Friday, July 20, 2018

Andrew Motion / A book that changed me

Seamus Heaney by Antonio Olmos
Andrew Motion
A book that changed me

Door into the Dark opened the portals to a different future




‘I have only to see Door into the Dark sitting on my bookshelves to remember the feeling that a locked-up door in my life had suddenly swung open,’ says Andrew Motion


How the ‘slap and squelch’ of Seamus Heaney’s poems propelled me into verse

Andrew Motion
Sun 17 Aug 2014


W
hen I was a child, there were two books of poetry in the whirligig at home: a collected Tennyson that had once been given to my great-grandmother by my great-grandfather, and a Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke which my mother had won as a school prize. Nobody read them. Nobody read anything much. They preferred the life outdoors. Then I began doing English A-level, and was taught for the first time by Peter Way, who walked straight into my head and turned the lights on. Within a few weeks my old life seemed to have fallen away (though not the subjects it contained), and all I wanted to do was to write and read poems.

My parents were bemused, but Mr Way was pleased and began lending me books of his own: Wordsworth, Hardy, Edward Thomas, Larkin. One day, standing by his desk to return whatever it was I’d borrowed that week, I noticed at his elbow a copy of Door into the Dark by someone I’d never heard of before – Seamus Heaney. Noticed because I wasn’t sure how you pronounced “Seamus”, because the title was so alluring, and because the lettering on the jacket was very beautiful.
“What’s that, sir?”
“It’s just come out.” (This would have been the winter of 1969.) “It’s his second book.”
I wanted to borrow it, but I couldn’t; Mr Way was still reading it. So next weekend I biked into Oxford and bought a copy in Blackwell’s. I already owned a few Penguin poetry collections (Robert Graves, e e cummings, Baudelaire: I had no plan to my reading, I was just gobbling at random), but this was the first book of proper contemporary poetry. It felt like a significant moment. And …
In later life we can still sometimes sense the top of our head ripping open when we find a new book to love. But not much compares to the sheer amazement, delight, shock, recognition we felt at such moments in the earlier part of our lives. Today I have only to see that same copy of Door into the Dark sitting on my bookshelves to remember the feeling that a locked-up door in my life had suddenly swung open, and a different future was possible.
And, paradoxically, all the more so because as well as feeling absolutely surprising, the book was full of things I recognised – even though the rural East Anglia of my childhood was a far cry from rural County Derry, and my stage in life was very different from Heaney’s. When I read about the “Green froth that lathered each end / Of the shining bit”, I saw the horses in the stable yard at home; when I came to the “billhook / Whose head was hand-forged and heavy”, I was clearing undergrowth with my dad; when I swam through A Lough Neagh Sequence, I was back fishing again in the rivers and loughs I’d known in my childhood.
In other words, the book made me feel adventurous and rooted at the same time. Of course I missed important things – including and especially a lot of the politics and religion, which I picked up later in poems like In Gallarus Oratory and Requiem for the Croppies. But I’d heard the principal melody of things, or so I felt, and it’s not an exaggeration to say I fell in love with it.
Since then, I’ve read better books of poems, including better books by Heaney, but no other collection has touched me like this one. The squelch and slap of the writing; the beautiful interplay of vowels and consonants (which carried Heaney’s voice into my ear long before I ever heard him speak); the connections between past and present (always cleverly done, but with no smartassery); the narrative anecdotes (in The Wife’s Tale, for instance), as gripping as a short story; the warmth of the heart at work.
Inevitably, I suppose, I wanted to contact the man who had made me feel like this – just to thank him. So I wrote him a fan letter. I shudder now to think what it must have said, and even at the time it didn’t seem strange that I never had an answer. But I was undaunted.
Early in the spring of the following year, I noticed that Heaney and Ted Hughes (whom I had also got pretty keen on) were due to read some poems by Wordsworth (ditto) at an event at the Poetry Society in London – I think it must have been to celebrate the bicentenary of Wordsworth’s birth.
Off I went to listen, and found myself in an audience about 25-strong. Imagine. At the end I took up my copy of Door into the Dark for Heaney to sign. I must have told him about the unanswered missive, because in black biro on the title page he wrote “Seamus Heaney to Andrew Motion – instead of a letter – with thanks 7th April 1970.” I carried it home like a trophy. Actually no, not at all like a trophy – or only when I showed it to Mr Way. Like treasure.




Tuesday, July 17, 2018

My other life: Don Paterson

Don Paterson
‘I could see myself as the dog-collared focus of a vast, rapt stadium.’
Photograph: David Sillitoe


My other life: Don Paterson

The poet reveals his boyhood dream: to be a preacher

Don Paterson
Sunday 20 December 2009


I
was a small, fat boy in a kilt with, as I saw it, limited career options. Something in show business seemed about right. Half-human, half-traybake I may have been, but I was still keen to impress. My opportunities were few and my models fewer, but I had Sunday school, and my grandfather. He was a minister in the United Free Church of Scotland. Standing up and telling everyone how to behave seemed like a grand job. And – how cool is this – they had to call you Reverend. So I taught myself to recite the names of all the books of the Bible. The old dears who read us boring stories in the windy North Halls found this trick devastatingly precocious and declared me a shoo-in for the ministry.

Figuring that the speed of my delivery would be directly proportional to its impact, I got faster and faster, and trained with a stopwatch. I could see myself as the dog-collared focus of a vast, rapt stadium, where I'd rattle the books off so fast the big ladies would swoon at the miracle of it.
Alas, this turned out to be much less impressive than I'd hoped, especially to women, though it took me several years to accept the fact. I should say that, blissfully, God figured nowhere in this, even as an afterthought.
Don Paterson's latest collection, Rain, winner of the 2009 Forward prize for poetry, is published by Faber



Monday, July 16, 2018

Ketty Lester / When a Woman Loves a Man

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eCNcFQS_Rew
Gwyneth Paltrow and Vigo Mortensen
A Perfect Murder by Andrew Davis
1998

Ketty Lester 

When a Woman Loves a Man
by Andrew James Wright and Calvin Houston Lewis


When a woman loves a man, she can't keep his mind on nothing else
Shee'll trade the world for the good thing she's found
If he is bad, she can't see it, he can do no wrong
Turn his back on his best friend if she put her down

When a woman loves a man, spend his very last dime
Tryin' to hold on to what she needs
She'd give up all his comforts, sleep out in the rain
If he said that's the way it ought to be

Well, this woman loves a man
I gave you everything I had
Tryin' to hold on to your high class love
Baby, please don't treat me bad

When a woman loves a man, down deep in his soul
He can bring her such misery
If he plays her for a fool, she's the last one to know
Lovin' eyes can't ever see

When a woman loves a man, she can do him no wrong
She can never own some other boy
Yes, when a woman loves a man I know exactly how he feels
'Cause baby, baby, baby, you're my world


Ketty Lester - When a Woman Loves a Man
Movie Scenes - A Perfect Murder, a 1998 film (MC for Warner Bros.) directed by Andrew Davis and starring Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow and Viggo Mortensen.
Album - Greatest Hits, released in 20133 on Master Classics Records.

___Ketty Lester is an American singer and television actress who is probably best recalled for her 1962 hit single "Love Letters" which reached into the Top 5 of the music charts in both the United States and the United Kingdom. Born Revoyda Friederson in Hope, Arkansas, Lester began her singing career after studying music at San Francisco State College and performing in the city's Purple Onion club in the early 1950s.

__The song"When A Man Loves A Woman" was written by Andrew James Wright and Calvin Houston Lewis.







Sunday, July 15, 2018

My other life / Andrew Motion



Andrew Motion

My other life: Andrew Motion


Writers reveal their fantasy careers


Andrew Motion
Sunday 19 April 2009

If I wasn't a writer? A doctor, of course. Keats in reverse. And for the same reasons that Keats was keen to remind us Apollo was the god of medicine as well as poetry. Poetry heals us because its challenges, consolations, comforts and commendations help to make us whole; medicine cures us with surgery and pills and therapies. If poetry were to leave me, or had never come in the first place, there would be no alternative.
What kind of doctor, though? I don't know how squeamish I am because I've never tested it; I suspect elements of my country childhood, skinning rabbits and whatnot, may stand me in good stead. So maybe a surgeon wouldn't be out of the question. I'd certainly be interested in the hi-tech end of things.
On the other hand, perhaps it would be better to be a GP. That way, I might feel more in the swim of ordinary life. If I could see, in the eyes of my patients, the gleam of gratitude I've often felt for my doctor when he's sorted me out, I'd be able to lie down at the end of the day feeling, in Keats's phrase, I'd chosen a path which allowed me to "[do] the world some good".
 Andrew Motion is the poet laureate






Saturday, July 14, 2018

Ted Hughes / The Unauthorised Life by Jonathan Bate review / Sex and self‑deception


Ted Hughes with Sylvia Plath in 1958

BOOK OF THE DAY

Ted Hughes: The Unauthorised Life by Jonathan Bate review – sex and self‑deception

He had ‘sex as strong as it comes’, Sylvia Plath said, and there’s plenty of bed-hopping, as well as torment, in this scrupulous and lucid biography

John Mullan
Friday 9 October 2015


A
s Jonathan Bate acknowledges in the last chapter of his biography of Ted Hughes, the poet liked to say that literary biographers were “vampiric”, and that famous authors should act together to frustrate their researches. But Hughes did not follow his own doctrine. He took care to preserve thousands of his manuscripts, including journals and letters. Some he sold to Coca-Cola-endowed Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, whose plentiful funds helped make his last years affluent. Many others he left to the British Library, a rich trove for a biographer. He can hardly have wanted them left unread.
The main service that Bate has done is to read this huge mass of material with a scholar’s ability to date and arrange it. His biography is a first report on what lies in wait in the archive. It is, however, a report that has been hindered and constrained. As has been widely reported, he began his work on a “literary life” with the support of the Ted Hughes estate, controlled by the poet’s widow Carol. Late in the day this support was withdrawn: evidently, his researches were not purely “literary” enough. Permission for any substantial quotation from Hughes’s writing was also withdrawn, and Bate’s Unauthorised Life has to grapple with this ban.
Carol Hughes had, of course, a strong reason for scorning the curiosity of literary investigators. To some he is always “Her husband”, the man who deserted Sylvia Plath, and the man to blame for her suicide in February 1963. Some feminists demonised him. Public fascination with his relationship with Plath, and its influence on her extraordinary, utterly disquieting, poetry seemed unstaunchable. Bate’s biography makes clear that it was a fascination that Hughes himself shared.


Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath

When they met, Plath was a sophisticated and sexually experienced young woman – when she first called on Hughes in London she was en route to see a lover in Paris – but this was something else. Ted had “sex as strong as it comes”, she said. Three months after first going to bed together they were married. Hughes was in his mid-20s: he had done national service before going to the University of Cambridge and, after graduating, had oscillated back and forth between London (where he had casual jobs) and Cambridge (where he found his girlfriends). He was set on being a poet.
In their first years together Plath was his manager as well as his wife. It was she who collected his poems and found a competition for which they could be entered (and which they won), she who persuaded Faber to publish The Hawk in the Rain, she who found university teaching posts in the US. His second volume, Lupercal, published in 1960, made him a poetic star – even the society magazine Queen celebrated him. Reviewers rhapsodised. TS Eliotinvited him to dinner. The happy writing couple started a family and bought their writers’ house in Devon.
But then the other lovers came along. First, Assia Wevill, who would also eventually kill herself, along with the daughter that she had by Hughes. Then Susan Alliston, a secretary at Faber. Hughes was in bed with her the night that Plath died. It is impossible not to think, as he later often did, of that phone ringing and ringing in his empty flat, as his desperate wife tried to pull him back. Bate does his best to tell it from Hughes’s point of view: he had not deserted Plath but was still seeing her almost daily. We do not have to blame him for her madness to recognise the selfishness with which he gave himself up to his passing passions. He later told one of the other two lovers with whom Wevill had to share him that “he no longer wanted to be dependent on one woman; he felt it was weakening and suffocating him”. In her will, Wevill left Hughes only “my no doubt welcome absence and my bitter contempt”. From the journal entries that Bate quotes, it is clear that she thought Hughes still in the grip of his dead wife.
Ted Hughes trout fishing at Wistland Pound, Devon, in 1986. In later years fishing took over from sex as his ruling passion.
Photograph by Nick Rogers



Some of his women despair; others know they have to put up with it. A few days after marrying Carol Orchard, he is making love to old flame Brenda Hedden. When he leaves his wife in Britain for a trip to the Adelaide poetry festival, he is soon in bed with the alluring press officer, then another woman who interviews him, then a rather interesting Australian poet. Surely no reviewer will resist quoting Bate’s plea on behalf of his tormented author: “his infidelity in later relationships was partly a function of his fidelity to the memory of Sylvia”. He is, apparently, the jaguar of his famous poem. “After the end of his first marriage, never again would he allow himself to be fully caged.” Names are named, but the overall range of Hughes’s love life remains to be guessed at. I say “love life” because Hughes was not some heartless sensualist. Au contraire: the problem seems to have been that he was pursuing some God-bestowed drive – what Wevill called “the animal thing between us”. The poet’s self-mythologising sanctioned the harm he did to others. In his journal he wrote: “3 beautiful women – all in love, and a separate life of joy visible with each, all possessed – but own soul lost”.
And what about his poetry? After Plath’s death, her star rose and his slowly waned. With each new volume, we find Bate flinching from Hughes’s portentous mytho-poetic phrasing. He puts little faith in Hughes’s magnum opus, Crow, which is “all too parodiable”. Yet, very near the end of his life, Hughes turned the tables on the sceptics. First, there was the rivetingly confessional Birthday Letters, “the fastest-selling volume of verse in the history of English poetry”. Then there was the visceral Tales from Ovid, reminding former fans of his early days and gripping many a teenage reader. Hughes had his own imaginative world, into which he forced what he saw and what he read. He brilliantly turns Ovid’s witty and elegant modernisations of myth back into the dark stuff of his own primal imaginings – into Ted Hughes poems, in other words.
Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath in Concord in December 1959

The near-ban on quotation has radically limited Bate’s poetic analysis. More disablingly, he can give us only small fragments of the sheaves of Hughes’s letters and journals and jottings in which he has immersed himself. Some letters have been published, but very many remain unknown. Bate thinks Hughes one of the greatest of literary letter and journal writers; his letters are compared to those of Keats. Like Coleridge, in his journals he was a dedicated and brilliantly sharp-eyed recorder of material that might or might not one day get hammered into poetry, and even the tiny pieces that Bate gives us glitter.
In the later years there were good deeds – support for the Arvon PoetryFoundation, campaigns to clean up Devon’s rivers – and much hobnobbing with Tory cabinet ministers and members of the royal family. At least Hughes had an excuse: the ruling classes gave him access to prime stretches of fishing river, and fishing had taken over from sex as his ruling passion. Yet Eros still held some sway: Bate tells us that in his late 60s there was a lover whom Hughes visited on his trips to London, and whom he was seeing when he was taken mortally ill. It is evident that Hughes carried on telling himself tales from myth about the desires that drove him. This scrupulous and lucid biography makes it all seem like muddle and self-deception, tormenting to himself and the many who loved him.



Thursday, July 12, 2018

Useless Magic / Lyrics and Poetry by Florence Welch / Review



BOOK OF THE DAY

Useless Magic: Lyrics and Poetry by Florence Welch – review

Pop’s high priestess bares her soul in this candid collection charting her transition from wild child to grownup

Emily Mackay
Tue 10 Jul 2018


Y
ou’d think, after four hugely successful albums, that Florence Welch would know her own voice. Yet the Florence + the Machinesinger’s first lyrics and poetry collection is all about learning to speak. “What would I say / If it was just me / Not full of choirs, singing fucking constantly,” asks Song, its tricksily named keynote poem.

It makes sense. “Force of nature” is a cliche that Welch’s powerful voice often inspires, but it has a grain of truth: a song, for her, is something that blows through her from elsewhere. “I am a conduit but totally oblivious to its wisdom,” she says in her preface.
That sense of sublime submission to external powers prevails in the manic lyrics of her debut album, Lungs – here intercut with paintings by Waterhouse and prints by Morris, and Biroed scrawls on Chateau Marmont notepaper – in which love is a cosmic cataclysm, a werewolf possession, a train hurtling towards you. Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) catches her quivering on the brink of global fame, “a rabbit-hearted girl / Frozen in the headlights”, sacrificing herself to a power that transforms her, only too aware that “it comes with a price”.




On her second album, Ceremonials, she’s reconciled herself to that bargain, and become a semi-mythical persona, a floaty-gowned high priestess of catharsis (unlike many of pop’s posh set, the endearingly unedgy Welch has never tried to look like anything other than a privately educated art-school dropout whose middle name is Leontine). Oceanic feeling overflows in the likes of What the Water Gave Me, named after the Frida Kahlo painting, and making reference to Virgina Woolf’s suicide in the line “pockets full of stones” (Welch’s literary references led her fans to form their own book club).
By the time of her more naked third album How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, she’s reined in the recklessness hinted at in Lungs’ Hurricane Drunk, and, on songs such as Ship to Wreck, is beginning to acknowledge that rather than being at the mercy of a vengeful sea, she may be the shipwright of her own self-destruction. Her most recent lyrics, on High As Hope, move even further from abstractions: instead of devils, demons, saints and stars, there is a frank admission in the opening lines of the lead single Hunger: “At 17, I started to starve myself / I thought that love was a kind of emptiness”.

Yet writing poems, Welch says, “has in many ways turned out even more exposing”. The first poem here, Song Continued, immediately begins to interrogate the difference. “This new voice, this ‘me’ voice / Is it conversational/ Confessional?” The poem debates which stories to give away, what face to present. Blackout-drunk tales for the addiction memoir age? An “aborted threesome”? She’s not entirely comfortable with these “muddy trinkets”, and mostly these poems find a more personal voice without trading revelations, continuing the movement towards the human scale charted in her lyrics. In Honeymoon, which makes reference to her song Shake It Out, she feels the shells of those she’s hurt rattling behind her like Marley’s chains. Catharsis, it seems, isn’t without collateral damage.
The new voice, in the end, emerges analytical, cooler, starker. Some of the final poems in the collection are entitled I Guess I Won’t Write Poetry and I Cannot Write About This, playing self-referentially with the strange, novel tone with a spare confidence.
Welch’s mother is a professor of Renaissance studies at King’s College London who worried about her daughter skipping university to focus on her musical career, lamenting “what a waste of a brain!” Both the lyrics and the poetry in Useless Magic validate Welch’s choice, offering a chance to appreciate on the bare stage of the blank page the fineness of her words. And like fellow poet-musician Nick Cave (thanked for “inspiration and encouragement” here), Welch has found a way for the song and the voice of the rabbit-hearted girl to coexist. As she says herself: “you can have everything”.
 Useless Magic: Lyrics and Poetry by Florence Welch is published by Fig Tree (£20).




Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Joss Stone / The Love We Had


Joss Stone


Joss Stone

 The Love We Had 

(Stays On My Mind) 



Lately baby, I've been thinking
How good it was when you were here
And it ain't the wine that I been drinking
For once I feel my head is clear
But early this morning, when I opened up my eyes
That old lonesome feeling took me by surprise
I guess you meant more to me than I realized
The love we had stays on my mind
The love we had stays on my mind
And lately girl, I've been remembering
The good times that we used to share
My thoughts of you don't have an ending
And memories of you are everywhere
But why should I tell you, it's not your concern
You win some, you lose some
Well I've lost and I've learned
It's just that I'm so lonely
With no place to turn
And here at the end, I find
Yes I do
The love we had stays on my mind
Girl, if you were nearer
If you had a mirror
Maybe you



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NiOMUIBkE5c



Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Andrew Motion / On how to write a love poem



Andrew Motion on how to write a love poem

Penning poetry for the one you love? Here are five basic rules by Britain’s former poet laureate

Andrew Motion
Wed 11 Feb 2016



T
raditionally, love poems were written in sonnet form, but they don’t have to be. Find the form that suits what you are going to say. It could be a haiku or even a limerick. Be true, be forthright, and don’t get caught up in other people’s ideas of what being in love is like, or some inherited ideal of a love poem. Concentrate on the realities of the person that you are dealing with. Don’t disguise them as some kind of ideal – they are going to want to feel that’s my poem, that’s my expression, that’s what we did together.

Here are my five rules:
1 Speak from your heart. Poets have in their toolbox every trick of rhetoric and linguistic structuring - from alliteration to zeugma. The toolbox is there to be ransacked, but the strength of your feelings might be diverted if you get too tied up with technical stuff.
2 Simply to say “I love you” or “you’re beautiful” is not interesting. Remember William Carlos Williams’ advice about writing - there is no truth but in things. So be particular. Things have a fascination that abstractions don’t. A reader will be more likely to identify with your poem if there are references to personal situations or particular features - be it their body, attitude or behaviour.
3 A sense of humour is not at odds with passionate intensity. Catching the ridiculousness of a situation doesn’t betray the subject or misrepresent the strength of your feelings. And don’t shy away from flaws. The whole business of being attracted to people is connected to their imperfections.
4 Pay attention to rhymes and rhythms and the sound your words make. The sound of the thing is as important as the dictionary definition of the words.
5 Revise, revise, revise. Our first thoughts are almost never our best.




Sunday, July 8, 2018

Poem of the week / Us by Zaffar Kunial

Illustration by Geroca

Poem of the week: Us by Zaffar Kunial

An only apparently informal riff on an only apparently straightforward concept of identity finds some sparky complications
Carol Rumens
Mon 2 Jul 2018 10.00 BST
Us
by Zaffar Kunial
If you ask me, us takes in undulations –
each wave in the sea, all insides compressed –
as if, from one coast, you could reach out to
the next; and maybe it’s a Midlands thing
but when I was young, us equally meant me,says the one, ‘Oi, you, tell us where yer from’;
and the way supporters share the one fate –
I, being one, am Liverpool no less –
cresting the Mexican wave of we or us,
a shore-like state, two places at once, God
knows what’s in it; and, at opposite ends
my heart’s sunk at separations of us.
When it comes to us, colour me unsure.
Something in me, or it, has failed the course.
I’d love to think I could stretch to it – us –
but the waves therein are too wide for words.
I hope you get, here, where I’m coming from.
I hope you’re with me on this – between love
and loss – where I’d give myself away, stranded
as if the universe is a matter of one stress.
Us. I hope, from here on, I can say it
and though far-fetched, it won’t be too far wrong.


The relaxed vernacular of Zaffar Kunial’s newly published first collection, Us, may at first conceal the precision with which his poems search the vexations of identity. The reaches of the search are exposed most plainly in the knowingly titled Self-Portrait as Bottom. Like the title poem, the self-portrait references Tony Harrison’s 40-year-old sonnet diptych Them and [uz]in which the sneering literature teacher told the working-class pupil Harrison, “You’re one of those / Shakespeare gives the comic bits to: prose!
Kunial’s speaker, unlike Harrison’s, doesn’t spit up furious “glottals”: more subtle and contemporary, he dispatches his gobs of spit “to a lab across the Irish sea” for the DNA ancestry test. The simply complex equation that he first announces, “50% Europe. / 50% Asia,” demands sub-divisions genetic and linguistic, leading to a surprising, tenuous ethnic link between the poet’s Kashmiri father and Midlands-born mother. Themes of disconnection are tacitly present in the title poem, this week’s choice.
“Waves” form a useful metaphor: the sea-like “undulations” of line one develop into the solidarity-asserting “Mexican wave” of stanza three. For the football supporter, such actions emphasise separation, too, “a shore-like state, two places at once” or a sense of solidarity cut in half: “… and, at opposite ends / my heart’s sunk at separations of us.”
“Us” means “me” in many English dialects: Kunial hears it in his native city, Birmingham, in the shout of mixed aggression and curiosity, “Oi you, tell us where yer from.” In Harrison’s Them and [uz], the pronoun symbolises attempts by the ruling “educated” class to exclude him, but it belongs to the future poet’s own dialect, and he’s able to seize the language back (“RIP RP”) with a mature, furious confidence not available to Kunial’s persona, whose sense of language rights is less clear-cut. All the same, a quietly intricate assertion of language possession has been set in motion, as modest little phrases like “the one” and innocent-looking prepositions such as “from” are slotted quietly into different facets of emphases.
Difference and familiarity deftly combine in the idiomatic, euphemistic “colour me unsure”. Now the waves, as hand signals or undulations, fail to breach distance: the water seems too wide. The speaker hasn’t given up, though: repetitions of “here” demonstrate Kunial’s delicate sense of nuance, as if “here” were no less complicated a verbal sign as “us”, as if it could be transformed into identity-grounding solidity. The rough-breathing alliteration of “hear” and “hope” gasps uncertainty without checking the smooth rhythmic flow. That image of two shores, two sides, rescues from unlocatable abstraction, the territory “between love and loss”. “Us” may be the uncertain location of coupledom as well as community, and here, too, the speaker may somehow be undone, given away like a missed goal, “stranded / as if the universe is a matter of one stress”.

Kunial’s puns are never mere play, and here the key word, “stress”, is cleverly chosen. “Us” as a concept creates stress for those who refuse or are refused belonging. That the single-syllable, two-letter English word could sum up and unite the universe is pressed on the speaker by some further excited vulnerability of doubt and desire (“I hope you’re with me on this”). A couple’s “us” seems to extend to the hope, at least, of a broader collective identity.
The pronoun has meanwhile shed its italics. Even that typographical shift lends it a more neighbourly look. The resolution gracing this poem turns out to be temporary: the sequence immediately following on from Us, Ys (the last poem in the collection), painfully searches paths through childhood experiences of disconnection and separationUs provides the collection’s title but not Kunial’s last word: the grit that originates and animates his calm and assured-seeming poems is identity, which consists of interestingly twisted strands of connection and disconnection. The two-letter word is less a sea-girt island than an undulating, wavily glittering continent. There’s a hopefulness about its utterance, even so.
Us is published this week by Faber & FaberKunial is currently poet in residence at Ledbury poetry festival 2018 (29 June to 8 July).