Alan: I actually loved this anthology (Michael Hulse and Simon Rae, eds., Pegasus Books, 2011), which tells the story of the century through the works of its (English-language) poets. But by the end both I and the poems (the last section titled, tellingly, “Endgames”) felt exhausted, limited, even jaded, and I wondered, is it possible still for poets to speak the language of magic and transformation? To shake, if not shape, the culture?
On Finishing The 20th Century In Poetry
She is now, to be frank, a kept woman,
subject to pouts, occasional rages,
wheedling, whimsical, but on the whole
exquisite and, as we desire,
refined. Visited by a few,
we could call her “prostitute”
or, more charitably, mistress of several.
She longs to be freed from these
brocaded rooms, beyond comfortable,
touched with opulence even –
longs not to be forever waiting
on those who provide this
remembers how, when young,
she went howling through the winter woods
and could bring hail to the crops
and cause the rivers to flood,
and made all the people follow,
hoping, hoping to be chosen...
Nancy: Culture shock? The “American Savage” sits in on a poetry reading in London, 1978.
The Poetry Reading
I sat very still.
I sat still as a comet’s tail, a conscious contagion.
I sat still as an axe seething to bite wood.
I sat still as a glacier giving birth.
I was quiet.
I was quiet as water at the lip of the stone.
I was quiet as a stooping hawk.
I was quiet as a tooth on flesh.
I said nothing, and for the first time
I heard my own sounds,
my voice, guttural as a bear, how it grew from roots
of stone and made its way through the night shadows.
I heard my words crashing against ledges,
falling thunderstruck like pines,
splintering the room and smoldering in the corners.
One by one the poets read their own truths
into the dim room, while I sat very still.
They unrolled their worn land in my mind,
drifted with the ashes of dead fires. It was quiet.
Quiet. I wanted to seize their poems in my teeth
and shake them alive;
I wanted to open a window.
I wanted to go home with my wild words,
home to my own wide wild land.