Spoken words

I like words.  I like the look and the sound and the texture of them.  And I believe they are capable of more truth and communication than most of the human race typically permits them.  How are you?  Fine thanks, and you?  Can’t complain.  Well I can, and I do.

Presenting poems that make words do what they are supposed to.

‘If Only Out of Vanity’ by Stayceyann Chin If only out of vanity text

Stayceyann Chin’s vision of who she wants to be sounds like fun.  My version is one who can finally dye her hair bright purple (or maybe green) without needing to stew in bleach for six hours.  Defy all attempts to be reductionist with reality (and magic).  Ride a bike with a trailer and bright flags (and possibly a diamond tipped pointy thing).  And cross roads with a brood that knows to look on all sides before it walks.

‘Not your erotic, not your exotic’ by Suheir Hammad Not your erotic, not your exotic text

I like a lot of Suheir Hammad’s work but this one has a particular resonance for me.  For the many times I have felt like my beauty is invisible, replaced by a mirage of almond-shaped eyes and curls.  Every day I add to my list of ways in which who I am is reduced to someone else’s version of what I must be like – a cardboard cut out could replace me without most people noticing the difference.  But some will, because they know I have the kind of beauty that moves (bonus geek points if you know who I’m quoting here!).

‘The Low Road’ by Marge Piercy the low road text

Recently, Maia posted this in solidarity with the defendants in the Operation 8 trial.  If you have no idea what Operation 8 is, this is a basic introductionthis is what wikipedia has on it, and this is the best writing I have found on the subject.  The trial is a farce (ask me how) and I believe the charges should be dropped.  Marge Piercy is one of the most accomplished writers I’ve read.  And few people can read her better than Stayceyann Chin.   I have nothing to add to what has already collectively been said.  Except perhaps to state that I would like to be counted among the thousand who have solidarity with those demanding justice for the raided, Tino Rangatiratanga and Te Mana Motuhake O Tūhoe.


since feeling is first

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;
wholly to be a fool
while Spring is in the world

my blood approves,
and kisses are a better fate
than wisdom
lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry
—the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph

And death i think is no parenthesis

by e. e. cummings (part of  ‘is 5‘ , published in 1926)

Meet the first love poem that made sense to me.  Because most of what people call love I call syntax.  And syntactic freedom makes me joyful.   And just for the record, there is no such thing as the absence of syntax.  But poetry, like life, should be revolutionary: an exercise in building your own.  And paragraphs of kisses can follow.  You see how?

For the benign indifference of the universe

I have a twisted love for the absence of grand design.  It comes from being an atheistic hindu.  You know, I don’t believe in the intentions of things (even though occasionally the way they behave makes me question this generosity) and I have not the arrogance to think the universe is conspiring against me.  I find it comforting to think of the world as benignly indifferent rather than actively evil.  I suppose this denies me the luxury of believing the world to be deliberately helpful, but I’m okay with that.  So this poem makes me happy.

The More Loving One

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.

W. H. Auden (Orginally published in Homage to Clio, 1960)

Thought fox

My friends and loved ones call me a crazy silly person.  One of the reasons they cite in support of this diagnosis is my ability to meta-analyse.  Actually I do them an injustice.  It’s more my inability to not meta-analyse everything that amuses (and worries) them.  I like analysis.  And I love the analysis of the analysis.  And the analysis of the conversation about analysing the analysis.  I especially love the following poem and its meta-analytic Hughes.  (The people, they be I right.  I be very crazily silly.)


I imagine this midnight moment’s forest:
Something else is alive
Beside the clock’s loneliness
And this blank page where my fingers move.

Through the window I see no star:
Something more near
Though deeper within darkness
Is entering the loneliness:

Cold, delicately as the dark snow
A fox’s nose touches twig, leaf;
Two eyes serve a movement, that now
And again now, and now, and now

Sets neat prints into the snow
Between trees, and warily a lame
Shadow lags by stump and in hollow
Of a body that is bold to come

Across clearings, an eye,
A widening deepening greenness,
Brilliantly, concentratedly,
Coming about its own business

Till, with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hole of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

Ted Hughes (Published as part of his first collection ‘The Hawk in the Rain’, 1957)

As you can see, it is a poem about writing a poem.  And it is, in my opinion, the best poem about writing ever written.  It is certainly one of the most successful poems Ted Hughes ever wrote.  And that is saying quite something.    One of my favourite things about this poem is how un-tortured it is.  It is entirely devoid of any writerly angst about the creative process.  I do so love this fox.  Sinister and mysterious perhaps, warm and focussed certainly; but above all: effortless.

Villanelle done well

Poems come in many forms and intents.  And there are people wiser than I who have studied the subject longer and can argue about what makes a poem work.  What follows is merely one that works for me and has had my abiding love for a tidy dozen years.

“I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)”

By Sylvia Plath

(First published in the August 1953 edition of Mademoiselle.  Typically included in the biographical note appended to The Bell Jar.)

The internet will tell you that there are excellent reasons why this is a successful poem.  For me it comes down to this: it is a mad girl’s love song.  The voice is clear and weightless and nicely highlights the weight of the words.  The echoes of the rhythm accent the sanity of what is being said – between intellectual meta-analysis and streaming ribbons of consciousness.

There is a lot to be said for self-aware and irreverent madness.  Especially when most of the world is so keen on othering itself from it.  That is what makes this a love song.  A poem would be too fettered; it’s a song that is stuck in your head even when you haven’t heard it for years and never ever knew the words.  But you know what it means even when you can’t remember what it said.

What appeals to me most about this one is the ease with which the verses weave through sophist solipsisms and undeniable realities until the end where I am the mad girl.  And she has written my song.