Guest poem sent in by Vikram Doctor
(Poem #131) A Martian Sends A Postcard Home
Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings and some are treasured for their markings - they cause the eyes to melt or the body to shriek without pain. I have never seen one fly, but sometimes they perch on the hand. Mist is when the sky is tired of flight and rests its soft machine on ground: then the world is dim and bookish like engravings under tissue paper. Rain is when the earth is television. It has the property of making colours darker. Model T is a room with the lock inside - a key is turned to free the world for movement, so quick there is a film to watch for anything missed. But time is tied to the wrist or kept in a box, ticking with impatience. In homes, a haunted apparatus sleeps, that snores when you pick it up. If the ghost cries, they carry it to their lips and soothe it to sleep with sounds. And yet they wake it up deliberately, by tickling with a finger. Only the young are allowed to suffer openly. Adults go to a punishment room with water but nothing to eat. They lock the door and suffer the noises alone. No one is exempt and everyone's pain has a different smell. At night when all the colours die, they hide in pairs and read about themselves - in colour, with their eyelids shut.
A poem I like because of its way of startling us into new ways of looking at things - which is something I feel is very basic to poetry. Startling similes is Craig Raine's specialty, and this poem in particular displays his skill to such virtuoso effect that it lead to a new school of so-called "Martian" poetry. But I think that Raine is participating in a very ancient poetic ancient tradition. If you look at the poem as a series of riddles to be deciphered by the reader, then that takes us back centuries to the riddle poems in Anglo Saxon literature. Anyway, have fun decoding the images. Biographical details: Born 1944 in Co.Durham. Educated at Oxford. Has worked as a lecturer at Oxford and as a freelance writer. Edited Quarto 1979-80. Lives in Oxford. Publications include The Onion, Memory (1978), A Martian Sends A Postcard Home (1979) and A Free Translation (1981). Lit.Crit.: ....Where Heaney, Harrison and Dunn have extended the boundaries of their work gradually over the years, Raine asserted his freedom immediately and with spectral confidence. The same is true of Christopher Reid, whose first book, like Raine's, was published in the late 1970s and instantly identified as 'Martian'. Although two substantially different poetic personalities, Raine and Reid share a delight in outrageous simile and like to twist and mix language in order to revive the ordinary. Both refer a great deal to children for this is one way of viewing the commonplace with wonder and innocence. In many respects their work seems to fit Dr.Johnson's description of Metaphysical poetry - 'heterogeneous ideas... yoked by violence together." To put it another way: they have demonstrated that if a poem draws a line round an incident or area of experience, observations which fall within its circumference seek each other out and establish relationships. though such connections and relationships are artfully arranged, it would be wrong to think that the Martians ingenuity prevents them from expressing emotion: their way of looking is also a way of feeling. It is a point which other poets have begun to recognize and explains why Raine and Reid have proved so influential in a comparatively short time. What might, a few years ago, have looked far fetched and fanciful now appears as part of a new confidence in the poetic imagination.... -- from The Penguin Book Of Contemporary British Poetry Vikram Doctor