Lent 37: Answering Back

Answering Back, an anthology edited by Carol Ann Duffy, is a fantastic idea for a varied collection of poetry. It is subtitled as “Living poets reply to the poetry of the past” – where a range of poets are invited to choose a poem from the past that they would like to respond to. The results are interesting – some respond by matching theme and form, some parody the original, some take the vaguest wisp of a feeling from the original and riff away. There’s a wealth of variation here – well worth a read or two.

There is a nice (and much more optimistic) takedown of Larkin’s compelling ‘This Be The Verse’ (“They fuck you up, your mum and dad,”) by Carol Rumens. David Hart translated and responded to a little gem by Yehuda Amichai. I particularly like Elaine Feinstein’s echo of Anna Akhmatova’s ‘The Last Toast’, and I love Dennis O’Driscoll’s apparent pisstake of the title of a Cesare Pavese poem, in which “Death will come and it will have your eyes…” becomes, amongst other amusing potential titles, “Death eyes you, stares you in the face. / Death assumes the running of your eyes. [...] Death will seize your assets, cut off your eye supply. [...] You are up to your eyes in death. / Death takes after you, eyes the image of yours.” Two vilanelles I almost shared by Elizabeth Bishop and Paula Meehan, both excellent, but requiring more typing than my final choice, below:

     The Red Wheelbarrow
     by William Carlos Williams

     so much depends
     upon

     a red wheel
     barrow

     glazed with rain
     water

     beside the white
     chickens

     Selected by Ian McMillan

     The Green Wheelbarrow
     by Ian McMillan

     To be honest, not much depends on this.
     My dad just left it by the side of the lawn
     When he went to pick me up after I fell.

     His spade and fork sat in it waiting
     For him to return; like my mother
     Sat looking through the window

     Each night, waiting for him to come home
     From the office, like she’d waited for him
     To come back from the sea.

     Winter nights, the rain glazed the road,
     It turned to snow, flakes floating
     Like the feathers of chickens.

     My dad picked me up and I stopped crying.
     I’m crying now, dad. I wish
     I could sit by the window and see you coming home.

     Go on, push the wheelbarrow again!
     Let me hear the music of the squeak!

See the intro/roundup

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