Archive for April, 2011

Tuesday poem: The fish

Monday, April 25th, 2011

by Mary Oliver

The first fish
I ever caught
would not lie down
quiet in the pail
but flailed and sucked
at the burning
amazement of the air
and died
in the slow pouring off
of rainbows. Later
I opened his body and separated
the flesh from the bones
and ate him. Now the sea
is in me: I am the fish, the fish
glitters in me; we are
risen, tangled together, certain to fall
back to the sea. Out of pain,
and pain, and more pain
we feed this feverish plot, we are nourished
by the mystery.

This wonderful poem is by Mary Oliver, an American poet of enormous importance who’s won the Pulitzer and the National Book Award, and whose work reflects her abiding interest in the natural world as well as in the ways in which we express our lives. I remembered it when I was sent the fish photo by Wendy Gordon yesterday. Wendy and Colin were out in their boat on the Hauraki Gulf, in fact they’d just anchored off Ponui Island, and Wendy was about to take the fish to their farm managers there. But she took a picture of them for me first, which isn’t as good as being there and eating them in fine company. But it’s good enough when the photo can get to me in London, five minutes after Wendy took it 12,000 miles away. So I want to celebrate the modern world as well as the natural world, and friendship as well as this poem, and, oh! fish.

A springtime thought

Thursday, April 21st, 2011

How do you like them apples?

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

I realise that I tend to post about apples at this time of year, which shows it’s New Zealand apples that seem a worthy posting topic to me – either ones I’ve eaten there in situ, in autumn, or the ones that are exported to Britain which I eat here, in a London spring. I happily admit that I’m addicted to apples in a mild way – and it’s Cox’s Orange apples that get my vote very time.

And just look at how beautiful these ones are! The skins look as though they’ve been painted by an Impressionist artist, and I think it’s only New Zealand Cox’s apples that have this particular prettiness, I’ve never seen it on English ones. The crunch and flavour of these, despite the distance they’ve travelled, are streets ahead of every other apple I encounter. (Funnily enough, Cox’s apples are now very hard to buy in New Zealand, though it’s the variety I grew up with there; I daresay all the best ones are now exported.)

I appreciate how ideologically unsound is the importation of fancy food from 12,000 miles away. (It’s ships not planes in this instance, I believe, but it’s still a dodgy enterprise: close to indefensible by some standards.) I know that I ought to be making do with last autumn’s British fruit and most of the time that’s no hardship, and most of the time I do exactly that. But when I’m faced with the delightful prospect of eating these apples, I find it wellnigh impossible to resist: the eco-worrier in me retreats into silence. Or maybe it’s just that I stop listening to that voice.

I did say it was an addiction. Compassion may well be appropriate.

I have a London friend who shares my slip-and-slide inconsistencies about such matters, which is a comfort. And he once said to me – after I’d been banging on about not eating imported out of season soft fruit – that he just looks at the punnet of blueberries and whispers: “Well, you’re here now. Might as well eat you.”

And if I must, I’ll say the same thing to these apples.

Tuesday Poem: Sweet lovers love the spring

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

by William Shakespeare

It was a lover and his lass,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
That o’er the green corn-field did pass,
In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

Between the acres of the rye,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
These pretty country folks would lie,
In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

This carol they began that hour,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
How that life was but a flower
In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

And, therefore, take the present time
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
For love is crowned with the prime
In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

Spring is absolutely here in London now, and it’s hard to notice anything else. The blossom! The leaves in bud or bursting open! The gardens! We have a veggie plot in a local community garden and we’re already proud of how everything is coming along – the early potatoes are up and the broad beans are looking very happy, and a lot of other things are planted. It’s a lovely time of year.

And it makes me think of this Shakespearean song, from ‘As You Like It’. Lots of people get rather snobby about Shakespeare’s songs but I love almost all of them, and this one has such bounce and verve it’s irresistible. Sweet lovers do indeed love the spring, and so does everyone else. Even my friends who live in the enviable tropics get wistful when you tell them how all the burgeoning season’s going.

It mightn’t last, of course. I can remember years in the UK when there’s been snow in May. But hey! (and hey nonino!) it’s so lovely now that all I can do is celebrate the present.

Do check out the Tuesday Poem site – there’s the birthday poem we all wrote together, line by line – quite a feat across three continents – and if a sidebar blog entry says ‘Tuesday Poem’, I’m sure you know by now that there’s a poem hiding in there somewhere …


Saturday, April 9th, 2011

I have discovered (a) my link to The Guardian’s website from yesterday’s post about the Poetry Book Society got corrupted and doesn’t work, and (b) that anyway, The Guardian hasn’t put Carol Ann Duffy’s poem of protest about the Arts Council cuts in the online version of today’s paper. So I’ve typed it out myself, believing as I do that this is news and not a copyright issue, and here it is – if you’re not familiar with what the British Arts Council has recently done, or with some of the references, you’ll have to look them up separately (The Guardian gives a helpful set of footnotes, but again, only in the printed paper).

Anyway here it is – properly angry, immensely clever, entirely brilliant. What a woman, and what a poet. ( And if you don’t get the reference to Louis MacNeice’s original, you can find his inspirational poem here.)

A CUT BACK, by Carol Ann Duffy

It’s no go the LitFest, it’s no go up in Lancaster,
though they’ve built an auditorium (still quite wet, the plaster)
a bar, a bookshop, office space … well, they won’t need wheelchair
All we want is a million quid and here’s to the Olympics.

London’s Enitharmon Press was founded in 1967,
but David Gascoyne and Kathleen Raine are writing now in heaven,
with UA Fanthorpe, John Heath-Stubbs; dead good dead poets all.
The only bloody writing now’s the writing on the wall.

It’s no go the national art, it’s no go cake with icing.
All we want are strategic cuts, it’s no go salami slicing.

It’s no go the Poetry Trust, it’s no go in East Suffolk;
Aldeburgh’s east of Stratford East. As Rooney says, oh f-fuck it –
because it’s no go First Collection Prize, it’s no go local writers.
We’ve been asked to pull the plug, the rug, by coalition shysters.

National Association of Writers in Education?
No way, NAWE, children and books, the train’s leaving the station.
It’s no go your poets in schools, it’s no go your cultures.
All we want is squeezed middles and stringent diets for vultures.

It’s no go the pamphlet, the gig in Newcastle no go.
All we want is a context for the National Portfolio.

Three little presses went to market, Flambard, Arc and Salt;
had their throats cut ear to ear and now it’s hard to talk.
They remember Thatcher’s Britain. Clegg-Cameron’s is worse., the least of which is verse.

It’s no go the avant-garde, it’s no go the mainstream.
All we want is a Review Group, chaired, including recommendations.

Stephen Spender thought continually of those who were truly great;
set up the Poetry Book Society with TS Eliot, genius mate.
But it’s no go two thousand strong in the Queen Elizabeth Hall.
Phone a cab for the Nobel laureates as they take their curtain call.

It’s no go, dear PBS. It’s no go, sweet poets.
Sat on your arses for fifty years and never turned a profit.
All we want are bureaucrats, the nods as good as winkers.
And if you’re strapped for cash, go fish, then try the pigging

The Poetry Book Society needs your help!

Friday, April 8th, 2011

As you’ll probably know if you live in the UK, the Arts Council has decided to withdraw all funding from The Poetry Book Society from April next year. As you might also know, The Poetry Book Society is a widely respected and internationally unique organisation that selects outstanding poetry collections for readers and libraries, and which also – through its own bookshop sales – is an immensely significant source of revenue for poetry publishers, and so also for poets.

The Arts Council’s funding choices must be very difficult in these tight financial times but this is a very bad, sad decision. The PBS was established by the Arts Council at Stephen Spender’s suggestion, and both T.S. Eliot and Philip Larkin served on its board in their time; it still has enormous prestige in a world where poetry is often the neglected child of the writing world. And the society continues to make a genuine difference to poets and poetry, and it is desperately important for it to continue to operate. Honestly, you guys, it really matters.

There are several things you could do to help, and I hope anyone reading this post who cares anything at all about poetry will do at least one of them.

1. To sign the petition to the Arts Council asking for a restoration of funding, click here.

2. To buy a poetry book through their online bookshop, click here.

3. To read about the PBS’s work, or even better to become a member of the PBS, click here.

3.  To read the letter that over 100 poets have sent to the Arts Council in support of the PBS, click here.

4. To email Dame Elizabeth Forgan, Chair of the Arts Council, to express your dismay, here’s the email to use:

6. To read Carol Ann Duffy’s poem of protest in The Guardian tomorrow, wait until the site for Saturday’s paper is up and then click here.

Tuesday poem: Here dead lie we, by A.E. Housman

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Here dead lie we,

by A. E. Housman

Here dead lie we, because we did not choose

To live and shame the land from which we sprung.

Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;

But young men think it is, and we were young.

I seem to be stuck in a forcefield of melancholic poetry – that is, in the world of Alfred Edward Houseman.  Last week I posted ‘Loveliest of trees …’ and realised how close the passing of days now seems, in contrast to how I felt when I was the same age as the twenty year-old narrator of that poem. This week, with the Libyan rebels/freedom fighters/opposition much in my mind, I happened to find this poem. It makes your heart ache, but it’s the right one for our times.

On a much happier note, this is the Tuesday Poem blog’s birthday week! And in celebration of that, the Tuesday Poets are writing a collective poem. As Mary McCallum, the onlie begetter of this enterprise, said in a recent email: “We are a community, something I hadn’t unexpected when it began – at least, not to this degree. I’ve found it supportive and stimulating and pretty damn wonderful.” Me too, Mary, me too!

So do please visit the TP blog and track the poem as it develops over this week: as I write this the first line-and-a-half are up, and it looks very exciting …