Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Tuesday Poem: Written in the Churchyard at Middleton in Sussex

Written in the Churchyard at Middleton in Sussex

Pressed by the moon, mute arbitress of tides,
While the loud equinox its power combines,
The sea no more its swelling surge confines,
But o'er the shrinking land sublimely rides.
The wild blast, rising from the western cave,
Drives the huge billows from their heaving bed,
Tears from their grassy tombs the village dead,
And breaks the silent sabbath of the grave!
With shells and sea-weed mingled, on the shore
Lo! their bones whiten in the frequent wave;
But vain to them the winds and waters rave;
They hear the warring elements no more;
While I am doomed - by life's long storm oppressed,
To gaze with envy on their gloomy rest.

- Charlotte Smith ((1749 - 1806)

I have been reading a small book, "101 Sonnets from Shakespeare to Heaney" edited by Don Paterson and published by Faber and Faber. It has been a revelation - there is a very interesting introduction which discusses that old question "what is a sonnet?" (the answer - it has fourteen lines - probably) and goes on to explain why the sonnet in particular is a perfect shape to contain human thought.

This is followed by the sonnets, from 101 different poets, many familiar, but others new to me. One of these is Charlotte Smith. Years back when I studied poetry at high school, it didn't occur to me that we were not taught any female poets. If pressed, I could have named Christina Rosetti ("Goblin Market") and Elizabeth Barrett Browning ("Sonnets from the Portuguese") and if I thought even harder, I might have remembered Eileen Duggan, whose poem "The Kingfisher" was thought suitable for primary school children - but that was it, against the dozens and dozens of male poets that were taught to us or at least mentioned.

There are of course many contemporary women poets - and I've gradually become aware of earlier ones - Emily Dickinson, Margaret Cavendish, Anne Bradstreet, Amy Lowell and others - but hadn't come across Charlotte Smith before picking up this book. The sonnet form became highly popular in England during the Elizabethan period, but then fell into disregard. It was largely due to Charlotte Smith that it became popular again among Romantic poets such as Wordsworth. For this, she deserves to be much better known.



Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tuesday Poem: from Kitchen Sonnets

Kitchen Sonnets 3

Sometimes I feel ten years old, watching you
in the kitchen. You are mixing mash for the hens.
I will feed them, gather the eggs, carry them
carefully into the house. Did you ever wonder
how eggs in the nest bear the warm weight
of the hen and do not break? Here I am now,
older than you ever were. I don’t feel wise,
but astonished to have arrived in this body.
Every year there is more I do not know.
There is so much I would still ask you, but
you would not know the answers, even if you could speak.
I am the child who has run ahead on the path.
I glance over my shoulder, you are no longer there.
I am as strong as eggshells, and ready to break open.

**********

Since Mother's Day has just passed, I decided to repost this which is one of three "Kitchen sonnets" first published in Takahe magazine and later in Flap: the Chookbook 2. My mother died fairly young, and I have been older than she was for several years now. So this is posted in her memory.

For more Tuesday Poems visit the main hub site.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Tuesday Poem: The Poker Players

The Poker Players

A cold wind has passed
down the street on horseback,
shooting up the town,
lashing his whip.
The poker players have made
their declaration: “I’m out”
and flung down their hands
of various golden suits.
Leaves lie in drifts - the spade-like poplars,
lobed maples, and willow
pointed like diamonds.
The players stand about the saloon
grey and gaunt,
against a background of imperturbable green.
Kowhai, manuka, ake ake;
the natives are still in the game.
They are keeping their cards close to their chests.

- Catherine Fitchett


*******

It seemed a good time to post something seasonal. This is also fitting because I have been playing cards a lot over the past year - bridge, not poker. New Zealand native plants - of which three are named in the poem - are mostly evergreen (not just the conifers), as opposed to the imported English varieties common in Christchurch, such as willows, oaks, chestnuts and poplars. "The Poker Players" was first published in the Christchurch Press and also appears in Flap: The Chookbook 2.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Tuesday Poem: A Brief for the Defense, by Jack Gilbert

I came across Jack Gilbert's poem "A Brief for the Defense" a few days ago, after finding a reference to it in an interview with Jack Gilbert posted at the Poetry Daily website.
A google search revealed a few Youtube videos, but none of them turned out to be the author reading it, and I didn't like the rather overwrought voice of the young woman in one of them - so rather than embed the video, I am just posting the link to the text.

The central message of the poem "we must risk delight" is a powerful reminder, at a time when we seem to be surrounded by bad news in Christchurch - more and more buildings that will have to be demolished, a growing housing crisis, lack of progress on insurance issues, and so on. All of which pales into insignificance compared with problems elsewhere in the world. Gilbert's poem addresses all this very powerfully.

I am aware that asking readers to click links to another site risks losing attention on the internet - but click the link anyway, the poem is worth it.