Wednesday, January 31, 2007



When I saw your father then. Before you birthed.
I saw a boulder, broad chest, wavering
Awkward as his skin, stretched and cracked
Losing his old self.

I saw his words become weighed.
His life mission sharpening like a pencil.
I saw him testing father. He would roll it
Around like hot liquid and squint under its burn.

As you stretched in your mothers tummy,
So he stretched. He shed parts to prepare.
I saw a man naked and unsure, rolling daddy
Around his tongue, preparing like the raw trumpet
Stretching abstract notes creating jazz.
I saw you make him a man.

Malika Booker
Malika Booker was in Malaysia last year both to perform and to run workshops, and I had the pleasure of interviewing her for StarMag, which is where this poem appeared.

This is a very strong and moving poem about fatherhood, addressed by the mother to her child.

The main players in the act of childbirth are, of course, mother and child. But here in a sense the father too is being given birth to. It’s a highly effective shift of focus, especially as fathers often feel sidelined during the act of birth.

Look at how the new father’s initial awkwardness and hesitancy is highlighted, not just by the words, but also by the punctuation. The poem is choppy at first, the full stops occurring not at the end of grammatical sentences but between clauses in the first line. And how, in comparison, the long run-on sentence in the third stanza (with no commas in places where we would normally expect them) shows his growing confidence, his joy.

The imagery of the poem is extremely effective. The image of the skin stretching and cracking reminds the reader of a snake, shedding its skin, just as the man is sloughing off his old skin to find a new self within. I like too the way the image of the word ”father” being like hot liquid, a new taste sensation on the tongue, something that must be tested before it can be assimilated.

The father is described very effectively in the same terms as the baby – stretching, shedding parts (as the umbilical cord is shed, I suppose), naked. The reference to jazz improvisation is apt for there is no manual for fatherhood, and each man must come to it in their own way.
The poem reminded me of an earlier one I posted about learning the true meaning of becoming a father: The Almond Tree by John Stallworthy.

Give Malika’s poem to a new father near you!

(Written by bibliobibuli who is at the moment unable to move her blog over to Blogger 2).

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


What makes a poem a poem? The short piece by Michael Ondaatje below, if put together in a paragraph, reads very much like prose. If so, what distinguishes poetry from prose, or rather in this particular example, what elevates a piece of prose to poetry? Is it merely the arrangement of lines, i.e. its form and rhythm? A number of us have discussed and debated this question in relation to prose poetry in an earlier post. Anyway, read the poem below and share with me what you think. (I'll leave some of my own observations too)


In the half-dark cabin of Air Lanka Flight 5
the seventy-year-old lady next to me begins to comb
her long white hair, then braids it in the faint light.

Her husband, Mr. Jayasinghe, asleep beside her.

Pins in her mouth. She rolls her hair,
curls it into a bun, just like my mother's.

Two hours before reaching Katunayake airport.

by Michael Ondaatje


Before I begin, let me confess that I found myself very lost with most of the poems in this collection, Handwriting (Thanks, Sharon), and will probably have to ask Sharanya about the various Sri Lankan allusions to history, culture and mythology. However, even in the absence of background knowledge, one could still be able to get a sense, perhaps even the faintest one, of what a poem might be conveying; feeling its poetic quality, so to speak.

Reading it slowly, pausing between the lines and paragraphs, one feels something meditative about the poem, but what is meditated on? The speaker, on board a plane, observes a fellow passenger, an old lady who is brading her hair, but then, what is so remarkable about that?

The poem is rather quiet and doesn't seem to say much, yet in its reticence, it speaks volumes. A clue, perhaps, is how the lady, Mrs Jayasinghe ties her hair into a bun, just like the speaker's mother. The attention to the detail of this whole process reveals that this simple act is significant to the speaker, and one may infer that there is a hint of nostalgia or wistfulness, as the speaker recalls his mother.

A further detail that adds to this poem is the speaker together with Mrs. Jayasinghe and her husband are on board a flight to Katayunake Airport. Googling it, one finds out that it is the airport for Colombo, the commercial capital of Sri Lanka. Stretching a bit, this flight could then be an international flight from overseas.

The last line of the poem which stands alone in its starkness provides us with the final piece. This old lady, Mrs Jayasinghe is going through the ritual of preparing her hair, not shortly before the plane would land, but two hours before arrival. Why would she be in a 'hurry' to do so, in a half darkened cabin? Because she is going home. She is returning to her homeland, as is the speaker to his ancestral/family home. Isn't it beautiful?

So, what makes this simple, prose-like piece a poem? Its content and its craft.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

"The Catch"

The Catch
By Robin Robertson

The tick you hear
is the heart valve’s catch,
holding back the wrong
traffic of blood;

this click is the notch in a run
of iron, and love is a ratchet
that slides only one way
and cannot return.

This poem is collected in Swithering, the winner of the 2006 Forward Prize for Poetry.

The Catch starts with a little sound, and Robertson spins this out in two sentences, which essentially, really, are just one sentence, as there is a semi-colon linking the second one.

I enjoy the monosyllabic manner in which Robertson conveys the ticking of a “heart valve’s catch” with just a pair of fall-rise rhythm. He reverses and varies this rhythm in the third line – rise-fall-rise - after showing us where the ticking is coming from, in the second line, where the rushing of “is the” leads to, and stops at, the slow rendering of “the heart valve’s catch”, with a comma to make sure you pause a little longer here. The third line runs-on very strongly towards the rushing sound (“traffic”) of the start of the fourth and last line of the first stanza, and stops at “blood”, a very strong end-stopping with a semi-colon.

In the first line of the next and last stanza, “click” rhymes back to “tick”, as a link. All these mechanical imagery of gears and valves and iron and ratchet is softened a little in the penultimate line, after “that”, with liquid and long vowels, because all this is because of love. What a ratchet does, the last two lines expands on, everything moving only in one direction, not able to go back. These two lines also link back to the last two lines of the first stanza with their motif of flow and direction.

Do you feel as in The Catch when you fall in love?

Labels: ,

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

"The Computer's First Christmas Card"


by Edwin Morgan


Sorry, yes. I do know it's after Christmas and this post has sort of timed out on me. But I'm so disorganised that everything happens after the act for me! I think the Christmas cards I remembered arrived in the New Year, and I never got round to making my mince pies. I suck at getting Christmas, right! Maybe we should all just celebrate it when we feel like it. (I heard that the Australians in the Blue Mountains celebrate Yule at the end of June when the weather is at its coldest! ...Or ... you can come back to this post in December if you'd prefer!)

Also in mitigation ... it is still officially Christmas until Twelfth Night when Christmas trees traditionally are taken down.

It was hard to find this poem on the internet since I couldn't remember poet, title or any of the lines exactly. I first came across this poem in a Penguin anthology of modern poetry in the 1970's (I still mourn the loss of that book which had so much good stuff in it). The poem delighted me, especially as I couldn't ... and still can't ... manage to read the damn thing out loud without getting my tongue throroughly twisted and starting to laugh. It's even more fun read in a robotic computer voice!

The poem was written in 1968, when computers were really still only found in university departments and to use them at all you had to feed in lines of code. Morgan's original version looked like a computer print-out, with every line having exactly the same number of letters and syllables (4) and the letters being evenly spaced.

But in a bout of rampant creativity, I made a the poem look a bit like a Christmas tree, albeit a long and skiny one, and added decorations! (And by altering the form, changed the meaning?)

According to this Guardian article, Morgan, a professor of English at Glasgow university, began to correspond with Haroldo de Campos in Brazil, one of the pioneers of concrete poetry, but had his own ideas about the genre:
"I felt it was possible to have a clearer intellectual content in concrete poetry than you often find. I was trying to say you can write a poem which formally is strange, which involves very careful plotting of letters and space and so on, but nevertheless it is a poem, with ideas and history and human feeling. Some concrete writers don't like that idea at all."
This poem is regarded as typical of Morgan's concrete poems, which he wrote in the '60's and is wonderfully playful. The ending is delightful because it isn't at all what we expect.

A google search for the poem shows how popular the poem still is - almost forty years after it was written, and in an age where computers have transformed the way we live and have changed out of all recognition.

Want more by Morgan? Check out other poems here and here. If anyone you know still needs convincing that poetry is fun, do read The Loch Ness Monster's Song!

And while I remember, a very Heppy Hoppy Hippy Happy New Year to you all!

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Among new year resolutions, poetry

It's the new year. We all had our disappointments, our ups and downs in 2006, and some of us might even sigh relief for the horrible things that we can forget and leave behind, to start anew and hope for better things in 2007.

Among such new year wishes like going to the gym regularly to keep fit, the poet Ruth Padel, in an article "Turn over a new leaf" in The Guardian (30th Deecember 2006), suggests reading poetry as a balm for one's soul. Here are some short excerpts:
"Poetry...protects us against meaninglessness: by the pleasure it gives in its artifice, images and imagination, and in the little nudgy sensual relationships between words and sounds that hint at new ideas, poetry augments and reflects our delight in the world."

"Reading poetry truthfully, responsibly, fortifies your own individual inwardness. Poetry is the art of concentration not just from the poet's point of view (chucking out what you don't need, boiling down the words, the thoughts), but from the reader's. It makes you concentrate on things that matter to you inside."

I guess that's why reading poetry matters to us contributors here at puisi-poesy. It's a journey by the self, for the self and of the self to discover who one is in this world, and among life's joy and sadness, beauty and ugliness, to discern some significance, some meaning that just might touch a sense of an achingly unreachable place both inside oneself and without, a kind of transcdence, if you will, that brings one's transcience and fragility together in a personal way.

Puisi-poesy is like a chart, a space for our own individual journeys marked through our readings, and by sharing them, we as contributors hope that you (especially for those new to poetry) might find something for yourself among the many different poems shared here. Drop us a line, if you please.

Happy New Year!