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Poetry Reading -- D M Thomas

Guest poem submitted by Victoria Field:
(Poem #1513) Poetry Reading
 Almost too diffident to choose,
 His hand skims his slim paperbacks;
 Matronly arses in tight slacks
 And grey men trying to look sage,
 A dozen scattered round the hall,
 Sit patient as the poet um's
 From page to page before he comes
 To something low-keyed, trivial,
 He might, um, read. His voice, a moth's

 Slow stuttering flight. My brain grows numb.
 This is the English idiom:
 Reserved free verse, laconic, slight.
 Two hours of this and I can't smoke.
 I sip the complimentary plonk.
 My eyes stray to the double-doors;
 If only Anna's 'drunks and whores'
 Frequenting Petersburg's 'Stray Dogs',
 Herself among them, skirt worn tight,
 Would burst in with their fug of smoke,
 And show him what poetry's about!

 I think of Alexander Blok,
 'The tragic tenor of his age',
 His eyes like an electric shock;
 Of Osip Mandelstam, that verse
 Which sent the Kremlin mountaineer
 Into a paroxysm of rage
 And him to labour camps and death
 From typhus near Vladivostok.

 I think of how his widow knew
 Each line of his entire work
 By heart; though scarcely dared to sleep
 For fear she might forget a line.
 Of course it helped her that he wrote
 In metre, the device by which
 A poem can memorise itself.
 For poems without form we keep
 Having to reach up to the shelf.

 His voice still flutters like a moth.
 I could have stayed at home to wank.
 I fix my gaze upon the wall
 Of the bleak assembly hall,
 Seeing, in well-typed Roman, verse -
 Or so it looks; it can't be worse
 Than his; I blink to clear my eyes...
 No, it's 'In the event of fire.'
 That's droll... We have his poetry,
 There's no fire that it can't control.

 Imagine -dear God!-memorising
 This poet's work! There's just one line
 Of his I love, and know by heart;
 Almost sublime, and as surprising
 As, through black clouds, a harvest moon:
 'And now, um, now... perhaps... to end...'
 Not yet. Not yet. Stalin, old friend,
 Send in your thugs. An instant burst.
 Then bury him in some silent wood.
-- D M Thomas
Note: Stray Dogs - a cabaret in pre-Revolutionary Petersburg noted for
poetry and dissipation.

D. M. Thomas is a poet, novelist, translator and biographer who is best
known for his controversial novel 'The White Hotel'. His first stage play
'Hell Fire Corner' (see has just closed its first
ten day run in Truro.

He is Cornish, not Welsh, and no relation to Dylan Thomas - more details on
his website .  He has a new poetry collection
forthcoming from Fal (see entitled 'Dear
Shadows', a large section of which deals with the cultural and personal
changes experienced by the Cornish over the last century, through poems
illustrated by old family photographs.  Emigration, loss, sport, religion,
bereavement and humour are among the themes. It will be his first new
collection of poems since 'Dreaming in Bronze' was published in 1981
although 'The Puberty Tree', his Selected Poems published in 1992, contained
some new and unpublished work.

This poem, from the new collection, posted with his permission makes
reference to Stray Dogs - a pre-revolutionary St Petersburg cabaret
frequented by Anna Akhmatova and her husband Nikolai Gumilyov.

In answer to the query about the word 'holocaust' in the translation of
Lot's Wife, that word would not have had the same connotations in the early
1920s and in fact the first two lines of that stanza literally translated
are something like 'who will mourn for this woman, she who is the least of
the losses'.

Best wishes,
Victoria Field.

14 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Ajit Narayanan said...

Is it only me, or does this poem remind anyone else of Tony Hoagland's
The same apparent nonchalance, the same shift from a specific situation to
generalities to philosophy and back, the immediate accessibility, and a
theme that Hoagland could have sunk his teeth into: if I wasn't told who
wrote this, my first and most emphatic guess would have been Tony Hoagland.
They must have learnt poetry from the same teachers,


Celine said...

I really like this poem. I know I've felt that sense of aggrivation of someone talking about something they know nothing about, and you miss the real thing so much. And that sense of boredom. Grr.

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