Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Love by Eavan Boland

Dark falls on this mid-western town
where we once lived when myths collided.
Dusk has hidden the bridge in the river
which slides and deepens
to become the water
the hero crossed on his way to hell.

Not far from here is our old apartment.
We had a kitchen and an Amish table.
We had a view. And we discovered there
love had the feather and muscle of wings
and had come to live with us,
a brother of fire and air.
We had two infant children one of whom
was touched by death in this town
and spared: and when the hero
was hailed by his comrades in hell
their mouths opened and their voices failed and
there is no knowing what they would have asked
about a life they had shared and lost.

I am your wife.
It was years ago.
Our child was healed. We love each other still.
Across our day-to-day and ordinary distances
we speak plainly. We hear each other clearly.

And yet I want to return to you
on the bridge of the Iowa river as you were,
with snow on the shoulders of your coat
and a car passing with its headlights on:

I see you as a hero in a text —
the image blazing and the edges gilded —
and I long to cry out the epic question
my dear companion:
Will we ever live so intensely again?
Will love come to us again and be
so formidable at rest it offered us ascension
even to look at him?

But the words are shadows and you cannot hear me.
You walk away and I cannot follow


This poem is taken from Eavan Boland's collection, In a Time of Violence (1994). It's a widely anthologized poem and appears on the Leaving Certificate syllabus here in Ireland. Boland is a highly acclaimed and published poet and often writes on explicitly feminist themes. In 1980 she was a co-founder of Arlen Press, an Irish feminist Press. Her most recent collections Outside History (1990) and The Lost Land (1998) explore the place of women in the past, particularly a past of violence and loss.

I love this poem because of the way it effortlessly weaves myth and the quotidian to achieve a sort of equipoise between the personal, the historical and the philosophical. You will recognize the allusion to Book 6 of The Aeneid by Virgil, where Aeneas visits the underworld and meets the ghosts of his former companions, who are both pleased and frightened to see him. Their failure to properly communicate highlights Boland's motif of separation and loss, as well as the failure of language to fully recreate experience. The poem is addressed to Boland's husband and captures beautifully, I feel, that pining for a fleeting moment of emotional intensity, call it love, happiness, joy.

It reminds me also of an anecdote related by Anthony Cronin about Samuel Beckett: He was visited in Paris by some friends and they decided to take a stroll through Le Bois. It was a fine spring day and each one was trying to outdo the other in extolling the beauties of the flora, the weather, etc., until one finally blurted out, 'it's a great day to be alive', to which Beckett responded, 'I wouldn't go that far now.' The conversation then turned to remembrances and one asked Beckett whether he was ever happy; he replied, 'O yes, I remember it very well, it was after lunch on April 13th, 1961, when I was taking a constitutional not unlike this one and I was suddenly suffused with an unbearable joy.' All joking aside, I think Boland's poem meditates poignantly on such effervescent moments.

John Griffin is the editor for Tuesday Poem this week. He lives and works in Ireland.

Take time to visit the other Tuesday Poets in the live blog roll in the sidebar.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Dad Aubade by Terese Svoboda

Worry, a kind of aubade
where the lover, mornings,
doesn’t leave, she’s dressed,
her shoes are tied but.

I stretch my face Dad-
like, Dad’s in my huff
and sit-up puff. Why
worry? He’s only dizzy.

I shower it off. All night
I’ve hammered doors shut
with my heel—I’m going
to do better tight-chested?

I telephone him and love
is what I tell him, and he
laughs like it’s a lie and says
It’s too early to call.

It seems only appropriate, since we’ve just passed Father’s Day in the U.S., to offer a Dad poem from the States. Terese Svoboda is a prolific and surprising writer, comfortable in both poetry and prose, with an Iowa Prize in poetry, O. Henry prize in fiction and a Pushcart Prize in non-fiction among her many accolades.  She’s published a dozen books; this poem is from her recent collection Weapons Grade (Univ. of Arkansas Press, 2009).

There is much to admire about this poem. At its centre is a speaker trying to resist an obsessive worry for her father’s health, given a recent episode of dizziness, a resistance whose failure makes the speaker’s concern that much more powerful. 

Svoboda engages playfully with the tradition of the aubade, a dawn poem that typically centres on the parting of lovers. Worry, she writes, is a kind of aubade, one that refuses to do its work. It seems an appropriate title for the poem, given the emphasis here on love, worries about (final) parting (which despite the speaker’s fears may also not come to pass anytime soon), and, towards the end, distance. 

Sneakily, the poem seems less about worry than about the father-daughter relationship that worry brings to the fore. I particularly admire the economy of the final stanza, which reveals much about that relationship and about such relationships more generally—the distances that parents and children are apt to see differently on their opposing ends of the phone line. 

I’m generally wary of poems that conclude with action and speech because these often depend on situation, on drama, rather than on an engagement with language. But Svoboda’s use of language and tone here is expert; it is not the drama but the several connotations of the father’s words which carry the day. The engagement with language, the play with tradition, and the complexity of the feelings make, for me, the expertise of this short poem something to strive for.

Bryan Walpert is the editor for Tuesday Poem this week. He is an award-winning poet and short fiction writer. An American-born NZ citizen he lives in Palmerston North, New Zealand, teaching creative writing at Massey University. He has published Etymology (Cinnamon Press) and Ephraim's Eyes (Pewter Rose) and blogs when he can - especially on a Tuesday. 

Take time to visit the other Tuesday Poets in the live blog roll in the sidebar. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Nuptials by Bill Manhire

Take back your heart,
that tattooed star. Take back
take back: your this and that, your pale guitar.

                                 Only my harmonica
                                 knows who you are.

Take back the light on the water;
also the body, scar after scar.

There is a list of things -- the words
you might have said, etcetera --

long bridge and sky,
the single car,

each syllable and step, particular,
the near and far --
and oh, take back the traveller.

                                  I have this paper music.
                                  I have what remains.
                                  I have what is muscular.

Light in your eyes, beloved,
like air in a mirror. Take back.
Take back. The bride is leaving America.

                                   Only my harmonica
                                   Knows who you are. 

Bill Manhire was NZ's inaugural Poet Laureate, and has received the Prime Minister's Award for Poetry. He directs the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington and has produced a number of collections of poetry. 

Bill Manhire has been regarded for some time here as a cool, ironic poet. He confesses to putting up 'lyrical foliage' when he writes - preferring privacy - but it is clear that the past two poetry collections have shifted into a warmer, more personal clearing.  'A man in a boat/rowing across the last half mile of twilight' is a line in one of the most moving poems ever about the death of a friend and about being a New Zealander. It is called Opoutere.  

Bill likes to take readers to that place where he believes poetry finds its true voice - not in the  places we used to find it amongst lofty language and themes - but rather in the directness of music or casual conversation or a sign on the door of a hotel. Even at the very point where language peters out ...

The word 'etcetera' can make an appearance in Bill's poems and so do words like 'la la la'. He's not averse to rhyme, and there are often echoes of skipping rhymes, drinking songs and lullabies. Some of the poems in his latest collection The Victims of Lightning [VUP], where Nuptials can be found, are collaborations with composer Norman Meehan.

Bill's poetry has been called 'the anti-lyric lyric' and yet the truth is the banal is rendered significant (or at least provocative) - and sometimes moving and beautiful - because Bill hooks it and plays with it as one would a fish on a line: pulling it in, letting it out, pulling it in, until there it is on the deck beside you: brilliant and flapping. Or dead - with a mischievous look in its eye. 

There are exquisite images in his poems - look at that 'tattooed star' of a heart, and up against Opoutere there is a ladder that 'longs to be lifted'. And yes, there are hearts in his poems, more than you'd think, and often guitars, and moons and wrists and children ... always have been.

Thirty years ago, Bill was my tutor in one of his early under-grad creative writing classes. I will never forget a poem he published back then called Declining the Naked Horse. It made us laugh, we who  lived in cold Aro St flats and debated oxymorons and knew our Coleridge from our Plath. We repeated Bill's poem in the Student Union cafe over hotdogs and chips. Was this a poem?  Really? Really? 

My friends studying law and medicine thought not - dismissed it as fakery: an equine Emperor's new clothes.  Those of us who tapped away on typewriters composing imagistic confessional things in the middle of the night, went off excited and tried to write something like it. We failed of course. Who could beat a naked horse coming into the room?

Nuptials is published here with the permission of Bill Manhire. More of his poems here.

Mary McCallum is this week's Tuesday Poem editor. She is a NZ novelist, poet, creative writing teacher and bookseller. She completed her novel The Blue at the International Institute of Modern Letters where Bill Manhire is the director. She has doubled-posted Bill Manhire's Nuptials this week on her blog O Audacious Book. Do check out some of the other Tuesday Poets in the live blog roll. 

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Blue and White Tablecloth by Carolyn McCurdie

Should we throw it away?
Your fingers rub at a stain by your plate.
Not a stain. It's a hole,
and I could mend it, but won't.

When the light shines through it, you notice
the thinness, and soon, here and here, more holes.
And see how the blue lines are worn
by the pull of connection

from my side of the table to yours,
by paths of conversation,
of passing gravy, salt.
How many years have we stood

pegging it out,
watching its white,
its snap, salute blue
kick high, swing, kick,

touch toes with the blue-white of sky?
This is the one that still drapes
fresh air across our table,
that smiles a picnic invitation

of lettuce from the garden,
apple from the tree.
Of course we should throw it away,
but on the days when it’s just me and you,

we bring it out again and laugh
at how silly we are.

Carolyn McCurdie

Thanks to Carolyn McCurdie for letting me use one of her poems for this week's Tuesday Poem.

Carolyn is a Dunedin writer who has published a novel, 'The Unquiet,' (Longacre Press, 2007). This poem is typical of Carolyn's crafted style of poetry. Her poetry quietly, assuredly, draws you into the story it is telling with an alluring lyricism.

It was hard to choose which poem of Carolyn's to use - she has written so many fine poems. In the end I chose this one because it is a favourite of mine and effortlessly demonstrates the attractive musicality and patience that all of Carolyn's poetry harbours.

I love the way this poem seamlessly relates an ordinary episode in a way that at the same time alerts the reader to the deeper issues of life - in this case, relationship, age, time and constancy.

It reminds us of what is most important in life; the relationship between two people that through 'the pull of connection' has weathered knocks and has survived, and goes on surviving.

It may be considered an old-fashioned concept for the 21st century - a faded, worn, blue and white table-cloth on a table - but this is a table-cloth that has 'snap' and has been seen to 'touch toes with a blue-white sky' as it flies in the face of a more modern, designer-label world. As such, it epitomises the essence of sustainability.' Kay McKenzie Cooke

This week's editor is Kay McKenzie Cooke a Dunedin writer who has had two books of poetry published; 'Feeding the Dogs' (Otago Univ. Press, 2002) and 'Made For Weather' (Otago Univ. Press, 2007). Visit her Tuesday poem 'some time' and others by the Tuesday Poets (look in the sidebar on the right for links).

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Midnight Sonata by Rebekah Tysoe

Con Brio
Inert, the shadows fall, almost
loud enough to break
the pale silence of the street.
Rustling, light drips between
clumps of leaves, a sluggish beam
skirts lazily
that dark cliff between road
and pavement
before clipping in
jaunty moonbeam style
back to the blank black-rimmed hole of
at the top
of the lollypop lamp-pole

Know the bogey-men hiding
With the growl of motor-engines in their throats
See the creep as the wind
Rattles the ancient rheumatism of the trees
And stomp their feet in the shadows
In every electric pumping heartbeat
The glisten
Sharpen their knives
And gape their mouths
Nibbling the toes that enter the darkness
And beating with withered twig fingers
On window panes
Hungry, Insatiable
Lingering long lascivious nights
Beneath the metallic glow
Of Lamplight

And so
Malignant clouds
Snuff out the eyes of the
Night, the cold blue city heartbeat
In edgy jazz
Saxophone rhythm
streetlamps glitter
shadows skitter, feigning
unrest, People, half themselves, walk

Rebekah Tysoe is a second year student studying for a Bachelor of Communications at Massey University. She has previously had her work published in JAAM and she had this to say about her poem:

"This is a poem I wrote about being afraid of the dark. It's in musical terms, moving through the parts of a Sonata like a classical piece. The first Con Brio means with spirit, the next Adagio means at a walking pace, and the last Rubato means broadly. "

Midnight Sonata is published on Tuesday Poem with permission from the author.

Bernadette Keating is the editor of this week's Tuesday Poem. She is a third year Bachelor of Communications student who writes poetry and occasionally blogs about writing and art. She lives in Wellington, New Zealand.