Sunday Poem – Robert Wrigley

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Evening all.  I have just had a little dance of glee whilst writing the title of this post – even though I was too cowardly to go and speak to Robert Wrigley at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival a couple of weekends ago, or to get my book signed, the lovely Neil Astley, the editor of Bloodaxe Books has given permission for me to use one of the poems from Robert’s new collection from Bloodaxe after reading a previous post about how I read Robert Wrigley’s poems at 6am on the way back from the Michael Marks Awards.

Bloodaxe have published the first UK publication of Robert Wrigley’s poetry.  The book is called ‘The Church of Omnivorous Light’ and takes poems from nine of his previous collections and you can order it here http://www.bloodaxebooks.com

Before I post the poem though I need to tell you that somewhere in the UK is a missing ‘If We Could Speak Like Wolves’. A lovely poet bought a Wolf from this blog and the envelope arrived with no pamphlet in it.  I frankly find it quite terrifying that somewhere is a postman with a penchant for pinching poetry (you see what I did there?) Anyway, I posted another out to the poet in question and I have been reliably informed (yesterday) that it has arrived safe and sound.  Why am I telling you all this? I don’t know, except maybe the power of the internet will return the wolf to its rightful owner – who will then have two personally inscribed copies – which isn’t much use…maybe it’s better left haunting the back shelves of a sorting office somewhere…

This has been the first week in ages where I have actually been at home on my days off! So on Thursday I went to get my hair cut.  On Friday I spent the day catching up with jobs – I have some more information about the residential course in April 2014 at Abbot Hall, Grange Over Sands and more information about the residential course that I’ll be running in October in St Ives and I’ll be posting that up on Tuesday next week.

On Saturday I went to Grasmere to go to a reading/talk/discussion by the Dark Mountain Project.  The Dark Mountain Project has a website http://dark-mountain.net/ which is full of fascinating stuff.  They have a manifesto, and produce beautiful anthologies but I found this summary on their website

‘The Dark Mountain Project is a network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilisation tells itself. We produce and seek out writing, art and culture rooted in place, time and nature.’

I was particularly struck on Saturday by the idea that the language of science and ecology and politics is used a lot to talk about the environment, whereas the language of poetry isn’t – Paul Kingsnorth – one of the founders of the project said that people often discuss the cost benefits of wind turbine and measure what it will save but we don’t really talk about the impact it has on the human soul to see a wind turbine – I’m paraphrasing him here – and he said this in a much more graceful way – but I really liked this idea – partly because I’m not sure what seeing a wind turbine does do – and this does need exploring – and it is different for everyone of course – depending on your political point of view I guess, or whether you live near it or not.  Anyway, I’ve just had a quick scout of the site – it looks like I could easily spend a good couple of hours there…

I was really impressed with the quality of the work that Paul and the other reader, poet Em Strang read from the anthologies.  And I was also impressed by their humility and generosity – both read work from other writers in the anthologies – which left me wanting to hear some of their work – so I will definitely follow this up!

I then drove back from Grasmere, had some chips from the famous Matty’s chip shop in Barrow, and then drove out to Bardsea Malt Kiln.  It was a long evening, but I enjoyed it – Ross Baxter read some poetry – lots of ballads which fitted well with Maz O’Connor – a very talented folk musician who has performed for us in the past at A Poem and A Pint.  I haven’t heard her for a couple of years now, in the meantime she has been at university and winning various awards for her folk music.  Last night she performed some cracking songs she had written as a commission to mark the centenary of the death of Emily Davison – I was really impressed with her originality and musicality.  Alan Franks also performed – a mix of poetry and music and managed to lose his glasses and find them again for the last song – so all in all, a good evening.  I was glad I dragged myself out to do two poetry readings in one day – it was well worth the effort!

So, back to Robert Wrigley (if you’re sensible, you would have skipped all the previous to get to the poem).  There were so many poems I loved in this book – in fact I typed up the whole of ‘Explanatory’ and then changed my mind, because I still can’t get ‘Cigarettes’ out of my head.  I was going to use the poem ‘Explanatory’ which has an encounter with an owl at its heart to show how Robert Wrigley uses encounters with animals to find out truths about the human condition – this happens in lots and lots of his poems – I met Em Strang before the Dark Mountain event started for lunch and she mentioned Robert Wrigley as a great poet of nature and animals…I don’t think I told her I had him in my bag.  Well his book, not him, obviously.

Isn’t this poem illustrating Paul Kingsnorth point about language exactly though?  That all the language of science and the statistics about smoking do not describe the feeling that smoking creates – maybe we are using the wrong language when we try to get people to stop smoking – we use the language of statistics instead of the language of feeling…

I love the line ‘Whoever we would be for the next twenty years/took residence beyond our eyes’ – when I read this it felt like I’d been thumped in the chest – the recognition – we can all look back and remember those moments which shaped us, which we didn’t recognise at the time…then of course, if you’re a poet, you write poems about those moments…

I also like this poem for the way it follows a train of thought – it goes from one thought to the next, linking one to the other – and it does this so effortlessly.   I love the idea that the I of the poem ‘hardly stepped outside myself at all’ as if this is something we should all try and do, that the act of smoking can help you to do this, that a kiss can make you fall out of yourself and into another person..

Here is the marvellous ‘Cigarettes’ in full, with thanks to Neil Astley and Robert Wrigley for letting me post it here.

Cigarettes – Robert Wrigley

All the science notwithstanding, it’s still
a little like a kiss to me,
or what a kiss might lead to.
That first grand expulsion
of breath from the lungs hangs there
like metaphor given skin,
and we almost believe in ourselves
some new way.  Now and then
I bum one, and the rush
of dizziness that results
turns me woman in memory.
Though I lived in the world
I hardly stepped outside myself at all,
and women seemed a miracle of confidence.
Once I crossed the street
to retrieve the still-smoldering butt
a high-heeled, tight-skirted woman had tossed away.
I touched the lipstick-tainted end to my lips,
drew, and the fire burned my fingers,
the fire she’d taken into herself and sent out
into the air around us like a spell.
The first woman who ever let me
touch her, a girl really, only seventeen,
kissed me so deeply I fell out of myself
and became her.  In the moonlit backseat
I knelt upward and beheld my own eyes
in a body of perfection as vulnerable as a child’s.
Quick-witted and foul-mouthed
ordinarily, she was silent now,
even as the moments stretched out toward pain,
even when I reached over the front seat
and took one of her cigarettes and lit it
for myself.  When she moved at last
it was both arms rising toward me,
and absurdly, I handed her the smoke.
Maybe some tatter of cloud passed
before the moon just then
and in that moment her hands ceased
imploring and began simply to accept.
Whoever we would be for the next twenty years
took residence beyond our eyes.
With both hands she eased away the cigarette,
and the drag she pulled into herself
cast a light that left me blind.

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3 responses »

  1. Another reason to like (love?) Sundays. Thanks for the time, effort, and sheer bloody joyous enthusiasm you put into this weekly treat that never feels like it could have been a chore. I like the tale of the errant wolf (much as I’ve been fascinated to watch the way your pamphlet has morphed (linguistically and emotionally) into a warm and sentient pack, snapping and Riesling, and finally here’s one padding off into its own white silences, starting at the fall of dark snow from the lowhanging branches she brushes by. Tony Harrison once told me how a housebreaker once nicked the leather bag that he carried his poems-for-sale in, and how he found it in the field beyond his garden wall, a few quid missing, but all the books intact. TH reckoned this was some sort of metaphor for the standing of poetry, in Newcastle at least. But maybe your wolf finds a mate. Talking of metaphor, the one in today’s poem hit me right between the eyes, especially since it’s a metaphor in a simile. I can’t remember reading anything quite so packed and passionate as this. It’s going to take so many readings! Thanks again for my Sunday treat.

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