Monday, March 17, 2008

ON ISLANDS, CAVAFY AND JEN HADFIELD


ON ISLANDS , CAVAFY AND JEN HADFIELD


I have been searching for islands since I left Ceylon in 1969. Ceylon no longer exists and not because of a rising ocean. Even the ravenous Tsunami of 2004 has gone back to its lair and islanders are picking up flotsam and getting on with their lives. What else are we supposed to do? Birth, love, death, a glance back sometimes, and blinkered, hatted, we march ahead

When I left the island I did not realize I carried it with me. I think of Cavafy and his bitter poem called The City, that “you will find no new lands, you will find no other seas/The city will follow you. You will roam the same/streets. And you will age in the same neighborhoods.” Cavafy becomes even more acerbic as the poem goes on. He says “there is no ship for you, there is no road.” (translation: Rae Dalven)

But of course there is always a ship, always a road. Like Auden’s “poetry makes nothing happen,” Cavafy’s powerful melancholy challenges us. But we do not have to listen. We can choose to ignore the poets' instructions.

And so can all musicians, painters, playwrights, every manner and species of artist fit for the new Ark. If we take Auden and Cavafy to the letter we would pack up our pencils and laptops and disappear. Even Kilroy would not choose to go for a walk.

In the course of my walking about, and thanks to writer Marie Carter, I came across poems of Jen Hadfield. Hadfield lives in the Shetland Islands. But she wanders about Canada in some of her latest book Nigh-No-Place. Spending time with her poems has taken me on a most pleasant journey, past Ithaca and back. She says in “No Snow fell on Eden,” “Eve knew no one who was dying/Adam never sat up late, drinking and crying.”

That is a beaut of a rhyme and full of the sadness of cold and remote climates. Hadfield has a deft ear for the sounds of windswept places. “I will meet you at Pity Me Wood./I will meet you at Up-To-No-Good./I will meet you at Stank, Shank and Stye./I will meet you at Blowfly.”

She has a wicked sense of humor and an ear tuned to fine lilts and jigs in the English language. Here is

Thou Shalt Want Want Want

It is in heaven as it is on thy neighbour’s deck—
a plume-tailed cat, a noodle-legged tin table.

You will covet your neighbour’s horse
and you will covet your neighbour’s land.

You will covet your neighbour,
crawling the apex with a blue tarp in tow.

You will covet bandshaws and braziers,
longbows and throwing knives,

parlour guitars,
shovels snuffling three feet of snow.

You will covet your neighbour,
planting a spittoon for the rain to hawk into.

You will covet your neighbour, hunched over the piano stool
to hammer out the wild, piratical waltzes.

You will covet polkas, quails,
painted pitchforks, a picket fence, a Dutch barn.

a chafing dish, a bain marie,
a kid, a civet, a trivet;

you must have a bodkin, an empire pram.

Thou shalt want want want.
You will covet your neighbour’s ass.

Thou shalt covet Warmbloods,
Arabians.



--c) 2008, Jen Hadfield, from Nigh-No-Place ( BloodAxe Books )


If I may be so bold: I covet the poetry of Jen Hadfield.

5 comments:

Jack Point said...

Fine poem and a nice muse on islands.

Brian Campbell said...

Excuse me for being crass, but I would have struck out the last two lines, and ended with "Thou shalt covet thy neighbour's ass."

But a fine poem, nevertheless.

Brian Campbell said...

...by a fine-looking lass.

(Couldn't resist that.)

Jacqueline Romero Miranda said...

Thanks to the poems Vivimarie, thanks to them one can to know more about women's stories and more about the world in those others latitudes, telling by you somebody close in a familiar way.
About uppercases I think that I am discovering my own way to use them. Thanks for the essay Indran.

Muchas gracias por los poemas Vivimarie a través de ellos puede conocer un poco mas de las historias de las mujeres y de la historia de tu país, visto a través de tus ojos, alguien que lo siente de manera tan cercana.
En relación a las mayúsculas ahora mismo defino el sentido que tienen en lo que escribo. Gracias por el ensayo Indran.

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