Monday, October 30, 2017

Les Murray / Powder of light

Powder of light

By Les Murray

Hunched in the farm ute
tarpaulin against wind
the moon chasing treetops
as it yellows into night
us, going to the pictures
by the State forest way
my mate's brother driving

we are at the age
that has since slipped
down toward toddlers
for whom adults and dreams
mostly have no names yet.
What wagged on screen then
made from powder of light

were people in music
who did and said dressy
stuff in English or American
kissed slow with faced crossed
flicked small-to-big
in an instant, then
were back in Australia

we believed it was Australia -
then our driver who never
attended films would surface
from courting and collect us
there way before TV.
And people, some holding
phones like face cards, still ask
"Good movie? Who was in it?"
I smile and say "Actors"
but rarely now add
hired out of the air.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

JM Coetzee on the "angry genius" of Les Murray

Les Murray
Poster by T.A.

JM Coetzee on the "angry genius" of Les Murray

Sarah Crown
Wednesday 14 September 2011 13.10 BST

Wonderful New York Review of Books piece about The Angry Genius of Les Murray, by none other than JM Coetzee.
I first came across Murray at university, when we were set a poem of his, "Comete". Brief (13-and-half lines; a not-quite sonnet) and simple, it fixes on a single image: "Uphill in Melbourne on a beautiful day" it opens, airy and light as a feather, "a woman is walking ahead of her hair." I found the combination of its clear focus and rippling, rich metaphors haunting, and in the years since have pounced on everything else by him that crossed my path.
Coetzee's piece, then, is a real treat for me. A 4000-word consideration of the muscular talent of the son of New South Wales dairy farmers, who said of himself "it's my mission to irritate the hell out of the eloquent who would oppress my people, by being a paradox that their categories can't assimilate: the Subhuman Redneck who writes poems", it's a fine piece of criticism: sympathetic, celebratory, but at the same time clear-eyed, alive to the poet's blindspots and inconsistencies. Though only lukewarm about Murray's recent output ("the new poems have the feel less of urgent utterances than of demonstration exercises in how a poet's gaze works"), his admiration for the poet is clear. "If there are a handful of purists who for political reasons will have nothing to do with him or his works," he concludes, "so much the worse for them — the loss is theirs.
Hear, hear. If you don't know his work, I'd seriously urge you to have a flick through the 'poems' section of his website, and take a look at this piece by Daljit Nagra, from the Guardian Review not two weeks ago, in which he explains why Murray is his poetry hero.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Jeanette Winterson on the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy / Of course it's political

Carol Ann Duffy

Jeanette Winterson on the poetry of Carol Ann Duffy – of course it's political

Duffy’s 1999 collection The World’s Wife gives the women behind the scenes – from Mrs Midas to Queen Kong – a glorious and powerful voice. She is a poet of vast imagination

Jeanette Winterson
Saturday 17 January 2015 08.50 GMT

Poetry is pleasure.
Sometimes people say to me, “why should I read a poem?” There are plenty of answers, from the profound – a poem is such an ancient means of communication that it feels like an evolutionary necessity – to the practical; a poem is like a shot of espresso – the fastest way to get a hit of mental and spiritual energy.
We could talk about poetry as a rope in a storm. Poetry as one continuous mantra of mental health. Poetry as the world’s biggest, longest-running workshop on how to love. Poetry as a conversation across time. Poetry as the acid-scrub of cliche.

We could say that the poem is a lie detector. That the poem is a way of thinking without losing the feeling. That a poem is a way of feeling without being too overwhelmed by feeling to think straight. That the poem is “the best words in the best order” (Coleridge). That the poem “keeps the heart awake to truth and beauty” (Coleridge again – who can resist those Romantics?). That the poem is an intervention: “The capacity to make change in existing conditions” (Muriel Rukeyser). That poetry, said Seamus Heaney, is “strong enough to help”.
And pleasure.
Carol Ann Duffy has often spoken about poetry as an everyday event and not as a special occasion. She wants us to enjoy poetry, to have as much as we like, to be able to help ourselves to a good, fresh supply, to let poetry be as daily as talking – because poetry is talking. Words begin in the mouth before they hit the page. Speech is older than writing, and poetry is as old as speech. Poems are best spoken to get the full weight and taste of the words and the run of the lines. Difficult poems become easier when spoken.
Just as the body is shaped for movement, the mind is shaped for poetry.

Rhythm and rhyme aid recall. Poems are always rhythmic but not always rhyming. In the same way that melody became rather suspect in 20th-century classical music – atonal fractures being the mark of seriousness – so modernism rebranded rhyme as pastoral, lovesick, feminine, superficial. Fine for kids and tea towels; not fine for the muscular combative voice of the urban poet.
It has taken a long time for rhyme to return to favour. Rap and the rise of performance poetry have played a part in that return.
As a powerful modern voice, Duffy has been unafraid to use rhyme from the beginning. In her TS Eliot prizewinning collection, Rapture, poem after poem deployed rhyme with accurate beauty.
Her poetry is a practical proof of rhyme as expressive, flexible, purposefully baited. Dangle a rhyme at the end of a line and the mind-fish bites. Not only end-rhymes, but off-rhymes, hidden rhymes, half-rhymes, ghost rhymes, deliberate near-misses that hit the mark:
I was wind, I was gas
I was all hot air, trailed
Clouds for hair.
I scrawled my name with a hurricane, When out of the blue
Roared a fighter plane. (“Thetis”)
The poems in The World’s Wife – about women behind the scenes, women behind the throne, women behind history – are rhyme-rich, though not always obviously so:
I flew in my chains over the wood where
we’d buried
the doll. I know it was me who was there.
I know I carried the spade. I know I was
covered in mud.
But I cannot remember how or when or
precisely where.

The complacent end-rhymes of lines two and four are taunted by the askew “buried” and “carried”, and made sinister by the pagan sacrifice embedded in “wood” and “mud” with the ancient “wude” and “daub” sitting behind the rhyme. Repetition of “I know”, three times in four lines, works as a locked rhyme – lethally right for a mind that can never escape itself or be set free by others; a mind that belongs to Myra Hindley.
Other poems rhyme with cheeky exuberance. In “Mrs Sisyphus” the repetitive idiocy of the rock and its roll suits the uphill build of the poem (towards its inevitable collapse). The punishment of the gods turns out to be a 24/7 meaningless managerial job, where no matter how many emails you answer, your inbox will be full again the next day.
Then there’s the glorious “Mrs Darwin” with its Edward Learnonsensical sense: “7 April 1852. // Went to the Zoo. / I said to Him – / Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of you.” Hidden behind this ditty in diary form is the shadow of Dorothy Wordsworth, endlessly walking, endlessly writing her Lake District journal so that William could use it for that “emotion recollected in tranquillity” he liked a poem to be. The famous daffodils, we remember, were Dorothy’s.
The title of The World’s Wife is both a tacit understanding that it’s (still) a man’s world, and a joke on the world’s most popular dedication: To My Wife.
Ask who was at a party and the answer is often, “Oh, the world and his wife.” Our language pictures are inherently patriarchal – unless challenged. But the fact that three simple title-words can be the challenger affirms the power of language to disclose the unthought norm.

And the unthought known. Men and women alike know that more than half the world is female but men and women alike forget it every day. It takes a poet to jog our memory.
The characters in The World’s Wife come from fairytales, Bible stories, legends, modern horrors (Hindley, here recast as the devil’s wife) and ancient myths. Their common link is that the poems themselves are told by the spouse-voice of the famous male.
This headstand, the world turned upside down, gives us another look at history through her-story. The “other”; the angry and the ignored, as well as the sure-footed and sexy. Of course there’s a political agenda – there always is: poets write poems because they have something urgent to say.
First-world-war poet and soldier, Wilfred Owen claimed of his work that “the poetry is in the pity”. In The World’s Wife, the politics is in the poetry. The politics is feminism.
But there’s nothing po-faced about these poems. They are written with such humour or poignancy, or insight or recognition, that we get the point, the many points, the points of view and the points of light. Like every good atom, these poems are composed out of empty space and points of light – the dazzle of the poet’s vision, the space for the reader to reimagine matter, the matter, what matters, what is the matter?

Here is Frau Freud, in mad lexical delight, listing every word she can think of for Penis – and at last, in a bout of new theory-making that would have given us a very different psychoanalysis, she drops Penis Envy and opts instead for Penis Pity. It’s a short poem – a loose sonnet – but it says as much as bookshelves of debate. The fact is that women don’t suffer from penis envy. (Actually or symbolically, practically or poetically). Only a man would think anyone could.
Here’s Red Riding Hood gutting the wolf-poet to get at his words. She has no objection to sleeping with him first, or bringing him breakfast in bed. When she gets on with the axe-work and slits him “scrotum to throat”, she discovers it’s her grandmother’s bones inside. The skeleton of language is female. Deeper, it seems, than our mother tongue.
There’s Mrs Midas, who has to lock the cat in the cellar and jam a chair against the bedroom door, while her husband turns their life into gold. What you risk reveals what you value. This thoughtful, funny poem questions the masculine obsession with money – far from the stereotype of woman as a gold digger. What Mrs Midas misses most about her husband is the one thing she can never have: his touch. “Mrs Faust” conjures up a much more money-minded female. It’s Faust who has amassed world-pools of cash but she’s happy enough to spend it:
“I grew to love the lifestyle / not the life. / He grew to love the kudos / not the wife.”
The ballad-form rhyming here is tidy and deadly. Duffy, throughout her work, has made good use of both the English ballad and its 19th-century development, the dramatic monologue.
The ballad form is made for narrative stretch. It’s an old form – the Robin Hood ballads date from the mid-to-late 15th century. It’s a form for storytelling, for late-night firesides, for pub entertainment, for the popular chapbooks (cheap books) that were just folded printed papers sold at fairs. It’s street corner, it’s troubadour, it’s busking.
Ballads had a lucrative disruptive sideline as political agitprop, in broadside ballads, as they became known. In 1798, Wordsworth and Coleridge, the Lennon and McCartney of the 18th-century poetry scene, published their Lyrical Ballads, a moody, up-close, melodic extension of the ballad form, making it both personal and political – about ordinary people, not legends or hate figures, and using natural speech and the sights and sounds of what was around them. They were modernising poetry.
The ballad is usually a third-person narrative, and it can run on forever – it was designed to have verses added – while its later development, the dramatic monologue, throws the reader into a highly charged first-person narrative, closer to the urgencies of the stage than the shaggy dog of a story.
But both forms have a story to tell. The poems in The World’s Wife are hybrids: first person, dramatic situations, at once intimate and theatrical, as you’d expect from a monologue, but with the authority of a ballad – a legend being told, a larger-than-life figure that belongs in myth as well as history. And there’s something of the broadside here, too, in their high-stepping protest at the truth that the story unfolds. Some of these poems are laments for women in captivity.
The dramatic Mrs Beast pictures a world where smart women with their own money ditch the prince and choose the beast. Better sex. Keys to the wine cellar. The women run a weekly poker game.

But behind each player stood a line of
Unable to win. Eve, Ashputtel. Marilyn
Rapunzel slashing wildly at her hair.
Bessie Smith unloved and down and out.
Bluebeard’s wives, Henry VIII’s, Snow White
Cursing the day she left the seven
dwarfs, Diana,
Princess of Wales.
The startling last line? A paraphrase of Auden: “Let the less-loving one be me.”
From women who need a lesson in loving less to a creature who could not love more, “Queen Kong” is the story of a female gorilla who falls in love with the documentary film-maker who turns up in her remote part of the world. They have an affair. He leaves for home, much like Aeneas leaves Dido, but this gorilla doesn’t kill herself: she goes after him to New York city, squeezing herself between the skyscrapers, “pressing my passionate eye / to a thousand windows, each with its modest peep-show / Of boredom or pain, of drama, consolation, remorse.” Until … “I picked him, like a chocolate from the top layer / Of the box, one Friday night, out of his room”.
It’s a wonderful image, and as she dangles him there, high over the Manhattan grid, we get a new sense of what is meant by arm candy.
The range of Duffy’s imagination is vast. She moves easily from gorilla-scale to the interiority of the sonnet. Duffy loves the sonnet form – she says: “They remind me of prayers.” “Anne Hathaway” is also a sonnet – a gentle vindication of the love between the famously neglected wife and the most famous writer in history. For those who fear that feminism doesn’t include men, except at the level of anger or contempt, read this one.
The final poem in the collection, “Demeter”, is also a sonnet, as mysterious and complete as the moon. It is about nobody’s wife. That choice is an audacious signal. A message that something else is happening now. We are leaving for elsewhere. A new beginning.
“Demeter” celebrates mother and daughter in their ancient form as the two-that-is-three of the Great Goddess – mother, daughter, wise woman. I guess the invisible third is writing the poem – or perhaps she’s renewed, as she always is, in the new moon of the last line. “Demeter” is a love poem. A poem of spring and the coming future – its symbol, fresh flowers. A future, perhaps, where there will be no need to voice history with the words we never heard.
A future that starts with a prayer.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


Hey You

Hey you out there in the cold
Getting lonely getting old
Can you feel me?
Hey you standing in the aisles
With itchy feet and fading smiles
Can you feel me?
Hey you don't help them to bury the light
Don't give in without a fight

Hey you out there on your own
Sitting naked by the phone
Would you touch me?
Hey you with your ear against the wall
Waiting for someone to call out
Would you touch me?
Hey you, would you help me to carry the stone?
Open your heart, I'm coming home

But it was only fantasy
The wall was too high, as you can see
No matter how he tried, he could not break free
And the worms ate into his brain

Hey you, out there on the road
Always doing what you're told
Can you help me?
Hey you, out there beyond the wall
Breaking bottles in the hall
Can you help me?
Hey you, don't tell me there's no hope at all
Together we stand, divided we fall

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Rachel B. Glaser / Airdo

by Rachel B. Glaser
Poetry. With a voice as familiar as family, Rachel B. Glaser's second book of poems, HAIRDO, hilariously navigates the daily anxieties and fantasies of the writer's path through her own modern life. Writing through action movies, pornography, chat rooms, photo shoots on train tracks, crushes on teachers, and orchids in grocery stores, the poems in this book present us with emotional souvenirs of a curious and honest life lived. Bursting with Glaser's truly unique heart, her mega-watt wit and insightful eye, HAIRDO is a book you will find yourself reading at 3AM, not able to put it down. 

"I love every single piece of art that Rachel Glaser makes. If she dug a hole I would want to spend time in that hole, because I know it would be just as strange, delightful, and intriguing as her linguistic and pictorial creations. Hooray for HAIRDO, and long live this incomparable maker." — Heather Christle 

"Rachel Glaser has shown me the paradise of this world with her poems. Every man, woman and the rest of us need to see ourselves as one another, as puddles, horses, as imperfect, and that is the paradise. And all of that is especially here in her newest book with a tremendous passion anyone who ever loved poetry must come back to life to read. If poetry is dead like some sad, weepy critics have declared, then Glaser is the resurrection the weepy along with her dedicated poetry citizens have needed!" —CAConrad


In her second verse collection, poet and fiction writer Glaser (Moods) wryly explores modern metamorphoses, in which one’s smartphone is a “dumb boyfriend” turned mirror, strangers are “half symbol half animal” depending on one’s needs, and the transition into adulthood is achieved by résumé revision and solo trips to the movies. Some of these evolutions are hilariously garbled and surreal, as in the “girl who became a puddle and then a horse.” A high school student has a sudden and profound shift in identity during Spanish class: “Mr Felipé christened me María/ he led me down a flowery path.” Glaser also displays a talent for making the dull banalities of life interesting. In “Deodorants Grow Bored of Their Smell,” the eponymous deodorants “want to run out/ but last forever and slowly lose their minds.” She also has a flair for titles, such as the apt and evocative “Teenage Girls Hot for the Eiffel Tower.” Elsewhere, a former manic pixie dream girl reflects on her lost whimsy: “it was always my birthday/ my hair curled with glee.” In “The World of Manet,” Glaser produces a clever, self-referential poem about another poem that was lost, the replacement rendering the original obsolete. Glaser’s funny, shrewd, and warped perspective makes the book entertaining and its rare moments of real intimacy feel even more significant. (Mar.)


Thursday, October 5, 2017

Rachel B. Glaser / Moods

by Rachel B. Glaser

“MOODS is amazing.” —Heather Christle
“Rachel, these poems are awesome.” —Blake Butler
“I have many mood rings!” —Dorothea Lasky
Every time my pills fall, I feel very much

like an addict

when they scatter it is disapproving

they dance on the hardwood
they rest on the carpet

it is maddening to spill pills across a restaurant floor

children clap
women are exhilarated
I want to lie on my rug and self-reflect
by my hair goes limp
I  am late for the train

spilling pills makes me feel like I have a stressful, high-

profile job
that I really have no time to pick up anything
I have too many young kids
the landline is crammed between my cheek and shoulder
like a sex addict
like i have a shoplifting problem
or I’ve borrowed people’s kids
despised people’s pets

Rachel B. Glaser

Rachel B. Glaser is the author of the short story collection “Pee on Water” (Publishing Genius, Press 2010) and the poetry book “MOODS” (Factory Hollow Press, 2013). Glaser’s writing has appeared in McSweeney’s, New York Tyrant, American Short Fiction, and others. After receiving her undergraduate degree in Painting at the Rhode Island School of Design, she studied Creative Writing at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Glaser lives in Northampton, MA, teaching writing at Flying Object and painting basketball players and other people of note. For more information, check out