The Style of Emily Dickinson

Our lives are Swiss, so still, so cool –
Nothing ever happens –
‘Till Sun sets on our Afternoon,
And tree too far from apple.

‘Till frosts return to broken bones
We do not stop to wonder.
In heat of midday, flowered gaze,
We hear no Sign of Thunder.

This is my sad, sad attempt to channel Emily Dickinson and use the common meter and some of her other stylistic quirks in response to the dVerse Poets prompt tonight. The first line (the only good one here) is indeed from one of her poems, which you can read here. I think this proves that trying to imitate poets you admire is not the sincerest form of flattery but – in my case, at least – sheer insanity!

Stop waxing the stairs with the bird on the pillar!

Rooted and resigned
waiting at bus-stops
she flies off the handle
like a bird in a stairwell
a pillar of deepest longing
amidst tidy smell of wax.
Bird trapped in rust-cage
wax coating beak and wings
he comes to a glottal stop
watching her turn to pillar of salt.

This was written in response to a prompt after drawing five random words out of a hat. My words were: wax, bird, pillar, stairs, stop. The resulting poem fits in well with the books I am currently reading about love triangles: Therese Bohman’s ‘Drowned’ (for WIT Month) and Rosamond Lehmann’s ‘The Echoing Grove’.

She Walks into the Train Station

I am reposting a poem that I’ve written a few months back, as it was hidden in a long text about other books and other thoughts. It’s in response to the prompt on dVerse Poets to write about trains. I thought at once of Anna Karenina, but transposed to our present-day world.

She walks into the station as

if nothing could reach out or jostle

her intent; as

if the icy sheen on her forehead

gives her an armour of aloofness, invisible

to mortals.

Her foresight is complete, her pockets emptied of clues.

No noise to pierce her eardrums, she glides through crowds

erect and poised.

Her spine gains inches as if

the stone-weight of family has left her shoulders.

She drifts up the staircase, and crowds part

at the gauntness of her stare.

First up, then down,

directions cease to matter

if the journey’s end is one.

She’ll catch a moment when

they’re wrapped up in their small partings,

their music and emails,

their lives all about tasks, not noticing.

One breath

and she takes flight.

The screech of that train

branding scarlet letters on herds

trapped in search for romance.

Getting to Know Each Other

It’s the 4th anniversary of dVerse Poets Pub and we’re celebrating all week. For today’s prompt, I’m using some ice-breaking tricks and techniques so all the pub goers can get to know each other a little better. The instructions were as follows:

1) Find three words that describe you well or mean a lot to you – you don’t need to explain why they mean so much to you, but they do have to be oozing with significance. For example, for me, I might choose: Vienna, swoosh and fairness.
2) Now, choose three words to describe things or people that you are grateful for, to build on the gratitude discussion we were having yesterday.
Let me again give an example: children, words, friends.
3) Now write a short poem (no longer than 12 lines please, but it can be shorter if you like) incorporating these six words.
 To my surprise (but perhaps to nobody else’s), my poem came out a tad more melancholy than I had expected…

 

Words between friends

all bridges, camp-fires, the silences still precious…

Words between children

flash-floods, fence-mends…

I’m always too late

but all heart for all that.

My quest for fairness a shade too thorough,

digging deep long after they’ve moved on.

Should I surrender to the swoosh

alone in the snow?

My sky is always cold and gray.

This means nothing to me…  Oh, Vienna!

 

Maybe this song is to blame – one of the first I remember recording from the radio.

 

Voices and Persona in Poetry: Blue Yodel

FblueYodelCoverrom the blurb of this debut volume of poetry, winner of the 2014 Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize: In this imaginative and haunting debut collection, Ansel Elkins introduces readers to a multitude of characters whose “otherness” has condemned them to live on the margins of society. She weaves blues, ballads, folklore, and storytelling into an intricate tapestry that depicts the violence, poverty, and loneliness of the Deep South, as well as the compassion, generosity, and hope that bring light to people in their darkest times. 

How do you rate a poetry collection? How can you even shelve it as ‘read’ rather than ‘still reading’ on Goodreads? I’ll be reading this one again and again, coming back to it to enrich the experience, to feel it still seeping through me. There are so many avenues and poems to explore, so many influences, so many voices that are familiar while others are strange and even sinister. So many nuances I haven’t quite ‘got’ yet, so much symbolism still to crack. Melodious and playful language in parts, but also a powerful punch to the gut. Certainly not ‘pretty, poetic, flowery’ language. Some of it is Southern Gothic, strange, disquieting, fantastical and overwrought (or do I mean overwritten?).  Poems such as ‘Reverse: A Lynching’ and ‘Mississippi Pastoral’ remind us of the racial tensions and uneasy past of the South. Others are sheer unabashed lust, some of it venturing into dark and dangerous territory. Unlike some recent bestselling novels, the eroticism in these poems is not explicit, and leaves much to the imagination:

Every line out of my mouth is a lie except the one that begins with I want.
Between your teeth is where I want to be.

Or this:

There is nothing between us
but the night. The hunter’s appetite is instinct; it dwells deep
and urges you: Unleash
the wild animal that you are.
Unbury yourself.

Some of it I could relate to so well; those are perhaps the themes that crop up in my own work (but much more eloquently and powerfully done by Ansel). First, strong female voices reinterpreting and challenging long-held beliefs, such as in the ‘Autobiography of Eve':

Wearing nothing but snakeskin
boots, I blazed a footpath, the first radical road out of that old
kingdom toward a new unknown…
Let it be known: I did not fall from grace.
I leapt
to freedom.’

Then there is the boredom of monogamy, of routines and everyday concerns, of encroaching middle-age and broken dreams.

After the workweek we
undress and have celebratory sex
that lasts as long as a mint on the tongue…
I listen to the tiny ticking of my husband’s wristwatch, the migration of
wild geese calling relentlessly
southward, to lands where the sun warms the eternally green trees,
where a woman bathes in the sea alone, drifting and anonymous.
She’s nobody’s wife…
In the bedroom, a sudden
vague yet putrid smell from the vase of expired chrysanthemums…

But, above all, it’s always, always about those uncomfortable experiences, those dark parts of ourselves that we would rather not face:

All this time I saw the wolf in other men…
But when at last I looked into the moon what met my gaze was
the mirrored
wolf in me.

I have to take issue with the formatting again. I have no idea if the line breaks above are correct or not, the lines just seem to jump about randomly. It is so difficult for poetry to be correctly formatted in an e-book – although this was downloaded as an ARC from Netgalley, so perhaps it was edited and proofed before the final launch. In future I will stick to paper-based copies for all poetry if I possibly can.

From anselelkins.net
From anselelkins.net

Incidentally, I struggled to see where the blue yodel of the title comes in, as it’s only very briefly mentioned in a throwaway line about a peacock. Perhaps, I told myself, it’s a howl of pain, related to the blues. But then I read another review which referenced country singer Jimmie Rodgers, also known as the Blue Yodeler, who was also from that part of the country.

I don’t use different persona often enough in my poems, i.e. trying to write from a completely alien perspective (perhaps using the voice of an object or an animal). It is something which Ansel Elkins seems to do exceptionally well. A very well-deserved prize and I can’t wait to hear more from this exciting new talent.

 

 

He Says She Says They Say

From nownovel.com
From nownovel.com

I don’t know how, I don’t know why
but one day
on the sly
and on the fly
my poems turned into surly teenagers.
No more tender night cuddles
no tear-smirched cheeks to smooth
seldom around for longer than it takes
to grunt and disapprove
of my repetitive attempts
to ask them
how
they feel.
***
Sometimes she constrains our flow
in dismally low fixed forms, barriers and the like…
Oh, pu-leee-ze, lady, make up your mind!
She twirls us endlessly,
frets, crosses out
the best among us.
Then, too late,
she introduces us to new words
still stiff from their dictionary plaid.
So why should we be easy, pleasant and obedient?
Stop trying to make us fit in!

And that’s about all you’re going to hear from me for the rest of the week, which will be dedicated, alas, not to writing, but to amusing and feeding the children, and going through an immense To Do list.

Poetry and Politics

Poet Anthony Desmond raised an important topic recently over at dVerse Poets Pub: that most people would rather keep quiet about the matters that trouble the world and the people living in it. Should and could it be the poet’s role to talk about these things? If we believe in the power of words, shouldn’t we be using them to raise awareness, to start a debate? And can words really bring about change? Such a tricky topic, one that I often debate internally. The poem below was inspired by the online discussions.

Picture from The Guardian.
Picture from The Guardian.

I am an angry poet but

Can my words astonish, shame or fly

out into the world to cry

at the injustice or bring about change?

Give voice or succor,

placate when hatred piles on higher and higher?

Too much is shrieking

hurting

maiming

dying

And all I can think of to do is

shriek

fall

describe

weep

All I have are puny words

drowning in babble.

So I am an angry poet but

often

an all too quiet poet.