Thursday, February 14, 2008


Some Poems by Poets from the U. K.

"Rubbish at Adultery"

Must I give up another night
To hear you whinge and whine
About how terribly grim you feel
And what a dreadful swine
You are? You say you'll never leave
Your wife and children. Fine;

When have I ever asked you to?
I'd settle for a kiss.
Couldn't you, for an hour or so,
Just leave them out of this?
A rare ten minutes off from guilty
Diatribes -- what bliss.

Yes, I'm aware you're sensitive:
A tortured, wounded soul.
I'm after passion, thrills and fun.
You say fun takes its toll,
So what are we doing here? I fear
We've lost our common goal.

You're rubbish at adultery.
I think you ought to quit.
Trouble is, at fidelity
You're also slightly shit.
Choose one and do it properly,
You stupid, stupid git.

--Sophie Hannah

* * *

from The Orchards of Syon


Up against ageing and dying I stand bemused
by labours of flight: a low-geared heron
retiring to its pool, the shapes that gulls
beat and tack; a motionless
crow butting a head-wind, like carved beam-end;
the smallest birds also that richochet
from bush to bush but strike nothing; kestrel,\
slammed against window-glass, spread-eagled there;
wrenched updraught; slighted harpies
of witness, finally. Lepidoptera
drugged by light into shell havens
of self-destructiion. Should these not tally,
metal-toothed winder oak-leaves rap
on shuttered mansards; a trumpet pitches
its high reflection. Something also of grief
baffled, murmurings of Kaddish
proscribed during the Passover; a raw
coffin discreetly manhandled. Cindered gusts
make their eyes water. I record this
among the scattered thrown-out accusations
proper to such scenes; think further of ABE
KLEIN's Uncle Melech, coming in low across
land newly called Israel, and held to be
unforgiving, that shadow-path a pledged curse.

-- Geoffrey Hill

* * *

"Lantern Journey"

I was tiny and perfect
until time unfolded me,
rudely reversed its origami,
to expose an eye, then an ear,
to the feverish mirrors
in the splendid and terrible room
where I swelled, blue globe,
\with every crease expelled and smoothed,
until time discovered a stick and beat me,
piƱata, for the candies.

So they fall, in showers,
gorgeous and reliably fatal,
out and beyond the I,
its airy verdict collapsed,
its tatters unfurled,
until there is no line left
between me and the world.

-- Anne Rouse

* * *

"A Swim in Co. Wicklow"

The only reality is the perpetual flow of vital energy.
-- Montale

Spindrift, crustacean patience
and a gust of ozone,
you come back once more
to this dazzling shore,
its warm uterine rinse,
heart-racing heave and groan.

A quick gasp as you slip
into the hissing wash,
star cluster, dulse and kelp,
slick algae, spittle, froth,
the intimate slash and dash,
hard-packed in the seething broth.

Soft water-lip, soft hand,
close tug of origin,
the sensual writhe and snore
of maidenhair and frond,
you swim here once more
smart as a rogue gene.

Spirits of lake, river
and woodland pond preside
mildly in water never
troubled by wind or tide;
and the quiet suburban pool
is only for the fearful --

no wind-wave energies
where no sea briar grips
and no freak breaker with
the violence of the ages
comes foaming at the mouth
to drown you in its depths.

Among pebbles a whie conch
worn by the suck and crunch,
a sandy chamber old
as the centuries in cold
and solitude reclines
where the moon-magnet shines;

but today you swirl and spin
in sea water as if,
creatures of salt and slime
and naked under the sun,
life were a waking dream
and this the only life.

--Derek Mahon

* * *

"The Pattern"

Thirty-six years, to the day, after our wedding
When a cold figure-revealing wind blew against you
And lifted your veil, I find in its fat envelope
The six-shilling Vogue pattern for your bride's dress,
Complicated instructions for stitching bodice
And skirt, box pleats and hems, tissue-paper outlines,
Semblances of skin which I nervously unfold
And hold up in snow light, for snow has been falling
On this windless day, and I glimpse your wedding dress
And white shoes outside in the transformed garden
Where the clothesline and every twig have been covered.

-- Michael Longley

* * *


Birds are chirping now the rain has stopped, their songs
like the rain are silver. I hear the silence,
the music of panic, of loneliness.
Rain passes like unhappiness and birds
sing happily out of the same dull silver.
It is all the silvers of cloud and cold,
the white shine of illness. friend lies dying
in hospital. The night I saw her there
we watched fireworks from her window, her window
filled with photos and dried flowers for real
flowers are infectious, fireworks at Christmas.
When two times meet, another friend says, stories
must end -- by which he means, when day meets dusk,
the page must be marked, the book closed and children
while away their questions. I heard a story
of a child who, it was foretold, would die
when the leaves began to fall; when they did,
a sister, brother, sewed the leaves back on
but how the story ended wasn't told --
besides, the dying do not want our questions.
Today I bought a card with berries, currants,
each translucent as a small wineglass held
against light, each tiny globe marbled, jewelled.
The flurry of birdsong behind the curtain
has gone: now and then the trill of a latecomer.
Every morning I wake alone. Today
I find the balm and bitterness. The sweetness
of pulp, pop of a taut skin, gooseberries
a friend on the phone tells me a hen used to
lay eggs under, two eggs you'd have to slide
on your belly to reach so prickly was
the bush, with hairs sun shone through on the berries
fine as the hairs on the back of a child's hand.
Twice a day two times meet. Between the two,
like a prayer between two palms, the bookmark,
the memory, is placed. When day meets night,
night meets day, we must hold our breath, delay
our need for answers, live with what comes next.

-- Mimi Khalvati

* * *

"This Octopus Exploits Women"

Even the barnacle has certain rights
The grim anemones should not ignore,
And the gay bivalves in their fishnet tights
Are linking arms with fins to ask for maw.

The hectic round of rockpools is disrupted
By the addresses of the finny vicars,
With which the limpet choirboys were corrupted.
The knitting-fish produce their eight-leg kickers

While somewhere in the depths a voice keeps shouting:
'By Jove! that was a narrow bathyscaphe.'
What made the Junior Sea-Slugs give up scouting?
The Daily Seaweed tells us nowhere's safe.

Beneath the shimmering surface of the ocean,
The thoroughfare of ketches, sloops and luggers,
With their thick boots and hair smothered in lotion,
Are gathering hordes of ruthless ichthic muggers.

The workers on the derricks live in terror.
You can't stroll out across the sea at night.
Professor Walrus writes (see Drowned in Error):
'The lemon sole are taught to shoot on sight.'

The lobsters at the water polo club
Sip their prawn cocktails, chatting over chukkas.
The octopus rests idly in its tub.
The Tunny Girls are lounging on its suckers.

-- James Fenton

* * *


I have been thinking at random
on the universe
or rather, how nothing in the universe
is random --

(there's nothing like presumption late at night.)

My sumptuous
trash bag of colors --
Laura ashley cottons --
waits to be cut
and stitched andpatched

but there's a mechanical feel
about the handle
of my secondhand sewing machine,
with its flowers
and Singer painted orange on it.
And its iron wheel.

My back is to the dark.
Somewhere out there
are stars and bits of stars
and little bits of bits.
And swiftness and brightness and drift.

But is it craft or art?

I will be here
till midnight,
cross-legged in the dining-room,
logging triangles and diamonds,
cutting and aligning,
finding greens in pinks
and burgundies in whites
until I finish it.

There's no reason in it.

Only when it's laid
right across the floor,
sphere on square
and seam on seam,
in a good light --
a night-sky spread --
will it start to hit me.

These are not bits.
They are pieces.

And the pieces fit.

--Eavan Boland

* * *

"Body Mass"

Each bone's a chalice: each gleaming thigh
a high-lipped cup. Understand --
desire's nothing personal.
Its sip and gulp, its search for why

he's on his knees before it, performs
a kind of private liturgy
for itself. He's asking why --
but not of you. Not of your bones,

which pour themselves between these sheets
of skin with practised cool. His cries,
his sticky martyrdom, belie
how it's a local godhead that he meets:

how, chasing flights of angels, he
tumbles to earth himself -- in we.

-- Fiona Sampson

* * *

"The Tyre"

Just how it came to rest where it rested,
miles out, miles from the last farmhouse even,
was a fair question. Dropped by hurricane
or aeroplane perhaps for some reason,
put down as a cairn or marker, then lost.
Tractor-size, six or seven feet across,
it was sloughed, unconscious, warm to the touch,
its gashed, rhinoceros, sea-lion skin
nursing a gallon of rain in its gut.
Lashed to the planet with grasses and roots,
it had to be cut. Stood up it was drunk
or slugged, wanted nothing more than to slump,
to spiral back to its circle of sleep,
dream another year in its nest of peat.
We bullied it over the moor, drove it,
pushed from the back or turned it from the side,
unspooling a thread in the shape and form
of its tread, in its length and in its line,
rolled its weight through broken walls, felt the shock
when it met with stones, guided its sleepwalk
down to meadows, fields, onto level ground.
There and then we were one connected thing,
fove of us, all hnds steering a tall ship
or one hand fingering a coin or ring.

Once on the road it picked up pace, free-wheeled,
then moved up through the gears, and wouldn't give
to shoulder-charges, kicks; resisted force
until to tangle with it would have been
to test bone against engine or machine,
to be dragged in, broken, thrown out again
minus a limb. So we let the thing go,
leaning into the bends and corners,
balanced and centred, riding the camber,
carried away with its own momentum.
We pictured an incident up ahead:
life carved open, gardens in half, parted,
a man on a motorbike taken down,
a phone-box upended, children erased,
police and an ambulance in attendance,
scuff-marks and the smell of burning rubber,
the type itself embedded in a house
or lying in the gutter, playing dead.
But down in the village the type was gone,
and not just gone but unseen and unheard of,
not curled like a cat in the graveyard, not
cornered in the playground like a reptile,
or found and kept like a giant fossil.
Not there or anywhere. No trace. Thin air.

Being more in tune with the feel of things
than science and facts, we knew that the tyre
had travelled too fast for its size and mass,
and broken through some barrier of speed,
outrun the act of being driven, steered,
and at that moemnt gone beyond itself
towards some other sphere, and disappeared.

-- Simon Armitage

* * *

"Yellow Pitcher Plant"

flowering stomach

scroll of leaf

covered with small honeyed
warts by which the seely fly
is lured to sloping
pastures at the trumpet's lip

till grazing downhill
the fly finds the underbrush
of hairs casually pushed through
has closed behind --
a thicket of lances -- sharkteeth --
oh alas!

it stumbles on, falling
from chamber to chamber
within the green turret
making each loud
with the buzz of its grief
and finally slipping into
the oubliette itself
-- pool that digests protein --
to become mere
chitinous exoskeleton,

of a sated petal

an enzyme's cruelty

-- Thom Gunn

* * *

"The Spirit of the Staircase"

In our game of flight, half-way down
was as near mid-air as it got: a point
of no return we'd fling ourselves at
over and over, riding pillows or trays.
We were quick to smooth the edge
of every step, grinding the carpet to glass
on which we'd lose our grip.
The new stairs were our new toy,
the descent to an odd extension,
four new rooms at flood level
in a sunken garden -- a wing
dislocated from a hive. Young bees
with soft dtrips and borderless nights,
we'd so far been squared away
in a twin-set of bunkbeds, so tight-knit,
my brother and I once woke up finishing
a conversation begun in a dream.
It had been the simplest exchange,
one I'd give much to return to:
the greetings of shadows unsurprised
at having met beneath the trees
and happy to set off again, alone,
back into the dark.

-- Lavinia Greenlaw

* * *


Here I work in the hollow of God's hand
with Time bent round into my reach. I touch
the circle of the earth, I throw and catch
the sun and moon by turns into my mind.
I sense the length of it from end to end,
I sway me gently in my flesh and each
point of the process changes as I watch;
the flowers come, the rain follows the wind.

And all I ask is this -- and you can see
how far the soul, when it goes under flesh,
is not a soul, is small and creaturish --
that every day the sun comes silently
to set my hands to work and that the moon
turns and returns to meet me when it's done.

-- Alice Oswald

* * *


I had preferred Chaucer
but for the slop in his saucer:

or grave Edmund Spenser
moving formally as a dancer.

But Shakespeare's cut and thrust,
I allow you, was a must

on my bookshelves; and after,
Donne's thin, cerebral laughter.

Dryden I could not abide,
nor the mincing fratricide

of Pope. Jonathan Swift,
though courageous, had no uplift.

But Wordsworth, looking in the lake
of his mind, him I could take;

and Percy Shelley at times;
Byron, too, but only for his rhymes.

Tennyson? Browning? If I mention
them, it is but from convention,

despite the vowel technique
of the one, the other's moral cheek.

Then Hardy, for many a major
poet, is for me just an old-stager,

shuffling about a bogus heath
cobwebbed with his Victorian breath.

And coming to my own century
with its critic' compulsive hurry

to place a poet, I must smile
at the congestion at the turnstile

of fame, the faceless, formless amoeba
with the secretion of it vers libre.

-- R. S. Thomas

* * *

"The Glass-hulled Boat"

First come the jellyfish:
mauve-fringed, luminous bowls
like lost internal organs,
pulsing and slow.

Then in the green gloom
swaying sideways and back
like half-forgotten ancestors
-- columns of bladderwrack.

It's as though we're stalled in a taxi
in an ill-lit, odd
little town, at closing time,
when everyone's maudlin

and really, ought just to go
, you sorry inclining
pillars of wrack, you lone,
vaguely uterine jellyfish

-- whom I almost envy:
spun out, when our engines churn,
on some sudden new trajectory,
fuddled, but unperturbed.

-- Kathleen Jamie

* * *

"A Courtly Overture"

Most wintry reel,
My frozen court,
Hoarfrosted floor
Of the gay, my flora,
My pick of dancers,
Dancers of my humour,
Humour of ice,
Till the viols are still
Dance with me, dance.

Sway on so,
Dancer of glass
In the arms of glass,
Mad but no nearer,
Cold in unchastity
Still. The violcry
Lashes the crystal
Of your back as it turns
And gleams turning
In these arms of ice.
Dance with me, dance.

Stark the orchestra,
Steely the strings,
Distant the castanet
In a dark hand,
Darkest the hands
That trouble the troubler
The drum. Coast,
Dancers with skill
The drumberg boom.
Glass are the ships,
The fools are glass.
If fools on this floor
Spacious and specious
Gamble foundering
In musical hurricanes
Dance with me, dance.

On into silence,
Gaveston, silence,
Gaveston, Gaveston.
(I hear in the wake
The wail of viols
When we die to the storm
And away from the fools
Sway in our harmony
Harbourward to calm.)
Flash in these courts, and
Glide from these ports, and
Dance with me, dance.

-- Edwin Morgan

* * *

"The Beginning of the End"

When my ex-wife found magnetic north
in my sock drawer,
I forecast the beginning of the end.

She invited over the neighbour who found
the centre of gravity
thumbed below the surface in the sugarbowl.

They phoned the police who very soon
were squeezing a slew
of anti-chaos from a Fairy Liquid bottle.

The sniffer dogs weren't far behind them
and made a beeline for
the rug below which lay Grand Unified Theory.

Soon there were swarms of officials
tugging at the missing link,
fingering the blade-shrt end of my Mobius strip.

I knew I'd have their deaths on my conscience
when they opened up
the drying cupboard and found inside

the nine tenths of the iceberg which usually lie
below the water
which I'd been saving for a rainy day.

-- Roddy Lumsden

* * *

for Paula and Fred

After the hay was baled and stacked in henges,
We walked through the circles in the moonlit field:
The moon was hidden from us by the ranges
Of hills that enclosed the meadows hay had filled.

But its light lay one suffusing undertone
That drew out the day and changed the pace of time:
It slowed to the pulse of our passing feet upon
Gleanings the baler had left on the ground to rhyme

With the colour of the silhouettes that arose,
Dark like the guardians of a frontier strayed across,
Into this in-between of time composed --
Sentries of Avalon, these megaliths of grass.

Yet it was time that brought us to this place,
Time that had ripened the grasses harvested here:
Time will tell us tomorrow that we paced
Last night in a field that is no longer there.

And yet it was. And time, the literalist,
The sense and the scent of it woven in time's changes,
Cannot put by that sweetness, that persistence
After the hay was baled and stacked in henges.

-- Charles Tomlinson

* * *

"Weasel Words"

It was explained to Sir Robert Armstrong that
'weasel words' are 'words empty of meaning, like an
egg which has had its contents such out by a weasel'.

Let me repeat that we Weasels mean no harm.
You may have read that we are vicious hunters,
but this is absolutely not the case. Pure bias
on the part of your Natural History Book. Hear, hear.

We are long, slim-bodied carnivores with exceptionally
short legs and we have never denied this.
Furthermore, anyone here today could put a Weasel
down his trouser-leg and nothing would happen. Weasel laughter.

Which is more than can be said for the Ferrets opposite.
You can trust a Weasel, let me continue, a Weasel
does not break the spinal cord of its victim with one bite.
Weasel cheers. Our brown fur coats turn white in winter.

And as for eggs, here is a whole egg. It looks like an egg.
It is an egg. Slurp. An egg. Slurp. A whole egg. Slurp . . . Slurp . . .

-- Carol Ann Duffy

* * *

"Hybrid Teas Roses at the Unmanned Railway Halt"

How different here, gift from one long dead
Received in a parcel from nowhere,
Absence that still meets the season
With a white, a yellow, a pink, a magenta
Half nature only in kind but now released
From all culture's will and care.

Through a scrub of bullace suckers,
Mixed grasses, cleaver, yes, and reverted briar
They've pushed the heavy-petalled
Packed finery of their buds,
Opened them, too, with the silk untorn.
In a respite out of time
Owed less to the rails, in use yet for a while,
Than to a good brick wall
Which of the border that was their bed
Has made a mausoleum
Where, left for dead, they refuse to die;
and by defiance have proved themselves
The nature they never were,
Outgrown the loving eye
They needed once as a mirror.

However late the train,
Few notice them in passing,
But let them be, in their limbo no longer human.

-- Michael Hamburger

* * *

"Profession of Faith"

God is not the sea, but of its nature:
He scatters like the moonlight on the water
or appears on the horizon like a sail.
The sea is where He wakes, or sinks to dreams.
He made the sea, and like the clouds and storms
is born of it, over and over. Thus the Creator
finds himself revived by his own creature:
he thrives on the same spirit he exhales.

I'll make you Lord, as you made me, restore
the soul you gifted me; in time, uncover
your name in my own. Let that pure source
that pours its empty heart out to us pour
through my heart too; and let the turbid river
of every heartless faith dry up for ever.

-- Don Paterson

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