Wednesday, September 20, 2006


By Frances Leviston

Watching these dragonflies
couple in the air, or watching them try,
the slender red wands
of their bodies tapped
end to end like fingertips, then faltering wide
on the currents of what feels to me
a fairly calm day,

I think of delicate clumsinesses
lovers who have not yet mentioned
love aloud enact,
the shy hands they extend
then retract, the luscious fumbled chase
among small matters seeming massive
as rushes are to dragonflies,

and in the accidental
buzz of a dragonfly against bare skin,
how one touch fires
one off again on furious wings
driven towards love and love, in its lightness,
driven the opposite way,

so in fact they hardly meet
but hang in the hum of their own desires.
still, who would ask
these dragonflies to land on a stone,
and like two stones, to consummate?
How can I demand love stop, and speak?

This piece appears in New Writing 14, published this year. You’d be hearing more of her if the quality of her writing is equal to what we see here in her poem Dragonflies. She has a very short collection of 12 pieces, called, appropriately, Lighter, by Mews Press, two years back, and last year she was one of the poets in another short collection, Tower Poets. So far she hasn’t yet been published by a major publishing house, until Picador, who would be publishing her first major collection soon. She’s Scottish originally, Oxford-educated, with a Writing MA from another university.

In the first stanza, we see, or rather, the writer sees, a pair of dragonflies attempting, rather futilely, to mate. They just manage to touch with their wand-like bodies, having to separate. The effect here is a little comic, when you see, next, the observer saying it’s a fairly calm day to her, at the same time when some desperate lovers are frantically trying to consummate their love.

The second stanza introduces to us the poet’s “delicate clumsinesses”, in the way she, very deftly but still outwardly a little clumsily, describes this. The two lines following are a qualification to “delicate clumsinesses”. They look a little awkward but are very complex in syntax. Still, they finally do work out. “who have not yet mentioned/love” qualifies “lovers”, inside “aloud enact”. In turn, “lovers who have not yet mentioned/love aloud enact” qualifies “clumsiness”.

She illustrates this sort of “delicate clumsinesses” with the image of, probably, human lovers reaching out to each other, like the dragonflies with their wand-like bodies. And, like the insects separating wide, these human hands are drawing back from each other. All this is some kind of fumbling love-making, just like the “rushes” of the dragonflies. Notice the “m” sounds in “Among small matters seeming massive”: this is how Leviston deftly segues from the human element to the insect one, by making us hear and feel the humming of the dragonflies.

The 3rd stanza marries the dragonfly to the human, we don’t see exactly who, by making the insect connect physically to the human by its touch. And Leviston, once more, does some clever transition to the insect element, by implying that the human touch on the insect is making it flap its wings furiously.

The last two lines in the stanza are very interesting.

driven towards love and love, in its lightness,
driven the opposite way,

The repetition of “love” is so overtly a pairing. And it is also a separation, even if the conjunction “and” should, by rights, be joining “love”. And this is confirmed by the next line. Also, repeating “driven”, both as the first word of consecutive lines gives this an urgency.

The last stanza sums everything up, about lovers - insect and human - finding it hard to consummate their love. “How can I demand love stop, and speak?” harks back to “delicate clumsinesses/lovers who have not yet mentioned/love aloud enact,”.

In sum, there are a lot of motifs about coming together and separating. As a parting shot, I’m asking you to notice the clever way in which Leviston creates a huge word-gulf between “clumsinesses” and “enact”, to emulate such a separation. She also reverses or re-arranges the syntax here so that you have to traverse over so many words in order to see, finally, it is the lovers who are enacting this delicate clumsiness. Posted by Picasa

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Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Very lovely, Leon. Thanks ever so much for introducing new poets and new poems.

I can’t help but admire the delicacy in how the poem is structured, giving the soft cadences and gentle pauses between lines and stanzas. Levinson is also delightful in extending the richness of words and their meanings; "couple" (as verb and noun), "currents" (as wind and the emotional/physical 'current'), "rushes", "still".

"delicate clumsiness", what a phrase! Although there is the 'clumsy' bit, I see it slightly differently. For me, the poem celebrates the "clumsiness", awkwardness and all... for it's all so tender an dear, in other words, it's delicate like love. Here lies beauty of the phrase, its oxymoron - 'clumsy', but delicately so.

As Leon has pointed out, the line "love aloud anact" is a run-on-line which connects and 'creates' meaning with the lines that come both after and before. It also reveals the slight distinction between love spoken aloud and love being enacted /in action... which later leads up to the last line of the poem, “How can I demand love stop, and speak?”, As the speaker attempts 'clumsily' (as Leon points out) to describe and speak of love...she realises words fail... fail to capture the beauty of love in process, not so much in any act of final consummation, but the continual 'foreplay', the wonder of being-in-love.


12:40 AM, September 21, 2006  
Blogger madcap machinist said...

Beautiful poem, and dragonflies are beautiful creatures to write about as Chet Raymo did in a couple of blog posts earlier this month.

I am reminded of this because this is how Chet describes the mating of dragonflies:

"But there's a bit a business to take care of first. The male's genital opening is near the tip of his tail. The penis, however, is just behind the legs. So before he mates, he must transfer sperm from the tip of the tail to the penis up front.

Now he grasps the female behind her head with the tip of his tail. She curls her abdomen around and under until she brings her genital organ -- at the tip of her tail -- to his penis. Now their bodies are engaged in a heart-shaped valentine, one of nature's more engagingly semiotic acts of copulation."

There's a picture too. And we see that "the slender red wands / of their bodies tapped / end to end like fingertips" does resemble a heart-shaped valentine.

I love these two lines for the delicious enjambment:

how one touch fires
one off again on furious wings

and of course the grace of the following lines

driven towards love and love, in its lightness,
driven the opposite way,

A wonderful post Leon. Thank you.

5:13 AM, September 21, 2006  
Anonymous lil ms d said...

ooo i like this poem very much. there's a childlike and yet very adult touch to this; it's playful but restrained...
i'll be looking out for her book :)

9:12 AM, September 22, 2006  
Blogger Leon Wing said...

So glad everyone likes this poem. DI, you're right about the piece sort of "celebrating" this kind of clumsiness; rather endearing, as you you find it. M - didn't know dagonflies could make such a lovely shape when mating. Lil Ms D - hope the book makes it to Kino or Borders at least; u know how seldom new poetry collections get stocked here.

1:34 PM, September 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've got the book and just wanted to point out that it's actually 'clumsinesses' (plural), not 'clumsiness.

9:45 PM, September 29, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

O yeah, and it's 'their own desires', not 'their desires'...sorry...

9:49 PM, September 29, 2006  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Thanks so much for telling us, I'll have it corrected for Leon. Cheers. :)

10:29 PM, September 29, 2006  
Blogger Leon Wing said...

Thanks, anonymnous, for spotting the slips, no need for sorry. I was typing the poem with one hand, the other holding the book with a finger inside the pages (I didn't want to flatten the pages and crack the book's spine.) Anyway, I don't know if you are in KL, but where did you get the book? Kino still hasn't stocked it yet. Luckily I got mine gratis.

10:34 AM, September 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am in the UK. But I got a free copy too :)

4:27 AM, October 01, 2006  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

good choice, leon. i love the comparison the poet makes with awkward lovers. don't think i will be able to watch dragonflies in the same way again!

8:58 AM, October 10, 2006  

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