Kiss me again

Extraordinary that the writer – Louise Labé – died in 1566 (From Modern Poetry in Translations Advent calendar ):

Kiss me again, kiss me, kiss me more:
Give me one of your most mouth-watering ones
Give me one of your most smouldering ones
I’ll repay it with four, hotter than any embers.

Weary, you say? Here, let me find a cure:
I’ll give you ten, all different, of rare softness.
Then as we mix up happiness and kisses
We two will please each other at our pleasure.
Now you and I will live our lives twice over
Once inside our self; once in our lover, and
Love, if I dare think this thought aloud,

Living in reserve makes me impatient:
How will I ever satisfy my ache,
Unless I rouse myself to seek, astride.

Who could resist the sonnets of Louise Labé? The tone of voice is immediately compelling, weighing face-to-face directness with fully rounded wit. These are poems which speak to everyone – candidly assertive, warmly human – as if five hundred years were nothing.

Louise Labé’s life – like the lives of so many women of talent – has frequently received more attention than her work. It has been shaped into a scandal (she was a courtesan), a legend (she rode to war), and most recently, a sham (she was a man). But perhaps she was just born in the right place at the right time: to an enlightened father who gave her access to the same education (fencing, riding, poetry, other languages) as her brothers; in Lyon, thriving cultural crossroads of the Renaissance.

The importance and pleasure of the work, notably the 24 Petrarchan sonnets she published alongside her Débat de folie et d ’amour, in 1555, seem indisputable, at least. Labé’s language is limpid, uncluttered; each line often a unit of sense, a clear foil for the aural underpinning of the logic, or argument, of its sonnet: rhyme, alliteration and assonance chime and fuse with unmistakable authority.

It seemed to me that I needed to hold onto, or recreate, that clarity, and cohesion, if I was to have any chance of capturing the bravado and enterprise of the sequence as a whole. These twenty four sonnets explore the way the imagination unlocks sensual pleasure; they enact, through form, an elusive reciprocity; they reclaim ringfenced areas of language and culture.

In short, Louise Labé rewrites the male Petrarchan tradition, giving it a blast of positive, debunking energy, a strong female voice and an intelligent physicality.

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Kiss me again

Warning

I’m sure I heard that dogs can smell cancer in us – they just don’t know that the information might be useful to us.

There is  a tradition, though, when disaster looms, of warnings given by animals – who will even speak at times. C S Lewis drew on it in That Hideous Strength when, before an impending earthquake he writes:

One had heard his donkey, another her cat, say “as clear as clear”: “Go away. ” 

Paul Farley speculates that the disappearance of sparrows – once so familiar, ubiquitous, companionable – is a conscious withdrawal, as these old friends leave us to rattle off to hell in our handcarts all by ourselves. Of course, if we were still woken by dawn choruses, the unwonted quiet in the mornings, outside our bedroom windows, would be as clear an alarm as you could imagine. 

The poem is, For the House Sparrow, in Decline:

Your numbers fall and it’s tempting to think
you’re deserting our suburbs and estates
like your cousins at Pompeii; that when you return
to bathe in dust and build your nests again
in a roofless world where no one hears your cheeps,
only a starling’s modem mimicry
will remind you of how you once supplied
the incidental music of our lives.

Warning

Ode to Joy

Many years ago my then brother in law made us a mix tape. It was funny, eclectic and filled with surprises.

It introduced me to the Young Marble Giants and I think it was the first place I heard Al Greens wonderful Let’s Stay Together .

It also included poetry – of the wild, beat, ecstatic kind – that he was exploring at the time. Listening to the high incantatory voice of the poet; the golden flow of images and words is a memory of long car journeys into Wales – entranced and dreaming.

The downside is that I never knew who it was or what he was reading.

We lost the tape years ago – and anyway nothing we have would play it now – but I never forgot the poem and today, looking for something else entirely I came across Frank O’Hara’s Ode to Joy and recognised it straight away!

Better yet, here’s a recording of him reading it:

 

and here’s the Ode itself:

We shall have everything we want and there’ll be no more dying
on the pretty plains or in the supper clubs
for our symbol we’ll acknowledge vulgar materialistic laughter
over an insatiable sexual appetite
and the streets will be filled with racing forms
and the photographs of murderers and narcissists and movie stars
will swell from the walls and books alive in steaming rooms
to press against our burning flesh not once but interminably
as water flows down hill into the full-lipped basin
and the adder dives for the ultimate ostrich egg
and the feather cushion preens beneath a reclining monolith
that’s sweating with post-exertion visibility and sweetness
near the grave of love
No more dying

***

We shall see the grave of love as a lovely sight and temporary
near the elm that spells the lovers’ names in roots
and there’ll be no more music but the ears in lips and no more wit
but tongues in ears and no more drums but ears to thighs
as evening signals nudities unknown to ancestors’ imaginations
and the imagination itself will stagger like a tired paramour of ivory
under the sculptural necessities of lust that never falters
like a six-mile runner from Sweden or Liberia covered with gold
as lava flows up and over the far-down somnolent city’s abdication
and the hermit always wanting to be lone is lone at last
and the weight of external heat crushes the heat-hating Puritan
whose self-defeating vice becomes a proper sepulcher at last
that love may live

***

Buildings will go up into the dizzy air as love itself goes in
and up the reeling life that it has chosen for once or all
while in the sky a feeling of intemperate fondness will excite the birds
to swoop and veer like flies crawling across absorbed limbs
that weep a pearly perspiration on the sheets of brief attention
and the hairs dry out that summon anxious declaration of the organs
as they rise like buildings to the needs of temporary neighbors
pouring hunger through the heart to feed desire in intravenous ways
like the ways of gods with humans in the innocent combination of light
and flesh or as the legends ride their heroes through the dark to found
great cities where all life is possible to maintain as long as time
which wants us to remain for cocktails in a bar and after dinner
lets us live with it
No more dying

Ode to Joy

Dark and Unaccustomed Words

Slow I know, but I have just caught up with the fact that a Trinidadian poet, Vahni Capildeo, won last year’s Forward Prize for Poetry for best collection.

This, from a Guardian article, is what the chair of judges said:

Capildeo’s collection [is] “a book you will forever be opening”.

“She is trying to articulate something quite hard to pin down and isn’t afraid to boldly take risks in language and layout,” Booker said. “It is a book that no one else could have written; it is her DNA, her stamp. Every time you open that book, you’ll find something peculiar, something exhilarating, something new, something exquisitely crafted.”

“[Measures of Expatriation] is almost like a swan – calm on top of the water, and underneath it is pedalling furiously, to create a new vocabulary in terms of the layout and language used, the lexicon it uses.”

One of the commenters underneath the article linked to this lovely short of Vahni reading three of her poems.

Dark and Unaccustomed Words from Riposte Pictures on Vimeo.

Dark and Unaccustomed Words

Derek Walcott RIP

Back in 1971 my sister – 11 years old – bought me a book of poetry with a title that would now, I guess, be considered offensive.

It had been published first in 1964 and reprinted in 1969. It cost 4/-. A lot of pocket money in those days. I loved it and still have it on my shelves.

The collection of poems  include modern and traditional African verse, some American poets and this – rich, vivid, alert, conscious of both past and present – from Derek Walcott, who has died today:

scan 7

Derek Walcott RIP