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On Reading Derek Mahon

I wonder at how often
and when these poems
so well-wrought
will earn the readers

in the coming years
of digital concupiscence
and onanistic thrills.
A Chinese wall

is built around the fire
wall, and that is ringed
by weird indifference
to anything too brilliantly

said. There is a formal
way of being great
that has the fate of being

Experiment and hate
together pull down
the banners of a kingdom
built on the quaint

ideals of elegance or chivalric
poise. The noise we intake
instead is the bread
of ignorance we break

with ourselves.
Our brains have softened
as our tongues harden;
citadels are closed;

we’re bored and boring
in equal measure
unless maintained
at a pitch would kill Darwin

or Churchill; Mahon’s
style is beautiful, still, serious,
and makes an occasion
of the flow and spill

of words into a vase; a frame.
There is an object to the art
of poetry, it is that spoken song
in itself is less wrong

than remaining dumb;
no stone is Virgil
on the way to heaven;
one has to burst

into flame or stay a coal;
impacted into a cold potential.
Burn, burn,
and make of the line

a place to raise not decline.
There is the bestial bond
and the civil act;
a poet makes a pact

with savage calm, unruffled
madness squared into a dance
that has its measures
and its chance to obtain

moments of pause and freedom
beyond the domains
where normal countermeasures remain.
So it is I realise, upon reading Mahon,

who knew deep silences of loss
and lost places closest to home
or farthest – sheds, Antarctica, Delft –
contain their cause within the microcosm;

the battles on the plains of Abraham
were also felt in the fleas
on Montcalm’s mount,
in the heft of Wolfe’s lance; worlds

are less and more in one local fact;
but plain and bare and bald
vocalities are not true to the colours
of any tribal claims.

The bridge
of eloquence
needs to be crossed
more often.

May Sundays
during the afternoons
after Austrian pastries
and coffee with iced cream

and a lack of rain.
Nature is cruel
like a tongue
that speaks its mind. 

We need to cross
into silence unnerved.
You read to not be dead.

I write and speak. I speak
and am alive.
Words are the leaves
that thrive on sound. 

We make the sounds
to bring a speaking sea
to the knowing shore
with the bridge

of our mouths.
In that mouth a tree.
A flowering.
Truth is not what is said.

Truth is the life when speech
is made. Poems are lyrical
even if you hit them with
a lobster hammer.

They make a clearing
in the throat
for something better
than possible to escape. 

Poetry is unemployable
nonsense and inescapable
business but it is achievable
knowledge of what is possible.

15 May, 2016
Maida Vale, London

new poem by Todd Swift


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