Monday, 31 October 2016

Charlotte Mew: I so liked Spring

I so liked Spring last year
Because you were here;
The thrushes too
Because it was these you so liked to hear
I so liked you.

This year's a different thing,
I'll not think of you.
But I'll like the Spring because it is simply spring
As the thrushes do.

From The Rambling Sailor (1929). Charlotte Mew had killed herself the previous year by drinking lysol. She’s remembered as a poet of frustrated lesbian love, but what really marks her poetry is fear of hereditary insanity and a sense of being outcast. The slight “I so liked Spring” is of course only incidentally an animal poem. Another kind-of-animal-poem by Mew is “The Changeling”, which is really remarkable: one of the great Victorian poems of the post-Victorian era.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Aditi Machado: The Animal

To the place he will sit down to die,
his quiet broken by a distant bell
held in the hands of a boy:

this is where I go, as if
to an attic; this is where I expect
it will happen, amid a vatic breeze
in the grass in the sun
surrendering itself to a wound,

and the coming to a place
is sometimes enough, and even more
is the coming to it as sheep
from a point to the far right
with a boy and a gathering
sound of bell, from within
a thick of pine: this coming,
from a nowhere, upon a beast:

the white of sheep invades a field
as a circle might empty wildly
into another circle.

Published 2012. To me this reads like a chain of thought crying out for a more formal structure, even if that would need a rightness of wording at a very high level. But even in this looser form there's a drama emerging as it were from a mist.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Rhian Edwards: The Birds of Rhiannon

Before I was mortal, I was haloed
in feathers, my trinity of familiars;
whose birdsong was legend, serenading
the dead from their dreams, lullabying
the living to torpor.  For the sake
of this world and him, I swallowed
my guardians, let them nest in my belly
and take turns in my throat. The sparrow
became my repartee, my grappling chatter
that flutters away the dead air. The mockingbird
staked claim as my mimicking tongue, parodying
the world as it heard it, to be droll,
to belong. And the thrush was poetry,
my childsong, my verse-voice, the brittle
thread to my blueprint life.

For the sake of my world and him,
I crowded my belly with children,
each deafened in utero by the never-ending
twittering. My birds heckled my sons
for mirroring the man that caged
them within this ungenerous flesh.
My unborn tried walling their ears,
even taking their leave before
they were finished. My pets pecked
and fought over what remained.
But now that a girl is unfurling,
the facsimile of me, their familiar,
they coo and brood over her, sing her
to flower, while laying eggs of their own
under her unspeakable tongue.

Published 2015. Elaborated from a story in the Mabinogion. Reworkings of legend risk sounding hackneyed from the start. The images here are appealing but the poet hasn't quite found a voice that lives (too much of the enjambment reads like a creative writing exercise). A voice might have been audible in the third rather than the first person.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Yórgos Chronás: Small Fish

I'll stay here, said the small fish 
With my one eye stroking the keels and the other 
                calculating the distance down 
The seabed. 
My mouth I'll open and shut like in the glass bowls 
                in central patisseries 
Inarticulate cries I will not make 
I'll sleep forever the stream will take me 
to wake up sometime 
In flames 
in a black viscous liquid tar or petrol 
A provincial port, 
My body, blue sailors 
Copper captains 
Black kitchen utensils will mourn 
Waiters will announce my presence
Children playing under the tables, on Formica surfaces 
Ignorant ones slotting coins in juke boxes 
                in telephone boxes, for hours 
Spouses will love the peace 
Paying for the view with salad and cheese 
                they'll love women 
The drum roll to suit my burial I'll not hear.

Tr. Maria Consta. From Ancient Infants (1980). Many years ago, in a cheap harbourside restaurant in Greece, I ordered fish (such was the option, in full) and got a plate stacked high with small fried fish. "What sort of fish are they?" I asked the waiter. "Little fish!" he replied, and walked off. Now I've found a poem to them.

Sasha Dugdale: Dawn Chorus

Every morning since the time changed
I have woken to the dawn chorus
And even before it sounded, I dreamed of it
Loud, unbelievably loud, shameless, raucous

And once I rose and twitched the curtains apart
Expecting the birds to be pressing in fright
Against the pane like passengers
But the garden was empty and it was night

Not a slither of light at the horizon
Still the birds were bawling through the mists
Terrible, invisible
A million small evangelists

How they sing: as if each had pecked up a smoldering coal
Their throats singed and swollen with song
In dissonance as befits the dark world
Where only travelers and the sleepless belong

Dated “March 29, 2010”. The poet was living in Moscow and that was the date of a terrorist bombing on the Moscow metro during the morning commuter rush - which fact gives the poem new layers of onrushing meaning (and almost terror). The doggerel rhymes become desperate and sinister, the images gain a pre-nightmarish quality. A remarkable poem from something unspeakable.

Arun Kolatkar: Pi-dog

This is the time of day I like best,
and this the hour
when I can call this city my own;

when I like nothing better
than to lie down here, at the exact centre
of this traffic island

(or trisland as I call it for short,
and also to suggest
a triangular island with rounded corners)

that doubles as a parking lot
on working days,
a corral for more than fifty cars,

when it’s deserted early in the morning,
and I’m the only sign
of intelligent life on the planet;

the concrete surface hard, flat and cool
against my belly,
my lower jaw at rest on crossed forepaws;

just about where the equestrian statue
of what’s-his-name
must’ve stood once, or so I imagine.

I look a bit like
a seventeenth-century map of Bombay
with its seven islands

not joined yet,
shown in solid black
on a body the colour of old parchment;

with Old Woman’s Island
on my forehead,
Mahim on my croup,

and the others distributed
casually among
brisket, withers, saddle and loin

– with a pirate’s
rather than a cartographer’s regard
for accuracy.

I like to trace my descent
– no proof of course,
just a strong family tradition –

to the only bitch that proved
tough enough to have survived,

first, the long voyage,
and then the wretched weather here
– a combination

that killed the rest of the pack
of thirty foxhounds,
imported all the way from England

by Sir Bartle Frere
in eighteen hundred and sixty-four,
with the crazy idea

 of introducing fox-hunting to Bombay.
Just the sort of thing
he felt the city badly needed.

On my father’s side
the line goes back to the dog that followed

on his last journey,
and stayed with him till the very end;
long after all the others

– Draupadi first, then Sahadeva,
then Nakul, followed by Arjuna and,
last of all, Bhima –

had fallen by the wayside.
Dog in tow, Yudhishthira alone plodded on.
Until he too,

frostbitten and blinded with snow,
dizzy with hunger and gasping for air,
was about to collapse

in the icy wastes of the Himalayas;
when help came
in the shape of a flying chariot

to airlift him to heaven.
Yudhishthira, that noble prince, refused
to get on board unless dogs were allowed.

And my ancestor became the only dog
to have made it to heaven
in recorded history.

To find a more moving instance
of man’s devotion to dog,
we have to leave the realm of history,

skip a few thousand years
and pick up a work of science fantasy
– Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and his Dog,

a cultbook among pi-dogs everywhere –
in which the ‘Boy’ of the title
sacrifices his love,

and serves up his girlfriend
as dogfood to save the life of his
starving canine master.

I answer to the name of Ugh.
not the exclamation of disgust;

but the U pronounced as in Upanishad,
and gh not silent,
but as in ghost, ghoul or gherkin.

It’s short for Ughekalikadu,
famous dog that I was named after,

the guru of Kallidevayya’s dog
who could recite
the four Vedas backwards.

My own knowledge of the scriptures
and ends, I’m afraid,

with just one mantra, or verse;
the tenth,
from the sixty-second hymn

in the third mandala of the Rig
(and to think
that the Rig alone contains ten thousand

five hundred and fifty-two verses).
It’s composed in the Gayatri metre,
and it goes:

Om tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yonah prachodayat.

Twenty-four syllables, exactly,
if you count the initial Om.
Please don’t ask me what it means, though.

All I know
is that it’s addressed to the sun-god
– hence it’s called Savitri –

and it seems appropriate enough
to recite it
as I sit here waiting for the sun

to rise.
May the sun-god amplify
the powers of my mind.

What I like about this time and place
– as I lie here hugging the ground,
my jaw at rest on crossed forepaws,

my eyes level with the welltempered
but gaptoothed keyboard
of the black-and-white concrete blocks

that form the border of this trisland
and give me my primary horizon –
is that I am left completely undisturbed

to work in peace on my magnum opus:
a triple sonata for a circumpiano
based on three distinct themes –

one suggested by a magpie robin,
another by the wail of an ambulance,
and the third by a rockdrill;

a piebald pianist, caressing and tickling
the concrete keys with his eyes,
undeterred by digital deprivation.

As I play,
the city slowly reconstructs itself,
stone by numbered stone.

Every stone
seeks out his brothers
and is joined by his neighbours.

Every single crack
returns to its flagstone
and all is forgiven.

Trees arrive at themselves,
each one ready
to give an account of its leaves.

The mahogany drops
a casket bursting with winged seeds
by the wayside,

like an inexperienced thief
drops stolen jewels
at the sight of a cop.

St Andrew’s church tiptoes back to its place,
shoes in hand,
like a husband after late-night revels.

The university,
you’ll be glad to know,
can never get lost

because, although forgetful,
it always carries
its address in its pocket.

My nose quivers.
A many-coloured smell
of innocence and lavender,

mildly acidic perspiration
and nail polish,
rosewood and rosin

travels like a lighted fuse
up my nose
and explodes in my brain.

It’s not the leggy young girl
taking a short cut
through this island as usual,

violin case in hand,
and late again for her music class
at the Max Mueller Bhavan,

so much as a warning to me
that my idyll
will soon be over,

that the time has come for me
to surrender the city
to its so-called masters.

Arun Kolatkar lived in/near Mumbai/Bombay from 1932 to 2004. Does this work as a poem? - No. Does it work as a monologue of the marginalised in all humans and animals? - Yes.