Playing to our own rules: Poetic constraint

Arma virumque cano – ‘I sing of arms and the man’. With these resonant words Virgil opens his great epic the Aeneid, composed over two thousand years ago. The poem, which is nearly ten thousand lines long, is written almost entirely in dactylic hexameter – an astonishing feat of constrained writing, especially when we consider that Virgil lacked the convenience of our modern-day word processing and editing tools.

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Farewell to 2021

As we approach the end of a year dominated by chaos, bleakness, and the ravages of the pandemic, it is difficult not to succumb to despair. We seem to be caught up in the ‘widening gyre’ of Yeats:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world

Yeats wrote ‘The Second Coming’ in January 1919, at a time when the First World War had only recently ended, the political situation in his native Ireland was dangerously unstable and the Spanish ‘flu pandemic was raging (his pregnant wife Georgie Hyde-Lees became very ill and almost died from the ‘flu). It’s hardly surprising that a sense of impending doom reverberates through the poem.

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 Containment

The glass, half-full, is cracked. I notice this
when I raise it to my lips and your face 
fractures beyond the rim. Sometimes 

we see what was not there before
or what was always there
but we were looking at the water

not the glass, which slithers from my hands, 
hurtles to the ceiling and explodes.
A thousand splinters glint around my head.

This poem first appeared in the anthology Dark Confessions (ed. Matthew M. C. Smith) Black Bough Poetry 2021.

Blood moon, visible

Who hears hyenas laugh
beneath a wounded moon? We are small,
man, small. Sweet taste of pears
and your absent breath. Let go
of unread books, of souvenirs
from unremembered holidays.
Switch off the news, the flames,
the words. Look to the sky
between the trees; 
windstill and clear.

This poem first appeared in the anthology Dark Confessions (ed. Matthew M. C. Smith) Black Bough Poetry 2021.