Sunday, 24 January 2010

Mappa Mundi

Listen to Claire Armitstead's podcast on the Guardian website with the poet Phillip Gross, whose collection The Water Table (Bloodaxe, 2009) has won this year's T. S. Eliot Prize. Very interesting (though brief) remarks on good reading, on the importance of deep and engaged reading.

Since this week I heard a very engaging paper by Dr Alfred Hiatt, of Queen Mary, University of London's excellent English department, entitled: 'Maps in and out of literature', I'm going to reproduce a poem from Gross's previous collection, called Mappa Mundi (Bloodaxe, 2003).

Mappa Mundi

In the land of mutual rivers,
it is all conversation: one flows uphill, one flows down.
Each ends in a bottomless lake which feeds the other
and the boatmen who sail up, down, round and round
never age, growing half a day older, half a day younger
every time... as long as they never step on land.

In the land of always autumn
people build their houses out of fallen leaves
and smoke, stitched together with spiders' webs.
At night they glow like parchment lanterns and the voices
inside cluster to a sigh. Tell us a story, any story, except
hush, please, not the one about the wind.

In the land where nothing happens twice
there are always new people to meet;
you just look in the mirror. Echoes learn to improvise.
So it's said... We've sent some of the old
to investigate, but we haven't heard yet. When we
catch up with them, we might not know.

In the land of sounds you can see
we watch the radio, read each other's lips, dread
those audible nightfalls. We pick through the gloom
with one-word candles home... however... only... soon...
while pairs of lovers hold each other, speechless,
under the O of a full black moon.

In the land of hot moonlight
the bathing beaches come alive at midnight.
You can tell the famous and rich by their silvery tans
which glow ever so slightly in the dark
so at all the best parties there's a moment when the lights go out
and you, only you, seem to vanish completely.

In the land of migratory words
we glance up, come the season, at telegraph wires
of syllables in edgy silhouette against a moving sky
like code, unscrambling. Any day now they'll fall into place
and be uttered. Then the mute months. The streets
without names. The telephone that only burrs.

1 comment:

Bo said...

oh God, that is AMAZING!!


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