Because I Do Not Hope…

I’ve been thinking about this poem a lot lately… T.S. Eliot is one of my all-time favorite poets.  And, while I love The Waste Land, my favorites poems by him are “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and “Ash Wednesday.”

It’s “Ash Wednesday” that has been on my mind so much recently.  I can’t pinpoint exactly why, though have a few ideas on it that I won’t be sharing here.  In any case, the words are ringing in my ears and vibrating between my ribs.

(EDIT: …and apparently today is World Poetry Day, which I’m embarrassed to admit I did not know.  But I’m also highly amused that I managed to post a poem on World Poetry Day despite the fact that I DIDN’T know it.  So… Happy World Poetry Day!)

“Ash Wednesday” by T.S. Eliot

I

Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgment not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.

II

Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to satiety
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live? And that which had been contained
In the bones (which were already dry) said chirping:
Because of the goodness of this Lady
And because of her loveliness, and because
She honours the Virgin in meditation,
We shine with brightness. And I who am here dissembled
Proffer my deeds to oblivion, and my love
To the posterity of the desert and the fruit of the gourd.
It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject. The Lady is withdrawn
In a white gown, to contemplation, in a white gown.
Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness.
There is no life in them. As I am forgotten
And would be forgotten, so I would forget
Thus devoted, concentrated in purpose. And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen. And the bones sang chirping
With the burden of the grasshopper, saying

Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
Worried reposeful
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Terminate torment
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Is inconclusible
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.

Under a juniper-tree the bones sang, scattered and shining
We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other,
Under a tree in the cool of the day, with the blessing of sand,
Forgetting themselves and each other, united
In the quiet of the desert. This is the land which ye
Shall divide by lot. And neither division nor unity
Matters. This is the land. We have our inheritance.

III

At the first turning of the second stair
I turned and saw below
The same shape twisted on the banister
Under the vapour in the fetid air
Struggling with the devil of the stairs who wears
The deceitful face of hope and of despair.

At the second turning of the second stair
I left them twisting, turning below;
There were no more faces and the stair was dark,
Damp, jagged, like an old man’s mouth drivelling, beyond repair,
Or the toothed gullet of an aged shark.

At the first turning of the third stair
Was a slotted window bellied like the figs’s fruit
And beyond the hawthorn blossom and a pasture scene
The broadbacked figure drest in blue and green
Enchanted the maytime with an antique flute.
Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,
Lilac and brown hair;
Distraction, music of the flute, stops and steps of the mind over the third stair,
Fading, fading; strength beyond hope and despair
Climbing the third stair.

Lord, I am not worthy
Lord, I am not worthy

but speak the word only.

IV

Who walked between the violet and the violet
Who walked between
The various ranks of varied green
Going in white and blue, in Mary’s colour,
Talking of trivial things
In ignorance and knowledge of eternal dolour
Who moved among the others as they walked,
Who then made strong the fountains and made fresh the springs

Made cool the dry rock and made firm the sand
In blue of larkspur, blue of Mary’s colour,
Sovegna vos

Here are the years that walk between, bearing
Away the fiddles and the flutes, restoring
One who moves in the time between sleep and waking, wearing

White light folded, sheathing about her, folded.
The new years walk, restoring
Through a bright cloud of tears, the years, restoring
With a new verse the ancient rhyme. Redeem
The time. Redeem
The unread vision in the higher dream
While jewelled unicorns draw by the gilded hearse.

The silent sister veiled in white and blue
Between the yews, behind the garden god,
Whose flute is breathless, bent her head and signed but spoke no word

But the fountain sprang up and the bird sang down
Redeem the time, redeem the dream
The token of the word unheard, unspoken

Till the wind shake a thousand whispers from the yew

And after this our exile

V

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season, time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.

O my people.

VI

Although I do not hope to turn again
Although I do not hope
Although I do not hope to turn

Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
(Bless me father) though I do not wish to wish these things
From the wide window towards the granite shore
The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying
Unbroken wings

And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

This is the time of tension between dying and birth
The place of solitude where three dreams cross
Between blue rocks
But when the voices shaken from the yew-tree drift away
Let the other yew be shaken and reply.

Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

Happy Singles Awareness Day

Good evening folks.  Those of you who follow me on Twitter may know this already, but in case you hadn’t heard yet: I, with my infinite clumsiness, managed to fall on my wood stairs and break my nose on sunday.  *sigh*  Yeah… Spent a few hours in the emergency room, only to be told by the doctor that there wasn’t much to be done except apply ice and take lots of pain medication.

As you might be able to imagine, I spent most of today trying to rest, while also trying to get some homework done.  I didn’t really have the energy to write much for the blog today, but I just saw this, and HAD to share it with you.

It’s a poem by the awesome social media guru Kristen Lamb, written ‘specially for all the single people who dread Valentine’s Day.  Let me tell you how much I enjoy Valentine’s Day: I’m single, have been for a few years, I traditionally wear black on Valentine’s Day just to be obnoxious, and this year I have a broken nose and two black eyes. Oh Joy.  So, yeah, this poem: brilliant.

Enjoy. And then go check out Kristen Lamb’s original post: here.

Twas the Night Before Valentines…by Kristen Lamb

Twas the night before Valentines, and all through the land

The poor single people were wringing their hands

Handcuffs were hung by the nighties with care

Near the lotions and chocolates and mint underwear.

A day made by Hallmark to sell lots of stuff

Pushing candies and kittens and kisses and fluff

A day that makes “Single” a social disease

Like bubonic or typhoid or chiggers or fleas

And that fat baby Cupid must be on the take

Paid in buckets of cash and red velvet cake.

Love songs are played on every damn station

As “mush” takes over our entire nation.

Now not that we’re jaded, us single-type folk

We’ve tried Facebook and Match, and Equally-Yoked

We’ve tried parks and clubs and churches and bars

And a handful resorted to wishing on stars.

Like most other people, we want company

Without drama or fighting or disharmony.

No Jerry Springer or Kardashian drama

We have no time for all of that trauma.

Maybe we’re picky, world-weary, or fussy

Because we won’t date any Joe Schmo or hussy.

We want someone good-looking, gentle and sweet.

Hey, just cuz we’re single doesn’t make us minced meat.

We don’t begrudge the romance of others

The passion of courtship, the heat between lovers.

Before you judge my singular state

Think back to the days when YOU had to date.

Tomorrow we’ll stand in the grocery store line

Behind the husband with a bottle of wine

And a “Get-Well” bouquet cuz he waited too late

To find the red roses to give to his mate.

Hallmark has trained you to scurry and dash

Into its stores with fistfuls of cash.

For stuffed little critters with a lap full of love

And boxes of chocolate morsels from Dove.

Singles won’t stand hours waiting to dine

On elf food with garnish and overpriced wine.

No chocolates with abnormal tropical middles

Or angst about thighs that may wiggle and jiggle.

No staying in bars desperately late

Trying to connect with a last-minute date.

So embrace your status and shout it out loud.

Yes, I am single! Single and Proud!

New Books Added to My TBR Pile

New Books Added to My TBR Pile

I got some new books in the mail today, that I ordered for Amazon.  Having a box of new books waiting for you on your doorstep at the end of a long day is one of these things that really lifts my spirits and makes me happy.  I never get tired of it.  And after a very long, brain-draining sort of day/week (and another such day awaiting me tomorrow), and after sitting in a traffic jam for 2 hrs, and not getting home until almost 8pm, and still needing to eat dinner, take a shower, etc etc etc…, it was REALLY nice to have these books waiting for me.  Here’s what I got:

I bought the Best New Poets 2011: 50 Poems from Emerging Writers because one of my friends and fellow graduate students is featured in it.  If you’re curious, her name is Janine Joseph, her poem featured in the anthology is called “Wreck,” and she is completely awesome.  I plan to get her to sign the book.  I fully expect her to be a huge famous poet some day (or at least as famous as poets get nowadays — speaking of, it’s so strange that poets were once practically the “rock stars” of American culture, and now only other poets and English majors know who they are).

I bought a YA historical fiction called My Name Is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson, which I bought pretty much on a whim.  It’s about the treatment of Eskimo and Native American tribes and the children sent to “white” Catholic boarding schools to essentially be brainwashed.  This novel takes place mainly in the 1960s, but this kind of thing had been going on since at least the 1800s, and continued until late into the 1960s or early 1970s.  It sounds like a really fascinating book, on a subject area I don’t know a LOT about, but am very interested in.

Next: I FINALLY got around to ordering a book I’ve been meaning to buy for about a year now.  It’s called Kissing the Witch: Old Tales in New Skins, it’s by Emma Donoghue (now known as the author of Room), and it’s collection of re-imaginings of fairy tales (which, as I’ve mentioned a few times by now, I absolutely LOVE).  I cannot wait to sink my teeth into this book (possible literally… ^_^).

And last, I bought The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente.  I cannot tell you how many amazing reviews I’ve read of this book!  I cannot tell you how amazing this book sounds to me!  I also cannot tell you how hard it was to get a hold of.  I got a couple Barnes & Noble gift cards for Christmas, and planned to buy this book with one of those gift cards.  But I went to TWO Barnes & Noble bookstores, and neither had this book.  So I finally just caved and ordered it on Amazon instead (yet another example of why brick and mortar bookstores are going to continue to suffer despite my own willingness to continue supporting them).  I absolutely cannot WAIT to read this book (though I will probably HAVE to wait, at least a month of two).

The Literalists of the Imagination

Saturday is the last day of April, which makes this my last National Poetry Month-themed post.  So, here are a couple poems about poetry.  It’s always fascinating to see how many poets write poems that examine, discuss, and sometimes defend the art and impulse of writing poetry.

“Poetry” – Marianne Moore 

I, too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond 

all this fiddle. 

Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one 

discovers in 

it after all, a place for the genuine. 

Hands that can grasp, eyes 

that can dilate, hair that can rise 

if it must, these things are important not because a 

/ 

high-sounding interpretation can be put upon them but because 

they are 

useful. When they become so derivative as to become 

unintelligible, 

the same thing may be said for all of us, that we 

do not admire what 

we cannot understand: the bat 

holding on upside down or in quest of something to 

/ 

eat, elephants pushing, a wild horse taking a roll, a tireless 

wolf under 

a tree, the immovable critic twitching his skin like a horse 

that feels a flea, the base- 

ball fan, the statistician– 

nor is it valid 

to discriminate against “business documents and 

/ 

school-books”; all these phenomena are important. One must make 

a distinction 

however: when dragged into prominence by half poets, the 

result is not poetry, 

nor till the poets among us can be 

“literalists of 

the imagination”–above 

insolence and triviality and can present 

/ 

for inspection, “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,” 

shall we have 

it. In the meantime, if you demand on the one hand, 

the raw material of poetry in 

all its rawness and 

that which is on the other hand 

genuine, you are interested in poetry.

/

“Anyone Can Write a Poem” – Bradley Paul 

I am arguing with an idiot online. 

He says anybody can write a poem. 

I say some people are afraid to speak.

I say some people are ashamed to speak. 

If they said the pronoun “I” 

they would find themselves floating 

in the black Atlantic 

and a woman would swim by, completely 

dry, in a rose chiffon shirt, 

until the ashamed person says her name

and the woman becomes wet and drowns 

and her face turns to flayed ragged pulp, 

white in the black water. 

He says that he’d still write 

even if someone cut off both his hands. 

As if it were the hands that make a poem, 

I say. I say what if someone cut out 

whatever brain or gut or loin or heart 

that lets you say hey, over here, listen, 

I have something to tell you all, 

I’m different. 

As an example I mention my mother 

who loved that I write poems

and am such a wonderful genius. 

And then I delete the comment 

because my mother wanted no part of this or any 

argument, because “Who am I 

to say whatever?” 

Once on a grade school form 

I entered her job as hairwasher. 

She saw the form and was embarrassed and mad. 

“You should have put receptionist.” 

But she didn’t change it. 

The last word she ever said was No. 

And now here she is in my poem, 

so proud of her idiot son, 

who presumes to speak for a woman 

who wants to tell him to shut up, but can’t.

/

And now, to wrap up the week and the month, here are a few interesting links worth taking a look at.  A few are related to poetry, a few are about writing in general.

Charles Bernstein’s “Against National Poetry Month As Such”

“Forgetting the Words” from the blog Cross-Ties by xties

“Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me That Writing Your First Novel is Terrifying?” from Occupation: Writer by carrie m

“Book Review of Giveaway: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” from Jess Witkin’s Happiness Project

One final note: I will most likely not have internet access next week, so I can’t promise that I’ll be able to get my scheduled posts up.  On top of that, next wed I’m going to an Arcade Fire concert, and next fri is my birthday.  So even if I get a hold of wifi, I might not get posts up in time.  Just to warn you…

Angels, Love, and Old Men: A Quick Review of ‘Heavy Lead Birdsong’

In honor of National Poetry Month, I have tried to offer readers a few options for poetry that I believe is worth reading.  Obviously, this is a very subjective kind of thing, but I have tried to suggest poets who I admire, who are interesting and touching, and who may be somewhat accessible for the general reader who is perhaps not ready or not interested in more complex, dense poetry.

The poets I have mentioned so far (Stephen Vincent Benet, Adrienne Rich, and Hugo Williams, along with a couple others in passing) are all older, established, well-known, well-loved poets.  However, today I would like to suggest one of the U.S.’s new poets – a poet who will, I believe, one day be as well-known and well-loved as the others I’ve discussed.

His name is Ryler Dustin, and his book of poetry, published in 2008, is Heavy Lead Birdsong.

In favor of full disclosure, I should tell you that I know Ryler.  He is a student in the MFA Creative Writing program at University of Houston, where I was in the MA Literature program (and will soon be in the PhD program).  We have taken a few classes together, and know each other enough to say ‘hi’ in hallways and on facebook occasionally, but we are not, strictly speaking, “friends.”  Nor did Ryler ask me to promote his book in anyway (I don’t think I ever even told him I BOUGHT his book).  Therefore, this recommendation is based purely on my belief that Ryler Dustin is a fantastic poet who is worthy of your attention.

Heavy Lead Birdsong is about many things – love, family, religion, death, desperation, the things we leave behind and the things we hope to leave behind when we’re gone, art and beauty.  It is at its essence a song cycle to life – every part of it, the beautiful and the ugly.  Ryler moves effortlessly from the joyous, to the elegiac, to the whimsical, to the hilarious, and back again.  He manages to speak from his specific life experiences, while simultaneously speaking from a place that is recognizable (sometimes painfully so) to everyone.

The poems of this collection contain deep, often heavy, layered metaphors.  Yet the overall effect of these poems is one of openness, straight-forwardness, and clarity.  Ryler does not try to obfuscate or over-complicate.  He does not simplify what is rightly complex, but neither does he turn the simple things into a tangle of dense, cerebral language games.

I am not stating it too strongly to say that Ryler is one of those poets I wish to God I could be – he speaks of things that I feel, that I too have experienced, but he relates them in ways I could never hope to.

I think providing a few examples from the collection may be the best way to win you over, however.  So I’m going to hand the rest of this blog over to Ryler’s poetry.  Two of my favorite poems from this collection are too long to quote in full here, unfortunately.  “Blackbirds” is about angels; the narrator states:

“If I ever decided to believe in angels,

I’d believe in street wanderers

watching us from alleyways

and the sides of greasy dumpsters,

They’d communicate with each other

through the curling graffiti

that most of us assume is the work of some gang

They’d be fighting with shadows like schizophrenics.

They’d be sending us desperate blessings

from barrel-fire séances…”

And in “My Old Man,” the narrator tries to keep control of the old man ‘love’ that’s inside him:

“I took away his typewriter because the keys

     kept me up all night.

But now he scratches poems on the inside of my tongue.

     I don’t know how he gets up there.

He writes poems to strangers

     just to fuck with me.

He’s more like a leprechaun than a cupid.

     He falls in love with buildings.

     He falls in love with what people leave behind them:

         new hairpins and old architecture and apple cores.

     He hoards apples in my chest

         and now my chest is full of apples.

                My chest is growing into a tree…”

Finally, here is one whole poem for you.  The second-to-last poem in the collection, and one of several “birdsong” poems.

“Oak and Sunlight Birdsong”

When they cut me open,

they’ll find whole novels I swallowed too fast

so I could go back to playing video games.

They’ll find too many mirrors,

some filled with my face,

some with the reflections of strange birds,

most of them filled with the faces of girls

who have deep circles under their eyes.

/

Maybe because of my mother, overworked women

have always looked beautiful to me.

/

Inside the back bedroom of my spine,

they’ll find a lopsided movie projector

replaying a game of tag in a trailer park.

/

In my skull they’ll find a chair

by a sunlit window

and a bottle of spilt win

pooling like a black eye.

/

They’ll find a field beyond the window

and a book left fluttering on the sill.

/

They’ll never know if I left before finishing it,

or if I was just going back,

reading over all the parts in the story I loved.

It’s probably obvious by now that these are not the kinds of reviews you’d find in a literary journal, or even in a newspaper.  For one thing, in keeping with the brevity preferred in blogging, these “reviews” aren’t really long enough to do the books justice.  Second, I have tried to avoid all the usual sorts of philosophical and literary theory lingo one usually finds in a review, particularly because this blog is not really meant for an academic audience.  So, I worry that as “reviews” these posts have been somewhat useless.  However, I hope that my personal appreciation for these poets, and the inclusion of some of the poems from the collections, have done you some good.  In the end, I’m not trying to offer a critique, I am merely hoping more people will read the poets I love.

I hope this leads at least some of you to go and buy this book and support a young, new, hopeful, struggling poet who really deserves the chance.

“All Those Moments That Haunt Us”

Today, I would like to offer up one more of my own poems for your perusal.  I think this will be the last poem of my own that I post, at least for now.  I said at the beginning that I had 4 poems published a few years ago by my undergraduate fine arts journal.  I’ve decided that I would only post those poems because I have hopes on having a few of my others published in the future as well and many publications consider blog-posts as being “previously published” and therefore disqualified.  I know, some of you are saying, “but this will only make #3.  Where’s #4?”  Well, over the last couple years I’ve realized that #4 was NOT in fact ready for publication, and I sometimes wonder how it did get published in the journal.  So I’m not going to post that one.  Sorry.

That being said, this third and last poem of my own is definitely my favorite of the 4 that were published.  I’m very proud of this poem.  It was written in 2008.  I’ve actually written two different versions of this “story” – once in this poem, and once in an odd memoir-ish short prose piece (which uses much of the same imagery but also adds a lot in the way of context and explanation).  I may, at some point, post that as well if people are interested.  In the mean time, please enjoy this last poem and feel free to tell me what you think.  I enjoy feedback, even if its less-than-glowing feedback.

"North Bridge Night" by Fergus Ray Murray (CC)

“All Those Moments That Haunt Us”

–  for my brother

It’s midnight and we’re walking again.

The mottled clouds are flowering

into petals etched with gray and black;

the dark sky is showering us in

shards of glass that slice your skin

and pound heavy on my bowing back.

/

Like hunters, we are stalking –

(sleep is an elusive thing we chase to our beds) –

denying to ourselves that memory chases us instead.

/

So we stroll down the side of the road.

We wave at cars passing by.

We talk and laugh and sing and wonder why

our voices come back to us from the

darkness – bouncing off invisible walls.

/

I’m content with this:

my hands stuffed low in jean pockets,

my long stride, the dark pressed against my side

to hold some things in, to keep others out.

But you are always hungry;

you cannot silence your ravenous shout.

/

You are eating the green glow, red glare,

of stoplights; drinking up the sounds

of sirens; swallowing rain-hung trees

and chunks of pavement whole –

trying to feed your starved, distended soul.

/

The boundaries of your skin are splitting,

and I want to wrap you in white ribbon,

force the calm back into your bones, beg you

to understand that exploding does no good.

/

You should know, you’ve exploded before –

often enough to have learned to ignore

the building pressure within your bones and veins.

You’ll learn, I whisper, you’ll learn to keep still.

But you stare at me, and refuse to believe

I have ever known that slow burn, that restless chill –

that electric-organ screeching high-high C

in your arctic, tv-static brain.

/

So I turn the pressure valve loose by singing:

laughing, you join in and the steam is releasing,

you’re drowning out the screeching in your head,

gathering up your flayed and worn-out skin,

and screaming at the empty sky instead.

/

But what of all those moments that haunt us?

No amount of singing or screaming ever

chases them away – those beer-bottle ghosts

wreathed in cigarette smoke, those moments

filled with the thunder of clenching throats

and the pounding clamor of a mother’s tears.

/

What are we to make of them, my brother?

What are we to do with all that silent pain?

Awake, asleep, or dreaming, they chase us.

And we run.  Every night.  At midnight.  In the rain.


Quick Personal Update: My demon hunter WIP is still in progress.  It’s going slower than I had hoped, but any progress is better than none.  I’ve just finished Ch. 24 and I think I need 4-5 more chapters to reach the end (I hope).  In other news, I have officially accepted a Doctoral Teaching Fellowship at University of Houston, where I will begin my course work for a PhD in American Postmodern Literature in the Fall, while teaching Freshman Composition classes, as I did while working on my Master’s.  Right now, I’m The Master.  In five years’ time, I’ll expect people to start calling me The Doctor.  Just to warn you. :D  Finally, my birthday is two weeks from today, in case anyone wants to get me a present… (j/k, I swear!)

Also, Happy Easter to those who celebrate.  And to those who don’t: have a lovely weekend!

That’s all folks.

A Poetry Review: Billy’s Rain by Hugo Williams

Today, I have another suggestion for those interested in finding some new poets to read.  This time I’m talking about Billy’s Rain, a volume of poetry by British poet Hugo Williams.

Hugo Williams is one of those poets who is well-respected in England but is, sadly, not well known in the U.S.  I was introduced to him in a graduate-level course on Confessional and Post-Confessional Poetry, and I do not know much about him except what is written on Wikipedia (yes, I’m addicted to that site).  However, it is not necessary to know anything about him to understand why Billy’s Rain (1999), his 10th poetry publication, is so popular.

Billy’s Rain charts the course of a love affair, as remembered by the narrator after the fact, from beginning to end, and beyond to all the moments that remind the narrator of what used to be.  These poems deftly traces the joys, obsessions, evasions, surprises, unspoken lies, secret languages, and tiny telling moments of the relationship with tenderness, honesty, irony, and humor.  As William Scammel from Independent on Sunday states: “The charm lies in… the way a whole world is evoked – and lightly judged – by means of spotlit details… Nobody is more deft at summing up a world in a few glances” (from book back flap).  The first poem, “Silver Paper Men” begins to paint this world of “rudimentary gardens,” bridges and balustrades, and flowers that say “all there is to say about love / in their shiny black world.”  And the image of the world is continually built upon with a layering of details within each poem.

Billy’s Rain won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 1999.  I would also add that this volume is short, even for a poetry collection (only 54 pages), and the poems are straight-forward in a way that I think will appeal to those who are interested in reading poetry but do not have the time or patience to muddle through the more complicated, dense kinds of poetry.  This collection is, in short, accessible for the general reader – I believe.

The readers witness the first meeting of the lovers in “Sealink”:

On the boat, we foot passengers

were shuffled like a pack of cards

and thrown down in new combinations

all over the half-empty, off-season decks.

Children bumped into one another.

Parents looked for somewhere quite to sit

away from the video games.

Young couples ate enormous, nervous meals,

while single people roamed back and forth

between the restaurant and Duty Free.

/

As land came into sight, one asked another

‘Do you know the way back to the coach?

I think it’s on Whale Deck.’

A conversation begins with ‘May I sit

next to you? God it’s hot in here!

Do you mind if I open this window?’

We take off our coats, settle back, peel oranges.

Shall we speak in English or French?

Are we going on holiday? Or home?

Do we mind knowing each other’s name?

/

The moment when the relationship is irrevocably ended in “Nothing Stinted”:

We have taken up our positions

over a complicated board game

of coffee, cigarettes, wine

(nothing stinted for the occasion)

while she tells me with a certain sadness

how she’s got ‘muddled up’ with her boss.

/

I come out of my corner laughing, likeable,

full of stories about my trip.

I refill her glass for her.

Feigning concern for her welfare

and knowing her openness on the subject,

I ask about birth control.

What method are they using?

Are they being careful?

/

She leans towards me across the table.

‘Remember you used to tell me

men would always treat me badly if I let them?

Well, he doesn’t.  He treats me well.

You don’t have to worry about that.’

/

And it finally ends with the memories that continue to linger, long after the affair is over, in “Balcony Scene”:

The street light shorting on and off,

casting a balcony on my bedroom wall.

I seem to have wired it up

to my thoughts of you, your first-floor studio,

the ladder to your bed, car lights overhead.

/

I was climbing the ladder one night

when I caught the eye of a man

going past on the top of a bus

and for one moment became him

as he turned to look back at us.

I feel asleep after that, never dreaming

I would give it a second thought.

/

I see his face now, passing my window,

as I draw the curtains for the night,

the street light shorting on and off,

somehow refusing to blow.

I hope you have enjoyed these few short poems included here.  And if they appealed to you at all, I highly recommend taking a look at the whole collection.  And please, let me know what you think.