Dec 21, 2020
Chaos, and pathos, intrude on an awkward Christmas dinner
Towards the End of the Feast
The best way to bear Continue reading...
that flaming pud
signalling the latter stages of our feast
Dec 14, 2020
The writer’s observations of fellow railway passengers in the 1920s coalesce into an authentically joyous work
On the Train
I Continue reading...
The lady in front of me in the car,
With little red coils close over her ears,
Is talking with her friend;
And the circle of ostrich foam around her hat,
Curving over like a wave,
Trembles with her little windy words.
What is she saying, I wonder,
That her feathers should tremble
And the soft fur of her coat should slip down over her shoulders?
Has her string of pearls been stolen,
Or maybe her husband?
He is drunk, that man –
Drunk as a lord, a lord of the bibulous past.
He shouts wittily from his end of the car to the man in the corner;
He bows to me with chivalrous apologies.
He philosophizes, plays with the wisdom of the ages,
Flings off his rags,
Displays his naked soul –
Athletic, beautiful, grotesque.
In the good time coming,
When men drink no more,
Shall we ever see a nude soul dancing
Stript and free
In the temple of his god?
She comes smiling into the car
With iridescent bubbles of children.
She blooms in the close plush seats
Like a narcissus in a bowl of stones.
She croons to a baby in her lap —
The trees come swinging by to listen,
And the electric lights in the ceiling are stars.
Dec 07, 2020
A funny but poignant story conceals – and reveals – much about its narrator
hangs where the plaster cracked Continue reading...
and the ribs of the house show.
He’s the only stranger I can afford,
a middle-aged man in a plaid shirt
smiling for an artist. Nothing to me,
but still I hang him in the hallway
and call him Dad. Of course, visitors
have doubts. I know they know
his hair’s too light, the eyes too blue.
I win them over by recalling
our fishing holidays, how dad
slit the belly of a rainbow trout, and out
slipped a diamond ring for me.
A perfect fit. Dad was handy.
He met my mother when she broke
down outside the Camden Palace,
and changed her tyre without a jack.
He made us a sherbet playhouse,
we licked its walls to nothingness.
He taught my brother harpsichord.
Now he’s international. You may
have heard him on the radio.
That’s a self-portrait. He never lived
to paint us all. ‘What a terrible loss,’
visitors sigh. I lead them into
a living room, and whisper, ‘Yes.’
Nov 30, 2020
Fragile but precious memories haunt this resonant sonnet
An eleven-year-old boy from Aleppo Continue reading...
whose eyes hold only things no longer there
– a citadel, a moat, safe rooms of shadow,
‘afterwardness’ in his thousand yard stare –
Nov 23, 2020
A reflective love poem captures an expanding range of intimate associations
for the curve of dismounts
o Continue reading...
Nov 16, 2020
A very modern, secular kind of elegy reflects on death with a surprising lightness
Now that you are not-you
and have satisfied the finger-check of pulse Continue reading...
at throat and wrist
ear to the chest
mirror to the lips
Nov 09, 2020
A family game provides the occasion to consider some aesthetic principles
On a Pebbly Beach
When our family was young Continue reading...
and the children took off over the stones like little dogs
as we followed in our different conversation
and the game was, to come back with the Best
Nov 02, 2020
This intense account of a lonely winter journey owes much to Milton and German Romanticism
From The Wanderer
The land I came thro’ last was dumb with night, Continue reading...
a limbo of defeated glory, a ghost:
for wreck of constellations flicker’d perishing
scarce sustained in the mortuary air,
and on the ground and out of livid pools
wreck of old swords and crowns glimmer’d at whiles;
I seem’d at home in some old dream of kingship:
now it is clear grey day and the road is plain,
I am the wanderer of many years
who cannot tell if ever he was king
or if ever kingdoms were: I know I am
the wanderer of the ways of all the worlds,
to whom the sunshine and the rain are one
and one to stay or hasten, because he knows
no ending of the way, no home, no goal,
and phantom night and the grey day alike
withhold the heart where all my dreams and days
might faint in soft fire and delicious death:
and saying this to myself as a simple thing
I feel a peace fall in the heart of the winds
and a clear dusk settle, somewhere, far in me.
Oct 26, 2020
The largely self-taught author died from TB in 1917 aged 23, but works such as this fully deserve their place in the history of modernist poetry
The apparent gale, vaned in winding storms Continue reading...
Has filled the air with hail and mystic frost
The peaceful alley through bowing elms revealed
Pregnant buds, where spring has failed the lewd heart
Darkness over the ocean’s deep was offering moonlight
Movable, silver, vanishing waves that enrolled
The wild summer blossom that in sanguine
Peace bared the ray of gold; until bronze
Shades of autumn quietly lowered a
Humble veil upon the ground in preservation –
Thick clouds that separate over the
Spotless blue of glazing greys. A simple
Tint vanishes, as the storm of fusion
Displays the shocking flood that vapors have gathered
Oct 19, 2020
This enigmatic symbolic narrative has unsettling resonance for our times
It Was As If a Ladder
It was as if Continue reading...
Oct 12, 2020
The past becomes almost magically present again in this potent Ukrainian elegy
The Bread of Childhood
Grandmother’s pyrohy oozing cherries, the soil Continue reading...
Fragrant with spring,
These are the heart’s embroidered memories
Touched by the cry
Of a crane.
Oct 05, 2020
A heartening song of love and hope to warm spirits as the outside world gets chillier
Oh wert thou in the cauld blast
Oh wert thou in the cauld blast, Continue reading...
On yonder lea, on yonder lea;
My plaidie to the angry airt,
I’d shelter thee, I’d shelter thee:
Or did Misfortune’s bitter storms
Around thee blaw, around thee blaw,
Thy bield should be my bosom,
To share it a’, to share it a’.
Sep 28, 2020
Giving voice to a now extinct New Zealand bird, this is a plaintive but urgent warning about ecological fragility
I was the first of birds to sing Continue reading...
I sang to signal rain
the one I loved was singing
and singing once again
Sep 21, 2020
A tough-minded reflection on the cost of being a witness to traumatic history
Before It Is All Gone
It will be different – Continue reading...
nobody will cry,
nobody will be cold,
nobody will stand at the door,
it will be better, for sure.
Sep 14, 2020
A haunting lyric about the fate of ‘all those girls’ echoes through a number of myths
all those girls Continue reading...
their paper knees
folding under them
Sep 07, 2020
The elusive sources of poetic inspiration get a sceptical inspection from a seasoned veteran
How Poems Arrive
For Dana Gioia
You say them as your undertongue declares, Continue reading...
Then let them knock about your upper mind
Until the shape of what they mean appears.
Aug 31, 2020
In her bicentennial year, here is one of the Victorian poet’s lesser-known works, a sensuously descriptive address to the Christian God
Thick orchards, all in white
The time of the singing of birds is come. Continue reading...
Thick orchards, all in white,
Stand ‘neath blue voids of light,
And birds among the branches blithely sing,
For they have all they know;
There is no more, but so,
All perfectness of living, fair delight of spring.
Only the cushat dove
Makes answer as for love
To the deep yearning of man’s yearning breast;
And mourneth, to his thought,
As in her notes were wrought
Fulfill’d in her sweet having, sense of his unrest.
Not with possession, not
With fairest earthly lot,
Cometh the peace assured, his spirit’s quest;
With much it looks before,
With most it yearns for more;
And ‘this is not our rest,’ and ‘this is not our rest.’
Give Thou us more. We look
For more. The heart that took
All spring-time for itself were empty still;
Its yearning is not spent
Nor silenced in content,
Till He that all things filleth doth it sweetly fill.
Give us Thyself. The May
Dureth so short a day;
Youth and the spring are over all too soon;
Content us while they last,
Console us for them past,
Thou with whom bides for ever life, and love, and noon.
Aug 24, 2020
Hopkins welds priest, father and doctor in this enormous expression of empathy, commemorating the life of a Liverpudlian farrier
Felix Randal the farrier, O is he dead then? my duty all ended, Continue reading...
Who have watched his mould of man, big-boned and hardy-handsome
Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it, and some
Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended?
Aug 17, 2020
A father welcomes his wailing newborn child to the world and as her time begins he vows his love for ever
i Continue reading...
Brown snow lines the roadways.
The still, grey city whispers
Aug 10, 2020
Cheerful and anarchic, the forebears here are still intriguing and mysterious
are having a summit – Continue reading...
they chase around the garden
Aug 03, 2020
Melancholy but without self-pity, this sonnet self-portrait is one of the finest of the Romantic period
Long Time a Child
Long time a child, and still a child, when years Continue reading...
Had painted manhood on my cheek, was I, —
For yet I lived like one not born to die;
A thriftless prodigal of smiles and tears,
No hope I needed, and I knew no fears.
But sleep, though sweet, is only sleep, and waking,
I waked to sleep no more, at once o’ertaking
The vanguard of my age, with all arrears
Of duty on my back. Nor child, nor man,
Nor youth, nor sage, I find my head is grey,
For I have lost the race I never ran:
A rathe December blights my lagging May;
And still I am a child, though I be old:
Time is my debtor for my years untold.
Jul 27, 2020
Imagining an impossible encounter with herself as a child, the poet discreetly evokes the girl’s intense life
If I Were to Meet
If I were to meet the ghost Continue reading...
of my childhood running
with slipping shoulder-straps
and half-plaited hair
beside a brown expanse
of memorising water
and the mellow faces of wooden houses
half-hidden by a weave
of coconut, mango, guenip trees
Jul 20, 2020
The classroom’s unpredictable demands provide surprisingly poetical inspiration
On First Knowing You’re a Teacher
Robert’s not coming in, my boss tells me. Continue reading...
I’m sitting sweating in a windowless office,
a stack of résumés eye-balling me, stinking
up the desk – I’m first screener and sleepy
in this stuffy box. Would you be able to lead
a workshop on résumé writing? I’m 22
and my own résumé got me the most boring
gig at Jobs for Youth-Chicago. Some of the “youth”
I’d be teaching are nearly my age, but there are
windows, and people, in that classroom
so I nearly yell, yes! 30 students look at me
and 45 minutes later look to me and I’m hooked.
And I’m floating and anchored at the same time.
For the first time. And I’m whole and broken
open. And I’m spinning and stunned still.
Jul 13, 2020
The Soviet-era dissident writer’s defiant prison lyric has lost none of its immediacy
The Sparrows of Butyrka
Now even the snow has grown sad – Continue reading...
Let overwhelmed reason go,
And let’s smoke our cigarettes through the air-vent,
Let’s at least set the smoke free.
A sparrow flies up –
And looks at us with a searching eye:
‘Share your crust with me!’
And in honourable fashion you share it with him.
The sparrows – they know
Who to ask for bread.
Even though there’s a double grille on the windows –
And only a crumb can get through.
What do they care
Whether you were on trial or not?
If you’ve fed them, you’re OK.
The real trial lies ahead.
You can’t entice a sparrow –
Kindness and talents are no use.
He won’t knock
At the urban double-glazing.
To understand birds
You have to be a convict.
And if you share your bread,
It means your time is done.
Jul 06, 2020
Before he became a pioneering ecological thinker, Thoreau was a poet and this youthful work contains the blueprint for his development
(“It is but thin soil where we stand; I have felt my roots in a richer ere this. I have seen a bunch of violets in a glass vase, tied loosely with a straw, which reminded me of myself” Continue reading...
— A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers)