National Poetry Month: Day 28

insomniac’s prayer

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
rampaging inside:
thus fled the sun.

— Delilah Des Anges


Other poems to read today:

Sleep in the Mojave Desert, Sylvia Plath

The Man With Night SweatsThom Gunn

Slumber-SongSiegfried Sassoon

To His Mistress Going To Bed, John Donne


Throughout this month I will be nagging readers to donate to MSF

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National Poetry Month: Day 26

He Wishes His Beloved Were Dead

WERE you but lying cold and dead,
And lights were paling out of the West,
You would come hither, and bend your head,
And I would lay my head on your breast;
And you would murmur tender words,
Forgiving me, because you were dead:
Nor would you rise and hasten away,
Though you have the will of the wild birds,
But know your hair was bound and wound
About the stars and moon and sun:
O would, beloved, that you lay
Under the dock-leaves in the ground,
While lights were paling one by one.

— W. B. Yeats

vs

She wishes her lover were living

Were you but risen warm and living,
and new light birthing red in the east,
You would come to me, and be forgiving,
And I would stir that inner beast;
And you would growl with violent features,
Forgiveness rescinded for those living:
Thus you would keep us both a-bed,
though you are the fiercest of God’s creatures,
So know your hands were gripped and slipped
from round the earth and air and sea:
O would, fair foe, that you’d read
Of the tortures through my body’d ripped
while new light birthed above me.

— Delilah Des Anges
One of the more effective ways to dissect a poem is to pastiche it or parody it. It helps a remarkable amount with any kind of writing, in fact: in an attempt to produce a credible replica in terms of style or pacing or in the case of a poem, rhyme, rhythm, and theme – or to invert it – it is necessary to study it. It is a little like tracing over a picture and changing some of the features.
In He Wishes His Beloved Were Dead, there is a more complex pattern than appears at first glance, and in attempting to adhere to it line by line it becomes clear. The first four lines are standard quatrain: abab, but the next four break into daed, and the remaining five are fgefg. This overall pattern, ababdaedfgefg, is not so simple – and there is further complication! The first f line has an internal rhyme – bound and wound – and the closing g line also encapsulates a variation on the first of the two lines: And lights were paling out of the West, becomes, While lights were paling one by one. 
With this complexity it is impressive to be able to create a sense, an argument, while stepping still to the tune of the rhyme scheme. Trying to recreate it makes it a little easier to appreciate how difficult it must have been to write, even if you, like me, aren’t the biggest fan of Yeats.

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National Poetry Month: Day 25

Some of the carcasses I saw

Pity brown feathers which line
the pine-needled pathways of Alfred’s wood;
their breast is lining now the belly
of the smelly feral cat who is up to no good.

On rocky beach in middle sector Wales,
between the shales and pebbles lies a hulk
of a porpoise lost on the hostile land,
his planned route unfit for his bulk.

And bloated waxy pale like uncooked dough
we didn’t know he was a man to begin:
but his beard in the water waved like trees,
like our knees as we knew he’d been done in.

— Delilah Des Anges


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National Poetry Month: Day 11

The Ballad of the Boy Who Wanted to Shove a Soldering Iron in My Face, and Why He Was Right

I stood in a bathroom (not mine)
a foot from the door and listened
while shampoo-water dripped on
the floor and my wet back glistened
under buzzing strip light;
my ex was outside and speaking
which that night was freaking me out;
he’d just told a friend, “if I
see that bitch again, I’ll take
my soldering iron to her face.”
In my place you might’ve taken
fright, or started to cry; not I.
I turned off the light and waited,
until, as anticipated, Sam and his
silent audience sauntered away,
and (cold, drying) I slipped
back to the room today’s sexual
partner – not a boyfriend, just
a friend whose kindness ends
once you stop having sex (I’ve
had a lot: that was the first
incarnation of the ex). It stops
the minute you close your legs,
the friendship turns out to be not.
On this occasion I was told I
was dreaming, whatever Sam had
been scheming about it wasn’t me;
never mind that behind every door
in the hall there was a male brain
with an axe to grind over and over
again – my mouth was trouble, my
presence resented, but when
everyone’s ire was vented, half-way
down the vodka bottle the hands
would move to “fuck” from “throttle”.

How do I know now that he was right?
It wasn’t much later, just some
average night at the union bar,
with far-from-resolved issues floating
among our crowd like tissues in the
sink of some proud masturbator (Erik).
This is how I knew: interrupting,
“Feelings? You? Don’t make me laugh,”
he said, about four minutes before
I snapped and punched him in the head,
“You’re not even a person in the
first place.” So I seized his ponytail,
and smacked him in the face; the
ensuing ruck promised me further
unwaited infamy, and he told his
friends, “She’s always had it in for me,”
with a soupcon of suggestion that,
crazy as I’d proven to be, there was
nothing but his wounded dignity to be
considered. Perhaps if I’d be sober
I’d not have been over-inclined to take
his side; but the vodka coated the
remnants of my much-battered pride,
slipped inside my head and told me,
they want you dead, and with
no friends to enfold me in calmer,
sensible thinking – with no friend at
all except what I was drinking – it
was less than a week after my bar-front
attack when I launched from a window
and broke my own back.

Had he only been equal to the threats
he kept making (instead of being fearful,
swaggering, and faking) he might have
seared off the source of this shite,
left me burned and pitied, not still
seeking fights. But a victim’s never
equal in the stakes of sympathy,
and if bound for the hospital, it
wouldn’t be me who took it, but
whoever looked at my prescence and
said they’d not brook it; I was
an infection, a tick, beneath contempt,
and in the inflection of my name
to this day, I know it takes little
to incline people that way. I
open my mouth, the conversation heads
south and I limp out of the world
in disgrace, ready to wait in the
dark for an unearned burned face.

— Delilah Des Anges


Throughout this month I will be nagging readers to donate to MSF

National Poetry Month: Day 5

Menses

Her first cycle came like a flood
But it hasn’t been back since:
When she laments the lack of blood
All her bleeding, aching sisters wince;
She drove needles through her arms
to prick her womb at last awake
but the eggs ignored these silver charms
and her veins began to shiver and break.
They gave her another’s child to hold,
to silence the unheard voice far inside
but though it was warm she stayed cold
until the orphaned baby cried.
Now she’s mother to the motherless,
though her womb is still a dead end,
and though the newspaper calls her blessed,
to gain a child she lost a friend.

Delilah Des Anges

Like the terza rima, the interlocking rhyme scheme of the traditional balladic form (ababcdcd etc), or quatrain, is an excellent tool for driving a narrative. The interlocking, repeating rhyme creates an expectation, both of the coming rhyme and what the rhyme may be, but as the quatrain does not bridge stanzas the way that terza rima does, if the poet is end-stopping the second b creates a pause at the end of each four-line unit (whether the stanzas are separate or not), which breaks down the overall narrative into bite-sized chunks. This both makes it easier to listen to, and to remember.

Ballads, especially, are intended to be sung or recited. Poetry is after all – although many people forget – the earliest form of long-form storytelling, preceding writing. It is the musical, cyclical rhythm and repeating rhyme scheme, the use of repeated phrases (“wine-dark sea” from The Iliad being a classic and indeed classical example) which allows the reciters of these poems to find their way through incredibly lengthy sagas.

This poetic form, being rather old, is also less rigid in its rules, and a-line-only or b-line-only ballads are quite common too: an example of a b-line long ballad would be Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner.

It is also a poetic form intended to be sung, and the rhyme scheme of abab is frequently encountered in song lyrics, which should surprise no one who remembers that once poetry and song were inextricably linked.


Throughout this month I will be nagging readers to donate to MSF.