I took two books downstairs this morning to flick through and find a poem to share. They were Sean O’Brien’s The Drowned Book, which won both the Forward Prize and the TS Eliot prize in 2007, and another anthology edited by Carol Ann Duffy – Out of Fashion. The intention was to choose a poem for today from one of the books, and one for tomorrow for the other.
However, it turned out that the poem I most wanted to share from Duffy’s anthology was, in fact, by Sean O’Brien anyway. In case you were wondering, the poem Sean O’Brien chose to share afterwards in the anthology was from Homer’s Iliad, translated by Pope. I really can’t be arsed typing it out, sorry. It’s full of apostrophes, and one of those letters like an o squished up next to an e.
So, what I will do, is share that one, and link to a sadly negative review of the O’Brien (award winning) collection instead. I’m sure the Fashion anthology will inspire another post or two anyway. It’s funny – I’d also been struggling to decide what, if anything, to share from O’Brien’s more recent collection, November. November is fairly elegiac, as, in parts, is The Drowned Book. It must be related to age. I’m considering his Selected Poems – named, actually, as per the poem I’m sharing here:
You are my secret coat. You’re never dry.
You wear the weight and stink of black canals.
Malodorous companion, we know why
It’s taken me so long to see we’re pals,
To learn why my acquaintance never sniff
Or send me notes to say I stink of stiff.
But you don’t talk, historical bespoke.
You must be worn, be intimate as skin,
And though I never lived what you invoke,
At birth I was already buttoned in.
Your clammy itch became my atmosphere,
An air made half of anger, half of fear.
And what you are is what I tried to shed
In libraries with Donne and Henry James.
You’re here to bear a message from the dead
Whose history’s dishonoured with their names.
You mean the North, the poor, and troopers sent
To shoot down those who showed their discontent.
No comfort there for comfy meliorists
Grown weepy over Jarrow photographs.
No comfort when the poor the state enlists
Parade before their fathers cenotaphs.
No comfort when the strikers all go back
To see the twenty thousand get the sack.
Be with me when they cauterise the facts.
Be with me to the bottom of the page,
Insisting on what history exacts.
Be memory, be conscience, will and rage,
And keep me cold and honest, cousin coat,
So if I lie, I’ll know you’re at my throat.