Sunday, 23 June 2013

Stop the World I Wanted to Get Off (but have possibly recovered now)

When I first started blogging, I was - how can I put this - a little over-enthusiastic. Daily entries, most of them quite lengthy. After the novelty had worn off (and I had read Anne Allen's blog about not overloading your readers), I calmed down to approximately one entry a week.  Regularity of entries was the recommended way rather than frequency.

However, I suspect that a regular once every two months is probably less frequent than even Anne had in mind. My excuse? Too much to write about. That's right, too much. As soon as I thought, 'Ooh, that would make a good topic for a blog entry,' something else would happen that superseded it until eventually my head was spinning in such a whirl that nothing at all got written.

I have finally managed to slam on the brakes, my head has stopped whirling and last week I actually looked at a poem that I started writing back in March but hadn't got round to editing since. So in the spirit of slowing down, please allow me to tickle your semicircular canals with some thoughts about Julia Copus's poetry collection, 'The World's Two Smallest Humans'.

I first came across Julia Copus when studying poetic form with the fabulous Jenny Lewis; after reading some of Copus's new form, the specular poem, we were to try our hands at our own versions. Naturally, the form is deceptive, and creating a poem that follows the rules *and* says something even vaguely meaningful was a challenge too far for me. But her name stuck with me and I recently acquired her latest collection, something slim to read on the plane when I wasn't allowed to read from any electronic device.

My initial reaction on flipping through the collection was disappointment. I know, shocking, but put it down to the tiredness I felt on discovering there were only two specular poems in the whole collection, 'Miss Jenkins' and 'Raymond, at 60'. These two again flex syntax and context to its limits to create a different sense for each line, depending on where it is in the poem. Potted life histories, a man caring for an ageing mother is reflected through the poem to the small boy being cared for, and a retired teacher reflects on the career that has passed. Then I went back to the beginning and read each poem more carefully and my disappointment was subsumed by my delight in what I was reading.

The inside cover blurb describes the poems as navigating a series of landscapes, both external and interior. Much of it struck me as being rather about silence, at three levels. 'Heronkind', which describes a heron catching a fish, as well as the biological necessity for herons to catch fish; I found myself holding my breath, waiting for the fish to be caught, the heron to feed: a silence of a third kind, beyond the interior and external silence of the landscapes described in the poems.  Silence is referenced directly in the poem 'This Silence Between Us', a metaphorical silence that is talked about and around:
                   'This silence that lies between us like a body
                    that long ago gave up responding to pain,
                    still less to light .....'
and the stanza ends with the question that we all feel in our frustration with faltering relationships, 'how long do you suppose it can continue?'

There is also a theme of children, lost, unborn or unattained: in the sequence 'Ghost' about Copus's attempts at IVF; in the poem 'Stars'; in the 'notes' from Sussmayr to Mozart while the pregnant Constanze reclines in the background; in the escaping young teen of 'An Easy Passage'.  Sussmayr complains of having to translate 'direct from the silence', reading between the lines as we all need to when reading poetry.

I could write at much greater length but don't want to  defer the moment when you too can go and acquire a copy of this collection. And when you've read it, tell me what your favourite poem/line/phrase was. It's tricky to pin it down to one, but I think mine is possibly the following, from the fourth packet of 'The Particella of Franz Xaver Sussmayr':

           The soul itself, in that it is wafer-thin,

            is shockable as litmus - yet agile too and slips
            between the present and the past,
            leaving a trail like pollen dust.'


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