poems rather than literal word for word texts.

I've had some poems accepted by Northwords Now for publication in their next issue, which I'm really happy about! The editor of the mag was at the Callander poetry weekend and he emailed me after my reading to say he really enjoyed it, which pleased me no end! Plus they pay!!!!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

(second draft)

I’m searching for signs, heart sounds

(post removed)

Monday, October 11, 2010

The releasing of the previously unpublished poem 'Last Letter' by Ted Hughes has caused a fair bit of interest in the news over the last week. Anything that can shed light on those final days before Plath's death is of great interest to Plath fans though it may seem a little voyeuristic to some. Anyhow I thought I'd give some of my thoughts on the poem as a biographical document rather than as a poem.

The main surprise is that on the Friday before her death, Plath had posted a letter of goodbye to Hughes which he had received earlier than she'd expected -

"Your note reached me too soon—-that same day,
Friday afternoon, posted in the morning"

..."That was one more straw of ill-luck
Drawn against you by the Post-Office"
So she posted the letter in the morning possibly assuming he would receive it the following day. Instead he got it that afternoon and rushed around to her flat fearing the worst. She was getting ready to spend the weekend with friends. The insinuation is that her plan was to let him stew in panic over the weekend not knowing  whether she was dead or alive and if alive no idea where she was -

..."Had I bungled your plan?
Had it surprised me sooner than you purposed?
Had I rushed it back to you too promptly?
One hour later—-you would have been gone
Where I could not have traced you."

"How I would have got through that weekend.
I cannot imagine. Had you plotted it all?"
Yet Hughes arrives at her flat, Plath burns the letter and Hughes is seemingly reassured enough after seeing her to leave her alone with their children and go off for the weekend with no further contact with her.

"My last sight of you alive.
Burning your letter to me, in the ashtray,
With that strange smile."

..."But what did you say
Over the smoking shards of that letter
So carefully annihilated, so calmly,
That let me release you, and leave you"
The poem tells us that he spent the Sunday night with Susan, who turns out to be Susan Alliston, a poet who died in 1969 of Hodgkin's disease. Hughes wrote the introduction to her book of poems. Another surprise - Assia wasn't the only other woman he was having an affair with. The strangest part is that they spent the night in the same room / flat on Rugby street where Hughes and Plath had spent their wedding night, the very bed even -

"Susan and I spent that night
In our wedding bed. I had not seen it
Since we lay there on our wedding day."
There is also the suggestion that Plath phoned Hughes several times during that last Sunday night and early dawn on Monday. Hughes being the only one privy to her last diary entries, she may have recorded such fruitless attempts to get in touch with him -

..."How often
Did the phone ring there in my empty room,
You hearing the ring in your receiver"
"Towards the phone booth that can never be reached.
Before midnight. After midnight. Again.
Again. Again. And, near dawn, again."
The poem is another bizarre addition to the mystery of events. Clearly, to my mind, Hughes wanted this poem published posthumously otherwise he would have destroyed it instead he entrusted a typed copy of it to his wife, Carol.

I've got to say, I like our present poet laureate but her response to the poem as "a bit like looking into the sun as it's dying" is surely the most hyperbolic twee I've ever read!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thursday, October 07, 2010

A few more favourites, just because!

by Meg Bateman

It was your lightness that drew me,
the lightness of your talk and your laughter,
the lightness of your cheek in my hands,
your sweet gentle modest lightness;
and it is the lightness of your kiss
that is starving my mouth,
and the lightness of your embrace
that will let me go adrift.

A Tired Man
by Attila Jozsef

Solemn peasants in the field
straggle homeward without a word.
Side by side we lie, the river and I,
fresh grasses slumber under my heart.

A deep calm is rolling in the river.
My heavy cares are now as light as dew.
I'm not man, or child, "Hungarian" or "brother" -
lying here is just a tired man, like you.

Evening ladles out the quiet,
I'm a warm slice from its loaf of bread.
In the peaceful sky the stars come out
to sit on the river and shine on my head.

by Anna Akhmatova

The door is half open,
The lindens smell sweet...
On the table, forgotten,
A riding crop and a glove.

The yellow circle of the lamp...
I'm listening to rustlings.
Why did you go?
I don't understand...

Tomorrow morning will be
Joyful and bright.
This life is beautiful,
Heart, just be wise.

You are completely exhausted.
Your beating is fainter, more muffled...
You know, I read somewhere
That souls are immortal.
It's National Poetry Day!
On Facebook everyone's posting a few of their favourite lines of poetry, my lines are from Plath (unsurprisingly!), but here I can post the poem in full.

Nick and the Candlestick
 by Sylvia Plath

I am a miner. The light burns blue.
Waxy stalactites
Drip and thicken, tears

The earthen womb
Exudes from its dead boredom.
Black bat airs

Wrap me, raggy shawls,
Cold homicides.
They weld to me like plums.

Old cave of calcium
Icicles, old echoer.
Even the newts are white,

Those holy Joes.
And the fish, the fish -
Christ! they are panes of ice,

A vice of knives,
A piranha
Religion, drinking

Its first communion out of my live toes.
The candle
Gulps and recovers its small altitude,

Its yellows hearten.
O love, how did you get here?
O embryo

Remembering, even in sleep,
Your crossed position.
The blood blooms clean

In you, ruby.
The pain
You wake to is not yours.

Love, love,
I have hung our cave with roses,
With soft rugs -

The last of Victoriana.
Let the stars
Plummet to their dark address,

Let the mercuric
Atoms that cripple drip
Into the terrible well,

You are the one
Solid the spaces lean on, envious.
You are the baby in the barn.