The Glass House
Winter has sucked the landscape
back to black and white
but in the glass house
the world is plump and curved,
full of juice and spectrums.
We sit on the edge
of the savage garden
where tropical flowers
shred the light with their teeth.
The steamy scent
of sap and green life
soaks through our coats
and makes us sweat.
In here, nothing is subtle.
Hungry probosci leer
and lick the balmy air.
Colours pulse, drip and dazzle.
Petals do not drift or whisper,
they drop onto the dirt
with a succulent thud:
He loves me, he loves me not.
Later I will remember
the liquid names of plants
that kill with sweetness:
Nepenthes, Pinguicula, Saracenia.
I will think of those gentle Latin nouns
turning into sensuous verbs
and I will think of him,
his shy soapstone fingers
turning into claws.
This isn’t matinee snow.
This stuff is mean and crusty.
It sticks in your throat
like goosedown and cuttlebone.
It tricks you into slipping.
After five days
snowmen have morphed
hardened with a skin of ice
their heads are frozen missiles,
their fat graying bellies
that could crush a small cottage
or flatten a cat.
Matinee snow is gentle.
It shimmers on eyelashes.
It twinkles in beards
like chips of mica.
It is lovingly kissed
off lips and noses
and bluing fingertips.
Matinee snow inspires the thoughtful
to visit the needy
bearing steaming jugs of custard
and bowls of winter crumble
wrapped in tea-towels.
This isn’t matinee snow.
It’s the kind of snow
that makes the lonely even lonelier,
the kind of snow that will not soften
enemies or silence,
the kind of snow that makes you think
of cracks, knives and lies
and all the dangerous things
in the world.
I wanted to cheer you up
with a joke
but the chicken
got mashed by a truck
as it crossed the road,
the three psychiatrists
by exploding glass
as they tried to change
and the horse
got coshed, hung
and carved into steaks
after ordering a beer
in the bar.
I wanted to cheer you up
with a joke
but my punchline
is all knuckle and no flesh.
My punchline is
that I love you
and for once
I tell you
in the right order
and at the right moment
but you are neither
Back To Beige
You have to have lived a little
before you settle into a placid pastel life.
You have to have crossed the road
when the red man’s glowing,
eaten Christmas cake in June,
sparked, burned and blown
before you bin your midnight dresses
and your winkle-picker boots.
You have to have died a little
before you know what it’s like to shine:
gorged on colour before you settle for beige.
You have to have slept naked on a beach
wearing the moonlight as an eiderdown,
you have to have chosen love over money
You have to have gone out for dinner
with your demons, dined on your vices
and mopped up the juices
with sin-eater’s bread
before you put your life
into the hands of faultless angels,
before you let ambition
quietly pad out through the cat-flap,
before you give yourself over
Visit Gaia’s Comma Press author page.
Read Dee Rimbaud’s interview with Gaia.
Listen to Gaia’s poems at PoetCasting.
Congratulations to Philip Gross for winning the 2009 T S Eliot Prize for Poetry with The Water Table, published by Bloodaxe.
Born in Cornwall in 1952, Philip Gross lived in Bristol and Bath for many years, and now lives in Penarth in South Wales. His previous collections include The Egg of Zero (2006), Mappa Mundi (2003), Changes of Address: Poems 1980-1998 (2001), The Wasting Game (1998) and several collections for children, including Scratch City (1995) and The All-Nite Café (1993). He has recently published I Spy Pinhole Eye, a collaboration with photographer Simon Denison, published by Cinnamon Press. He is also the author of ten highly-praised novels for young people. He is currently Professor of Creative Writing at Glamorgan University.
Read more about Philip Gross.
The T S Eliot Prize for Poetry was inaugurated in 1993 to celebrate the Poetry Book Society’s 40th birthday and honour its founding poet. Previous winners are Ciaran Carson, Paul Muldoon, Mark Doty, Les Murray, Don Paterson, Ted Hughes, Hugo Williams, Michael Longley, Anne Carson, Alice Oswald, Don Paterson (for the second time), George Szirtes, Carol Ann Duffy, Seamus Heaney, Sean O’Brien and Jen Hadfield.
The other nine shortlisted poets were:
Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, The Sun-Fish (Gallery Press)
Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin was born in Cork City in 1942. She was a founder member of Cyphers, the literary journal, in 1975. Her first collection, Acts and Monuments (1972), won the Patrick Kavanagh Award. Recent books include The Brazen Serpent (1994) and The Girl who Married the Reindeer (2001). Her Selected Poems was published in 2008. The Sun-Fish is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and draws on themes from Irish history.
Fred D’Aguiar, Continental Shelf (Carcanet)
Fred D’Aguiar was born in London in 1960 to Guyanese parents and grew up in Guyana , returning to England when he was a teenager. His previous collections include Airy Hall (1989, winner of the Guyana Poetry Prize) and Bill of Rights (1998, shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize). He is also the author of four novels, the first of which, The Longest Memory (1994), won both the David Higham Prize for Fiction and the Whitbread First Novel Award. Fred D’Aguiar is currently Professor of English and Gloria D Smith Professor of Africana Studies at Virginia Tech State University and a sequence of poems in Continental Shelf was written after the shootings there. This collection was the Poetry Book Society Summer Choice.
Jane Draycott, Over (Carcanet)
Jane Draycott was born in 1954 and studied at King’s College London and Bristol University. Her previous collections include Prince Rupert’s Drop (1999; shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection) and The Night Tree (2004), both Poetry Book Society Recommendations. In 2002 she won the Keats-Shelley Poetry Prize. She was chosen as one of the Poetry Book Society’s Next Generation Poets in 2004. Draycott has worked as a teacher in London, Tanzania and Strasbourg, a resident writer at Henley’s River and Rowing Museum and a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Oxford Brookes University. She now lives and works in Oxfordshire.
Sinéad Morrissey, Through the Square Window (Carcanet)
Sinéad Morrissey was born in Portadown, Co Armagh, in 1972 and grew up in Belfast. She is the author of three previous collections: There Was Fire in Vancouver (1996), Between Here and There (2002) and The State of the Prisons (2005). Her awards include the Patrick Kavanagh Award, the Rupert and Eithne Strong Award and the Michael Hartnett Poetry Prize. She is lecturer in creative writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, Queen’s University, Belfast . Through the Square Window is the Poetry Book Society Winter Choice and the title poem won the 2007 National Poetry Competition.
Sharon Olds, One Secret Thing (Jonathan Cape)
Sharon Olds was born in 1942 in San Francisco. Her first collection of poems, Satan Says (1980), received the inaugural San Francisco Poetry Center Award. Her next collection, The Dead & the Living (1983), received the Lamont Poetry Selection in 1983 and the National Book Critics’ Circle Award. Her other collections include Strike Sparks: Selected Poems (2004), The Unswept Room (2002), Blood, Tin, Straw (1999), The Gold Cell (1997), The Wellspring (1995), and The Father (1992), which was shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award. She currently teaches creative writing at New York University. One Secret Thing, which was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, explores the themes of war, family relationships and the death of her mother.
Alice Oswald, Weeds and Wild Flowers (Faber)
Alice Oswald was born in 1966 and lives in Devon with her husband and three children. Her first collection, The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile (1996), won a Forward Poetry Prize (Best First Collection) in 1996, and was shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize in 1997. Dart (2002), her second collection, won the T S Eliot Prize in 2002. Woods etc. (2005) was shortlisted for the Forward Poetry Prize and the T S Eliot Prize. In 2007, her poem ‘Dunt’ won the Forward Poetry Prize (Best Single Poem) and in 2009 she also published her latest collection, Sleepwalk on the Severn. The poems in Weeds and Wild Flowers are accompanied by etchings by Jessica Greenman and the collection was the Poetry Book Society Spring Choice.
Christopher Reid, A Scattering (Arêté Books)
Christopher Reid was born in Hong Kong in 1949 and studied at Oxford. He then worked as a freelance journalist and as book review editor of Crafts magazine. His first poetry collection, Arcadia (1979), won the 1980 Somerset Maugham Award and the Hawthornden Prize. This has been followed by Pea Soup (1982); Katerina Brac (1985); In The Echoey Tunnel (1991); Expanded Universes (1996); For and After (2002); Mr Mouth (2005) and The Song of Lunch (2009). He is often cited as co-founder with Craig Raine of the ‘Martian School’ of poetry which employs exotic and humorous metaphors to defamiliarise everyday experiences and objects. He has also written two books of poetry for children: All Sorts (1999) and Alphabicycle Order (2001). A Scattering (Arêté Books) is dedicated to the memory of his wife, the actress Lucinda Gane.
George Szirtes, The Burning of the Books and Other Poems (Bloodaxe)
George Szirtes was born in Budapest in 1948, and came to England with his family after the 1956 Hungarian Uprising. In recent years he has worked as a translator of Hungarian literature. He co-edited Bloodaxe’s Hungarian anthology The Colonnade of Teeth. His previous collections include The Budapest File (2000); An English Apocalypse (2001); Reel, winner of the 2004 T S Eliot Prize; and New & Collected Poems (2008). He lives in Norfolk and is Reader in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia . The title of The Burning of the Books and Other Poems refers to the events at the end of Elias Canetti’s Auto da Fe.
Hugo Williams, West End Final (Faber)
Hugo Williams was born in 1942 and grew up in Sussex. He worked on the London Magazine from 1961 to 1970, since when he has earned his living as a journalist and travel writer. His previous collections include Billy’s Rain, which won the T S Eliot Prize in 1999, Collected Poems (2002) and Dear Room (2006). He writes a freelance column for the Times Literary Supplement and lives in London . West End Final, which includes poems about his father, the actor Hugh Williams, was the Poetry Book Society Autumn Choice.
The 2009 judges were:
Simon Armitage was born in Huddersfield in 1963 and currently lives in West Yorkshire . In 1992 he won the Best First Collection for Kid (Faber) at the inaugural Forward Poetry Prize, and a year later he was named the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2004. He works as a freelance writer, broadcaster and playwright, and is currently a Senior Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University. His other titles include, Book of Matches, The Dead Sea Poems, CloudCuckooLand, Killing Time and The Universal Home Doctor. Tyrannosurus Rex versus the Corduroy Kid (Faber, 2006) was shortlisted for that year’s T S Eliot Prize. His latest books include a new translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Faber, 2007), The Not Dead (Pomona Books, 2008) and Out of the Blue (Enitharmon, 2008).
Colette Bryce was born in Derry in 1970 and has lived in England, Spain and Scotland. She received an Eric Gregory Award in 1995, and won the Aldeburgh Prize and the Strong Award for her first collection, The Heel of Bernadette (Picador, 2000). In 2003, she won the National Poetry Competition for her poem The Full Indian Rope Trick, which became the title poem of her second collection (Picador, 2004), shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize that year. She was Fellow in Creative Writing at the University of Dundee from 2002-2005 and North East Literary Fellow (University of Newcastle ) from 2005-2007. Her latest collection is Self-Portrait in the Dark (Picador, 2008). She works as a freelance writer and teacher, and was recently appointed Poetry Editor at Poetry London.
Penelope Shuttle was born in Middlesex in 1947, and has lived in Cornwall since 1970. She received an Eric Gregory Award in 1974, and her first full-length collection was The Orchard Upstairs (OUP, 1980). This has been followed by seven further collections, three of which have been Poetry Book Society Recommendations, including Adventures with My Horse (1988) which the PBS re-published in 2008 as part of its Back in Print series. She is also the author of three novels and with Peter Redgrove has written two non-fiction books and two further novels. She reads her poetry throughout the UK, is an experienced poetry tutor, and is the current Chair of the Falmouth Poetry Group. Her latest collection, Redgrove’s Wife (Bloodaxe, 2006), was shortlisted for both the Forward and the T S Eliot Prizes. Her new collection, The Repose of Baghdad, will be published in 2010.
Sophie Mayer writes passionately and politically about poetry and film anywhere and everywhere she can, including Horizon Review, Esprit de Corps, Blackbox Manifold, Sight & Sound, Little White Lies and Artesian. She blogs about reading as Delirium’s Librarian, and is a regular contributor to the review blog for Chroma journal, where she is commissioning editor. Her Various Scalpels (Shearsman, 2009), her first solo poetry collection, was the auspicious start to a very exciting three-book year, followed by The Cinema of Sally Potter: A Politics of Love (Wallflower, 2009)and (as co-editor) There She Goes: Feminist Filmmaking and Beyond (Wayne State University Press, 2009). Her next collection, The Private Parts of Girls, will be published by Salt in 2011, and she has future plans for encounters between poetry and film. Visit Sophie’s website.
Rearranging the Stars
after Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient
Lost you. Out here, where a call to prayer shivers
stone into song, where night falls like knives,
there’s a trick to the sky, how you see it, smell
what’s coming. It is like reading. It’s so small
at first, and granular, then overwhelms: eyes,
mouth, hands, hair. You cannot possibly sleep.
But you do, lulled by wind and waking. Stories –
his stories, more stories than there could be stars –
breathe around you with their shine, draw hearts
on dirty glass. You know what they find in deserts:
fragments. Texts under sand winds, brilliant disasters.
And you, in secret, on fire with new constellations.
Previously published in Staple 71: The Art Issue (Summer 2009).
pieuvres / lèvres (lilies / lips)
Did I realise then that I would spend my whole life
with their lipstick on my face. Other girls and their kisses
goodbye. I know that now, having watched soft asses
walk away from me, having been paid my tithe
for watchful quiet. For the flattery of desire. Ingrown
hair, that’s what it’s like: turning against the razor
blade and on itself. Like my toes, curled mazily
through each other with waiting, waiting that flows
up my calves and out my mouth. A shower in reverse:
a fountain, inwards out: And what was in her,
I felt that too. All her hardness in my fingers
rattling her stem. All those flower words, perverse
euphemisms for a force like an ocean
in a swimming pool. Did she not see
what poured out of (her into) me? Salt of her sea,
stick of her sap. And it’s not the explosion
that I’m talking about, her wet cunt a concrete
underpass around my hand. It’s the light that thrums
from her lily-mouth, her pollinated tongue
extended like a stamen. Like a beesting hot-sweet
under the skin, a tear oozing from an eye. An ingrown
hair turning outwards against skin tough as petals
under drops of rain. The pain of it like cold metal,
like waiting. The stem of spit plunges down
and you wonder that such softness does such hurt.
No softness in the doing: spit’s active as a limb,
a cock, a race, a city street. It dances itself thin.
The stem of things. Wet birth. My first.
Buy Her Various Scalpels (Shearsman, 2009) here.
I believe that a writer’s duty as a writer is first to him- or herself. That point in inarguable. A writer has to make a hard-nosed commitment to writing, or the writing won’t happen at all. A writer has to seek out time to write and then guard that time like a pit bull. I got married a few years ago, and committing to writing feels like getting married. Saying yes to the whole enterprise day after day takes a willing and stubborn soul.
But a writer’s first duty as a writer and as a human being, I have also come to believe, is to nurture other writers. A writer must be midwife at the births of other writers’ voices. A writer must share the wisdom she or he has learned in her writer’s solitude and give that wisdom away, with kindness and generosity and gentleness.
It is, I am certain, the giving of an heirloom, an absolutely necessary behest.”
– Julie Checkoway
We keep our desires
in small cast-iron boxes
with impenetrable locks,
carry them with us
wherever we go
and they weigh us down,
make our hearts feel
Sometimes sounds creep
through the metal:
bird song, slow ferns uncurling,
rain on greenhouse glass.
when we’re not concentrating
scents slip out
of the miniscule cracks:
crushed orange peel,
fevers and hot summer skin.
Sometimes our desires
are beyond our control,
they make whirlwinds
in their prisons,
rock their boxes,
scream for honey
We try to ignore them,
blush and fidget,
smother them with our coats
and talk about maths.
Sometimes we’re cruel,
we fill the bath
and hold them under water
until they stop babbling,
deprive them of our dreams.
from Dr James Graham’s Celestial Bed (Comma Press, 2006)
“I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.”
– Wallace Stevens, from ‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’