Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Because she's amazing

Good to see the skelfies (is that our collective noun - apologies if not) that made it along to the SLP Round Table on Monday. We had a wee bit of Sylvia Plath, among other things, which inspired me to take her down from my shelf and read a little more. I think this is amazing:


I know the bottom, she says.
I know it with my great tap root;
It is what you fear.

I do not fear it:
I have been there.
Is it the sea you hear in me,

Its dissatisfactions?
Or the voice of nothing,
that was you madness?

Love is a shadow.
How you lie and cry after it
Listen: these are its hooves: it has gone off, like a horse.

All night I shall gallup thus, impetuously,
Till your head is a stone, your pillow a little turf,
Echoing, echoing.

Or shall I bring you the sound of poisons?
This is rain now, the big hush.
And this is the fruit of it: tin white, like arsenic.

I have suffered the atrocity of sunsets.
Scorched to the root
My red filaments burn and stand,a hand of wires.

Now I break up in pieces that fly about like clubs.
A wind of such violence
Will tolerate no bystanding: I must shriek.

The moon, also, is merciless: she would drag me
Cruelly, being barren.
Her radiance scathes me.

Or perhaps I have caught her.
I let her go. I let her go
Diminished and flat, as after radical surgery.

How your bad dreams possess and endow me.
I am inhabited by a cry.
Nightly it flaps out

Looking, with its hooks, for something to love.

I am terrified by this dark thing
That sleeps in me;
All day I feel its soft, feathery turnings, its malignity.

Clouds pass and disperse.
Are those the faces of love, those pale irretrievables?
Is it for such I agitate my heart?

I am incapable of more knowledge.
What is this, this face
So murderous in its strangle of branches?--

Its snaky acids kiss.
It petrifies the will. These are the isolate, slow faults
That kill, that kill, that kill.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Ariel's love song

Right, it's taken me far too long to actually post this, but you might remember the Auden poem I brought along to the last skelf at Lorraine's? Here it is for those of you wishing to take a bit more time over it...


(Ariel to Caliban, Echo by the Prompter)

Weep no more but pity me,
Fleet persistent shadow cast
By your lameness,
caught at last,
Helplessly in love with you,
Elegance, art, fascination,
Fascinated by
Drab mortality;
Spare me a humiliation,
To your faults be true:
I can sing as you reply

Wish for nothing lest you mar
The perfection in these eyes
Whose entire devotion lies
At the mercy of your will;
Tempt not your sworn comrade, - only
As I am can I love you as you are -
or my company be lonely
For my health be ill:
I will sing if you will cry

Never hope to say farewell,
For our lethargy is such
Heaven's kindness cannot touch
Nor earth's frankly brutal drum;
This was long ago decided,
Both of us know why,
Can, alas, foretell,
When our falsehoods are divided,
What we shall become,
One evaporating sigh

- W.H. Auden

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Sappho Assignment - Fragment 31


Please feel free to tell me to cut the homework - but, as you can see, I am becoming increasingly hooked on skelf. I love having a poem to play with, ticking round in my brain through a busy week.

So here is another assignment - to interpret a fragment by Sappho. There is a direct translation of her poem from the Greek below- followed by various beautiful interpretations by other poets (my favourite is the one by John Hollander). Then, if you feel inspired, write your own.

Fragment 31

That man seems to me to be like a god, to
Sit so close to you and to hear your sweet voice
And your charming laughter - and all this, truly,
Makes my heart tremble;

For I only, briefly, need to glance at you to
Find my voice has gone and my tongue is broken,
And a flame has stolen beneath my skin, my
Eyes can no longer

See, my ears are ringing, while drops of sweat run
Down my trembling body, and I've turned paler
Than a wisp of straw and it seems to be I'm
Not far off dying.

(Translation by Robert Chandler)


Peer of the Gods

Peer of the gods is that man, who
face to face, sits listening
to your sweet speech and lovely

It is this that rouses a tumult
in my breast. At mere sight of you
my voice falters, my tongue
is broken.

Straightway, a delicate fire runs in
my limbs; my eyes
are blinded and my ears

Sweat pours out: a trembling hunts
me down. I grow paler
than dry grass and lack little
of dying.


After an Old Text

His head is in the heavens, who across the
Narrow canyon of pillow from yours harkens
With gazing hand and hearing knees through darkness,
Looking and listening

To the sweet quietude of terminating
Conversation, the gentle brief wake for the
Long-dead day, the keening of his shortened
Breath on your shoulder:

This revision of you sucks out the sound of
Words from my mouth, my tongue collapses, my legs
Flag, my ears roar, my eyes are blind with flame; my
Head is in hell then.



Maik O the Gods He Seems to Me

Maik o the gods he seems to me,
thon man that sits in front o ye,
and hears your talkan couthilie near,
sae saftlie and clear,

your luvelie lauchan. My hert stounds
rowsan i ma breist when your lauch sounds
and gif I glent at ye sittan there
I canna speak mair.

Ma tung freezes i ma mou, a nesh
lowe rins chitteran throu ma flesh;
nae sicht i ma een; wi thier nain thunner
ma lugs dunner.

Swyte reems doun me; frae heid to fuit
a trummlan grups me, sae's I sit
greener nor gress, in sic a dwalm
I kenna wha I am.

maik= peer
couthilie=cosily, comfortably
stounds=is stunned
glent=if I glance
lowe=glow, fire
dunnner=my ears resound
swyte reems=sweat pours


Wednesday, 10 October 2007

First attempt at Iain Crichton Smith

You are at the bottom of this poetry

(after Iain Crichton Smith)

You have changed the landscape of my mind.

Like nameless mountains, remote and fixed

Which glaciers carve their mark in - but not I.

Still dazzled by your heights,

clawing and clawing at your crumbling sides

With these weak hands.

You went astray, obscured by clouds

And sun so fierce I had to look away

And now my eye is lost in looking.

I do not have the know of your shape

I cannot trace your faces

I never scaled your path.

And I shall never claim you

Though I bear this flag high hopelessly,

Half-lifted by love's straining.

Memory draws meandering maps;

sketches ropes without holdings,

My fault-lines tremble with each climb.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Michael Longley - The Evening Star

Also, I was convinced I'd never heard of Michael Longley (who lead the lovely MacNeice session) - but I realised last night that he's the author of a poem that I love. Here it is:

The Evening Star

(In memory of Catherine Mercer, 1994-6)

The day we buried your two years and two months
So many crocuses and snowdrops came out for you
I tried to isolate from those galaxies one flower:
A snowdrop appeared in the sky at dayligone,

The evening star, the star in Sappho's epigram
Which brings back everything that shiny daybreak
Scatters, which brings the sheep and brings the goat
And brings the wean back home to her mammy.

Michael Longley

Monday, 8 October 2007

Entirely - Louis MacNeice

Here's the Louis MacNeice poem that Claire and I enjoyed so much at the SPL Michael Longley session - enjoy Marjorie (it even rhymes)! x x


If we could get the hang of it entirely
It would take too long;
All we know is the splash of words in passing
And falling twigs of song.
And when we eavesdrop on the great
Presences it is rarely
That by a stroke of luck we can appropriate
Even a phrase entirely.

If we could find happiness entirely
In somebody else's arms
We should not fear the spears of spring nor the city's
Yammering fire alarms
But, as it is, the spears each year go through
Our flesh and almost hourly
Bell or siren banishes the blue
Eyes of love entirely.

And if the world were black and white entirely
And all the charts were plain
Instead of a mad weir of tigerish waters,
A prism of delight and pain,
We might be surer where we wished to go
Or again we might be merely
Bored but in brute reality there is no
Road that is right entirely.

Louis MacNeice

Monday, 1 October 2007

There Was a Young Bard of Japan...


There was a young bard of Japan,
Whose limericks never would scan:
When told it was so,
He said: 'Yes, I know,
But I always try and get as many words into the last line as I possibly can'.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

chidiock tichbourne revisited

I didn't do justice to him on Tuesday: it seems he was one of 6 conspirators in the "Babington Plot", which freed Elizabeth I's hand to execute Mary Queen of Scots.

His poem was one of 3 he wrote home to his wife from prison. Wikipedia makes great play on his Renaissance use of Antithesis and Paradox -- so, perhaps not much scope for jihadist feeling.

He and the other 5 were disembowelled live in St Giles Fields, which caused such a stir that the next 'traitors' were hung and drawn first. They were all convicted of colluding with Philip of Spain

Louis MacNiece, writing 70 years ago

The Sunlight on the Garden

The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold,
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.

Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend;
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.

The sky was good for flying
Defying the church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying

And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden

Louis MacNeice 1937

Thursday, 27 September 2007

The Room was Suddenly Rich : September Skelfies

The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was
Spawning snow and pink roses against it
Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:
World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world
Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes --
On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's hands --
There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

Louis MacNiece 1935

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

The Scotsman's Prayer

Our fala, who art in hosh

Alloa be thy name.

Thy kingussie comrie,

Thy weem be dunnet,

In errogie, as it is in hosh.

Gillesbie this day our dairsie brae,

And forres our treshnish

As we forres the treshnish argyll us.

And lealt us not into tarbet ness,

But dalmeny us from easedale

For thine is kinglassie,

Pitlochry and glenisla.

Fochabers and kerrera.


Sunday, 23 September 2007

Another assignment to mull over....Iain Crichton Smith

Here's something weightier to play with - a beautiful poem by Iain Crichton Smith, followed by an interpretation of the poem written by Colette Bryce ( I am not keen on Colette's version - but it's useful to see what she has done I suppose).

You Are at the Bottom of My Mind
(from the Gaelic)

Without my knowing it you are at the bottom of my mind
like a visitor to the bottom of the sea
with his helmet and his two large eyes,
and I do not rightly know your appearance or your manner
after five years of showers
of time pouring between me and you:

nameless mountains of water pouring
between me hauling you on board
and your appearance and manner in my weak hands.
You went astray
among the mysterious plants of the sea-bed
in the green half-light without love,

and you will never rise to the surface
though my hands are hauling ceaselessly,
and I do not know your way at all,
you in the half-light of your sleep
haunting the bed of the sea without ceasing
and I hauling and hauling on the surface.

Iain Crichton Smith

Song for a Stone
(after Iain Crichton Smith)

You are at the bottom of my mind
like a stone dropped once by chance in a pool
to the black belied
by a surface ruled
by a total reflection of sky.

I do not have the know of your want or why,
I do not have the know of your way.
I have only the flow
of the come what may
in the light to the front of my liquid eye.

But you have put a sadness in the blue-
green waters of my mind
for as long as we both may live.

For your time is not of the colour of mine
and the name that is on you cannot be written
over these lips in love.

Colette Bryce.

Friday, 21 September 2007

My favourite Plath Poem

I have a hazy idea from our last skelf - I think I said I would post my favourite poem by Sylvia it is. I cannot remember a time when I have been moved by something beautiful and not thought of this poem - I have just realised that it is now so woven into me that when it creeps into my mind it is my way of recognising that I am falling in love with something, or someone.

Black Rook in Rainy Weather

On the stiff twig up there
Hunches a wet black rook
Arranging and rearranging its feathers in the rain-
I do not expect a miracle
Or an accident
To set the sight on fire
In my eye, nor seek
Any more in the desultory weather some design,
But let spotted leaves fall as they fall
Without ceremony, or portent.
Although, I admit, I desire,
Occasionally, some backtalk
From the mute sky, I can't honestly complain:
A certain minor light may still
Leap incandescent
Out of kitchen table or chair
As if a celestial burning took
Possession of the most obtuse objects now and then--
Thus hallowing an interval
Otherwise inconsequent

By bestowing largesse, honor
One might say love. At any rate, I now walk
Wary (for it could happen
Even in this dull, ruinous landscape); sceptical,
Yet politic; ignorant
Of whatever angel may choose to flare
Suddenly at my elbow. I only know that a rook
Ordering its black feathers can so shine
As to seize my senses, haul
My eyelids up, and grant
A brief respite from fear
Of total neutrality. With luck,
Trekking stubborn through this season
Of fatigue, I shall
Patch together a content

Of sorts. Miracles occur,
If you care to call those spasmodic
Tricks of radiance miracles. The wait's begun again,
The long wait for the angel
For that rare, random descent.

Sylvia Plath

Sunday, 16 September 2007

On birthday presents and setting a good example to your son (happy birthday Charlie)

I nagged my parents for a torch:
- I'd love a torch, oh go on, one of those ones with
the black rubber round them, go on, go on...
It was no good. I wasn't getting anywhere. Then came
my birthday. On the table was a big box. In the box, a
torch. My dad took it out of the box:
- You see that torch, he says, it's waterproof. That is a
waterproof torch.
So that night I got into the bath and went underwater
swimming with it: breathe in, under the water, switch on,
search for shipwrecks and treasure. Up, breathe, under
again, exploring the ocean floor. Then the torch went out.
I shook it and banged it but it wouldn't go. I couldn't
get it to go again. My birthday torch. So I got out the
bath, dried myself off, put on my pyjamas and went
into the kitchen.
- The - er - torch won't work. 'S broken.
- And my dad says, What fo you mean, 'It's broken'? It
couldn't have just broken. How did it break?
- I dunno it just went off.
- I don't believe it. You ask him a simple question and
you never get a simple answer. You must have been
doing something with it.
- No, no, no, it just went off.
- Just try telling the truth, will you? How did it break?
- I was underwater swimming with it.
- Are you mad? When I said this torch is waterproof, I
meant it keeps the rain off. I didn't mean you could go
bloody deep-sea diving with it. Ruined. Completely
ruined. For weeks and weeks he nags us stupid that he
wants one of these waterproof torches and the first thing
he does is wreck it. How long did it last? Two minutes?
Three minutes? These things cost money, you know.
At the weekend, he says,
- We're going into Harrow to take the torch back.
We walk into the shop, my dad goes up to the man at the
counter and says,
- You see this torch. I bought it from you a couple of weeks
ago. It's broken.
So the man picks it up.
- It couldn't have just broken, says the man, how did
it break?
- And my dad says, I dunno, it just went off.
- Come on, says the man, these torches don't just
break down. You must have been doing something with it.
- So I said, Well actually, I was in the -
And I got a kick in the ankle from my dad.
- I was in the - er - oh yeah - the kitchen and it went off.
So the man said he would take it out the back to show
Len. He came back in a few minutes and said that Len
couldn't get it to work either.
- You'll have to have a new one, he says.
- I should think so too, says my dad. Thank YOU!
Outside the shop, my dad says to me,
- What's the matter with you? You were going to tell him
all about your underwater swimming fandango, weren't you?
Are you crazy?

- Michael Rosen

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Larkin Assignment

It fucks things up, a hedge that’s wide

You may not think so, but it does.

Blades don’t reach the other side;

Ruche green turns to privet fuzz.

Man hands kneeling mat to man,

The click of bowls behind,

The gardener shins up sun-baked walls

Decimation on her mind.

Hedges stride like tenements

Across our common earth,

And we conspire at gardens’ end

To give them slimmer berth.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

1st attempt: Larkin-ising politics

This be the curse

They fuck you up, do politicians
They seek election wins from you
They will not stop their talk and listen
Their claims are often quite untrue.

But they were fucked up by their party
Enslaved by promises of votes
A state with much uncertainty-
For voters often opt to float.

Man hands responsibility to man
Elect the choice of "someone else"
Though hordes may march to make a stand
The public does not rule itself.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

New Assignment


Continuing the fun we had with our Scottish bashes at interpreting the Lord's Prayer, I have another challenge in a simliar vein. Why don't we try something on the theme of profession?......

The idea is based on the following homage to Larkin's "This Be The Verse", which I suggest we use as our template for this kooky exercise.


They fuck you up, do publishers.
Against them there is no defence.
No letter, postcard, phone-call stirs
The puddle of their insolence.

Each author's fucked up in his turn.
Each contract is a poison pellet.
And specially must poets learn
That verse don't sell, and they don't sell it.

Man hands on manuscript to man,
Who leaves the thing in St Tropez.
Get out as quickly as you can
And write a television play.

John Whitworth

(And Larkin's poem for reference:)

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

Philip Larkin

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Monday, 27 August 2007

SEXT - one of WH Auden's Horae Canonicae

Beowulf was donging his dinger on the radio over lunchtime. Did anyone else hear him?

Here is a poem by W.H.Auden. I think it's the only sympathetic description of a 'crowd' that I have ever read - but I also like his description of the "eye-on-the-object look", which I must say I think is very attractive.


You need not see what someone is doing
to know if it is his vocation,

you have only to watch his eyes:
a cook mixing a sauce, a surgeon

making a primary incision,
a clerk completing a bill of lading,

wear the same rapt expression,
forgetting themselves in a function.

How beautiful it is,
that eye-on-the-object look.

To ignore the appetitive goddesses,
to desert the formidable shrines

of Rhea, Aphrodite, Demeter, Diana,
to pray insted to St Phocas,

St Barbara, San Saturnino,
or whoever one's patron is,

that one may be worthy of their mystery,
what a prodigious step to have taken.

There should be monuments, there should be odes,
to the nameless heroes who took it first,

to the first flaker of flints
who forgot his dinner,

the first collector of sea-shells
to remain celibate.

Where should we be but for them?
Feral still, un-housetrained, still

wandering through forests without
a consonant to our names,

slaves of Dame Kind, lacking
all notion of a city

and, at this noon, for this death,
there would be no agents.


You need not hear what orders he is giving
to know if someone has authority,

you have only to watch his mouth:
when a besieging general sees

a city wall breached by his troops,
when a bacteriologist

realizes in a flash what was wrong
with his hypothesis when,

from a glance at the jury, the prosecutor
knows the defendant will hang,

their lips and the lines around them
relax, assuming an expression

not of simple pleasure at getting
their own sweet way but of satisfaction

at being right, an incarnation
of Fortitudo, Justicia, Nous.

You may not like them much
(Who does?) but we owe them

basilicas, divas
dictionaries, pastoral verse,

the courtesies of the city:
without these judicial mouths

(which belong for the most part
to very great scoundrels)

how squalid existence would be,
tethered for life to some hut village,

afraid of the local snake
or the local ford demon,

speaking the local patois
of some three hundred words

(think of the family squabbles and the
poison-pens, think of the inbreeding)

and at this noon, there would be no authority
to command this death.


Anywhere you like, somewhere
on broad-chested life-giving Earth,

anywhere between her thirstlands
and undrinkable Ocean,

the crowd stands perfectly still,
its eyes (which seem one) and its mouths

(which seem infinitely many)
expressionless, perfectly blank.

The crowd does not see (what everyone sees)
a boxing match, a train wreck,

a battleship being launched,
does not wonder (as everyone wonders)

who will win, what flag she will fly,
how many will be burned alive,

is never distracted
(as everyone is always distracted)

by a barking dog, a smell of fish,
a mosquito on a bald head:

the crowd sees only one thing
(which only the crowd can see)

an epiphany of that
which does whatever is done.

Whatever god a person believes in,
in whatever way he believes,

(no two are exactly alike)
as one of the crowd he believes

and only believes in that in which
there is only one way of believing.

Few people accept each other and most
will never do anything properly,

but the crowd rejects no one, joining the crowd
is the only thing all men can do.

Only because of that can we say
all men are our brothers,

superior, because of that,
to the social exoskeletons: When

have they ever ignored their queens,
for one second stopped work

on their provincial cities, to worship
The Prince of this world like us,

at this noon, on this hill,
in the occasion of this dying.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Home from the City of Literature event at the EIBF, promoting the new Young Scottish Publishers project - which hitherto existed only in London and Oxford.

The Canongate MD spoke, with a good quote: "reason and rationality pursue us - but we are much faster".

SPL in evidence, and intending to promote reading circles at the 6 October Edinburgh Libraries Fair.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

If I'm not mistook, Charlotte Hastings has written a review of Michael Frayn and Claire Tomalin at the Edinburgh Book Festival (Guardian, Saturday 18 August)!

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

The Island's Prayer

here is my attempt...

Our Islands, which art in Water
Shallow be thy shores.
Thy Vikings come
Shetlands be done
In Unst as it is on Mainland
Make our fair way to western isles
And forgive us our sea journeys
As we forgive them that build bridges between us
And lead us not into renaming
But deliver us from Eilean a' Cheò.
For thine is the Rassay, the Islay and the Barra
With Mull and with Jura

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Edwin Morgan (he's rather wonderful)


I shoved Morgan's 'Selected Poems' into my bag my the way out of the door to Paris to get a sense for him beyond the couple of poems given to me at school. I discovered he's rather wonderful and had great fun reading bits of him to my friend Mary on the bridges and banks of the Seine. Unfortunately I also managed to leave him on one of the said bridges and banks (I hope that whichever Parisian finds my book comes to love him too) and can't find my very favourite poems to post up here, mainly because I've forgotten the titles. There was one about Grendel's mother that might be interesting for the Beowulf lovers in our midsts but its text has escaped me for the moment.

Anyway, I have managed to track this one down elsewhere and did think this was rather good. It also rifts slightly on the Billy Collins Cigarette poem Lorraine brought along to the SLP earlier this year, or at least is also about cigarettes Enjoy! and please trade me other Morgan poems if it would please you to...

One Cigarette

No smoke without you, my fire.
After you left,
your cigarette glowed on in my ashtray
and sent up a long thread of such quiet grey
I smiled to wonder who would believe its signal
of so much love. One cigarette
in the non-smoker's tray.
As the last spire
trembles up, a sudden draught
blows it winding into my face.
Is it smell, is it taste?
You are here again, and I am drunk on your tobacco lips.
Out with the light.
Let the smoke lie back in the dark.
Till I hear the very ash
sigh down among the flowers of brass
I'll breathe, and long past midnight, your last kiss.

Friday, 20 July 2007

The Lowland Scots Prayer [also known as The Lowland Scot's Prayer]

RE: The Scotsman's Prayer: I laughed out loud! Lovely. I pushed and played with it, drifting it into Lowland Scots (Scots is Lowland, but you understand the nature of dilution of language requires assertion of place) then realised i ought just to do my own, Lowland Scots approach. So here you are, all these places are in Dumfries and Galloway, where I was born. This is for my mother.

The Lowland Scots Prayer [also known as The Lowland Scot's Prayer]

Wur Faither, whae airt Innermessan,
Hallae be thon Name.
Thon Kippford come.
Yer Wigtown done,
in Elrig as it is Innermessan.
Gie us this day wur daily Bladnoch.
And forgae us wur Palnackie’s,
As we forgae them what Palnackie agin us.
And lead us no intae Tongland;
But deliver us frae Ecclefechan.
Fur yers is the Kirtle, The Powfoot an the Irongray,
fur Annan an Annan,

Just for reference, Ian Dury's source, The Lord's Prayer:

Our Father, which art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done,
in earth as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, The power, and the glory,
For ever and ever.

Thursday, 19 July 2007



For those of you braving Beowulf but not quite sure of the arrangements (pointing no elbows at Al) they are as follows - Wednesday 22nd August, 8pm, The Hub.

If anyone fancies more Anglo-Saxon chat before this point, let me know and I'll see what I can do...

A Scotsman's Prayer?

So, you skelfers who were there way back in February when I first rocked up at the SPL might remember the challenge Al suggested for us all? If not, it was to re-write Ian Dury's 'Busman's Prayer' using the places of Scotland.

As we've never revisited it as a group but now have this wonderful space into which things can be thrown for the catching or the falling I offer you my attempt. Now, I rather lost what flow I had after the first few lines so any collaboration/amendation shall be happily accepted. Thanks to the wonders of Wiki I'm able to kick off with the original, complete with footnoted alternatives (who says it's not a serious academic resource!?) You'll also have to forgive my mongrel Scots...

The Busman's Prayer

Our Farnham,[1] who art in Hendon
Harrow be Thy name.
Thy Kingston come; thy Wimbledon,
In Erith as it is in Hendon.
Give us this day our daily Brent [2]
And forgive us our Westminster[3]
As we forgive those who Westminster against us.[4]
And lead us not into Thames Ditton[5]
But deliver us from Yeovil.[6]
For Thine is the Kingston, the Purley and the Crawley,[7]
For Esher and Esher.[8]
Crouch End.

^ 1. Our Father
^ 2. Give us this day our Berkhampstead / our Leatherhead
^ 3. our Hammersmith
^ 4. Forgive us our bypasses,As we forgive those who bypass against us
^ 5. And lead us not into Temple Station
^ 6. But deliver us from Ewell
^ 7. For Thine is the Kingston, the Powys and the Goring
^ 8. for Iver and Iver

A Scotsman's Prayer

Oor Faither, Wishaw in New Haven
Alloa be yer name
Yer Kinghorn come; Yer will be Rum
In Perth as it is in Leven.
Gie us th' day oor daily Breich
And forgive us oor Faslanes
as we forgive those who Faslane against us.
And lead us no into tenaments
But deliver us from Elgin
For thine is the Kinussie, the Portree and the Orkney.
For ever and ever.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Charming Billy

In our SPL discussion of Billy Collin's The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems, J Johnstone, our group facilitator (doesn't that sound dry and unpoetic! - maybe we should call her "our muse") - presented us with a poetic response to the book by a critic from The New York Times. I think it is excellent - so am including it here:

Charming Billy
Review by David Orr

I wonder how you are going to feel
when you found out
that I wrote this instead of you

is how the first poem begins
in the new book by Billy Collins
called "The Trouble with Poetry"

It is a typical Collins beginning -
a good natured wave
across the echoing gulf that stretches

between writer and reader
as it to suggest
the poem itself exists

in that uncertain, cloud-strewn gap,
and we, as readers,
are very nearly poets ourselves,

even if we are unlikely
to receive recognition as such
in the form or a generous grant

from the Guggenheim Foundation,
which is not to say
we would turn one down, mind you.

Anyway: it is a tribute
to the former Poet Laureate
that he is able to make us believe,

despite our anxious response to poetry,
that we are participating
in each Billy Collins poem,

and that the humorous touches-
like calling a book of poetry
"The Trouble With Poetry"-

are a kind of knowing salute,
one writer to another.
It is a technical achievement

all too easy to underestimate,
and it involves a special sensitivity
to the nature of reading, of hearing,

which is perhaps the reason
so many Billy Collins poems
are about the process of poetry,

as when, in his poem "Workshop",
he makes the poem itself
a history of its own unfolding,

a strategy that appears again here
in slightly altered form
as the opening to "The Introduction":

I don't think this next poem
needs any introduction -
it's best to let the work speak for itself,

a suave parody
of the nervous preambles
one hears at so many poetry readings,

and exactly the kind of beginning
that allows us to chuckle gently
as a convention is tweaked,

almost as we chuckle gently
in anticipation when we realise
that the book review we've been reading

is about to turn the corner,
and begin placing a writer's shortcomings
alongside his virtues,

by observing, for instance,
that Billy Collins too often relies
on the same blandly ironic tone

and the same conversational free verse,
loosely organized in tercets
or the occasional quatrain
when an extra line jogs onto the page,

or that his poems often begin to well
and then spiral down
into unsurprising images

like exhausted birds
unable to stand for anything
beyond the simple fact of exhaustion,

or that, most important,
he is often humorous
without actually being funny,

a difference that depends largely
on a writer's willingness
to let his violent, comic sensibility

turn its knives on the reader,
on the poem,
and on poetry itself,

which may seem like an odd complaint,
given Collin's reputation
for teasing our stuffy poetic traditions.

But the teasing this writer does
is harmless, really, and contrary
to what some critics have suggested,

the problem with his work
is not that it is disrespectful,
but that it is not disrespectful enough;

it never cracks wise
to the teacher's face
but meekly returns to its desk,

lending itself with disappointing ease
to the stale imagery
of teachers, desks and wisecracking.

In the end, what we need
from a poet with Collin's talent
is not a good-natured wave

from writer to reader,
or a literary joke, or a mild chuckle;
what we need is to be drawn

high into the poem's cloud-filled air
and allowed to fall
on rocks real enough to hurt.

Shared Inquiry

Fifikin, you may not know that the SPL plan to trial run a new approach to poetry - a method called Shared Inquiry. The idea is that a group focuses in on one poem, and that discussion is "facilitated" by a leader, who poses questions about the poem for readers to consider, and the readers in turn pose questions to each other. There are two trials at the SPL in August (1st and 15th)- and the two poems below are the ones we have been tasked to absorb. You may not be able to attend - but thought I would keep you in the loop and see if you have any questions you would like posed via skelf?

Lilias directed us to shared Q&A, shared inquiry style, which I have included below as an example too....

One Afternoon
Joanie V Mackowski

A woman stepped outside, crumbled
into a loose particulate, and, as the breeze
blew up from the east, she scattered: her handful
of heart, volcanic ash, spiraled the highway,
and five of her teeth slipped between
her neighbor's breasts; her neighbor
unbuttoned her blouse to scratch
at her suddenly red and luminous skin.
Days passed. Each day the sun distractedly
drifted from chair to chair; each night the stars,
old scatterbrains, they commiserated.
It didn't rain. Strange, the granualar woman
thought to herself: although I encompass
so much, I accomplish so little.
Her car sparkled with her hair and bones;
her garden thrived. She tried to think:
why did this happen? what had I eaten?
why was I bothered?-those old hours,
spotted and exotic lizards, darted
the gravel, flicking through their colors
of skin as one flicks channels on tv.
She couldn't catch a one. Then, as a flock
of sparrows converging for the skull
of an oak, all her twittering dust,
her brain, bone, and the dangerous shreds
of her fingers clawed for the sky;
what an interesting cloud someone said.

Q: It seems that poets are particularly prone to states of inspired disarray like the one you described here. Do you find that to be true of yourself - and can you explain what this character says, if anything, about being a poet or making a poem?

Q: How can a poem that's - to simply things - about "falling apart" be so buoyant?

Q: The dramatic chance that takes place in "One Afternoon" clearly evokes Ovid's Metamorphoses, though with a decidely contemporary twist. Ovie's characters were transformed by the whims of the gods. Who, or what, is the transformative power in this poem?

Afternoon Skelf

Well, I thought we needed something to start us off. Lorrainbow is right about Billy Collins, I think...

Introduction to Poetry
by Billy Collins

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

bonjour, échardes

this is a test ... je blogue, tu blogues, elle blogue, nous bloguons, vous bloguez, ils bloguent

Monday, 16 July 2007

The Skelf enters cyberspace...

Hey Skelfies

I hope this can be a place where we can leave gems of Poetry for each other, digest, discuss and disseminate at will.