I love Carol Ann Duffy.

Let me explain. She is our current Poet Laureate, and she writes the kind of poems that don’t always rhyme. I mean they don’t rhyme rigorously, as I always expected poems to when I was younger. When I composed, my slavish devotion to metre often forced me to include/exclude words that didn’t belong in that poem (much like lyrics with “Oooh baby” filling the gaps). But it never occurred to me then that poetry can be different, and that conveying the thought might be more important. Not obeying the mathematics of poetry suddenly sets the poet free.

I admit to having, until recently, sneered at ‘prose poetry’ but now am embarrassed by my intransigence.

So as part of my repentance I’ll give you dear reader some of Carol Ann Duffy’s beautiful poems. I would advise any budding poet to make note of how easy the language is, and yet how mellifluous and evocative. Without the superfluous.

And then what

Then with their hands they would break bread
wave choke phone thump thread

Then with their tired hands slump
at a table holding their head

Then with glad hands hold other hands
or stroke brief flesh in a kind bed

Then with their hands on the shovel
they would bury their dead

Away and see

Away and see an ocean suck at a boiled sun
and say to someone things I’d blush even to dream.
Slip off your dress in a high room over the harbour.
Write to me soon.

New fruits sing on the flipside of night in a market
of language, light, a tune from the chapel nearby
stopping you dead, the peach in your palm respiring.
Taste it for me.

Away and see the things that words give a name to, the
flight
of syllables, wingspan stretching a noun. Test words
wherever they live; listen and touch, smell, believe.
Spell them with love.

Skedaddle. Somebody chaps at the door at a year’s end,
hopeful.
Away and see who it is. Let in the new, the vivid,
Horror and pity, passion, the stranger holding the
future.
Ask him his name.

Nothing’s the same as anything else. Away and see
for yourself. Walk. Fly. Take a boat till land reappears,
altered forever, ringing its bells, alive. Go on. G’on.
Gon.
Away and see.

Valentine

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

Here.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring,
if you like.

Lethal.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.

p.s. This book must be returned to the library soon. You can buy it here.

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On giving up cricket

Damn, I do miss playing the old game. I heard this poem on telly, it was read most beautifully and in the spirit of the Ashes I shall post it here. Try reading it out loud…

ON HAVING GIVEN UP CRICKET

I shall play cricket in heaven
in return for the afternoons
gladly given to the other
pleasure of others’ leisure.

I shall walk, without haste, to the wicket
and nod to the angels kitted
in their whites waiting to discern
the kind of batspirit I am.

And one stroke in heaven, one dream
of a cover drive will redeem
every meeting of bat
and ball I’ve done without.

And I’ll bowl too, come on to bowl
leg-breaks with such control
of flight and slight changes of pace
that one over will efface

the faint regret I now feel.
But best of all I shall field:
alert in the heavenly deep,
beyond the boundary of sleep.

– Michael Laskey, from ‘Thinking of Happiness’ (Peterloo, 1991).

Youth and the Inbetweeners

Finished another J.M. Coetzee book this weekend; ‘Youth’ is about a young white South African who moves to London. He aspires to become a poet, but feels he lacks the fire of his heroes. As he struggles life goes on, and destiny has other plans for him.

My favourite comedy shows on telly all force me to stay up late to watch them. I’m loving the Inbetweeners at the moment, a comedy about four sixth-formers trying to get laid but getting nowhere. Their language is so delightfully crude and irreverant, with gems like “vag”,”clunge” and “the lion, the witch and the speccy kid that shat himself”. Renting the DVD soon.

Vermeer and light

The BBC (as I never tire of repeating; my favourite broadcaster) showed the film ‘The Girl with a Pearl Earring’ yesterday. I caught it midway but could tell straightaway it was about Vermeer. And that was because of the amazing lighting and cinematography. It was as if every shot was reminding you of Vermeer’s work, and I was kept guessing whether I had seen that particular shot in a painting, or whether it was just a continuation of the atmosphere and colour theme. Breathtaking, and I see the film has won a good few awards for the efforts.

Meanwhile, I also have an idea for the one telly show where celebrities have not yet been shoe-horned in:- Celebrity Zoo Farm! Celebrities are kept in a zoo, and every episode there’s heart-breaking news, like one of them has to be castrated ot put down. But there’s also good news, like they have established a breeding pair of So-and-So from This-or-That with So-and-So from That-or-Other and expect a litter anytime soon.

Disgrace

I started reading J.M. Coetzee’s (Wikipedia tells me it’s a common Afrikaans name pronounced “kut’se”) book ‘Disgrace’. Coetzee is the recipient of the Nobel prize for Literature in 2003 and the Booker Prize in 1999.

The book ‘Disgrace’ is about a 52-year old professor at a Cape Town university who has an affair with a student that goes sour. It’s a beautifully written book with a humanistic approach, a multilayered masterpiece, so I’ll give you an excerpt that really hit me last evening.

Intro: The Professor used to teach Classics and Modern Languages at the university, but that faculty has been closed down and so he stays on as a redundant Communications professor; a job for which he has no love, and so fails to inspire any in his students. Soraya is a prostitute, a moralistic prostitute, he visits every Thursday afternoon:-

He continues to teach because it provides him with a livelihood; also because it teaches him humility, brings it home to him who he is in the world. The irony does not escape him: that the one who comes to teach learns the keenest of lessons, while those who come to learn learn nothing. It is a feature of his profession on which he does not remark to Soraya. He doubts there is an irony to match it in hers.