Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Elephant Architecture

The Forward Book of Poetry 2006 is (so far) the best of this series of annual anthologies I’ve read yet. The book tries to group together selections from the best collections and the best individual poems of the last year (i.e.2005).

I’ve been looking at the shortlisted individual poems. The prize for this category was won by Paul Farley’s poem Liverpool Disappears for a Billionth of a Second. It’s a good poem. I enjoyed it and thought it was very well structured and well written.

However I loved this passage from Katherine Pierpoint’s Buffalo Calf , originally published in Poetry London magazine, most of all. The calf lounges in the mud while first a cow then an elephant walk past:

A temple elephant too. The surprise of it – in town! – at church! –
for an elephant is its own cathedral.
Even thinking of an elephant
is architecture, elaborate; a plain hugeness at first disguising the
......subtleties there;
and there it stands and stands, and stands at the busy
......temple gate,
little as a lap-dog
against the mounting pyramid of stones,
the mass of carvings, the unending, up-ending sex,
the linked aeons of miracles.

I think she handles the elephant-as-architecture idea really well and the shifts of scale and of subject – from church, to cathedral, to lap-dog, to sex, to “linked aeons of miracles” – give the passage a dramatic fluidity of movement.

My favourite poem overall in this category is Sarah MacGuire’s Passages. It’s too long to quote in full and a partial quote wouldn’t do it justice. But it’s just terrific.

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