Skip to main content

Sailor's Home

How long is it since poetry became public property? Today, poets write with the idea of publishing in our minds, and poetry books are published with the idea of sales in the publisher’s minds (however few!). Even poetry events seem to be organised according to the numbers of tickets that can be sold. The public has become an invisible hand, playing with and controlling the standards of the poetry world, and as such has transformed it into just as dull a field as any other directly commercial endeavour.

The above is from the preface to Sailor’s Home, a miscellany of poetry by Arjen Duinker, W.N. Herbert, Uwe Kolbe, Peter Laugesen, Karine Martel and Yang Lian, published by Shearsman Books . I suppose it’s true that poets write with the idea of publishing, though I’m not sure how primary a concern that is. Most poetry publishing is pretty fugitive. The tiny numbers involved mean that the act of publication is, in a sense, symbolic rather than real, or a kind of virtual reality, and I can think of few publishers whose decisions are influenced by the likelihood of sales, since whether a book will sell eighty copies or two hundred copies is unlikely to have much bearing on the economics of the operation. And again, having organised many myself, I can’t think of any poetry events that are organised on the basis of ticket sales, and can’t see either how the dire invisible hand of the public has any effect on ‘the poetry world’. If poetry is dull it’s because poets are dull; and if it’s brilliant, exciting, captivating it’s the poets are all of those things as they write it.

Still, it’s not hard to see why poets might want to remove themselves from the public domain from time to time, even as they fool themselves into thinking they entered it in the first place. They are after all poorly socialised creatures, and sometimes it’s just plain fun to talk to other oddballs like yourself. Such, crudely summarised, is the thinking behind Sailor’s Wardrobe, which took the form of a private poetry festival held last October in London. Each of the participating poets had to respond to the title, and the results are published in the book. Again from the preface:

The poems in the book do not 'respond' to each other in a narrow sense:each poet has explored his or her own understanding of the title ‘Sailor’s Home’, and arranged their individual forms accordingly. So here there are at least six boats setting sail on different waterways, rivers, lakes – and all seven seas....

Here are two samples:

Mare Silentium
is whaur aa sowels at last dae come
whas life wiz spent upon
thi silent craft o song
tae sail away sae dumb
(Mare Silentium)
we sail awa sae dumb

Layin thi keels o phrase
or sailin skeely through the waves
that waassh ower in crazy praise
until oor time is duin
and we sail tae kingdom come
(Mare Silentium)
we sail tae kingdom come...

(from ‘Shanty of the Sailor’s Moon’ by W.N. Herbert)

Uwe Kolbe
Sailor’s Love

Mit ruhigen Schnitten löste sie
die Reste vom Kerngehäuse
aus jedem der Schnitze
des saftigen Apfels.

Ich legte mich in Ihre Hand
und legte mich in ihre Ruhe.
Ich legte mich fast
in Ihr Leben.

Dann stand sie wieder auf
und griff nach den Klinke
und ging zurück
in die Küchen der Welt.

Sailor’s Love

With calm snips she removed
remnants of the core
from every slice
of the juice-filled apple.

I laid myself down in her hand
laid myself in her calm,
laid myself more or less
in her life.

But then she arose
and reached for the doorknob
and went back out
into the world’s kitchens

(translated by Mick Standen and Joe Tudor)


Hi Peter. This is the poem I was droning on about.


The Cat Flap said…
Thanks for that, Desmond.
Joanne said…
Thanks for the article, very helpful information.

Popular posts from this blog

John Riley

John Riley’s early death — he was murdered by two muggers at the age of forty-one — combined with a history of publication by small presses and a talent that doesn’t lend itself to easy categorisation have tended to keep his work on the margins, admired by the few but generally unknown. This is a pity, because Riley was one of the finest poets of his generation. In his lifetime he published three collections, Ancient and Modern with Grosseteste Press, which he founded with Tim Longville in 1966, What Reason Was, and That is Today, published by Pig Press in 1978, the year of his death. The now out of print Collected Works (Grosseteste Press) came out in 1980. Carcanet published his Selected Poems, edited by Michael Grant, in 1995.

I had always been impressed by the few poems I came across in anthologies like A Various Art, edited by Andrew Crozier and Tim Longville. The impression I had of an extraordinarily gifted poet was borne out by the Selected Poems. I first came across this in …

The rustling of the silk

Back after a long absence with three versions of a poem from the Chinese, for our edification, followed by a moral quandary.

The first is Ezra Pound’s.

Liu Ch’e

The rustling of the silk is discontinued,
Dust drifts over the court-yard,
There is no sound of footfall, and the leaves
Scurry into heaps and lie still,
And she the rejoicer of the heart is beneath them:

A wet leaf that clings to the threshold.

Much has been written about Pound as a translator or mediator of Chinese poetry into English. He didn’t speak Chinese, so his versions don’t have scholarly pretensions. In the Cathay poems he relied on the notes that Ernest Fenollosa compiled in Tokyo, and was quite happy to use the Japanese designation Rihaku for the Chinese poet Li Po. Arthur Waley, whose own translations of Chinese poetry were hugely influential, objected to many of Pound’s versions, though it’s hard to see how his version of, say, ‘The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter’ improves on Pound’s. Pound’s great gift as a p…

Songs of the earth (1): Yannis Ritsos

The Meaning of Simplicity
I hide behind simple things so you’ll find me; if you don’t find me, you’ll find the things, you’ll touch what my hand has touched our hand-prints will merge.
The August moon glitters in the kitchen like a tin-plated pot (it gets that way because of what I’m saying to you), it lights up the empty house and the house’s kneeling silence– always the silence remains kneeling.
Every word is a doorway to a meeting, one often cancelled, and that’s when a word is true: when it insists on the meeting.
(Translated by Edmund Keeley, published in The Greek Poets: From Homer to the Present, Norton, 2010)
Yannis Ritsos’ output as a poet was enormous. He published more than a hundred collections of poetry, and often wrote with great speed, sometimes producing three collections in a single year. Such protean fluency can interfere with the reception of a poet in his own culture, and it can also inhibit or distort the reception in translation. How do you choose? How much o…