Poem: Slow Burn

Slow burn, slow burn
You burned me through
For two long years
I was thinking of you

The touch of your hand
Like the spark of a flame
Nothing sweeter on my lips
Than the taste of your name

You were a steady candle
In the back of my mind
But when I came too close
I was repelled by your light

We came achingly near
To a date, then a kiss
I thought we’d spend forever
Going on like this

We thought we liked each other
Then we changed our minds
I found you funny, lame, ugly,
Clever, boring and kind

I wasted my life
In expectation of change
But here we are together
And it’s just the same

Now the fire’s burned out
And I’m done with you –
Slow burn, slow burn
You burned me through.

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Top 7: Christina Rossetti Poems

I have just finished reading a selection of Christina Rossetti’s poems and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed them. They were reasonably simple to read and understand, Rossetti’s use of rhyme often giving them a sing-song quality. Yet despite their apparent simplicity, almost all of the poems were deep, moving and powerful. Reading them felt like getting to know the poet herself, as most of her work returned to the same themes: Rossetti’s relationship with God and the pain she suffered in love. Here are some of my personal favourites:

1. Goblin Market – probably Rossetti’s most famous work, this is a must-read. It tells the story of a girl who is led astray by goblins selling their dangerous wares, but is ultimately redeemed by the love of her sister. The irregular rhyme scheme masterfully reflects the calls of market sellers.

2. Monna Innominata – this ‘sonnet of sonnets’ is comprised of fourteen sonnets tracing the course of a relationship, each of which is a beautiful poem in its own right.

3. ‘No, Thank You, John’ – this charming poem is the author’s polite but definite rejection of a potential lover.

4. In An Artist’s Studio – a poignant sonnet describing one man’s immortalisation of his lover in art.

5. The Hour and the Ghost – I liked the clever, chilling ending of this poem, which is narrated from the perspectives of three different people (‘Bride’, ‘Bridegroom’ and ‘Ghost’).

6. Maude Clare – this poem, which is comprised mainly of conversation, is sassy and surprising to the very last line.

7. Winter: My Secret – a playful poem using the motif of seasons to represent the narrator’s willingness to open up to her lover.

Poem: That Time of the Month

It’s that time of the month again.
A headache rattles my skull
I’m tired, irritable, prone to mood swings
I think of the inevitable blood
And dread what’s to come
Always painful, always messy;
I always end up hurting somebody
And howling in frustration
Because no man understands
Quite how hard it is
To have body hair that just
Won’t stop growing
Like a forest in the full moon
An insatiable appetite
And the constant urge to wail.

As a werewolf there’s just one upside:
When my friends have periods
I can sympathise.

Poem: The Last Unicorn

I am real; just reclusive.
I prefer to stay away from
Humans – it doesn’t do wonders
For your self esteem when
They keep confusing you with
Rhinos. Do I really look that fat
From behind? And when they
Started denying my existence
I just lost it –
And went to live in the forest.
Can you blame me? I have no
Regrets; I enjoy my solitary
Lifestyle; sparkling, rendering
Poisoned water potable
And whatnot. But sometimes
Even I must admit I get sick
Of being a symbol of chastity so
If you happen to know
Any good-looking male unicorns
(Or horses – I’m not fussy)
My number is 77123.
Do I seem forward? Sorry –
It’s just that sometimes
I get a little bit
Horny.

Top 7: Poems from ‘The Whitsun Weddings’

I had never read anything by Larkin before I picked this collection up, and I confess myself pleasantly surprised; though there was a thread of melancholy running throughout, it was never heavy-handed enough to become depressing. Each poem was deep and many-layered, yet extremely accessible. If you’re interested, here are my recommendations:

  1. MCMXIV – a very poignant portrayal of a blissfully innocent England on the eve of the First World War.
  2. The Whitsun Weddings – the titular poem captures one seemingly unimportant moment in time beautifully.
  3. Love Songs in Age – an understated yet pitch-perfect depiction of ageing and grief that uses the motif of old records.
  4. Mr Bleaney – I like the way this poem effortlessly depicts the characters of two men who inhabit one room at different times.
  5. First Sight – I appreciate the sentiment behind this poem, which implies that there is always something better, even if you can’t see it at first.
  6. Afternoons – a lovely but melancholy interpretation of the disillusionment felt by many young mothers of Larkin’s era.
  7. Take One Home for the Kiddies – this poem is grimly sassy and turns very dark, very quickly.

Poem: April

Blossoms unfurl where snowflakes trembled once
James Taylor singing on the radio
An Easter egg firm in my curled hand
Hidden but there like the promise of you.
A moorhen skitters across the lake
The sky blooms pink like an early rose
The road is a ribbon of golden sun
Flushed green, the trees drip with hazy dew.
And April, April, April Rise
Everything tinted with beautiful you.

Top 7: Poems from ‘The World’s Wife’

‘The World’s Wife’ by Carol Ann Duffy is one of my favourite volumes of poetry. It invents the untold stories of the women behind the great men of history in an accessible way, while still having plenty of depth. If you’re interested, here are my recommendations:

  1. Little Red-Cap – Here Duffy recalls a past love affair, using the allegory of Little Red Riding Hood. There is some beautiful gothic imagery and several memorable lines, such as ‘allotments/kept, like mistresses, by kneeling married men‘.
  2. Mrs Darwin – This poem somehow manages to be funny, clever and thought-provoking in just four lines.
  3. Pygmalion’s Bride – A witty take on the classic story of the sculptor who falls in love with his own masterpiece.
  4. Anne Hathaway – A romantic interpretation of what Shakespeare meant when he wrote in his will, ‘Item I gyve unto my wief my second best bed…
  5. The Devil’s Wife – A disturbing but profound poem in five parts, based on the case of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley.
  6. Mrs Quasimodo – This longer poem is tragic but refreshing in that it deals with two ugly people falling in love, and I like the motif of the bells and their ‘murdered music.’
  7. Demeter – A touching and understated celebration of a mother’s love, and a fitting way to end the collection.

 

Poem: Midas

One look at your face and I was sold
I’m flying now on mended wings
All that you touch you turn to gold.

A January day in the dark and cold
Like a startled bird, you made me sing
One look at your face and I was sold.

Apollo, Adonis, you fit the mould
I am the queen, Midas my king –
All that you touch you turn to gold.

You give me courage, you make me bold
More than a lonely winter’s fling
One look at your face and I was sold.

Clasp me tight in a ballroom hold
For a music-hall melody, saxophone swing
All that you touch you turn to gold.

Stay with me until I grow old
Remain my foolish, greedy king –
One look at your face and I was sold
All that you touch you turn to gold.

Top 7: Wilfred Owen poems

Recently I read a collection of Wilfred Owen’s poems and loved their power and poignancy. If you’re interested in getting to know his work and aren’t sure where to start, here are my personal favourites:

1. Dulce et Decorum Est – This is probably the quintessential Owen poem. It is memorable for the sheer grotesque honesty of its imagery and it stayed with me for a long time after I first read it.

2. Disabled – I studied this poem at school but, if anything, reading it again only enhanced my appreciation of its tragic portrayal of a man physically incapacitated by the war.

3. The Send-Off – This poem is less graphic and violent than most of the other poems. It is calm and understated in an unsettling way which makes it all the more poignant.

4. S.I.W. – This poem describes the suicide of a soldier, a theme which is often neglected in war poetry and one which I was intrigued to read about.

5. The Show – A fantastically strange poem which describes the war from a birds’ eye view, featuring some grim but apt imagery.

6. The Parable of the Old Man and Young – I like Owen’s clever re-appropriation of Biblical language to carry his powerful message across.

7. Sonnet (written at Teignmouth, on a Pilgrimage to Keats’s House) – The imagery here is beautiful and, though written before the war, it mirrors the melancholy of Owen’s later poems eerily.

Poem: Chance Encounter

You are one in ten million
Workers in a forgotten city
Where the horn blasts are like
Voices in the wilderness
With Napoleon complexes
Screaming to be heard
And somewhere in the middle
In the pile of bricks and rubble
From a giant’s tantrum
Our eyes meet for the first,
Last and only time
Your cigarette is a dying glow-worm
And the smoke is lost before
It escapes the smog
That smothers the sun
But your eyes – your eyes! –
They burn like the city lights
Which deny the darkness
Of the Harbin night.