Monday, 26 September 2016

Barbara Howes: The Lonely Pipefish

Up, up, slender
         As an eel’s
         Child, weaving
Through water, our lonely
Pipefish seeks out his dinner,

         Scanty at best; he blinks
         Cut-diamond eyes—snap—he
         Grabs morsels so small
Only a lens pinpoints them,
But he ranges all over

         That plastic preserve—dorsal
         Fin tremulous—snap—and
         Another çedilla
Of brine shrimp’s gone ...
We talk on of poetry, of love,

         Of grammar; he looks
         At a living comma—
         Snap—sizzling about
In his two-gallon Caribbean
And grazes on umlauts for breakfast.

         His pug nosed, yellow
         Mate, aproned in gloom,
         Fed rarely, slumped,
Went deadwhite, as we argued on;
That rudder fin, round as a

         Pizza cutter, at the
         End of his two inch
         Fluent stick self, lets his eyes
Pilot his mouth—snap ...
Does his kind remember? Can our kind forget?

From The Blue Garden (1972). Reminscent of Elizabeth Bishop, slightly less solemn and more involved in the world. Howes should be better known; it seems she never sought fame.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Ricardo Pau-Llosa: Animal Love

Of course they love, says my student. I slap
my dog sometimes when he comes to my bedside
just to see if he loves unconditionally,
and I can tell he is confused, searching as best

he can his narrow memory for any snap
in discipline, a transgression, lest
he merited the slap and any toothy, snide
snarl would only worsen his suddenly

mysterious ill-placement in this pack I
lead. Unable to discern, he looks at me
for guidance in distress that there might be
a cause, until I augment his easy uncertainty

with a caress, and bring my softest voice to bear
on the curtain I now part on a love so rare.

Published 2016. About the worst animals of all, human beings: from whom the poet distances himself by adopting the voice of "my student". Thus the human-dog relationship echoes the teacher-student relationship. Nobody comes out with any credit.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Roy Fuller: Elephants, Ants, Doves

801 — an elephant in Gaul! 
They speak about the stagnant Middle Ages, 
Of Islam cutting off the Middle Sea,

And yet the monster enterprisingly
Shuffled from Indian jungle to the Rhône.
Puzzling to tell one’s place in history.

What lies before us now — a ‘dark age’ or
An all too necessary rebirth? A worse
Election looms because of man’s new power

To liquidate not merely heretics
And enemies of state but life itself:
Life only geared to nature’s cataclysms —

These ants that put their winged friends on their feet,
Like aircraft handlers, and those pigeons which,
From mutual nibbling at the exiguous face

And thrusting a bill far down the other’s throat,
Take their respective postures in a sketchy
Rehearsal for prolonging pigeon life.

Social and private failure and success —
How like the human! But without its guilt
And its articulate recrimination.

Yes, I would sacrifice mankind if that
Could save the six-legged and the avian.
Though who’s to say the formic city less

Unjust than ours, and that the dove, evolved,
Wouldn’t impose tyrannical modes of love?
Let’s pension off the soldiers, see what comes.

From From the Joke Shop (1975). Fuller once had a very high reputation, in, I think, the 1950s and 60s. This doesn't tell us why. It's inert poetry with inert linguistic and intellectual rhythms. It raises the question, not "What was he thinking?" but "Why was he thinking?" The thinking killed off any poetry. Auden, who may be the model, could do this sort of thing better.

Friday, 23 September 2016

George Kendrick: The Sex-life of the Deep-sea Fishing Frog

Here is the royal son in a dark wood
Pleading blind Fate to lead him to his princess.
Lone lights pass him in the night like liners.
He came out of the egg, searching.

She, meanwhile, scried the dark for that gift of fortune,
The ideal lover, to blunder into her orbit —
One who would seize like a mole wrench,
Grafting his face into her face or belly.

As all good stories end, this lover found her,
Bit deep and held: faithful for ever, he’s fused
With her vein — and timed, and tuned
To blitz a continent of blind roe:

Clinging ambiguously, vampire and booby,
Drunken with what she drinks, triggered utterly
By the love, the chemistry of his true lady:
They are one, they are truly one — and she is ready.

Published 1975. Deliberately gruesome whimsy. Kendrick was a Yorkshire poet - associated with the "Hull Group" - who disappeared off the map in 1986 when, unpoetically, he converted to Scientology.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Sarah Maguire: Wolves Are Massing on the Steppes of Kazakhstan

Close to home, their prints 
darken the snow.
Come full moon, 
the whole night is anguished –

stagger in their sheds

knocking the walls,
churning fodder and litter;

wide-eyed in lamplight
they buck and bruise.

Under Stalin
culls worked like clockwork –

wolves skinned from their pelts
were hung out to dry,

as cotton stretched to new horizons,
as Kazakhs ate the dust.

Now fences are mended
bolts shot home

and the shotgun propped
by the bed

is oiled and loaded.
But sleep, sleep is fitful

as the lost packs mass
on the steppes of Kazakhstan.

Published 2004. I don't know what to make of this. As zoological history it's skewed, but poets aren't under any complusion to write scientific textbooks. There seems to be a somewhat different poem hidden in here, struggling to find a way out from under the pile of images.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Odette Tchernine: The Quetzal Bird

The Quetzal bird of the sun mountains sang
Querida, Querida in many tongues and flew high away
when I wanted to touch it even only for once
to feel the feathers, see the golden world
of its eye turned upon me.

At last it came down to us. This was warm within
the outer cold, shimmering world enclosing us
for the real dream sleeps, and waking
to each time the anguish, each time
the waking,
the bright bubble too soon.

It reformed and reformed.

Every hard kiss spoke the unuttered, unutterable word:
Was it the last, would there be another
small, huge enclosing world once more
and several once mores.

Yet the Quetzal of the high sierras
kept returning to the place behind our two minds,
it fluttered sacred feathers and golden eyes
that pitied and warned.

Querida, darling, beautiful, never another,
always you. In many voices, all ours
in the deep world of two alone,
the perfect double image to be torn back to two
in the daylight of imperfection
and the job, the job, the job
that broke the image apart.

The Quetzal bird took away
the world of our enclosed selves
high up to its death eyrie.

The Quetzal bird will not shine
its gold world-eye upon me again.
Instead it has left me a charm of sparrows.

It is not the same.

Published 1968. This isn’t much as a poem, but a) there aren’t many quetzal poems, and b) the forgotten Odette Tchernine may deserve a footnote in histories of post-war British poetry and/or eccentricity. She was described in 1995 as “a frail elderly spinster of whom you would never guess that she was a legend of the Fleet Street newspaper world, poetess and author, fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and pioneer hunter of the Yeti and sasquatch.” She gave poetry workshops in the 1960s: a participant says that she “was generous and other-worldly, an inveterate traveller in search of the Yeti, easily distracted from our poetry by talk of Tibetan rituals.” Her In Pursuit of the Abominable Snowman (1971) seems to have sold well.