A collaborative poem which arose by accident while emailing Kat, and which has been duly filleted to remove the worst of my excesses – sometimes the last few lines of a verse will suffice! I’m very grateful to the editors at The Missing Slate for this opportunity and for their help.
Okay, listen. We don’t have much time.
So am I.
Soon the rot will devour us both.
The sun will explode and swallow
Everything you ever said
That was slightly stupid:
Galaxies will rise and fall
The civilisation that remembers
If you passed that exam
Is already on the wane.
There is no time to be furious
Or pensive, or alone.
It is important that you listen
Before time turns out
On this flicker of light within,
This tiny shout against universal entropy,
Your momentary stand in the dark.
Please, before we are ashes,
Then a sea of lukewarm atoms
Paralysed a few degrees above the absolute –
While you still can:
The end is coming
And it has one hell of a beat.
–Delilah Des Anges (2013)
(I wrote this in bed this morning after catching up on Professor Jim Al-Khalili’s Light & Dark: Light on iPlayer last night, and contemplating this morning the feasibility of a tattoo reading “existential horror you can dance to”; the latter I think should be given further consideration, as I already have an enormous list of tattoos I wish to get and it does nothing but grow).
Despite the sound of this title, it’s not actually the story of a quirky goth band’s rise and fall, but in fact a collection of poetry covering the period of 2011-2012, with subjects ranging from the life cycle of the universe to the pestilence of London’s history, from love to death, from profound sadness to cosmic joy (often over the course of one poem).
There is not only a print edition, but also a very affordable Kindle edition, available in the U.S. and U.K. and a variety of local Amazon sites.
Getting people to read poetry or even buy poetry books is an endless experiment in formats. The larger collections are too much of a risk for most people to take on unknown poets, so I’m having a go at making tiny collections around specific themes as a kind of taster introduction to the things I’ve written.
Subject matter includes Ganymede, the beautiful boy Zeus abducted in the form of an eagle; Persephone, Demeter’s daughter who spends half of every year in the land of the Dead with her husband Hades; Icarus, the possibly-arrogant young man who flew too close to the sun on the wings constructed by his father Daedalus; Cassandra, cursed with prophecies no one believed; and Ameinias, the unfortunate spurned would-be lover of Narcissus (cover art) who cursed him with knowing what it felt like to fall in love with him and be rejected.
The cover art is taken from this digital painting, from a series of works about mythological boys I did for a friend of mine.
In the wake of the very talented Chrissy Williams releasing Flying Into the Bear, a manageable volume of poetry which now sits eagerly on my Amazon wishlist thanks to the magic of the Universal Wishlist button and Chrome, it occurred to me that a small and simple collection of poetry at an affordable price might be what people need to get them enthused. The other option is that I’d have to be as good as Chrissy Williams, and we know that’s not going to happen overnight!
To this end I’ve collected up four little books of diminutive length and negligible cost and arranged them around different themes based on their content, and the first of them, a compendium of poems about [science], is now available from Lulu.com – and only from Lulu.com – as a taster or introduction to my work. You can, of course, also go through the content: poetry category on this blog both for my poems and for my inepty attempts to analyse other people’s, if you are so minded, but buying this little thing will allow you to turn off the internet and have a moment’s peace with some poetry, and I find that’s the best way to enjoy poems.
If anyone is at all curious, the cover of this modest collection of verse is a photograph of a fence near Highgate, taken in the depths of autumn back when I was working on a project called Postcards from an Explosion. There are also explosions contained within this book, which is to do with the miracle of poetry: one can put a great deal into a very small space, because words are actually magic.
(I’ve also recently bought the eBook version of I Will Kill You With My Bare Hands by Jessica Hayworth, which was one of the most sensible investments I’ve made in a while. 219 pages of being berated with sometimes frightening and sometimes passionate intensity by a disembodied voice in a hole was apparently just what I needed).
I carry my wounds like an aphid carries her children
Perhaps all these days
laid end to end
form a map of the heart
that lived them;
perhaps all these mornings
overlaid upon each other
form a topography
of the landscape inside
the mind that woke in them.
certain, however, that
in the drooping of the day
there is no poem,
only a falling curtain.
— Delilah Des Anges
There has been this month very little emphasis on meter, and that is because despite a number of poetry courses I have never really been able to get to grips with it much outside of a partially-intuitive de-DUM-de-DUM when attempting iambic prose or the like. Trochees, spondees and so on are far, far beyond my remit.
The closest I have been able to get to understanding how the devil one is supposed to make sense of meter, and indeed a book I would recommend in general for furthering your understanding of poetry and your own skills of prosody, wasHow Poetry Works by Phil Roberts. In recommending one book on poetry analysis and writing which works very well for me I should I suspect also recommend a book which does not work for me at all but which is very popular and has a chatty, down-to-earth approach to helping you write your own poems, Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled.
For a continuation of this month’s activities by greater minds than mine (not hard to find), in the short analysis of poems or poetic genres accompanying anthologies of poems, one cannot go far wrong with Staying Alive, edited by Neil Astley and published by Bloodaxe Books, orAxed Between The Earsedited by David Kitchen and published by Heinemann. 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem, edited & commentated by Ruth Padel is, as one might expect, also a good way to continue learning about poetry and poetry analysis.
Have you enjoyed the poetry this month? The mini-essays? Are you merely grateful that it’s all over? Whichever, why not take a little pocket change – or a lot! – and donate to MSF.
on the pane
goes the rain
in your brain
the mounting pain
down the drain
all over again
goes the unrelenting
— Delilah Des Anges
In poetry pacing is regulated by two separate factors: the position of words on the page, and the meter of the lines. These two can interact with each other in order to further manipulate the reader’s perception of the speed of the poem.
Metrically, switching between types of meter can have a profound effect on the experience of the poem’s pace; the reader can be brought to a near-standstill, or feel acceleration in the pace of the lines towards the poem’s crescendo. This can be heightened still further by the change from long to short words, or vice versa, and long to short lines, or vice versa.
In terms of placement, line-breaks and isolating individual lines has a psychological effect on the reader’s pace; a visual species, we learn to associate the spacing out in the plane of the page with the spacing out of events in time, as typographical cheats such as increasing the kerning will demonstrate:
s l o w l y
s l o w l y
s l o w l y
visual trickery like this may seem “cheap” in comparison to metrical manipulation but this is only because it is a little easier to achieve!
A third means of pacing control is lexical. This should be inherent to all poems, and occurs when the poet’s word choice is determined in part by how difficult or lengthy the word is to read, as well as the semantics and semiotics of it (or indeed the euphony of it).
Al three taken in careful combination can throw the reader through the poem at precious the pace the poet wishes without any silly extraneous annotation, or any guidance from outside sources. A sign of a well-put-together poem is the ability of anyone utterly ignorant of the material to read it as it is meant to be read, in a manner identical to any other completely ignorant or utterly informed reader.
something stirring in the shadows beneath the bed
with a bagful of pins in your swallowing throat
a loaded gun pressed like a palm to your head
each breath is an enemy soldier’s joke
as the sun flees and leaves you for dead.
night comes down with a killing blow
unstoppering thought with cruelty
until the mind’s killing fields glow
with blood and endless impiety
as the sun flees and dark grows.
when the last light’s gone
and your mind is wide,
evil suspicions won
thus fled the sun.