29 Dec 2009

The border loss -- Jennifer Maiden

[1949–current, Australian]

depresses, discolours his vision.
Rainlight depresses the room,
the fire, snug as fantasy,
imperative to sanity this time.

I say, “They say in danger one’s
instincts are always wrong.” “Not if
you’ve perverted your instructs as long
as I have,” he responds. I study
his auden-face, destroyed
by reason’s pits and lines.

So highly strung, so debonair,
the violin confiding her
meditative scandals to
his yielding concentration.

“Intellect being mostly the
knack of half-recovery –
recuperation? – so the stupid
do hurt themselves more
& aggress more
in love, not knowing why”

all taut resistance in the voice, the face
deceiving by its bookish
reassurance, & the voice
as angry as an alcoholic sigh.

on the candlesticks entwine
smug cherubim & mighty in
all their dainty pudgy
little powers, reflecting some
harmless breathless insouciant
truculence in his charm.
He builds skilfully, times
it to topple, but so slowly

“There were elaborate warranties
built into her hints
& spontaneities. I always
seemed to agree more formally
than seemed to be required.”

I’m slammed into his voice, I feel
its night-rattle, a lorry
to buck & bruise slow missions through the storm.

    I offer
“I thought that one was inter-
resting. That one almost won.”

Always he loses, needing
always to more than answer,
always to fulfil.
“The need makes me debauch,
make ritual,
make safe. When young
I’d a simple cruel urge to destroy
the destructive & to be,” his tone
seductive as a reaction, but
using his breath to tame
a grieving constriction in his lungs.

Womanless, the room suggests
muskily migraine & tampons &
mild pleasure mild duty mild martyrdom.

Source: Maiden, J 1979, The Border Loss, Angus and Robertson Publishers.

Port Melbourne, 5am -- Tim Metcalf


The sky
through these two windows
an eggshell blue.

the birds chip away
at the night,

and I,
as cuckoo-man,
prepare to leave

this nest.
Day cracks open,
harsh light soars in. 

Source: Porter, D & Millett, J (eds) 1989, ‘On Struggle Street – An Anthology of New Poets’, Poetry Australia 122, South Head Press, Port Melbourne.

28 Dec 2009

On the town with love -- Penelope Layland


Don’t want to know if we will
never again stay, hours as vapour,
walking out later into surprising dawn.
High shoes in hand and the
night’s city sordidness printing
my feet. You with the grey pallor
of alcohol, scalp crawling light,
a dingy glow in the bend of your neck.
It’s a long way home and the city wakes:
orange billows on filthy glass, greasy
water on warming concrete, the nausea of no-sleep.
We’ve had so much more than they’ll
ever know – the night and then all of this.
Don’t want to know we will never go home,
to sleep in the jackhammer dawn.

Source: Porter, D & Millett, J (eds) 1989, ‘On Struggle Street – An Anthology of New Poets’, Poetry Australia 122, South Head Press, Port Melbourne.

The Pleasure of this Dance -- Jonathan Nicholls

[1956–current, English]

If you want to take my hand,
cover the arcs and stripes of my lifelines
with your own,
don’t ask me
to do
the military two.

I don’t want to shuffle
like a well behaved pedestrian
to the right
to the left
to the right again
turn and direct
a mortal kick.

I don’t want to be bound up
by neat routines
done before
done again;
boxed in,
a product;
a man on a factory floor,
eye on the clock
waiting for the clamour to stop.

If you want to take my hand
for the pleasure of this dance
then come with me
the bent and narrow.


I want to dance
like a mother weeps at the birth of her child
like she wails if that child goes to an early grave.

I want to dance
like kindling burns
like hot fat spits onto unsuspecting skin
    like a bruise
        like a deep wound bleeds

I want to dance
like a chick beats its way out of a shell
    like that same chick – a hen – decapitated
    chased death round the yard.

I want to dance
like fireworks appear
like a tree in a storm
like the ocean’s appetite.

I want to dance
like a lunatic whispers
like a rumour of war
like a condemned man’s last request

I want to dance
like a child plays on its own
like a bird flies freed from a cage
like a dolphin,
    like a shark,
        like a whale.

I want to dance
like a virgin dreams of being loved
like a man shakes as he comes
like a hymen splits.

I want to dance
like a bullet’s sleep is broken
like a drowning man comes up for air
like the dogs of Pompeii are sleeping

I want to dance
even as the dance floor empties,
even when the music stops.
And with or without you
I’m going to dance.

Source: Porter, D & Millett, J (eds) 1989, ‘On Struggle Street – An Anthology of New Poets’, Poetry Australia 122, South Head Press, Port Melbourne.

Excerpt from 'The colour of blood' -- Yvette Christianse

[1954–current, born South Africa, migrated to Australia]

For days, because there is no rain,
the blood is there.
Where no-one looks I go and stare
and that’s in me too,
how it changes colour
and goes deeper into itself
like fear or shame,
retreating, retreating.
And there are bright snails
munching young leaves
in my stomach.

Source: Porter, D & Millett, J (eds) 1989, ‘On Struggle Street – An Anthology of New Poets’, Poetry Australia 122, South Head Press, Port Melbourne.

On Struggle Street -- Terese Davis

[1961–current, Australian]

Every house
is painted in dockyard grey
in the emphysemic smoke
of B.H.P.’s wasting industry.

A foreclosure notice
stuffed in the letter box
a for-sale sign
pitched in the front yard –
a feeble crucifix
it marks the grave
of a steel worker’s collapsing dream.

Priced to include
a fence that cannot keep faith within
and a lawn
scarred beyond believing.
No. You would not choose to live on this street.
But another worker
will tie themselves in a mortgage knot
and spend their life to buy
a hopeless piece of struggle street.

Source: Porter, D & Millett, J (eds) 1989, ‘On Struggle Street – An Anthology of New Poets’, Poetry Australia 122, South Head Press, Port Melbourne.

Doris -- Miriam Loftus

you’ve let yourself go
you old cow
he said once too often –
and so she did
pack the suitcase
load the handbag
she did
let herself go.

Source: Porter, D & Millett, J (eds) 1989, ‘On Struggle Street – An Anthology of New Poets’, Poetry Australia 122, South Head Press, Port Melbourne.

Holding hands -- Terese Davis

[1961–current, Australian]

Taking me home
back down the Pacific Highway
you decided on a romantic gesture –
you drove us off the edge.
A driven man you said
and snatched at my trembling hands.
Holding them
tight as a first prize
you cried that you missed these hands.

These hands
shaking from post-operative nausea
are the same hands
that held our screaming baby girl
smoothing away
all her night’s anxieties
with a patting
drummed-out in fevered darkness
it seemed these hands were dead
and my bleeding would not stop.

While your unfaithful hands
were conspiring with you in another city
squeezing the life
from another woman
a casualty doctor’s hands
were washed
as he prepared to rescue me
from this botched abortion. My hands
frozen to the sides of the operating table –
two fists of fear.

You were not there
to unclench my stinging fingertips.
know nothing of these hands.

Source: Porter, D & Millett, J (eds) 1989, ‘On Struggle Street – An Anthology of New Poets’, Poetry Australia 122, South Head Press, Port Melbourne.

25 Jul 2009

Things -- Fleur Adcock

[1934–current, born New Zealand, but spend most of life in England]

There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.
There are worse things than these miniature betrayals,
committed or endured or suspected; there are worse things
than not being able to sleep for thinking about them.
It is 5 a.m. All the worse things come stalking in
and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse and worse.

Source: Adcock, F 1991, Selected Poems, Oxford University Press.

Because my mother and father … -- Kate Bingham

[1971–current, English]

Because my mother and father
hurt each other
I will abandon you

sooner or later
somebody will learn
from the experience

that imitation
has nothing to do
with flattery.

Source: Bingham, K 1998, Cohabitation, Seren.

28 Jun 2009

Ebb -- Edna St. Vincent Millay

[1892–1950, American]

I know what my heart is like
    Since your love died:
It is like a hollow ledge
Holding a little pool
    Left there by the tide
    A little tepid pool,
Drying inward from the edge.

Source: Millay, ESV 1921, Second April, Harper.
Reprinted in Kellow, B & Krisak J (eds) 1983, Poetry and Language, London: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd.

The Hug -- Thom Gunn

[1929–2004, born in England, migrated to America in 1954]

It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
Half of the night with our old friend
Who’d showed us in the end
To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
Suddenly, from behind,
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
Your instep to my heel,
My shoulder-blades against your chest.
It was not sex, but I could feel
The whole strength of your body set,
Or braced, to mine,
And locking me to you
As if we were still twenty-two
When our grand passion had not yet
Become familial.
My quick sleep had deleted all
Of intervening time and place.
I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.

Source: Gunn, T 2009, Selected Poems, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

25 Jun 2009

At Last the Secret is Out -- W.H. Auden

[1907–1973, born England, migrated to America]

At last the secret is out,
as it always must come in the end,
the delicious story is ripe to tell
to tell to the intimate friend;
over the tea-cups and into the square
the tongues has its desire;
still waters run deep, my dear,
there’s never smoke without fire.

Behind the corpse in the reservoir,
behind the ghost on the links,
behind the lady who dances
and the man who madly drinks,
under the look of fatigue
the attack of migraine and the sigh
there is always another story,
there is more than meets the eye.

For the clear voice suddenly singing,
high up in the convent wall,
the scent of the elder bushes,
the sporting prints in the hall,
the croquet matches in summer,
the handshake, the cough, the kiss,
there is always a wicked secret,
a private reason for this.

Source: Auden, WH 1995, As I Walked out One Evening: Songs, Ballads, Lullabies, Limericks, and Other Light Verse, Vintage, NY.

Girlfriends -- Carol Ann Duffy

[1955–current, British]

That hot September night, we slept in a single bed,
naked, and on our frail bodies the sweat
cooled and renewed itself. I reached out my arms
and you, hands on my breasts, kissed me. Evening of amber.

Our nightgowns lay on the floor where you fell to your knees
and became ferocious, pressed your head to my stomach,
your mouth to the red gold, the pink shadows; except
I did not see it like this at the time, but arched

my back and squeezed water from the sultry air
with my fists. Also I remembered hearing, clearly
but distantly, a siren some streets away – de

da de da de da – which mingled with my own
absurd cries, so that I looked up, even then,
to see my fingers counting themselves, dancing.

Source: Duffy, CA 2010, Love Poems, 1st edn., Picador.

22 Jun 2009

First Memory -- Louise Glïck

[1943–current, American]

Long ago, I was wounded. I lived
to revenge myself
against my father, not
for what he was –
for what I was: from the beginning of time,
in childhood, I thought
that pain meant
I was not loved.
It meant I loved.

Source: Glück, L 1990, Ararat, Ecco.

Mrs. Hobson’s Choice -- Amla Denny

        What shall a woman
    Do with her ego,
Faced with the choice
    That it go or he go?

Source: Goodwin, D 2002, 101 Poems That Could Save Your Life: An Anthology of Emotional First Aid, Harper.
* Hobson’s choice: an apparently free choice when there is no real alternative

What Comes After? -- Tracey Morrison

That search most difficult – the getting to know
Someone, collecting the pieces of
Them, finding shelves on which
To house them, energy with which to dust them off.

Only to wipe the shelf clean, sweeping the collected, not
Always collectable or desired fragments aside –
Until you’ve got what you started with
A bare slate –
The surface of the human soul
That is.
That world unknown –
Whose boundaries are unmarked

Sex is not intimacy
Lust is not love
And possibly none of the above
Will produce the territory we seek
So what are we all doing then?

It has been said that to read is to know that we are not alone.
Slessor thought poetry a pleasure out of hell;
Lorde the skeletal architecture of our lives.
Whiteley professed that mid creation we should see
Something before unseen –
And that life lives
The key to oneself, and the beginning
Of difficult pleasures.

Source: Unknown

The Flaw in Paganism -- Dorothy Parker

[1893–1967, American]

Drink and dance and laugh and lie,
Love, the reeling midnight through,
For tomorrow we shall die!
(But, alas, we never do.)

Source: Parker, D 1931, Death and Taxes, The Viking Press, New York.

16 Jun 2009

The Sentence -- Anna Akhmatova

[1889–1966, Russian]

And the stone word fell
On my still-living breast.
Never mind, I was ready.
I will manage somehow.

Today I have so much to do:
I must kill memory once and for all,
I must turn my soul to stone,
I must learn to live again –

Unless … Summer’s ardent rustling
Is like a festival outside my window.
For a long time I’ve foreseen this
Brilliant day, deserted house.

Source: Reeder, R (ed.), 1989, Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova, translated by Judith Hemschemeyer, Zephyr Press., p. 398. Poem first published 1939.

Counting the Beats -- Robert Graves

[1895–1985, English]

You, love, and I,
(He whispers) you and I,
And if no more than only you and I
What care you or I ?

Counting the beats,
Counting the slow heart beats,
The bleeding to death of time in slow heart beats,
Wakeful they lie.

Cloudless day,
Night, and a cloudless day,
Yet the huge storm will burst upon their heads one day
From a bitter sky.

Where shall we be,
(She whispers) where shall we be,
When death strikes home, O where then shall we be
Who were you and I ?

Not there but here,
(He whispers) only here,
As we are, here, together, now and here,
Always you and I.

Counting the beats,
Counting the slow heart beats,
The bleeding to death of time in slow heart beats,
Wakeful they lie.

Source: Graves, R 1950, Good Housekeeping, vol. 130, no. 42, April.

15 Jun 2009

Church Bells, Montreal -- Raymond Souster

[1921–current, Canadian]

Against the hard
clear ring of the bells

measure that quick
whispered tick of our lives

Source: Kellow, B & Krisak J (eds) 1983, Poetry and Language, London: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd.

Proverbs 17:1 -- David Curzon

[Born Australia, migrated to America]

Better is a dry morsel with quiet
and a key turning in a front lock,
a door that opens onto empty rooms,
a lonely mouth watering at the thought
of a kiss as it reads a trashy romance,
and a death undiscovered for several days,
and a funeral to which few come,

than a house full of feasting with strife

Source: Curson, D 1998, The view from Jacob’s Ladder, Jewish Publ., USA.

In Progress -- Christina Rossetti

[1830–1894, English]

Ten years ago it seemed impossible
That she should ever grow so calm as this,
With self-remembrance in her warmest kiss
And dim dried eyes like an exhausted well.
Slow-speaking when she had some fact to tell,
Silent with long-unbroken silences,
Centered in self yet not unpleased to please,
Gravely monotonous like a passing bell.
Mindful of drudging daily common things,
Patient at pastime, patient at her work,
Wearied perhaps but strenuous certainly.
Sometimes I fancy we may one day see
Her head shoot forth seven stars from where they lurk
And her eyes lightnings and her shoulders wings.

Source: Rossetti, C 2008, ‘In Progress’ in S Humphries (ed.), Poems and Prose, Oxford University Press.

12 Jun 2009

After the Eulogy -- Kieren Carrol

Two days to prepare & three drinks
into the evening knowing what I missed.
The others must have before me is strange consolation.
Now she enters my head with simple reminders:
buying strawberries, Casablanca in the video store,
A quicksnap framed in my father’s bag while overseas.
Viewing the body, I think, only then did I gather
what it means to turn to dust (21 or 22 years after
Buying Bowie’s ‘Ashes to Ashes’) as if this was
the final torn moment of youthful protection –
& how next morning, the hearse would turn left
away from the church & with summer approaching
all would turn truly black; almost blacker than the news itself;
the peculiar opposite of the interim peace embalming brings.

Source: Unknown.

Suicide in the Trenches -- Siegfried Sassoon

[1886–1967, English]

I knew a simple soldier boy
Who grinned at life in empty joy,
Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,
And whistled early with the lark.

In winter trenches, cowed and glum,
With crumps and lice and lack of rum,
He put a bullet through his brain.
No one spoke of him again.

You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier lads march by,
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.

Source: Sassoon, S 1918, Counter-Attack and Other Poems, EP Dutton & Company, NY.

Snowdrops -- Patricia Pogson

Yesterday I walked
through the churchyard
and noticed
for the first time
the snowdrops
on the graves.
They must have been there for days
but I
was wind-blinded
huddled into myself,
so anxious
to refrain
my solitary
that nothing
could touch me
that I
could touch nothing.

Source: Unknown. Approx. 1994.

11 Jun 2009

The Way We Live -- Vicki Feaver

[1943–current, English]

In rooms whose lights
On winter evenings
Make peepshows of our lives –
Behind each window
A stage so cluttered up
With props and furniture
It’s not surprising
We make a mess of what began
So simply with I love you.
Look at us: some
Slumped in chairs
And hardly ever speaking
And others mouthing
The same tired lines to ears
That long ago stopped listening.
Once we must have dreamed
Of something better.
But even those who swapped
One partner for another
Have ended up
Just like the rest of us:
Behind doors, moving outside
Only to go to work
Or spend weekends with mother.

Source: Goodwin, D 2002, 101 Poems That Could Save Your Life: An Anthology of Emotional First Aid, Harper.

A Short Film -- Ted Hughes

[1930–1998, English]

It was not meant to hurt.
It had been made for happy remembering
By people who were still too young
To have learned about memory.

Now it is a dangerous weapon, a time-bomb.
Which is a kind of body-bomb, long-term, too.
Only film, a few frames of you skipping, a few seconds.
You aged about ten there, skipping and still skipping.

Not very clear grey, made out of mist and smudge.
This thing has a fine fuse, less a fuse
Than a wavelength attuned, an electronic detonator
To what lies in your grave inside us.

And how that explosion would hurt
Is not just an idea of horror but a flash of fine sweat
Over the skin-surface, a bracing of nerves
For something that has already happened.

Source: Hughes, T 1998, Birthday letters, Farrar Straus & Giroux.

10 Jun 2009

Concerning the Stone -- Gregory Orr

[1947–current, American]

The stone went out, dressed as a man.
At the party, the stone danced.
Late at night in the park, the stone
pressed its mouth to the damp earth.
The stone did not cry, but periodically
the gray bowls of its hands would fill with tears.
It carried a stick to beat away
the clouds. It carried a mirror
to remind itself. Having seen the woman once,
the stone could not close the wound
or make it speak.

Source: Magill, FN (ed.), 1992, Critical Survey Of Poetry, Salem Press, USA, p. 2518.

The Eagle -- Lord Alfred Tennyson

[1809–1892, English]

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Source: Tennyson, A 1851, Tennyson’s Poems, 7th edn., London: Edward Moxon.

Thanks for Remembering Us -- Dana Gioia

[1950–current, American]

The flowers sent here by mistake,
signed with a name that no one knew,
are turning bad. What shall we do?
Our neighbor says they’re not for her,
and no one has a birthday near.
We should thank someone for the blunder.
Is one of us having an affair?
At first we laugh, and then we wonder.

The iris was the first to die,
enshrouded in its sickly-sweet
and lingering perfume. The roses
fell one petal at a time,
and now the ferns are turning dry.
The room smells like a funeral,
but there they sit, too much at home,
accusing us of some small crime,
like love forgotten, and we can’t
throw out a gift we’ve never owned.

Source: Gioia, D 1986, Daily Horoscope, Graywolf Press, USA.

8 Jun 2009

The Plumbing -- Jennifer Maiden

[1949–current, Australian]

The towels are already
stained red with clues.
wash-stand, bidet, shower
walled with slimy tiles, all
the colour of bad teeth.
The sleep
to people the dark with sighs.
The meal is bread soup. The china
tea-stained, hot. The broken cup
serves clotted castor sugar.
All injuries
the dull air soothes
the sickliness repairs
Due to default, the blows,
my clothes were wet, unkempt
and I was shrunk in them, and so
I had to come here after.
“You should have known
I’d be here: I’m
as losable as water”.

Source: Maiden, J 1979, The Border Loss, Angus & Robertson, Australia.

Junkie -- PA Pilgrim

You made needlework an art
late into the night
drilling wrought iron lattice work
your arms became heavy
still you persisted
it was religion you said
you could not desert your god
his need was yours
(so very great)
you worked in gold
to make a tawdry thing
of cotton wool and blood
and punctured skin.

Some said you were a poet
(you claimed no such skill)
others a showman
with your body as a prop
(tax deductible) but you
were wiser and worked your miracles in miniature
and with each illumination
your options got less
until finally the tapestry was finished
and there was music in the air
and under earth
the sky was lead
each star a pin-
prick of light.

Hercules was not your god
(some other you alone knew
for sure his name)
he left you on that night
and the morning found you dead
at your devotions.

Source: Pilgrim , PA 1972, ‘Junkie’, Poetry Australia 45, South Head Press, Port Melbourne, p. 16.

Not Waving but Drowning -- Stevie Smith

[1902–1971, English]

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he’s dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Source: Smith, S 1972, Collected Poems of Stevie Smith, New Directions Publishing Corporation.
Stevie Smith was born Florence Margaret Smith.

4 Jun 2009

Untitled (Listening…) -- Rod Wilmot

After a while
    I take up my axe again

Source: Kellow, B & Krisak J (eds) 1983, Poetry and Language, London: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Ltd.

The Sorrow of Socks -- Wendy Cope

[1945–current, English]

Some socks are loners –
They can’t live in pairs.
On washdays they’ve shown us
They want to be loners.
They puzzle their owners,
They hide in dark lairs.
Some socks are loners –
They won’t live in pairs.

Source: Hawthorn, P (ed.), 2004, Poems for Young Children, Usborne Publishing Ltd.

Meditation on the A30 -- John Betieman

[1906–1984, English]

A man on his own in a car
    Is revenging himself on his wife;
He open the throttle and bubbles with dottle
    And puffs at his pitiful life

She’s losing her looks very fast,
    She loses her temper all day;
That lorry won’t let me get past,
    This Mini is blocking my way.

“Why can’t you step on it and shift her!
    I can’t go on crawling like this!
At breakfast she said that she wished I was dead-
    Thank heavens we don’t have to kiss.

“I’d like a nice blonde on my knee
    And one who won’t argue or nag.
Who dares to come hooting at me?
    I only give way to a Jag.

“You’re barmy or plastered, I’ll pass you, you bastard-
    I will overtake you. I will!”
As he clenches his pipe, his moment is ripe
    And the corner’s accepting its kill.

Source: Betjeman, J 2006, Collected Poems, Hachette UK.

3 Jun 2009

Poem 341 (After great pain, a formal feeling comes) -- Emily Dickinson

[1830–1886, American]

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs –
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?

The Feet, mechanical, go round –
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
A Wooden way
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone –

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –

Source: Franklin, RW (ed.), 1999, The Poems of Emily Dickinson, Harvard University Press.

2 Jun 2009

Aftermath -- Amy Lowell

[1874–1925, American]

I learnt to write to you in happier days,
And every letter was a piece I chipped
From off my heart, a fragment newly clipped
From the mosaic of life; its blues and grays,
Its throbbing reds, I gave to earn your praise.
To make a pavement for your feet I stripped
My soul for you to walk upon, and slipped
Beneath your steps to soften all your ways.
But now my letters are like blossoms pale
We strew upon a grave with hopeless tears.
I ask no recompense, I shall not fail
Although you do not heed; the long, sad years
Still pass, and still I scatter flowers frail,
And whisper words of love which no one hears.

Source: Lowell, A 1912, A Dome of Many-Coloured Glass, Houghton Mifflin Co.

At 3am -- Wendy Cope

[1945–current, English]

the room contains no sound
except the ticking of the clock
which has begun to panic
like an insect, trapped
in an enormous box.

Books lie open on the carpet.

Somewhere else
you’re sleeping
and beside you there’s a woman
who is crying quietly
so you won’t wake.

Source: Cope, W 2009, Two Cures for Love, Faber and Faber.

First Memory -- Louise Glïck

[1943–current, American]

Long ago, I was wounded. I lived
to revenge myself
against my father, not
for what he was –
for what I was: from the beginning of time,
in childhood, I thought
that pain meant
I was not loved.
It meant I loved.

Source: Glück, L 1990, Ararat, Ecco.

Toads -- Philip Larkin

[1922–1985, English]

Why should I let the toad work
    Squat on my life?
Can’t I use my wit as a pitchfork
six days of the week it soils
    And drive the brute off?

    With its sickening poison –
Just for paying a few bills!
    That’s out of proportion.

Lots of folk live on their wits:
    Lecturers, lispers,
Losels, loblolly-men, louts –
    They don’t end as paupers;
Lots of folk live up lanes
    With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines –
    they seem to like it.
Their nippers have got bare feet,
    Their unspeakable wives
Are skinny as whippets – and yet
    No one actually starves.

Ah, were I courageous enough
    To shout Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that’s the stuff
    That dreams are made on:

For something sufficiently toad-like
    Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
    And cold as snow,

And will never allow me to blarney
    My way of getting
The fame and the girl and the money
    All at one sitting.

I don’t say, one bodies the other
    One’s spiritual truth;
But I do say it’s hard to lose either,
    When you have both.

Source: Goodwin, D 2002, 101 Poems That Could Save Your Life: An Anthology of Emotional First Aid, Harper.

1 Jun 2009

Haiku -- Nicolas Virgilio

[1928–1989, American]

the sack of kittens
sinking in the icy creek
increases the cold

Source: van den Heuvel, C 1999, The Haiku Anthology, 3rd edn, WW Norton & Co.

Cinquain -- Sue Marsden

    It seems
That barbed comments
Baited with some small joke
Hook themselves well into the soul
    And rip.

Source: Unknown. Approx. 1995.

30 May 2009

She Tells Her Love -- Robert Graves

[1895–1985, English]

She tells her love while half asleep,
In the dark hours,
With half-words whispered low:
As Earth stirs in her winter sleep
And put out grass and flowers
Despite the snow,
Despite the falling snow.

Source: Graves, R 1946, Argosy (magazine, London) vol. 7, no. 25, November.

Last -- Dee Cohen

Last night waits in the kitchen.
Skillet still on the stove
and pan tipped into the sink,
blood drained to the bottom.
A drawer pulled open,
forks, spoons and knives
pitched forward.
Plates on the table,
unscraped, unstacked.
Chairs shoved back,
garbage can toppled,
grounds and rinds and bones
spill from its mouth.
The back door stands open,
the driveway is empty.

Source: www.pith.com, 2004.

Bloody Men -- Wendy Cope

[1945–current, English]

Bloody men are like bloody buses --
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.
You look at them flashing their indicators,
Offering you a ride.
You’re trying to read the destinations,
You haven’t much time to decide.
If you make a mistake, there is no turning back.
Jump off, and you’ll stand there and gaze
While the cars and the taxis and lorries go by
And the minutes, the hours, the days.

Source: Cope, W 2009, Two Cures for Love, Faber and Faber.

I Think My Brain Is Coming Out Of My Ears -- Luke Yates


Found a pink wet thing
like a prawn on my pillow this morning
felt it, smelt it, looked at it under the microscope
and I could see memories, rumours and dreams
scrawled in my handwriting over the surface.
I keep my bit of brain in a jar, feed it marmalade,
call it Fred.
Frightening to think what might be missing –
unexplained chunks of my life.
(I can’t find the remote). Tonight
I sleep, orifices stuffed
and my ears glued to the sides of my head.

Source: Seen on a London Tube poster as part of the Poems on the underground series in 2001.

28 May 2009

Adjust, Adjust -- Christopher Bursk

[1943–current, American]

I was born committing suicide,
holding my breath; they had to drag me kicking
out of this damp garage, this airtight inside,
the gases I struggled back to
until the doctors slapped me alive
and shouted: survive, survive.

After Hiroshima, turning four,
I battered my head at the master bedroom door;
every night I dreamt I was a child burning at that town dump
At the world’s edge, Japan;
and every night my father yelled: be brave,
behave, behave.

I ripped his set of Plato at eight,
the year my mother was put away at Boston State,
and war was fought in some darkness called Korea;
all winter, I played dead in the corner
while my teachers clapped:
adapt, adapt.

Grandmother took me in till I was ten;
with her best silver carving knife I locked her with me
in the den, all night, clinging to her bathrobe, demanding
to cut our wrists in a lover’s pact;
the only promise I could secure
was: endure, endure.

I threw tantrums in to eleven;
I couldn’t sleep; McCarthy lashed out at reds in the nightmares
where he held me witness; they nailed grandmother up for heaven,
that year; I pounded my fingers bloody on the pews
while the minister spit:
submit, submit.

I counted my bones, waiting to be dead;
at thirteen, an invalid in this nursing home, my bed,
between commercials, curse the first graders
whom they tried to storm,
shrieking: conform, conform.

At fifteen, in South Station where I ran away,
every week, I bedded down on papers inksmudged with the blood
of freedom fighters, left in heaps in Hungary to decay,
while old men rubbed against my thighs,
lulling me to them with the hum
of succumb, succumb.

I couldn’t. Even with sleeping pills,
razor blades, I couldn’t. While the U.S. played chicken
in the hills with atom bombs, I gave up my body like sixteen years
of hardened clay to be moulded slippery
under the touch of my girl’s hand and thigh
while she moaned all night: comply, comply.

Why couldn’t I? When the world lapsed wide
and elastic into too much, too bright space when Kennedy died
and the roads wore bald; and the yards stretched between houses,
and the towns gleamed like chrome, I drove into walls,
day after day while police barked:
obey, obey.

Can’t you bleed? Coward, you can’t die
while wrists are cut, throats slit, those children, all suicides,
are gassed in Vietnam; at twenty-four can you only cry
while men shoot themselves to death
in the DMZ, and your analyst coughs; you must
adjust, adjust.

Source: Lowenfels, W (ed.), 1969, The Writing on the Wall: 108 American Poems of Protest, Doubleday, p. 65.

Excerpt from ‘In my Country’ -- Pitika Ntuli

[1942–current, born South Africa, migrated to England]

In my country they jail you
for what they think you think.
My uncle once said to me:
they’ll implant a microchip
in our minds
to flash our thoughts and dreams
on to a screen at John Vorster Square.
I was scared
by day I guard my tongue
by night my dreams.

Source: Ntuli, P 2011, ‘21st Medellin Poetry Festival, July 2011’, www.pitikantuli.com/site/artwork/poems/in_my_country/

Revelation -- Robert Frost

[1874–1963, American]

We make ourselves a place apart
    Behind light words that tease and flout,
But oh, the agitated heart
    Till someone find us really out.

‘Tis pity if the case require
    (Or so we say) that in the end
We speak the literal to inspire
    The understanding of a friend.

But so with all, from babes that play
    At hide-and-seek to God afar,
So all who hide too well away
    Must speak and tell us where they are.

Frost, R 1915, A Boy’s Will, Henry Holt and Company, NY.

Pride -- Dahlia Ravikovitch

[Translated 1989 by Chana Bloch and Ariel Bloch]
[1936–2005, Israeli]

Even rocks break, I tell you,
and not from old age.
For years they lie on their backs
in the heat and the cold,
so many years
it almost seems peaceful.
They don’t move from their place
and so the cracks are hidden.
A kind of pride.
Year after year passes over them
expectant, waiting.
The one who will shatter them later
has not yet come.
And so the moss grows,
the seaweeds are tossed about,
the sea pounces in, and returns.
And they, it seems, do not move.
Until a little seal comes
to rub against the rocks,
comes and goes away.
And suddenly the stone is wounded.
I told you, when rocks break
it comes as a surprise.
And all the more with people.

Source: Ravikovitch, D 1970, The Third Book, Hakibbutz Hameuchad, Tel Aviv.

Feasting With Panthers -- Ian Saw


Lord Alfred Douglas: Why do you do it Oscar? Why do you associate with such men? It must be like feasting with panthers.

Oscar Wilde: Precisely, dear boy!

They smile across the table, twitch their tails
You wonder at how sleek they are, and slim.
You touch the carver to your mortal thigh
And pass the salt and pepper pots to them.

You take another draught of burgundy
And do not feel the rasp of blade on bone.
Your eyes are as a cornered doe’s that glaze
Against the spectre of its martyrdom.

The are satin-bright; so midnight blue;
So brother-lovely in their crouching pose;
So fiercely grateful for the gift you gave;
So rigidly alert for what you’ll give.

How could your flesh deny them what they crave?
How could your soul belie such brotherhood?
The lust that lopes through their unfearing blood.
The fear that makes your passion what it is.

So carve another slice of genius-meat;
Slice after slice, and give yourself to them
Until the knife reveals your pulsing heart
They pounce –
The cell in Reading Goal begins to spin.

Source: Saw, I 1993, The sailor on the point of going overboard, Five Islands Press.

26 May 2009

Acquainted with the Night -- Robert Frost

[1874–1963, American]

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain – and back in rain.
I have out-walked the furthest city light.

I have looked down the saddest city lane.
I have passed by the watchman on his beat
And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,

But not to call me back or say goodbye;
And further still at an unearthly height
One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

Source: Frost, R 1928, West-Running Brook, Henry Holt and Co.

Nights in the Pool -- Lynn Hard

[1938–current, born America, migrated to Australia in 1977]

Black thoughts I have had of you
nestling close to me with your sharp edges
and well I might
being a vinyl animal
that people in bathing costumes
ride through the chlorinated night.

Source: Hard, L 1993, Dancing on the Drainboard, Angus & Robertson, Australia, p. 3.

Untitled (A white lilly…) -- Kathy Benson

A white lily throws
    open her dazzling petals
        like stretched brolga’s wings

Headlights slit apart
    tall thistles arguing in
        the violent cold wind.

Source: Porter, D & Millett, J (eds) 1989, ‘On Struggle Street – An Anthology of New Poets’, Poetry Australia 122, South Head Press, Port Melbourne, p. 7.

Auschwitz, 1987 -- Adam Zych

(Translated by Hilda Schiff)
[1945–current, born in Poland, migrated to America in 1990]

and nobody shouts halt,
and nobody fires,
and yet this deathly
silence fills one’s ears

and no one slaps your face,
or whips your back, your eyes,
and no one weeps,
nor do the skies cry out

even though we have arrived
at this well-known place
with its resonant name:

Source: Schiff, H (ed.), 1995, Holocaust Poetry, 1st edn, St. Martin’s Press.

Quote -- William Penn

"I expect to pass through this life but once. If therefore, there can be any kindness I can show, or any thing I can do to help a fellow human being, let me do it now."
William Penn

25 May 2009

Habitation -- Margaret Atwood

[1939–current, Canadian]

Marriage is not
a house or even a tent

it is before that, and colder:

The edge of the forest, the edge
of the desert
the unpainted stairs
at the back where we squat
outside, eating popcorn

where painfully and with wonder
at having survived even
this far

we are learning to make fire

Source: Atwood, M 1970, Procedures for Underground, Little, Brown.

Forgive Me -- Dilys Laing

[1906–1960, born Wales, migrated to America]

Forgive me for neglecting to show you that the world is evil.
I had hoped your innocence
would find it good
and teach me what I know to be untrue.

Forgive me for leaving you open to persistent heartbreak
instead of breaking your bright heart with medicinal blows.
I had hoped your eyes would be stars
dispelling darkness wherever you looked.

Forgive me for a love that has delivered you unwarned to treachery.
Now I confess that the world,
more beautiful for your presence,
was not fine enough to warrant my summoning you into it.
My beloved.

Source: Lowenfels, W (ed.), 1969, The Writing on the Wall: 108 American Poems of Protest, Doubleday.

Quiet Girl [Ardella] -- Langston Hughes

[1902–1967, American]

I would liken you
To a night without stars
Were it not for your eyes.
I would liken you
To a sleep without dreams
Were it not for your songs.

Source: Hughes, L, 1995, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, Vintage.
Originally published as ‘Ardella’ in the book above. Later published as ‘Quiet Girl’.

22 May 2009

I’m Really Very Fond -- Alice Walker

[1944–current, American]

I’m really very fond of you,
he said.

I don’t like fond.
It sounds like something
you would tell a dog.

Give me love,
or nothing.

Throw your fond in a pond,
I said.

But what I felt for him
was also warm, frisky,
and could swim away

if forced to do so.

Source: Walker, A 1986, Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful, Mariner Books.

Death Barged In -- Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno


In his Russian greatcoat
slamming open the door
with an unpardonable bang,
and he has been here ever since.

He changes everything,
rearranges the furniture,
his hand hovers
by the phone;
he will answer now, he says;
he will be the answer.

Tonight he sits down to dinner
at the head of the table
as we eat, mute;
later, he climbs into bed
between us.

Even as I sit here,
he stands behind me
clamping two
colossal hands on my shoulders
and bends down
and whispers to my neck,
From now on,
you write about me.

Poem via www.coffee-stainedwriter.blogspot.com
Source: Bonanno, KS 2009, Slamming Open the Door, Alice James Books.

21 May 2009

Quotes 1

"His native home deep imaged in his soul."
Homer, Trans. of Pope, ‘Odyssey, Bk. XIII’

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars."
Oscar Wilde, ‘Lady Windermere's Fan’, 1893

"Misery is a communicable disease."
Martha Graham

"A loving person lives in a loving world. A hostile person lives in a hostile world; everyone you meet is your mirror."
Ken Keyes, Jr.

Lullaby -- Rosemary Norman

[1946–current, English]

Go to sleep, Mum,
I won’t stop breathing
suddenly, in the night.

Go to sleep, I won’t
climb out of my cot and
tumble downstairs.

Mum, I won’t swallow
the pills the doctor gave you or
put hairpins in electric
sockets, just go to sleep.

I won’t cry
when you take me to school and leave me:
I’ll be happy with other children
my own age.

Sleep, Mum, sleep.
I won’t
fall in the pond, play with matches,
run under a lorry or even consider
sweets from strangers.

No, I won’t
give you a lot of lip,
not like some.

I won’t sniff glue,
fail all my exams,
get myself/
my girlfriend pregnant.
I’ll work hard and get a steady/
really worthwhile job.
I promise, go to sleep.
I’ll never forget
to drop in/phone/write
and if
I need any milk, I’ll yell.

Source: Goodwin, D 2002, 101 Poems That Could Save Your Life: An Anthology of Emotional First Aid, Harper.

Prayer -- Hugo Williams

[1942–current, British]
God give me strength to lead a double life.
Cut me in half.
Make each half happy in its own way
with what is left. Let me disobey
my own best instincts
and do what I want to do, whatever that may be,
without regretting it, or thinking I might.

When I come home late at night from home,
saying I have to go away,
remind me to look out the window
to see which house I’m in.
Pin a smile on my face
when I turn up two weeks later with a tan
and presents for everyone.

Teach me how to stand and where to look
when I say the words
about where I’ve been
and what sort of time I’ve had.
Was it good or bad or somewhere in between?
I’d like to know how I feel about these things,
perhaps you’d let me know?

When it’s time to go to bed in one of my lives,
go ahead of me up the stairs,
shine a light in the corners of my room.
Tell me this: do I wear pyjamas here,
or sleep with nothing on?
If you can’t oblige by cutting me in half,
God give me strength to lead a double life.

Source: Goodwin, D 2002, 101 Poems That Could Save Your Life: An Anthology of Emotional First Aid, Harper.

20 May 2009

In a Station of the Metro -- Ezra Pound

[1885–1972, American]

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
 Petals on a wet, black bough.

Source: Pound, E 1913, Poetry Magazine (April 1913), www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/toc/7

Adultery -- Carol Ann Duffy

[1955–current, British]

Wear dark glasses in the rain.
Regard what was unhurt
as though through a bruise.
Guilt. A sick, green tint.

New gloves, money tucked in the palms,
the handshake crackles. Hands
can do many things. Phone.
Open the wine. Wash themselves. Now

you are naked under your clothes all day,
slim with deceit. Only the once
brings you alone to your knees,
miming, more, more, older and sadder,

creative. Suck a lie with a hole in it
on the way home from a lethal, thrilling night
up against a wall, faster. Language
unpeels a lost cry. You’re a bastard.

Do it do it do it. Sweet darkness
in the afternoon; a voice in your ear
telling you how you are wanted,
which way, now. A telltale clock

wiping the hours from its face, your face
on a white sheet, gasping, radiant, yes.
Pay for it in cash, fiction, cab-fares back
to the life which crumbles like a wedding-cake.

Paranoia for lunch; too much
to drink, as a hand on your thigh
tilts the restaurant. You know all about love,
don’t you. Turn on your beautiful eyes

for a stranger who’s dynamite in bed, again
and again; a slow replay in the kitchen
where the slicing of innocent onions
scalds you to tears. Then, selfish autobiographical sleep

in a marital bed, the tarnished spoon of your body
stirring betrayal, your heart over-ripe at the core.
You’re an expert, darling; your flowers
dumb and explicit on nobody’s birthday.

So write the script – illness and debt,
a ring thrown away in a garden
no moon can heal, your own words
commuting to bile in your mouth, terror –

and all for the same thing twice. And all
for the same thing twice. You did it.
What. Didn’t you. Fuck. Fuck. No. That was
the wrong verb. This is only an abstract noun.

Source: Duffy, CA 1993, Mean Time, Anvil Press Poetry.

Truth -- Barrie Wade

Sticks and stones may beak my bones
but words can also hurt me.
Stones and sticks break only skin,
while words are ghosts that haunt me.

Slant and curved the word-swords fall
to pierce and stick inside me.
Bats and bricks may ache through bones
but words can mortify me.

Pain from words has left its scar
on mind and heart that’s tender
Cuts and bruises now have healed
it’s words that I remember.

Source: Wade, B 1989, Conkers: Poems, Oxford University Press, USA.

New Pocket Dictionary of America -- John Cotter

Relationship: an erotic compromise
Dog: where you put your heart
Desert: a myth in reality’s clothes
Books: mirrors too small to hold

Frame: that which is framed by something else
Meditation: opening the mouth within
Myth: that which did not transpire
Music: when a dream shakes it’s sleep off and speaks

Air: that which connects us
Fingers: thin bodies waiting to be born
Cowboy: the transcendental shepherd; the shepherd what’s-his-name
Fingernails: sunglasses for your hands

Source: www.pith.net, 2004.

15 May 2009

Dreams -- Langston Hughes

[1902–1967, American]

Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird,
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Source: Hughes, L 1994, The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes, Alfred A Knopf/Vintage.

Separation -- W.S. Merwin

[1927–current, American]

Your absence has gone through me
    Like thread through a needle.
    Everything I do is stitched with its color.

Source: Merwin, WS 2005, Migration: New & Selected Poems, Copper Canyon Press.

When You’ve Got -- Helen Dunmore

[1952–current, British]

When you’ve got the plan of your life
matched to the time it will take
but you just want to press SHIFT / BREAK
and print over and over
this is not what I was after
this is not what I was after.

When you’ve finally stripped out the house
with its iron-cold fireplace,
its mouldings, its mortgage,
its single-skin walls
but you want to write in the plaster
This is not what I was after.”

When you’ve got the rainbow-clad baby
in his state-of-the-art pushchair
but he arches his back at you
and pulps his Activity Centre
and you just want to whisper
This is not what I was after.”

When the vacuum seethes and whines in the lounge
and the waste-disposal unit blows,
when tenners settle in your account
like snow hitting a stove,
when you get a chat from your spouse
about marriage and personal growth,
when a wino comes to sleep in your porch
on your Citizen’s Charter
and you know a hostel’s opening soon
but your headache’s closer
and you really just want to torch
the bundle of rags and newspaper
and you’ll say to the newspaper
“This is not what we were after,
this is not what we were after.

Source: Goodwin, D 2002, 101 Poems That Could Save Your Life: An Anthology of Emotional First Aid, Harper.

Death Stands Above Me, Whispering Low -- Walter Savage Landor

[1775–1864, English]

Death stands above me, whispering low
I know not what into my ear:
Of his strange language all I know
Is, there is not a word of fear.

Source: Eliot, CW (ed.), 2001, English Poetry II: From Collins to Fitzgerald, vol. XLI, The Harvard Classics, New York, PF Collier & Son.

Eating Poetry -- Mark Strand

[1934–current, American]

Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.

The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.

The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.

Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.

She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
she screams.

I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.

Source: Strand, M 1992, Reasons for Moving, Darker, and the Sargeantville Notebook, Knopf Press.

14 May 2009

Unfortunate Coincidence -- Dorothy Parker

[1893–1967, American]

By the time you swear you’re his,
Shivering and sighing,
And he vows his passion is
Infinite, undying --
Lady, make a note of this:
One of you is lying.

Source: Parker, D 1926, Enough Rope: Poems, University of California.

The Taxi -- Amy Lowell

[1874–1925, American]

When I go away from you
The world beats dead
Like a slackened drum.
I call out for you against the jutted stars
And shout into the ridges of the wind.
Streets coming fast,
one after the other,
Wedge you away from me,
And the lamps of the city prick my eyes
So that I can no longer see your face.
Why should I leave you,
To wound myself upon the sharp edges of the night?

Source: Lowell, A 1914, Sword Blades and Poppy Seed, The Macmillan Company.

Introduction to Poetry -- Billy Collins

[1941–current, American]

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem's room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author's name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Source: Collins, B 1988, The Apple That Astonished Paris, University of Arkansas Press, USA.