Giles Goodland was born in Taunton, educated at the universities of Wales and California, took a D. Phil at Oxford and has published several books of poetry including A Spy in the House of Years (Leviathan, 2001), Capital (Salt, 2006) and What the Things Sang (Shearsman, 2009). The Dumb Messengers (Salt, 2012) is his sixth book. He works in Oxford as a lexicographer and lives in West London. In 2010, he won the 2010 Cardiff International Poetry Competition.
“The Dumb Messengers collects shorter and lyrical poems Goodland has written over the past ten years. During this period he started a family, and many of the poems reveal an attitude to life and language that has been profoundly influenced by the presence of children.
Goodland believes most language is a waste of time, a failure. Anything really new or meaningful that anyone has to say will probably be misunderstood or ignored.
For Goodland, poems are dumb messengers, unable to tell us what they need to say, even though they rush into our minds urgently. This book is about failed or lapsed communication, particularly between adults and children. It tells us a failed message is still a message and there is hope in that.
The dumb messengers of the title are also children. They come from the other world to tell us something, but instead we teach them language and, in consequence, they forget or become unable to tell us what the message was.”
“Giles Goodland makes nonsense of the old us-and-them tussle between experimental and mainstream that so occupied the poetry battles of the last decades with his poems that are variously lyric, or avant-garde, and sometimes both; often inflected with surrealist play, and an interest in formal constraints.”
– Todd Swift
“A poet with truly international appeal.”
– Michael Hulse
“Goodland is one of those rare writers whose mix of experimentation and play is … as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.”
– Steve Spence
“A world-class poet.”
– Peter Finch
Shush the syllabic drift, the white note
crumpling against. Shush the stone,
shush the whispering immense, shush.
You bruise easily, your long-unsinging
lungs fill with wind, bellow hearing.
My son asks me, can sea win
against sun? Shush, son, shush.
The sand prints with so many feet
that are not yours. Sea seethes and sieves,
speaks suspiciously of its past. Pours
its guts, hangs its washing out on you.
Layers statements with salt, grudgingly
obeys the moon, knows something of
nothing but also knows nothing.
Sifts rifts, ripples a stone’s seaweed-heavy
nipples and its lodged groins,
instils the sand’s standstill.
People print their backs with sun under
the stun of a light too heavy to lift.
What the sea tastes as it licks.
It froths forth, forces tongues, sings
she-shanties in its sea-chantry, sticks
the stung tongues that lied you,
when you were here with me. You were.
The sea swears it is so and it is.
There are things that you can’t
contradict, like the sand coved
between your toes, the fish in
the sway of because. Like the unturned
urn, return of sand, suspension of salt,
the loss of words, more, the loss of loss.
A meteorite the size of William Blake was
leafing across the sky
and some people mistook it for a meteorite
the size of Walt Whitman, but this was the result of
the meteorite the size of William Blake
fragmenting, its fingers spread
wide, its massive atoms experiencing air and what
hit the ground in a field of stubble
in a night full of hearing
was a meteorite the size of Emily Dickinson’s
eye, crying a last tear that
hissed in the soil as children came to retrieve it,
but they still heard its whisper:
it was saying that with the exception of everything
it could think of, you hardly even exist.
Signals died in the pulse
and the soil hardened against it, its
flames scratched up the clothes of
the children and started to ruin them.
They did not think to run or pat themselves free
they walked home in flames and their fingers
spoke flame and when they opened their mouths
there was flame and
their clothes were, their skin was
a bush of nerves trembling
toward long sleeps, into their ashes
they whistled and poked their
being fingers, dreaming these particles
apart but tied with
the rain’s unspeakable hands.
They branded the night
and all that they knew was enough to make
air strange with their tongues
their heads ran blood
and their minds ran on a head,
as their tongue’s pulps were rooting
the tips of the words, their blaze, their stream.
So many ways to come home,
all of them wrong.
Dragonflies glitter and are gone.
So many ways to make love,
all of them strange.
The body opens on its hinge.
So many kinds of hope,
all of them lost.
Even the fastest runner ended last.
The runner keeps running,
the lover loves on.
The dragonfly’s wings beat again,
and under the closed eye
we see through the skin, see,
in the near distance, the rain.
Pack your limbs, the word is small
that makes you, we must spend our
lives like moons. As father I act as
organ of the state, and you are
that ruined self from which
you make a sleeping gesture.
You push words, suffer from ancient dreams.
My finger moves inside your fist,
you watch spiders usher shadows over
the ceiling, dependent like them on such
thin stems as hand, as eye.
I hear the books singing inside.
Then the oblivious breath of sleep
as if the eared key for bleeding
in my hand turns, and the air hisses.
Nightly escapee from the cot,
end up beside us.
We heal the blanket over us
and from somewhere outside
an animal is still sobbing:
it so much wanted to be human.
Moon and little Nina
Daughter, booted, struck out of
stride by the dogs, bicycles,
the unattached sky.
The horses made honest sounds
and when we were gone they turned
and lied to each other.
You unfastened the puddles,
jumping from one splash to the next.
Your year-and-a-little-long arms spread
and the trees printed out leaves.
Birds were concerning the lake, or
among chiselled beech leaves waited,
compact as buds. A moorhen stitched
with needles of light. Cattle hinged
loosely. A spider was at the end
of its tether when you stopped,
at a loss to move.
You could hardly mistake
a ditch on which the moon
shone near a half-decomposed fox
where frogs copulated slowly
and you reached and pointed
past the growing and rotting trees
and said get me. Get me.
I’m thinking about that snake we swerved
from, in Spain, only last year, before we
disintegrated. It seemed unusually long
and the builder’s van behind
us tacked the other way, to crush it.
It had not been so much crossing the road
as using road as a medium, not moving
in the sense we apply to most animals:
almost swimming, and appearing
as a long straight stick will do
with a clear river rippling over it, seeing it
like this with just time while driving
to shout to the children who did
not break from their long squabble, Snake!
and by the time they said What? it was
dead under the wheel of the van
which had been trying to overtake us
but I had not noticed because the wheel
pulled my whole attention, numbed by
a too-early morning, a budget flight,
unfoldable pushchairs and unfolding arguments,
the turn-off into the mountains missed,
the map misread—which had to be someone’s fault—
although we had then at least a destination,
a stay against the always unavoidable
breaking apart, slow or otherwise,
that a family amounts to, over time.
from The Dumb Messengers (Salt Publishing, 2012).
Order The Dumb Messengers.