Tag Archives: night

Short Poem: ‘Darkness’

I miss the dark.
Nights pitchblack as pitch in the seams of the planks of boats on a starlit sea
when you walk in a garden
with hands out in front in case you walk into a tree.
Moonless nights
where stars let you grope over rocks at the beach with blind eye –
and then the moon rises
like the sunlit reflecting rock that it is. Then you can see. Can see why.
Why I miss the dark.

*****

This poem was originally published in Snakeskin. It seems to have a structure, i.e. it isn’t completely formless. Perhaps it needs more work. But it’s very much like the rural moonless nights where I was brought up, and where I have returned. I stumble around happily in many aspects of life.

A Forest / At Night (The Cure photographic cover)” by Max Sat is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Review: A.E. Stallings, ‘Like’

‘Like’ is the fourth volume of poetry from A.E. Stallings, the best poet that I know of who is writing in English today. The themes in ‘Like’ are the same as in her earlier collections: American childhood, Greek adulthood, children, memory, local wildlife, Greek mythology… and concern for the abused, whether women in the patriarchy or refugees in the Mediterranean. There is a difference of organization, though: instead of four or five different sections, ‘Like’ lumps all the poems together and arranges them alphabetically by title; the result is a smooth, wide-ranging read.

Stallings has a superb mastery of form, and plays endless tricks with it. Start on ‘Battle of Plataea: Aftermath’ and the apparent prose in 11 lines when read alertly turns out to be a rhymed sonnet in iambic pentameter. Or take the eponymous ‘Like, the Sestina’ which uses the word “like” as the rhyme for every one of the requisite 39 lines plus 3 mid-line rhymes (with such variations as “unlike”, “dislike”, “look-alike”). See how the most substantial poem, ‘Lost and Found’, carries its rambling dream-and-memory dissertation on for 36 stanzas of ottava rima in iambic pentameter, whereas the shorter and more time-sensitive ‘Swallows’ uses 6 stanzas in iambic tetrameter. Her ‘Refugee Fugue’ attacks the unmanageable and unimaginable horrors of the desperate and drowned through a blues poem, a host of epigrams, a found poem – an appropriately confused assemblage of forms for a situation not amenable to coherent resolution.

But forget the technicalities! The beauty is in the easy music of her verse, the casual wordplay as with the doorbell that
Portended importunity from Porlock,
the throwaway etymological observations as of nighttime thoughts:
To consider means to contemplate the stars,
the poem on a ‘Pencil’ that ends
And Time the other implement
That sharpens and grows shorter,
the playfulness of ‘Night Thoughts’ that begins
Night thoughts are not like bats
and then goes on to describe the flight of bats in extended lyrical detail, before finally ending with how night thoughts are different…
And always the underlying awareness of thousands of years of history, showing through in the description of sky, contemporary but ancient, as
the contrailed palimpsest of blue.

And that leads me to my only regrets about Stallings’ verse: too much Greek literature with which I’m barely familiar. I’m not saying it’s a failing on her part, it’s merely a regret on my part that I can’t keep up. Although I would love to come across work by her with Norse themes…

But I will settle for what she offers: a very wide range. She can be very succinct as with ‘Paradox’:
Of the ones that happened to die, the little ones and the old,
Of hypothermia, or drowning, all died of cold.

Equally, she can be extensive and thorough in her exploration of a theme as with ‘Lost and Found’, where she is wandering through a dream of mountainous moonscapes, landfill landscapes, of things lost – toys, gloves, loves, baby teeth, time, opportunities, keys, coins – led by Mnemosyne, Memory herself, the mother of all the muses. The smooth formal stanzas of ottava rima, maintained steadily for 288 lines, provide the same meditative state as the 250 lines of Matthew Arnold’s ‘Scholar Gypsy’ or Edward FitzGerald’s even longer ‘Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayyam’.

My personal favorite in ‘Like‘ is her semi-formal ‘Crow, Gentleman’ (whose title I am guessing was changed from the original ‘Gentleman Crow’ to prevent it from coming between two poems in ‘Like’ addressed to her daughter). It begins:
Pacing to and fro
Along the autumn shore
Among the wrack and reek

With your arms clasped behind your back
And sporting your grey frock coat
Trimmed in black

And your black hat and your lean long-legged stride,
Up and down the strand perusing
The headlines of the tide:

and ends:
Life is a joke you crack,
Wry and amusing,
And death a dainty snack.

I find Stallings’ work altogether delightful: by turns sardonic, detached, passionate, compassionate, always observing carefully, always expressing wittily, always in masterful control of rhythm and rhyme. I repeat: I don’t know of a better poet writing in English today.

Poem: ‘Winter Night Roads’

Full midnight moon on fields that yield but snows,
Air apple-clean, crisp, sweet
In lungs and nose,
The only sound your feet
Past silent woods –
Inhaling moods and modes
Of midnight roads.

In twenty minutes, you hear only this:
A dog bark twice. An owl hoot once.
A horse snort by a fence.
Some heavy breath behind a hedge: a cow.
A mile away a car’s lights show, then go.
You walk unknown, alone, towards some place
With light and life, perhaps a warm cafe
To make a break in travelling towards day.

This quiet little winter poem (sorry about the timing, Australia…) was first published in The Orchards Poetry Journal. The editors tend toward the bucolic and the formal… but they make exceptions, thank goodness, because this piece is not quite formal. It may be in iambics, but without a pattern to the line length or to what rhyme there is.

But it’s true to the winter outdoor experience–and pleasant enough, so long as you have good boots and adequate clothes!

Photo: “Moonlight” by Jyrki Salmi is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Poem: “The Knife of Night”

Dark Woods

“Dark Trees” by MonoStep

The knife of night
Spreads swirls of black and white
Over the slice of here.

The taste is bold:
A pinch of cold,
Spiced with primeval fear.

This little poem was first published in Candelabrum, a British print magazine that ran twice yearly from 1970 for some 40 years. Its editor, Leonard McCarthy, was a lone voice dedicated to keeping traditional poetic sensibilities of metrical and rhymed
verse alive.

The poem itself came from a nighttime ramble in the forests that cut through the residential areas of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Hundreds of acres in town are undevelopable because of steep slopes, creeks and ravines. Where the night woods are unlit except by moon and stars, there are deer, possums, foxes, flying squirrels, owls… copperheads… poison ivy… The night is beautiful, but you can’t help moving through its darkness in a different state of being, compared with daylight.