All entries for September 2007

September 20, 2007

The Secret: Trade

In the run-up to the publication of my first collection of poetry, The Secret , I am posting poems on this blog along with commentaries about the process of writing them. The fourth poem to be posted here is ‘Trade’.


'Trade' is the twenty-second poem in the sequence, 'The Lesser Secrets' and it stands for the Major Arcana symbol of the world. You can hear me reading it here:

September 13, 2007

The Secret: Our Lady of Snows

In the run-up to the publication of my first collection of poetry, The Secret , I am posting poems on this blog along with commentaries about the process of writing them. The third poem to be posted here is ‘Our Lady of Snows’.

Our Lady of Snows

O meichti ladi owr leding – tw haf
at hefn owr abeiding…
—Ieuan ap Hywel Swrdwal

You pass an old woman crossing the bridge
and offer me a brown paper parcel;
your outstretched arm is the frozen river.

Inside the paper, a woollen coat, thick
and red, its buttons glint synthetic gold
at the shuffling old woman crossing the bridge.

Frozen winters at home, the cold blossom
of snow: knees blue and purple from skating
when the river froze to an outstretched arm.

At night my mother’s voice reading aloud
and the window that never closed rattling
above village women crossing the bridge.

Pulling on the red coat over my dress
is a consolation and I gaze for fish
beneath the frozen river, an outstretched arm.

I must wait for some conclusion to this,
our meeting, some signal that I can go.
I am the woman crossing the bridge over an outstretched arm, the frozen river.

Dreams can be very useful sources for poetry and I have been very lucky in having many vivid dreams that have made many of the poems in the collection. In one dream, I saw a woman in a red coat and a giant white arm that metamorphosised into a frozen white river. The writing of the poem came from these two images and I decided to use an unrhymed villanelle. The thought of the poem is repetitious circling around the image of the river and the gesture of the outstretched arm, but in the end, the narrator escapes in the last long line that walks her over the bridge.
The epigraph ties in to the narrator’s victory with its praise of a ‘meichti ladi’. The extract comes from a poem titled ‘Hymn to a Virgin’ and in The Dragon Has Two Tongues, Glyn Jones suggests that it might be an example of ‘the first Welshman to write a poem in English’.
‘Our Lady of Snows’ is the eighth poem in the sequence ‘The Lesser Secrets’ and it correlates with the Major Arcana symbol of Strength.

September 04, 2007

The Secret: My Own Pleasure

In the run-up to the publication of my first collection of poetry, The Secret , I am posting poems on this blog along with commentaries about the process of writing them. The second poem to be posted here is ‘My Own Pleasure’.

My Own Pleasure

A pleasure whose origin is to be placed outside us and in objects whose presence we cannot be sure of; a pleasure therefore that is precarious in itself, undermined by the fear of loss.
—Michel Foucault

I search for you in the city:
I search for you in the city,
scan each face I pass, note each tree.
Scan each face I pass, note each tree.
I scan for you in the pass, note each city;
I search each face in the tree.

The bright shop window you’ll see;
the bright shop window you’ll see
with her: it’s strange that you’re so close
with her. It’s strange that you’re so close.
The bright, her window; strange that you’ll close
with its shop—see that you’re so.

When it grows dark the streets;
when it grows dark; the streets
are a mass of bodies, lights and cars,
are a mass of bodies, lights and cars.
When the bodies a-mass, dark cars
are it: the streets of grows and lights.

You exist somewhere without;
you exist somewhere without
me in the heaving mess:
me in the heaving mess.
Me somewhere. Exist heaving.
You in the mess without.

I stop to buy a newspaper;
I stop to buy a newspaper.
Long columns of words remind me;
long columns of words remind me.
Me? I long to column a newspaper,
stop to remind: buy of words.

Long, striped fields outside Vienna.
Long striped fields outside Vienna
seen when I flew home early.
Seen when I flew home early.
Long seen fields when Vienna flew;
I striped home (outside early).

You were to follow, but then—
You were to follow, but then
like now, something snapped inside me.
Like now, something snapped inside me.
You follow now to inside, like me,
but then you were something snapped.

I foresee you alone:
I foresaw you. Strange that you’ll close
seeing field, word, light;
heaving field, word, light.
Long seen words snap alone:
I am fields you light.

‘Your Own Pleasure’ was originally going to make a pair with another poem called ‘My Own Pleasure’. The idea came when I read in passing that in ancient Rome there were thought to be two kinds of pleasure: gaudium and voluptus. ‘My Own Pleasure’ tries to think about voluptus which is a selfish kind of pleasure. It is the kind of pleasure that relies on others for happiness as is summarised by Foucault in the epigraph. So the content is quite serious, but I wanted the form to undermine this. The form that I use is a paradelle, which was invented by the poet, Billy Collins, as a kind of joke about strict adherence to form.

Overall the poem is a part of a sequence called ‘The Lesser Secrets’, which is based on the symbols in the major arcana of the Tarot. ‘My Own Pleasure’ corresponds with the number 0 and the symbol of the Fool.

September 02, 2007

The Secret: Love Song for His Mother

In the run-up to the publication of my first collection of poetry, The Secret , I am posting poems on this blog along with commentaries about the process of writing them. The first poem to be posted here is ‘Love Song for His Mother’.

Love Song For His Mother

Woman is an object, sometimes precious, sometimes harmful, but always different.
—Octavio Paz

He thinks of her as a series of objects,
like the badly fitting glove she left on a bench
in the city park; on returning there was
only that bench and the empty green.

Her language conjured long tailed birds
and there in the beak of the word something bright.
In the front of taxis, she used a hand mirror
first to check her lipstick, then angling it

to catch him in the back seat, or that candle she lit
when the lamp blacked out with all the light in the city;
the key he glimpsed in the bosom of her blouse,
a heavy chunk of metal for box or door.

Even after she was gone, he passed her place each day:
something white in a high window—not a face,
but the white belly of a pigeon beating its wings
against the pane in the boarded up house.

‘Love Song for His Mother’ was written in a period when I was very interested in Magritte. I still use Magritte’s paintings in poetry workshops (see my teaching blog: ). The particular painting that inspired the poem was Magritte’s portrait of his wife, Georgette:

It was this painting that reminded me of Octavio Paz’s comment in Labyrinth of Solitude that: ‘Woman is an object’. I decided to write a poem in which a woman was represented by a series of objects. There is also the mysterious beauty of Georgette’s mature face and I wanted to create a poem that made a space for the love of mature women. So often, love seems to be aimed at the young, but this was a different kind of love song.

The poem also contains a motif that occurs throughout The Secret: the long tailed bird. This image is inspired by an illustration by Dali, the title of which translates as something like ‘Bird with a Ruby in its Beak’:

Dali - Bird with a Ruby in its Beak

I have always loved this image and I spent a long time trying to figure out what it might represent. In my poems, the bird represents language or communication between one and another. The scene with the pigeon flapping its wings against the pane comes from when I was living in Coventry in 2003. Every day on my walk to the bus stop, I had to go past an old boarded up house and one day a pigeon did appear just as it does in the poem. At first I thought it was a face. Then I realised that it was just a pigeon, but it appearing like that was unsettling. As if it were trying to communicate.


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