Poem-A-Day: Marie Marshall

Nearly every year I feature a poem by Marie Marshall in this series. I love the way she continually pushes boundaries and expectations in her work. I even teach one of her poems in my AP class. You can find my review of her collection Naked in the Sea here.

I particularly like this poem, “cursive,” which I read on her blog recently, because it has such music, and because it reminds me of how detrimental and ultimately self-sabotaging unkind or unhelpful teachers can be. How many times in my career have I read personal essays by my students about teachers they’d had in the past who were insulting or demeaning to them, who baldly explained they weren’t good enough for this or that, who made sure they understood their work was not enough, not good enough, not full enough of effort, not right?

And how often have I heard students say that those hurtful things inspired them to be just that much better, to show the haters up and prove how good they really were?

In high school I had one particular history teacher who was, hands-down, one of the best I’d ever taken a class from. I even took his elective seminar on the Civil War my senior year, not because I had any interest in that era in history and not because I wanted to do a college-level seminar class on it and not even because I needed another history class — none of those were true — but because he was just that good a teacher. And when the time came for me to apply to colleges and I wanted to go to William & Mary (his alma mater, incidentally), he said he would write me a recommendation letter but that I had two really big strikes against me. First, I was from Texas rather than Virginia. Second, I was a woman.

I didn’t go to William & Mary. I didn’t even apply. (If I had gone there, perhaps I would have met my dear friend and writing partner Sarah a lot sooner, because that’s where she was.)

Here’s to all those who are made, even if unintentionally, to feel less than. And dear gods, I hope I’m never the one who gives you that impression.

cursive

When we practiced our cursive, the sea

was white and the wave-caps were blue,

the ocean effectively in negative; Ws

were shore-break ripples, while the run

of lower case Rs were Triton’s anger.

I refused common Es and Ss, became

alone a celebrant of rollers, breakers,

priestess of the breath of endless brine,

I knew only the hiss and heart, the salt.

Teacher told me in fact I wrote nothing;

page by page, I wrote till I drowned her.

***

Here is Marie’s bio, which is most charming in first person. No picture available.

Hi, I’m Marie Marshall. I’m Scottish, middle-aged, and on a good day I bear a slight resemblance to the Log Lady in Twin Peaks. I didn’t start writing until my late forties, I’ve had three novels and two collections of poetry published, one of the latter getting a nomination for the T.S. Eliot Prize, but that’s as far as it got. A whole bunch of psychological stuff makes me a very private person, so I’ve tried to use my pathological reclusiveness to create a kind of mystique about myself – I want my poetry to speak for me, to tell you anything you need to know about me. If that sounds a bit pretentious and po-faced, then I guess I’ve only got myself to blame. ’Scuse me, I have a date with a gin bottle, the moon, a Cossack, and a Kickapoo…

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Poem-A-Day: Marie Marshall

I always want to post a poem in April by Scotland-based Marie Marshall because she does such wonderful and thought-provoking work. She also defies description — as in she literally defies it, which you may glean from her unconventional bio below. Her poetry and poetic style evolve and seek to push formal boundaries. She also writes fiction and posts it at her blog from time to time and has a few books out.

Probably the less I say the better. I think she would appreciate your having the chance to parse out her work for yourself.

***

Today’s poem

 

 

“I was sevened and all
willowed-out, left and
bereft, reeling, punch-

loved; take an honest
hour to tour me; thumb
my spine, read what’s

implied by the rises &
falls, find where scars
crisscross to deviate.”

High over Spitzbergen
it moved from aurora to
real morning, the song
of dying stars, the roll
and the tumble chasing
birds – all the cries and
clattering wingbeats, a
rite of drunken daytime
– a knife in a nightside.

The poet had no spare
change for the beggar,
offered him verses in

coin stead; in reply he
refused a jingle about
grandma and her re-use

of plastic bags, made a
demand for the harder
currency, broken word.

***

Poem-A-Day: Marie Marshall

You’ve seen the poetry of Marie Marshall here before. She’s a poet whose work I admire, in part because she pushes boundaries and experiments with it in ways that other writers might shy away from. Perhaps she isn’t afraid to ignore her comfort zone? Perhaps she’s just too filled with creativity to worry about it. Either way, her work challenges as well as fulfills. I highly recommend you check out her blog and her books. (More on those below.)

The poem she’s sharing with us this time stretches us in part by its visual form. There are six stanzas here in a contiguous poem, but they are meant to be seen discretely. On paper, each stanza would appear on a different page, but since I can’t easily do this on the blog, I’ve included blank space between the stanzas. Imagine, please, that you’re turning a page, and remember that the post isn’t finished until you get to the bio at the end.

To better explain what you’re about to read here, I’ll let Marie, who is “currently very manic and creative, and monkeying about with [her] poetics,” tell you about it in her own words:

***

  • I have tried to move away from being “the great poet whose innermost thoughts and feelings the readership will hear expressed.” I am moving to an idea first mooted in the 1970s by poets like Lyn Hejinian and Barrett Watten, that the prime creative force in poetry is the power of the reader rather than of the writer. I am trying to open up to the co-creative, co-initiative reader. So it’s not really a new idea, but I’m just poking it into life again.
  • I’m influenced by poets like Hejinian, Susan Howe, and Lisa Jarnot, but I’m doing my own thing.
  • I use a lot of repetition, letting words and images circulate and re-form. Again this isn’t new. Jarnot did it in her famous poem ‘Ye White Antarctic Birds’, and I did it a lot in my 2010 ‘Lithopoesis’ experiment. Lyn Hejinian says that repetition forces re-assessment and the application of new meaning.
  • I don’t give my poems in this current cycle any title in words, because I think that a title is the first point at which a poet forces a meaning on what’s going to come after. I have been numbering my poems lately, and this poem is ‘62’. Although a number is not without its own semiotics, as a simple numerical or mathematical expression it has less of the chameleon quality of a word or a phrase.
  • I have lately written several poems in six regular stanzas of six lines each. This breaks up what is basically a free-form poem, creates a tension between regularity and irregularity. I have tended to allocate a separate page for each stanza. This is to add tension – what came before / what comes now / what will come later. It does, however, leave the reader free to consider a stanza alone, a stand-alone poem if you will, even to the extent of uplifting it from the whole. Once given out, I make no insistence about my poems!
  • I also sometimes (as in this case) appear to begin in medias res and end without a resolution. This suggests (but does not insist) that on reaching the end of the poem the reader may begin again, or even that there is no set beginning/ending point. I would like readers to read it over and over again, as this would facilitate their association of new ideas and meanings, newer each time as each reading is a new phenomenon, but of course I do not insist.

***

a torn down sign on a bent pole points

at a cloud; your lover has called, her

voice betraying blind joy, you estimate

she is somewhere with half-an-hour of

air left and this becomes a puzzle; from

carr to carse, alder to grass, there’s a

.

.

population of paper animals paired seeming

to feed on buds, shoots, and blades; a

plane’s shadow passing overall; from

above the animals make geometry; the sign

of a downed C L O U D whose shadow

dwarfs the alder and willow, whose downdraft

.

.

unsteadies the animals, whose air breathes

in your lover, whose voice is a sign, whose

pole is a constant, whose joy is a puzzle,

whose alders are torn down, whose hour is

halved, whose B E T R A Y A L is blind,

whose blade is pointed, who is budding

.

.

who is estimating, who is shooting, who

is S H A D O W I N G, who is feeding,

who is grass, who is love, who is torn,

who is passing, bending, blind, plane,

somewhere, bent, betrayed, clouded,

becoming puzzled overall geometry

.

.

paper animal above S I G N down from

populationofpaperanimalspairedseemingto

make the sign of a downed cloud half

an hour and estimate a blade, carr, carse,

willow, alder, call, voice; thus your lover’s

joy , to which the torn down sign as though

.

.

at a cloud in the sky, a passing plane, a

G E O M E T R Y in the grass, whose

population is paper animals, paired,

feeding on that grass, your lover is blind,

your joy, half an hour of air, carse to sky,

hoc signo aenigma est, bud to your lover

***

AUTHOR BIO:

I shall be sixty this year, and I was already middle-aged when I first started writing stories, poems, and novels. My primary mode is poet, and I think that feeds into my other writing. I’m what Angélique calls a ‘page poet’ — let’s face it, as a virtual recluse I could hardly be a performance poet! Since the invention of printing — writing even — the first physical manifestation of any poem, even one intended for performance, is on paper. Thus it is the medium most familiar to people, and I believe that even YouTube won’t damage its primacy. I started writing free verse and graduated from there to writing sonnets. I was glad of the discipline that gave me. After having written shedloads, I stopped, and looked to start experimenting again; I’ve tried lots of ways of handling language, and I like to keep pushing.

I was born in England, where my life was unremarkable. I moved to Scotland, where my family originated and where my life was equally unremarkable. I have an unremarkable university degree and an unremarkable job. I’m happily gay, but am in a long-term opposite-gender relationship which has proved comfortable and supportive, the reasons for which and the details of which would be too tedious to explain, so I’ll keep them private. I live near Dundee on the East coast of Scotland. I like people to get to know me by what I write.

I have published three novels, Lupa, The Everywhen Angels, and From My Cold Undead Hand. I didn’t set out to be a writer for older children and young adults, but that’s what the second and third novels show me to be, I guess. The Everywhen Angels was written because people told me to shut up criticising JKR unless I could write a fantasy set in a school. From My Cold Undead Hand was written because my publisher asked if I could write a teen-vampire novel, and so I dashed one off in the space of a month. It’s rather good, although I say so myself. I have written the sequel, KWIREBOY vs VAMPIRE, but a tragedy struck the publishers and it might not see the light of day. I have other novels in a work-in-progess file, but I am in the midst of a long sabbatical from novel-writing at the moment. I have had two collections of poetry published, Naked in the Sea and I am not a fish. The latter was nominated for the 2013 T.S. Eliot Prize. My books are on Amazon except for I am not a fish, which is available direct from Oversteps Books. Some of my individual poems have won prizes, but I generally don’t put them in for competitions.

I have also served as associate editor on a handful of magazines and anthology projects, and am currently the editor of the zen space, an online showcase for haiku and in-the-moment short poetry.

The poem I have given to Angélique for you is fairly typical of what I am doing at present. It’s 100% me, but I’ll acknowledge the influence of writers such as Lisa Jarnot and Susan Howe and the ‘Language Poets’. I want to step down from my plinth as The Poet and give (though it isn’t actually in my gift) the authority to assign meaning, over and over again, to whomever reads and re-reads my poetry, to allow you to be co-creators. Originally each of the stanzas of this poem were presented on a separate page, to encourage fresh creativity each time one was encountered. But it’s an interesting experiment to see them all together.

***

Here are some more Marie-related links you might find interesting:

her poetry blog
a walk in space — poetry she created for New Orleans Mardi Gras ‘parade throws’
Lady Wot Writes — an occasional blog for humour and semi-serious political satire and point-scoring
Lithopoesis

National Poetry Month — Day 23

Okay, I admit that I’ve chosen this one of Marie Marshall’s Gothic poems in part because I love the picture she paired with it. The arched window which suggests the shape of the moon. The checkered floor. The drape of her gown, so detailed that I can see even from a black-and-white painting that it’s a particularly sumptuous velvet — and, by the way, a dress I would totally wear.

 

***

 

The crystal ball

 

Where has the seeress lost herself?
In what relentless seas
Sails she, with helmsman sprite or elf,
To seek elusive ease?

What worlds are cupped within her hands?
And where her steady gaze
Falls, are there rich, exotic lands
In sunlit ancient days?

Her lips that seem to wish a kiss,
Her beauty gowned in red –
Is all her being wrapt in bliss,
Or does she see the dead?

See there! Her grimoire and her wand –
Behind, a grinning skull –
Are spirits summoned to respond,
Or are her senses dull?

What knowledge, what enlightenment
Seeks she in realms arcane?
Beware, my sweet! All’s transient,
Your loveliness will wane!

Whatever is the magic lore
Whose secrets now entice
You through a dark and one-way door –
You pay too high a price!

So lady, lay that lore aside,
Forswear your mantic ball
For mind’s health, beauty’s morningtide –
Or, hazarding, lose all!

 

 

The Crystal Ball, by Waterhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

National Poetry Month — Day 22

Here is another of Marie Marshall’s Gothic poems. This one, a love poem.

In related news, it always makes me chuckle a bit when my younger students read love poetry for the first time. Some of them never had any idea that poetry had anything to do with passion…which makes me wonder what they’d been reading in the past.

 

***

 

Come, bathe with me by candle-light

 

Come, bathe with me by candle-light
Rose-petal-strewn thy bower be
Thou art desire, thou art delight
With soft caresses sadden me

Come, lie with me in pale moonlight
Sweet-scented grass receiving thee
Be ever pleasant in my sight
With tender kisses gladden me

Come, love with me by sharp starlight
And share my joyful ecstasy
Be never hidden by the night
With reckless loving madden me!

 

 

 

National Poetry Month — Day 21

Poet Marie Marshall, whose work you’ve seen featured and reviewed here before, wrote a charmingly sardonic collection of Gothic poems, some of which I’d like to feature on the blog this month. I like them because I like Gothic stuff in general — I do, after all, teach an AP English course in Gothic Literature — but also because these poems are contemporary (written in 2010) yet honor a very traditional style that we don’t often see being used in current American letters. (And no, Marshall is not an American; she’s based in Scotland.)

There are some who argue that the state of page poetry has become too esoteric for its own relatability. Maybe. I know there are poets I’ve read in the last few years whose work doesn’t really mean anything to me at all. Perhaps I’m too narrative-bound. Perhaps I just appreciate poetry that is trying to relate to the reader in a human way. Who knows?

Marshall’s poems, several of which I’m featuring here in a series, pay homage to rhyme and meter and form and traditional storylines, but in fresh ways. And that, I believe, has value.

 

***

 

Selena

 

For each night’s revelation here I stand
transfixed, to view the rising of the moon;
I take my aged wooden flute in hand
and play a lifting, lilting, falling tune.

I sound my serenade by softest breath,
in semi-silence, half-afraid to break
by step, by slightest movement, into death
the perfect mirror-image in the lake.

Selena is the secret name I give
myself at this deep, magick time of night;
in castle-clouds and hues of grey I live,
and sigh alone in silver, shifting light…

When sunlight comes, and reds and ochres whirl,
I am a very different kind of girl.

 

 

 

 

Featured Poet: Marie Marshall

Tonight I’m featuring a poem by Scotland-based poet Marie Marshall, who kindly wrote a handful of poems specifically for this series. I really enjoy her work and might post more than one of her poems at some point this month, but for tonight, I’ll share this gem, “Veronica Franco on trial for witchcraft.” You can follow her blog to see more of her poetry on a regular basis, and I recommend that you do.

 

***

 

NO BIOGRAPHICAL DETAILS. BEGIN: MARIE MARSHALL IS AN AUTHOR OF WHOM NOTHING IS KNOWN. NOW LET US READ THE POEMS. REGARDS. M.

 

***

 

Veronica Franco on trial for witchcraft