Sunday Poem – Mimi Khalvati

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Afternoon everyone.  The Sunday Poem is going up a little earlier than usual today for a number of reasons.   The hubby and I already walked the dogs this morning through some fields near Dalton before the rain really started – which has now happened so that is that job done.  I also have to prepare to do a small talk on an Ofsted video about best practice in music teaching at an Inset session on Tuesday so this is me distracting myself from doing what I don’t want to do.  After I’ve made this blog post as long as possible, I think I will have to actually do what I’m supposed to be doing.

This week has mainly been work and some poetry things.  I’ve been doing lots of reading this week – the ‘Letters of Ted Hughes’ which I find unbearably sad.  I also want to read everything that Ted Hughes references that he is reading in the letters – but I think I would need to have at least ten more hours in each of my days.  I’ve started reading the Forster-Cavafy Letters as well and I’m halfway through reading a book by Terry Eagleton ‘How to Read a Poem’ which was on the reading list when I started the MA at Manchester Met.  I dutifully bought every book on the reading list when I first started – I didn’t want to be caught out by not having the right book – I’m such a goody two shoes.  As it happened, the book was never mentioned and I started reading it stubbornly to get my money’s worth, but I’m actually quite enjoying it now and learning quite a lot from it. The chapters I’ve read so far are 1.  The Functions of Criticism 2. What is Poetry? 3.  Formalists and I’m about to start Chapter 4 ‘In Pursuit of Form’.  It is actually more entertaining than it sounds!

On Tuesday I went to another reading up at the Wordsworth Trust http://www.wordsworthtrust.org.uk .  This time it was Anne Stevenson and M.R. Peacocke.  On Friday I went to Brewery Poets which is a critiquing group which meets at the Brewery in Kendal on the second Friday of every month.  There were two new people there this month but still only six of us as various people couldn’t come for various reasons.  However, I really enjoyed it and enjoyed reading people’s poems – it reminded me of the positive aspects to writing groups.

Yesterday a copy of Acumen arrived with my review of Myra Schneiders’ pamphlet ‘What Women Want’ and a cheque for £25!  This is so nice when this happens – I had a little dance around my office.  A part of me still can’t believe that I can get paid for writing.  I really like doing reviews as well – it somehow feels easier than writing poems – you don’t have to wait for the poem to come to you – you can just get on and start writing.

Today’s Sunday Poem is by the lovely Mimi Khalvati, who I read with last week at the Lyric Festival in Sheffield.  Mimi has a new pamphlet out with Smith/Doorstop called ‘Earthshine’.  Actually to call it a pamphlet is slightly misleading because it is posher than a pamphlet – it has a spine and a glossy front cover – it is a beautiful object.  Mimi is well known for her skills as a tutor as well and I experienced this first hand at a residential last year with Mimi and Myra Schneider as the tutors, run by the Second Light Network.  Mimi seems to me to be a very gentle person (although I don’t know her well), very softly spoken, always smiling, but she does not pull any punches in workshops!  She is very astute with her comments and manages to be challenging without making anyone feel bad because she is so nice!  And most importantly, you can trust her opinion – if she says something is good, she means it, because she would tell you if it wasn’t – she is very honest.  If you can get along to one of her workshops, you should.

Back to the pamphlet though – Earthshine is a sequence of poems which started from observations of each days weather and then spin off on various trajectories.  A lot of small creatures inhabit these poems – mice, mouse lemur, bats and the pamphlet is tinged with an air of elegy, rather than being made of elegy if that makes sense.  Only a few of the poems make a direct reference to the death of a mother but the whole pamphlet carries this feeling – although I wouldn’t want to mislead you into thinking this pamphlet is sad, or maudlin.  It does have sadness but it is also funny.  In the first poem ‘House Mouse’ the ‘I’ of the poem finds a dead mouse and the poem finishes ‘I tuck her into the finger/of my banana skin – a ferryboat to carry her over the Styx.’  This is funny and sweet and sad – sometimes the poems leave you not knowing what to feel.  They are also a lesson in close observation.  In ‘Madame Berthe’s Mouse Lemur’ the lemur is referred to as ‘itsy-bitsy portmanteau,/ little living furry torch’ and ‘a geisha lowering her fan’.

I’m raving about these poems that focus on tiny animals because the poem I’ve chosen is one of the poems that deal directly with death and has no animals in it at all! But I love the use of repitition in this poem, the blue running right through it and then that twist at the end is heartbreaking.   So here is the Sunday Poem, with thanks to Mimi Khalvati for permission to use it here.    You can buy ‘Earthshine’ by clicking on this link http://www.poetrybusiness.co.uk/shop/834/earthshine-mimi-khalvati

– Mimi also has full collections available – most recently ‘Child – New and Selected Poems’ published by Carcanet, available here.  http://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=9781847770943

What it Was  – Mimi Khalvati

It was the pool and the blue umbrellas,
blue awning.  It was the blue and white

lifesize chess-set on the terrace, wall of jasmine.
It was the persimmon and palm side by side

like two wise prophets and the view that dipped
then rose, the swallows that turned the valley.

It was the machinery of the old olive press,
the silences and the voices in them calling.

It was the water talking.  It was the woman reading with her head propped, wearing glasses,

the logpile under the overhanging staircase,
mist and the mountains we took for granted.

It was the blue-humped hose and living wasps
swimming on the surface.  It was the chimneys.

It was sleep.  It was not having a mother,
neither father nor mother to comfort me.

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8 responses »

  1. I love this poem so much, though I was looking forward to reading one of the animal poems since you said all those lovely things and got me interested in them. Darn, I am just going to have to buy the pamphlet now! It’s a while since I read any of Mimi’s poems so it time I revisited them by the look of things.

  2. Lovely poem – what a lovely poem!

    Seems our Venn circles overlap at some corners (!): M R Peacock was my tutor on a correspondence poetry course I once did; also my referee for the M/c MA back in 1999. Always thought Mimi K would be a lovely person too.
    And also we meet on me writing you this than getting on with my PTLLS essay for tomorrow!.
    Must look up the Forster-Cavafy letters.

    M

  3. This is lovely. I recognise the place. She’s writing about Almaserra Vella, the gorgous converted olive-mill in Spain where she tutors sometimes. I went om a course there a few years back…the life-size chess set gives it away!

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