What this blog is and how to use it

This blog contains poems that have caught my attention over the years. Many of the poems I've discussed and explored with 16 -19 year old students in my capacity as lecturer in English.

Browse the list of poems by scrolling down the page or read the titles of poems or names of poets in the sidebar 'Poem Titles and Poets'. Then click on the title or poet.

Thursday 4 February 2021

History by John Burnside

History by John Burnside

St Andrews: West Sands; September 2001


         as we flew the kites
- the sand spinning off in ribbons along the beach
and that gasoline smell from Leuchars gusting across
the golf links;
                       the tide far out
and quail-grey in the distance;
jogging, or stopping to watch
as the war planes cambered and turned
in the morning light –

          - with the news in my mind, and the muffled dread
of what may come – 
                                  I knelt down in the sand

with Lucas
                  gathering shells
and pebbles
                   finding evidence of life in all this
                 snail shells; shreds of razorfish;

smudges of weed and flesh on tideworn stone.

At times I think what makes us who we are
is neither kinship nor our given states
but something lost between the world we own

and what we dream about behind the names
on days like this
                           our lines raised in the wind
our bodies fixed and anchored to the shore

and though we are confined by property
what tethers us to gravity and light
has most to do with distance and the shapes
we find in water
                           reading from the book
of silt and tides
                          the rose or petrol blue
of jellyfish and sea anemone
combining with a child’s
first nakedness.

Sometimes I am dizzy with the fear
of losing everything – the sea, the sky,
all living creatures, forests, estuaries:
we trade so much to know the virtual
we scarcely register the drift and tug
of other bodies
                         scarcely apprehend
the moment as it happens: shifts of light
and weather
                    and the quiet, local forms
of history: the fish lodged in the tide
beyond the sands;
                              the long insomnia
of ornamental carp in public parks
captive and bright
                              and hung in their own
                       transitive gold
                                               jamjars of spawn
and sticklebacks
                           or goldfish carried home
from fairgrounds

                            to the hum of radio

but this is the problem: how to be alive
in all this gazed-upon and cherished world
and do no harm

                         a toddler on a beach
sifting wood and dried weed from the sand
and puzzled by the pattern on a shell

his parents on the dune slacks with a kite
plugged into the sky
                                 all nerve and line

patient; be afraid; but still, through everything
attentive to the irredeemable.

Click here to buy Selected Poems by John Burnside

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