Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesday Poem: After Reading Auden

The river we swim
fresh from the horses, under
the sun he calls ‘incurious’,
becomes a man’s body reclining –
its current, muscular,
its translucent depths, flesh.
And we are in deep, held tight
at the shoulders, hips, wrists,
wrapped by arms yielding and
not yielding.

From the very first coming down
into the new valley, we felt the force
of the river’s intimacy, its deep
soundless need – not sour,
not shiftless, but lucid, expressive,
sweet. The leaping light from the cliffs,
the unexpected greenness of trees,
the harrier on thermal air, broom pods
popping in the heat, and we, the girls and I,

At last, we pull away, God knows how,
and climb up through the truffle-dark
horses and yellow broom to the hill-top,
and we pause there and look
back at the river stretching its limbs,
arching its back, its mouth
a soundless ‘o’ of green ecstasy.
And slowly,
             so slowly, limb by limb,
we dry the water from our faithless skin.

                                                     Mary McCallum

All of the above is true. It happened in our summer break over the hill in a place of exceptional rivers. The Penguin Poets' volume of Auden's selected poetry I bought for a couple of dollars from a book fair. Rediscovering him in this worn and slender book that can fit in a pocket or a palm has been a delight; discovering this particular river valley, a thrill. 

Do click on the Tuesday Poem quill in my sidebar to find this week's hub poem by Seattle poet T. Clear. It is my selection as editor this week, and should not be missed. After that check out my fellow Tuesday Poets in the live blog roll. Wonderful stuff there always.

POSTSCRIPT- In April, this poem won the inaugural International Caselberg Poetry Prize 2011, and as part of that was published in the May edition of Landfall 2011. 


Claire Beynon said...

Gorgeous, Mary - alluring, transporting.

Auden and 'a place of exceptional rivers'? Sounds like paradise. . .

L, C x

TK Roxborogh said...

my response? I was breathless. One of the most beautiful poems I have read in a while. An antidote to Fleur Adcock's Incident.

BTW didn't know you and Issy rode. Me grew up with horses (my step-father farmer didn't believe in motor bikes) and me and youngest still do the horsey thing.

Come further south next time for your holiday. All of you. We will have fun. Your hubby and mine and ride the rail trail.

T. said...

Mary, this is sensual and disturbing at the same time, a kind of drowning through the language of the poem, a violation. Provocative. I've read it quite a few times now, and I'm still not finished!

maggie@at-the-bay.com said...

Blimmen beautiful - and such a gift to the "girls" - a summer to remember. Your poems remind me of Jo Thorpe and Claire Beynon - all of you with such an amazing grasp of and ability to convey the language of beauty. Truffle-dark horses are pretty jolly romantic - the good old Wrap eh - it takes a poet to transform the everyday.

Elizabeth Welsh said...

The silence and measured pace of this poem seems to match your holiday, Mary! It seems to pull me backwards, while I am still reading onwards. Inexplicable feeling. Thanks so much for posting!

Helen Lowe said...

Love it, Mary--the kind of inspiration one wants from a holiday ...

Kathleen Jones said...

Loved it too - transported from a grim English winter to an NZ summer. It was the broom pods popping that did it!

Catherine said...

The last two lines are exquisite. (So is the rest of the poem, but the ending somehow lingers with me)

Mary McCallum said...

Thank you for all the kind comments. It is interesting to me that some of you have felt the poem 'disturbing' and that it pulls back as well as pushes onwards.

There is a dreamlike quality to it because, Coleridge fashion, it came from a powerful kind of vision that I am at a loss to explain. No substances were taken - only Auden on a hot afternoon in summer - and then a doze.

We had been at the river the day before and half awake the image came to me on the river as a sensuous man. It was powerful and encompassed the whole of that valley and that day. Throughout the poem there are phrases and lines that reference Auden and his gorgeous writing.

Do we drown in the language? I worry a little about that. But the poem is ineluctable. I cannot change it. It is what it is.

Rachel Fenton said...

Beautiful and primal altogether, Mary.

Jo Thorpe said...

This is a poem I swim in. I feel the current, the counter flow of the ‘yielding and/not yielding’, that desire to give in to something, yet fight against it at the same time.

Then I’m plunged into ‘the very first coming down’ - sensuous and sexy. And those internal rhymes – ‘deep, yielding, need, sweet, leaping, greenness, trees’… And the aural implosion of those ‘broom pods/popping’ followed by the physical implosion of ‘the girls and I / dissolving’

I love the everydayness of ‘God knows how’ followed by the evocative ‘truffle-dark horses’. And the intrigue of the ‘faithless skin’.

Alluring and wreathed in beauty, this poem pulls me in and transports me to where the thing is to take things slowly, ‘limb by limb’ (suggesting ‘limbre’ and ‘liminal places’ – which sound slow and easy, but can be freighted with possible pain and weight and muscle and doubt).

An award-winning poem indeed. Auden can also take a bow!