Yes, the poetry reading is speeding up, and I have successfully read through book 2 of the Penguin Modern Poets. This time, yet another three male versifiers – as one commentator pointed out, there aren’t a lot of women poets in the series.
The second book from Penguin again picked at least two hard-hitters: Kingsley Amis (1922-1995) of course is best known for prose (Lucky Jim was his breakthrough title) but I’m not sure if I even knew he was a poet too; Dom Moraes (1938-2004) was a name new to me completely so this would be a voyage of discovery; and Peter Porter (1929-2010) is a poet I was aware of but I couldn’t have named any of his work.
So the book opens with Amis, and wow! I was actually quite stunned by the opening poem “They Only Travel” – one of the best poems I’ve read in a long time. It’s a striking verse where Amis demands to be taken “where the good times are” and with repeated motifs really lodges in the brain. In fact, I liked all of Amis’s poetry which I really wasn’t expecting; he writers about love, life, books, travel, and all in a direct and yet poetic way. This is pretty much the kind of verse I like and I really took to Amis in a big way – maybe I should read some of his fiction now!
Dom Moraes was born in India but wrote in English (I guess because of his English education) and had a fascinating life, if you have a look at his Wikipedia entry. His poems covered more exotic locations than Amis, but again dealt with love, relationships and landscape. The language was perhaps less direct and sometimes verging a little more to the longer narrative or ballad form; some poems were very beautiful, “From Tibet” and “The Visitor” springing to mind in particular. I liked Moraes’ poems and I think anything less dense that Durrell is going to be ok!
Finally, Peter Porter – of Australian extraction, but based in Britain, he won stacks of awards and is obviously highly regarded. I read through his work enjoying it very much – there’s a sardonic edge to much of his verse which appealed, and he’s happy to critique the everyday and the quotidian – when I got to the poem “Your Attention Please”, which was like being hit on the head, wham! It’s a remarkable piece, written in 1961, about the arms race, and it took me rushing back mentally to the time a couple of decades or so later when it really did seem a possibility that there would be a nuclear war, and we were issue with survival guides that were less than useless (think Frankie Goes to Hollywood and “Two Tribes” for another angle on this). It’s a clever and chilling piece of writing and a reminder of the power a piece of poetry can have.
Another thought occurred to me when I did some research into the three poets here, particularly Porter; the biography of him mentions that his first wife tragically committed suicide in 1974, and he often explored this in his work. The Penguin book was of course published years before this, in 1962, so in many ways these books are giving us a different way to look at these poets and their work; in many cases they’re still at early stages of their careers and it’s fascinating to see what poems were considered representative at that time.
It’s really hard to pick out one poem to share here, because “They Only Travel” and “Your Attention Please” are very much completing for inclusion – but in the end I thought I would choose the Porter, with the recommendation that you also search out Amis because I found his poetry very, very good indeed!
So, with two successful poetry books under my belt, I’m looking forward to volume 3 – George Barker, Martin Bell and Charles Causley!
Your Attention Please by Peter Porter
The Polar DEW has just warned that
A nuclear rocket strike of
At least one thousand megatons
Has been launched by the enemy
Directly at our major cities.
This announcement will take
Two and a quarter minutes to make,
You therefore have a further
Eight and a quarter minutes
To comply with the shelter
Requirements published in the Civil
Defence Code – section Atomic Attack.
A specially shortened Mass
Will be broadcast at the end
Of this announcement
Protestant and Jewish services
Will begin simultaneously –
Select your wavelength immediately
According to instructions
In the Defence Code. Do not
Take well-loved pets (including birds)
Into your shelter – they will consume
Fresh air. Leave the old and bed –
ridden, you can do nothing for them.
Remember to press the sealing
Switch when everyone is in
The shelter. Set the radiation
Aerial, turn on the geiger barometer.
Turn off your television now.
Turn off your radio immediately
The Services end. At the same time
Secure explosion plugs in the ears
Of each member of your family. Take
Down your plasma flasks. Give your children
The pills marked one and two
In the C.D. green container, then put
Them to bed. Do not break
The inside airlock seals until
The radiation All Clear shows
(Watch for the cuckoo in your
perspex panel), or your District
Touring Doctor rings your bell.
If before this, your air becomes
Exhausted or if any of your family
Is critically injured, administer
The capsules marked ‘Valley Forge’
(Red pocket in No. 1 Survival Kit)
For painless death. (Catholics
Will have been instructed by their priests
What to do in this eventuality.)
This announcement is ending. Our President
Has already given orders for
Massive retaliation – it will be
Decisive. Some of us may die.
It is not likely to be you.
All flags are flying fully dressed
On Government buildings – the sun is shining.
Death is the least we have to fear.
We are all in the hands of God,
Whatever happens happens by His Will.
Now go quickly to your shelters.