Today is National Poetry Day, and I spoke earlier on BBC Radio Stoke about my poem, ‘Kith and Kiln’, which his written from the point of view of a pot-bank. Viewing Stoke as an outsider, I am always struck at how uniquely elegant these structures are. They remind me of grand old ladies watching over us, keeping us in check, asking us to mind our manners. Here is the text of the poem and a link to the broadcast:
Kith and Kiln by Lisa Mansell “Home is where somebody notices when you are no longer there. ” ― Aleksandar Hemon. Am I still here? Do you see me notch the oxide sunset like an ancient etching? I've always hunched here, under rain or low-scud cloud-- heard distant Hanley goose-honks; watched unhusked skinheads in a drunken slump stumble to their midnight dhansak shank and I used to dream of gathering the crazed hem of my brick-skirt (a drey of cindered mesh that cloisters my nesh in winter) to waltz at the moon in blousy damask and tease the bone-ash stars: to fang their quartzy flux. If I could speak I would talk in round vowels of wom and dome, and I'd ask you to stay-- but my throat is damp with rain without the rasp of caulk-smoke from my clayfire belly. If you must leave me, then do it quick before you see me untruss myself brick by brick 'til I am just a spill of sheeded powder whispered on history's lips like a cipher. Do you see me? Am I still here?
I also asked colleagues and students to submit their poems today, and these poems show that we are all different; our poems are different are as different as we are. We have poems here that are political, historical, formal, informal, experimental, observational; there is always time for poetry. I hope that you enjoy them:
EL SALVADOR (1979) by Margaret Leclere (Senior Lecturer in Screenwriting) Oh El Salvador What do I know of it? Pictures on TV Darker people dying, Suffering and crying. What do I see of it? Flesh wounds are a blur A stain of red, a wail of dread Gunshots whistle over whose head? What do I feel of it, Cuddled on this couch? My cigarette is out, Uncomfortable, I shift about. A young man tells his tale, sharp-featured, Torture too terrible. They always suffer, those with dark eyes, They always have. They hardly feel it. We’ve seen too much of it. I wish I could get comfortable. What does it do to me, El Salvador? There’s a pain on my poor face, I see no pain on yours: You’ve seen too many faces crushed by the wheels. You don’t wring your hands, Hands bound by the thumbs or with fingernails pulled off. Those eyes plucked out were bright before, Legs cracked moved swift before, Lips so swollen kissed before. How stupid the sad clown, or the happy clown. How despicable our sentiment. Blubber lips, wet eyes, near tears, Hangdog, slouched, insomniac. Poor kleptomaniac, megalomaniac, Poor pre-menstrually tense, agrophobe, claustrophobe. Poor me. Deprived, depressed, oppressed, obsessed. Despised. Long pig. El Salvador. There would be pleasure in the cry Did it not stick at my throat. I would love To pad gently through Noddy’s bubble world When the giant has made the soft snow fall And call, scream, blow it all away With the cry – El Salvador. Lamposts would fall, engines would stall, Pretty lace curtains would crinkle and curl And a crack would travel up the wall. The dome burst, for El Salvador.
[p.s. Margaret wrote this when she was a student in response to the 1979 events in South America.]
Vogue Brides by Kerry Jackson (Level 4 English and Creative Writing) Vogue brides blushing since 1910. Each dress, each decade just as dramatic. Girls still scarpering, now and then. Designers faultless, flaunting and charismatic. Roaring twenties birthed Bara, bobbed brides. Forties gowns were war filled simplicity. The Valium lovers of the sixties, veils headlined. The naughty women wore bold for publicity. Beneath the twenties were unseen rompers. Forties barely seen girdles revolutionary. Maidenform the sixties liberal enough for an encore. The thongs of this decade everyone but he would see. Nearly virginal, probably pregnant, almost reluctant. At least she got to wear a dress so decadent. [Inspired by the title Brides in vogue since 1910]
Writer and Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing, Paul Houghton offers his thoughts on his favourite poem, “Memories of West Street” by Robert Lowell
It’s worth it alone for the line ‘Like the sun she rises in her flame-flamingo infants’ wear.’
But it’s a great poem about middle age disappointment, crime and hospital incarceration! I love its stories within a story structure and blazing images.
In 1990, when I was staying in Boston, I met Lowell’s best friend, a wonderful man – a painter named Frank Parker. He had sad but fascinating stories about Lowell excitedly reciting his poems in the kitchen while he (Frank) and his wife were trying to retire to bed!
Memories of West Street and Lepke Robert Lowell Only teaching on Tuesdays, book-worming in pajamas fresh from the washer each morning, I hog a whole house on Boston’s “hardly passionate Marlborough Street," where even the man scavenging filth in the back alley trash cans, has two children, a beach wagon, a helpmate, and is “a young Republican.” I have a nine months’ daughter, young enough to be my granddaughter. Like the sun she rises in her flame-flamingo infants’ wear. These are the tranquilized Fifties, and I am forty. Ought I to regret my seedtime? I was a fire-breathing Catholic C.O., and made my manic statement, telling off the state and president, and then sat waiting sentence in the bull pen beside a negro boy with curlicues of marijuana in his hair. Given a year, I walked on the roof of the West Street Jail, a short enclosure like my school soccer court, and saw the Hudson River once a day through sooty clothesline entanglements and bleaching khaki tenements. Strolling, I yammered metaphysics with Abramowitz, a jaundice-yellow (“it’s really tan”) and fly-weight pacifist, so vegetarian, he wore rope shoes and preferred fallen fruit. He tried to convert Bioff and Brown, the Hollywood pimps, to his diet. Hairy, muscular, suburban, wearing chocolate double-breasted suits, they blew their tops and beat him black and blue. I was so out of things, I’d never heard of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. “Are you a C.O.?” I asked a fellow jailbird. “No," he answered, “I’m a J.W.” He taught me the “hospital tuck," and pointed out the T-shirted back of Murder Incorporated’s Czar Lepke, there piling towels on a rack, or dawdling off to his little segregated cell full of things forbidden to the common man: a portable radio, a dresser, two toy American flags tied together with a ribbon of Easter palm. Flabby, bald, lobotomized, he drifted in a sheepish calm, where no agonizing reappraisal jarred his concentration on the electric chair hanging like an oasis in his air of lost connections. . . .
From Selected Poems by Robert Lowell, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1976, 1977 by Robert Lowell. Used by permission.