On eves of cold, when slow coal fires
rooted in basements, burn and branch,
brushing with smoke the city air;
When quartered moons pale in the sky,
and neons glow along the dark
like deadly nightshade on a briar;
Above the muffled traffic then
I hear the owl, and at his note
I shudder in my private chair.
The start of Laurie Lee’s “Town Owl” that points the way to Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes (that deadly nightshade on the briar; a later reference to “blooded talons sheathed in fur”) and also evokes an 18th century fantasy as “silk-shoed lovers with dust of diamonds in their hair” are seen running from the ball. However it also can’t be a coincidence that the cold and owls are so similar to Keats’ The Eve of St Agnes, albeit in a different vein:
St Agnes’ Eve – Ah, bitter chill it was!
The owl, for all his feathers, was a-cold;
The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass,
And silent was the flock in woolly fold.
Enjoy the cold!
The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.
Sylvia Plath “Tulips”.
Being Plath this poem of course gets darker and darker, so I don’t want to quote the whole thing here, but her writing is extraordinary.
The alcove of your arm
has become my favourite room
for sleep, but I’ve been roused
by nightmares lately. Even thunderstorms couldn’t wake you, my mother says over the phone. I want to tell her
I’ve been seeing a white man, an American.
Emily Jungmin Yoon’s poem about cross-cultural romance and calling home published in November’s edition of POETRY. I like how they post the first few stanzas on Instagram to give you tasters, a scoop for the day.
7 a.m. The light freshens. The plane trees harden in the square. Morning music starts on Radio 3 – the tingling antiseptic earwash of Telemann and Scarlatti – and I come awake at last and am healed.
My Day by Laurie Lee. Something cheering about the morning as we hit the tranche of dark mornings till early January when the tide starts to turn visibly again. Also, don’t forget this. Waking up is not always painful!
The fourth candle has been lit.
How can you be in exile
when you live with the one you love?
Our Chinese Schiller stands by the window.
Outside, three crows ignore a snowman.
The fourth candle has been lit,
These flames make us linger –
these flames slip into our words –
Today it’s Handel on the radio –
and the northern sun is still strong.
The streets our brushes
The squares our palettes
The thousand-paged book of time
say nothing about the days of revolution
Futurists, dreamers, poets
come out into the street
Mayakovsky, An order to the art army, December 1918.
The world is a poem of my senses.
The squares, the rushing cars; the trees, the dusty green
acquire their time from me;
the world is a poem of my senses
and ceases when I do.
This proximity, this lengthy moment, the soft feel of skin, are only in me, for me; an impression
or a ring around the illusion of my senses.
When I borrow from you an objective eye
I see (as through reversed binoculars)
how you walk along the bright street
the two of you, in the light of the awnings,
you are far away, ever further, still
you are, but smaller, disappearing.
Eeva-Liisa Manner. More poetry from @sophia_stories feed.
Now it is another day. Rain is speaking gently to the terrace. I speak gently, sometimes, to myself. How soft the light is, mingled with the wet.
William Gass – Summer Bees
Seaweed sways and sways and swirls
as if swaying were a form of stillness
and it flushes against fierce rock
it slips over as shadows do, without hurting itself
The Poetry Foundation (who also have an excellent app, allowing you to search for poems at the intersection of Humour, Commitment, and Work and Play, amongst other terms) has just revamped their website too.
It’s a dream. Poets from the 8th century and earlier – good old Anon – to the present day can be searched by name or theme.
I especially liked the pre-made collections. Summer had the Amy Lowell poem on the bath, whilst Movie Heroes & Villains had several crackers, including What I Learned From the Incredible Hulk, May Swenson’s very funny poem about watching Roger Moore as Bond whilst struggling with the popcorn, and tame Monsters in the Closet (“Dracula wants to drink my blood – I think that’s rather rude.”).
If you click through to a poet’s page, it includes a link to their other poems and I’ve already had a gorge on Ben Jonson, whose wit appeals to me more and more. But best of all is discovering so many new poets: Paisley Rokdal, Gwendolyn Brooks, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Jesse Randall, Lucia Perillo and James Weldon Johnson. In fact, this website’s a model of what to be: made for easy browsing by the beginner, but segmented enough for the specialist researcher and not falling into the usual school textbook cliches for the anthologies.