Saturday, September 24, 2011
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
The Dust Collector *
gets down on his knees
in some corner of a cathedral, not to pray but see
if there’s a speck, a bloom, a trace,
or if the infernal place
is as emptied of history
as London’s National Gallery or the Uffizi.
Out of ‘all these actions that took place here’, his eye falls
on anything at all
for the scanning electron microscope: his Rose
Window on the genius
of what escapes us.
*Wolfgang Stoecker ‘My Empire of Dust’
Sunday, September 11, 2011
At-ease-looking, almost poised –
though his soiled shirt
has come untucked – he might
be attempting to pass
the one-leg-stand test
or lounging, between drinks,
at a party, his back
braced by a wall, if
the world had not turned
him upside down
into the plummet
the brain in its cockpit – flight
the flight of his thought
a ten second freight –
for all we know
From my third collection, Fade Street (Salt, 2010) and my forthcoming New & Selected Poems (Salmon, 2017).
Image 'September 11 from Space', from NASA
Thursday, September 08, 2011
Some Epigrams and Aphorisms
Speaking ill of the dead is one of the surest ways of keeping them alive.
My grandfather could never master driving, but was a great believer in hitching, especially in his old age. To hitch a lift was to marry two of his pet delights, thriftiness and talk. Getting from A to B was strictly secondary; a car was a vehicle for the captive audience.
Project ‘Iffy’: to refashion Kipling’s most cherished (and possibly worst) poem. The first stanza might begin:
Never mind keeping your head, if you’ve some idea
Where heads are located, while idiots who haven’t a clue
Are scrambling, rifling the dictionary, the fridge, IKEA…
Then blaming their headless-chicken-shit on you
Tragically, the decline of religion in the West has done little or nothing to discourage the average individual succumbing, every now and again, to sociopathic orgies of self-worship.
God is not Great
says Christopher Hitchins. I say
god is great, only
with a small g
and atheism with a small a.
Memo. Beware taxi drivers who talk politics. Especially those who announce ‘I’m voting BNP’ and follow this by declaring ‘They should pull the shutters up!’[sic] These are the kind who may curtail your incredibly naive attempt to discuss such matters with a Travis Bickle glare and the accusatory conversation-stopper: ‘You’re toying with me mate, you’re toying with me!’
Racism is the refuge of the deranged sheep, the kind that has managed to furiously pull the wool into its own eyes.
we can set aside as easily as the cat its fur-ball,
the hedgehog its ticks.
Just remember: any creature can scratch, bring up its gall.
On Radio 4, a woman on the joys of wandering naked in a garden with fellow ‘naturists’, sniffing the roses etc. As if, while enacting a reversal of Adam and Eve’s shameful discovery, they might forget to notice each other’s nakedness. And that is what naturism is: dressing for indifference, as if this were, somehow, a virtue.
Unless it is intended to remain hermetic, I think the worldlet created in any given poem should have at least some aspect of the familiar. But its greater obligation is to provide the Three S’s: Surprise, Surprise, Surprise.
To condemn the wide-eyed, well-balanced poem for staying on the fence
that is its glory
makes as much sense
as reprimanding a novel for telling a story.
Auden (who sang the praises of the permeable limestone landscape) called poetry ‘memorable speech.’ I think great, or even just good, poems should have at least an element of this; they should resonate in the way that a good song or piece of music does. If they manage that I will forgive them much, including a good deal of impermeability.
Historical irony should come tempered with humility. What Milosz called ‘praising art with the help of irony’ can ruin a poem. And weak irony, the smirk behind the frown (or behind the scream, in silly movies such as ‘Fright Night’) is good for nothing but guffaws. Yet irony is the iron in literature’s blood. Life itself is intrinsically ironic, its brightening flare never quite touching the end of the bricked-up tunnel.
Having long since bypassed the old distillery,
we overshot the bypass. These days
most tributaries are in a hurry
to forget how to praise.