Sunday Poem – David Clarke

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I nearly forgot it was Sunday again today – I think the paint fumes may have got to my head.  Yesterday I spent all day painting – well some of the time I was hoovering up dust and we have the most stupid, most impractical heavy hoover.  I was eventually let loose with a paintbrush and roller which I quite enjoyed and then I went off to walk the dogs while the hubby did all the high parts of the walls which I can’t reach.

A couple of years ago I flew in a plane with a really horrible cold, the type of cold that makes the skin around your nose peel away because you are having to blow it so much.  Anyway, since then I have had this sense of vertigo or dizziness when I stand near an edge so I can’t even face standing on a ladder without feeling this horrible sensation so the hubby has to do all of that.
Anyway, that was yesterday.  Today I woke up with aches in all kinds of places – I’m guessing from lugging around stupid hoover and rollering endless white paint.  We are hoping to sell house so most of it will be white.  If it was up to me, I would do different coloured walls everywhere just because I get bored of painting the same colour but hubby is more sensible and has restrained me to buying only one tin of purple and one of blue which I am allowed to use on one wall in two bedrooms respectively, if that makes sense.

We got up late today, walked the dogs on Walney Beach, bought some laminate flooring to put down – ours has been down for eight years and is peeling and falling apart..and then more white painting.

It has not escaped my notice that it is the T.S. Eliot readings tonight either.  This time last year I was there!  This time last year my day off each week was a Monday which meant I could go down to London for my friend Jill’s birthday and spend the day in a lovely spa hotel and then go to the readings.  This time last year I was standing at the bar next to Ruth Padel, who I grinned in a slightly demented manner, because of course I knew her face and recognised her, but she didn’t recognise me of course and probably thought I was some kind of stalker…

I really wanted to go again because I had a great time – but my days off this year are Thursday and Friday so not really practical, not without rearranging lots of teaching. I’ve just got back from a meal out with some friends and I have resisted looking at Twitter and Facebook all night but am looking forward to reading what everybody thought –

The other exciting thing that happened this week was that I was rehearsing on Thursday night with a new brass ensemble that I have been wanting to put together for ages.  We have decided to call ourselves the South Lakeland Brass Ensemble – there are seven of us and it all seemed to gel together well.  There are big plans afoot to play at a few wedding fayres in the area to get our first customers!

But the most exciting thing that happened this week was that I managed to finish my tax return – with the help of a couple of poet friends I even constructed a spreadsheet.  I have a hatred of all things to do with numbers and I hate doing my tax return.  Normally I leave it to the last possible moment.  In fact last year I thought I was doing well by doing it on the 30th but then HMRC website went down and I was frantically sending it in on the 31st just before midnight as usual.  So this is the earliest ever I have done it. And armed with my new spreadsheet, my new year’s resolution is to become more organised and note my incomes and expenditure and not be such a muppet about it so that I don’t have this pain and trauma next year…so far I have stuck to it but then it has only been 12 days and I haven’t done much poetry things so not much to keep control of at the minute…

Anyway, I should really stop wittering if I want to get this blog post done before midnight – it’s 11.1opm now! Today’s Sunday Poem is by David Clarke – who was the worthy winner of the Michael Marks Pamphlet Award this year.  He is published by Flarestack, who also won the Publisher’s Award.  David has a really interesting blog which is worth checking out which is at http://athingforpoetry.blogspot.co.uk/

I didn’t get to speak to David much other than to congratulate him at the MM awards – so it is nice to feature a poem from him here.  David was a winner in the Flarestack Poets Pamphlet Competition in 2012.  He lives in Gloucestershire and works as a teacher and researcher.

The Flarestack pamphlets are really beautiful objects – David’s ‘Gaud’ is a very deep green.  I meant to ask David what ‘Gaud’ meant actually and then forgot – so just googled it and the amazingly reliable internet (ah hem) tells me that it is a ‘showy and ornamental thing’ which makes the first poem in the pamphlet more remarkable and strange as it is about sword swallowing, which I suppose as well as being impressive and dangerous, is also showy and ornamental – I mean there is no use or point to sword swallowing is there? But then there is no use or point for a lot of the most important things in life I suppose.

The poem I’ve chosen for the Sunday Poem is Leda, which is after a painting by Karl Weschke, which you can have a look at here http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/leda-and-the-swan-189249

Now, as a rule, ekphrastic poems are not my favourite type of poem, but I also love ekphrastic poems that make me change my mind again, which this poem does.  Maybe I connected with this one as well because I’ve been reading lots of Ovid recently and my mind is full of transformations and women turning into animals.

I’ve also always loved poems about Leda in general – obviously Yeats did one – my lovely friend Liz Venn has one – I’m sure there are more that I’ve loved which I can’t remember at this time – but what intrigued me about this take on the story of Leda, who, depending on your viewpoint and which version of the story you read is either raped or seduced by Zeus who is in the guise of a swan.

David’s take on this familar story worked for me before I ever saw the picture and I loved the sexually agressive tone of Leda’s voice – her knowingness, and the interesting questions he raises about who is in control in this poem – she holds Zeus’ neck and ‘stays’ his wings with her fury but in the last line of the poem she says ‘tonight our terror will beat at the palace walls’.  And that use of ‘our’ tells us she is not in control of things either – so who is? Her husband, who along with his courtiers is described as ‘brute and blunted’? Is he in charge? It is the palace which holds them captive – and the swan certainly isn’t in charge – Zeus is limited by the body he has to wear – the swans ‘feathered mechanics.’

And looking at the picture adds another layer of meaning and understanding and more questions to this fantastic poem, which is exactly what ekphrastic poetry should do – it should stand on its own, but also be like an onion, which when you see the painting allows you a little more understanding/knowledge/questions of the poem and reading the poem again should bring you to a little more understanding/knowledge/questions of the painting.  I think – I’m saying this as if it is gospel or a steady truth, when in fact I’ve just thought of it now.

I hope you enjoy the poem – if you would like to order David’s pamphlet from Flarestack Poets, then the website is http://www.flarestackpoets.co.uk

Leda – David Clarke
(after Karl Weschke)

I’ve seen the god in the prey of my husband’s hounds,
how it leaves muscle and breath as beasts are felled
like a breeze that shudders out of a sea of wheat,
its only trace a wake of stillness.  The courtiers
who sharpen their steel for the quarry, the nobles
who cast snagging nets in the forests, are all too brute
and blunted to know what they kill, what never dies –

a drive from deep in the world, it sparks black
in the swan’s eye, it cocks his head, ratchets
his body’s feathered mechanics.  The dead glass
of the lake is leaden as fate, bears no reflection.
I hold the neck, stay wings with my fury.
Mouth all feathers and blood, I tell him
tonight our terror will beat at the palace walls.

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5 responses »

  1. Ever since I first read (and read) ‘Musee des beaux arts’ all those years ago when I did A level art, and was set to copy work by Ceri Richards, and Braque and Degas to find out what they were up to, and my art teacher gave me Joyce Carey’s ‘The horses mouth’ to learn how painters think with their eyes and see with their imagination, I’ve loved poems inspired by or about paintings and sculptures. I love that collection: Poets at the Tate. But till this morning I never heard the word ‘ekphrastic, and I’m not sure I’ll thank Kim for putting it in my head. But I will thank her for this dense, clotted, muscly poem which puts some of those effetely soft-porn Ledas in their place. It’s the narrator’s complicity in violence that’s disturbing for me…….a sort of folie a deux . Another one to copy and ‘re-read. Thank you for that.

    • Hi John – I thought you might like this one – have you read any of Pascale Petit’s work? She writes a lot from art. Yeah – sorry about ekphrastic. It is an ugly word isn’t it? It doesn’t look or sound like what it means does it….and not a very useful word anyway…
      Kx

    • Sorry, Kim. It’s the sort of daft things I’ll write in a slack-minded moment. And I shall now check out Pascale Petit (who I don’t know) xx

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