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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.

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