Poem of the week: The Calabash by Christopher Reid


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A drolly refashioned creation myth finds both God and Man short on inspiration, and the newly created Woman unconvinced

The Calabash

Having fashioned the first man out of sticks and mud,
God looked at him and thought, ‘Not bad.’ But Man
was of a different opinion.
Equipped from the outset with the twin gifts
of speech and dissatisfaction, Man said,
‘God, be honest, are you really happy
with this bodge, this shoddy bricolage,
this job at best half done?’ ‘What do you mean?’
God asked. ‘I need a mate,’ Man told him,
‘and I need one fast.’ God was flustered;
he’d run out of ideas already; so he replied,
‘If you’re so certain what you want,
tell me how to make it.’ Glancing about,
Man’s eye fell on a plump gourd hanging from a tree:
a calabash. ‘That will do,’ he said.
God nodded and ...

Poem of the week: From Paradise Lost by John Milton


This post is by Carol Rumens from Books | The Guardian


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The muscular blank verse of this great classic reveals a visionary amalgam of the biblical and the classical

From Paradise Lost, Book Two

He ceased; and Satan stayed not to reply,
But glad that now his sea should find a shore,
With fresh alacrity and force renewed
Springs upward like a pyramid of fire
Into the wild expanse, and through the shock
Of fighting elements, on all sides round
Environed wins his way; harder beset
And more endangered, than when Argo pass’d
Through Bosporus, betwixt the jostling Rocks:
Or when Ulysses on the larbord shunned
Charybdis, and by the other whirlpool steered.
So he with difficulty and labour hard
Moved on, with difficulty and labour he;
But he once past, soon after when man fell,
Strange alteration! Sin and Death amain
Following his track, such was the will of heaven,
Paved after him a broad and beaten way
Over ...

Poem of the week: The Back of Your Head by Nick Drake


This post is by Carol Rumens from Books | The Guardian


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The enigma of the stranger in front of you on the bus takes on a droll grandeur in this look at everyday infinity

The Back of Your Head

Stranger, I’m looking at the back of your head;
at the heart of the crown
where the whorl starts;
at the touch of skin
like the stars
clustered at the core of a spiral galaxy,
curls whirling out in points of light on dark
to infinity and beyond …

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Poem of the week: Green Boughs by Naomi Mitchison


This post is by Carol Rumens from Books | The Guardian


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Ahead of the Armistice centenary, this impassioned work records the poet’s grief and outrage at the lives destroyed by the first world war

Green Boughs

My young, dear friends are dead,
All my own generation.
Pity a youthless nation,
Pity the girls unwed,
Whose young lovers are dead.
They came from the gates of birth
To boyhood happy and strong,
To a youth of glorious days,
We give them honour and song,
And theirs, theirs is the praise.
But the old inherit the earth.
They knew what was right and wrong,
They were idealists,
Clean minds, my friends, my friends!
Artists and scientists,
Their lives that should have been long!
But everything lovely ends.
They came from college or school,
They did not falter or tire,
But the old, the stupid had rule
Over that eager nation,
And all my own generation
They have cast into the fire.

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Poem of the week: Strike it up, Tabor by Thomas Weelkes


This post is by Carol Rumens from Books | The Guardian


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As summer makes its exit, it’s still possible to enjoy the lusty energy of this madrigal maypole dance

Strike it up, Tabor

Strike it up, Tabor,
And pipe us a favour!
Thou shalt be well-paid for thy labour.
I mean to spend my shoe-sole
To dance about the may-pole!
I will be blithe and brisk,
Leap and skip,
Hop and trip,
Turn about
In the rout,
Until the weary joints can scarce frisk!

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Poem of the week: Manhattan by Lola Ridge


This post is by Carol Rumens from Books | The Guardian


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An intensely dynamic vision of New York City in the early 20th century raises questions about its gilded allure

Manhattan

Out of the night you burn, Manhattan,
In a vesture of gold –
Span of innumerable arcs,
Flaring and multiplying –
Gold at the uttermost circles fading
Into the tenderest hint of jade,
Or fusing in tremulous twilight blues,
Robing the far-flung offices,
Scintillant-storied, forking flame,
Or soaring to luminous amethyst
Over the steeples aureoled –

Diaphanous gold,
Veiling the Woolworth, argently
Rising slender and stark
Mellifluous-shrill as a vender’s cry,
And towers squatting graven and cold
On the velvet bales of the dark,
And the Singer’s appraising
Indolent idol’s eye,
And night like a purple cloth unrolled –

Nebulous gold
Throwing an ephemeral glory about life’s vanishing points,
Wherein you burn …
You of unknown voltage
Whirling on your axis …
Scrawling vermillion signatures
Over the night’s velvet hoarding …
Insolent, towering spherical
To apices ever shifting.

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Poem of the week: The Quiet Snow by Raymond Knister


This post is by Carol Rumens from Books | The Guardian


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A Canadian poem that blends modernism with the pastoral reveals a natural calm at work in the city as well as the country

The Quiet Snow

The quiet snow
Will splotch
Each in the row of cedars
With a fine
And patient hand;
Numb the harshness,
Tangle of that swamp.
It does not say, The sun
Does these things another way.

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Poem of the week: The Barber Shop by Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke


This post is by Carol Rumens from Books | The Guardian


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A sharp reflection on the sight of a male muse getting his hair cut provides a neat invitation to read more contemporary Greek poetry

The Barber Shop

A white rose,
the barber’s towel
around your face
shining like a beetle
clinging to the petals.
Clippings scattered on the floor
were the days when I loved you so much
while the garrulous
sculptor of heads cuts away
what time had made superfluous.
Ah! That unscrupulous hand made you
even more beautiful,
the curve of your eyebrows more clearly defined
and beneath the jade of your eyes,
your flowers, your lips half opened.
The shop impressed itself on my mind
in all its detail
and little by little the nothingness
which my life would soon become
without you
came crawling
into the scented room.
You smiled in the mirror
and I crumbled
because I had you and would lose you
like life classically cut short
by a pair of ancient scissors.

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Poem of the week: Aristocrats by Keith Douglas


This post is by Carol Rumens from Books | The Guardian


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A horse and his rider are twisted into grotesque coalescence by violent warfare, in this remarkable and direct poem

Aristocrats: “I think I am becoming a God”

The noble horse with courage in his eye
clean in the bone, looks up at a shellburst:
away fly the images of the shires
but he puts the pipe back in his mouth.

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Poem of the week: The Gulls by Howard Altmann


This post is by Carol Rumens from Books | The Guardian


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In this rhythmic poem, a figure finds his state of mind reflected in the wheeling movements of birds and a briny, rocky seascape

The Gulls

Here, where the gulls speak
of everything I am not,
the tall grasses not yet tall,
the tide out and in repose,
a hint of ocean floor offering
passage, seaweed torn
by time, drowned without
the sea, the briny grooves
of sand suggesting the end
of a day, ruins of rocks
accepting what is foreign
in their midst––the handle
of a kite the flight of a beer,
a dimming dusk brightened
by the red inks of autumn,
of change; of change. Here,
what falls in the distance
falls inside, a heart’s sinking
a gracing of all that’s been
floated––the walks not taken
and the walks not taken far
enough, night’s steady ascent
a quieting of the birds, a
turning down of the voices,
darkness finally ...

Poem of the week: Spathes by Loretta Collins Klobah


This post is by Carol Rumens from Books | The Guardian


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Etymology invites the imagination to a host of new places as the poet explores the rich possibilities of a botanical term

I gather now dry-leaf spathes
that boys spear-wave
and sword-cross, float
into flooded gutters
like dugout canoes.
I arrange them on the wall
in peacock array. Hollowed
scoops that were sheathes,
wombs for palm tree florescence,
cast-off husks, now you
are canoes that we women
paddle on the brown-green river
of consciousness. I layer
spathes into a ladder
that holds my spirit weight.
One green spade I take from
my deck of playing cards. I place
it in the centre of this altar.
A shield. A crude halo
for the goddess who granted me
time on Earth and a daughter.
The father told me when I was pregnant
that the child was all that mattered.
The baby was the corn-ear;
I was the husk that he would
chuck away. ...

Poem of the week: Song at the Beginning of Autumn by Elizabeth Jennings


This post is by Carol Rumens from Books | The Guardian


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The first intimations of a change in the seasons prompt a lyrical reflection on what is being named

Song at the Beginning of Autumn

Now watch this Autumn that arrives
In smells. All looks like Summer still;
Colours are quite unchanged, the air
On green and white serenely thrives.
Heavy the trees with growth and full
The fields. Flowers flourish everywhere.

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