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.