The Poetry Exchange celebrates poems as friends. Through conversations, gift recordings and our podcast we capture the insights of readers and share them.
Aubade by Philip Larkin - A Friend to Tom
In this episode, Tom talks with us about the poem that has been a friend to him – 'Aubade' by Philip Larkin.
Tom visited The Poetry Exchange in February 2020 for what turned out to be our last live event of the year before lockdown. He joined us at beautiful Manchester Central Library and is in conversation with Poetry Exchange team members, Fiona Bennett and Al Snell.
Al reads the gift reading of 'Aubade'.
I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.
The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.
And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.
Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.
Philip Larkin, "Aubade" from Collected Poems. Copyright © Estate of Philip Larkin. Reprinted by permission of Faber and Faber, Ltd.
Mushrooms by Sylvia Plath - A Friend to Jenny
In this episode, Jenny talks with us about the poem that has been a friend to her – 'Mushrooms' by Sylvia Plath.
Jenny joined The Poetry Exchange online and is in conversation with Poetry Exchange team members, Fiona Bennett and John Prebble.
Fiona reads the gift reading of 'Mushrooms'.
by Sylvia Plath
Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.
Nobody sees us,
Stops us, betrays us;
The small grains make room.
Soft fists insist on
Heaving the needles,
The leafy bedding,
Even the paving.
Our hammers, our rams,
Earless and eyeless,
Widen the crannies,
Shoulder through holes. We
Diet on water,
On crumbs of shadow,
Little or nothing.
So many of us!
So many of us!
We are shelves, we are
Tables, we are meek,
We are edible,
Nudgers and shovers
In spite of ourselves.
Our kind multiplies:
We shall by morning
Inherit the earth.
Our foot’s in the door.
From Collected Poems (1981) by Sylvia Plath, published by Faber and Faber Ltd.
For more information surrounding our upcoming event, 'In The Company of Poems', please visit www.thepoetryexchange.co.uk
A Recovered Memory of Water by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill - A Friend to Pádraig Ó Tuama
In this episode, Pádraig Ó Tuama talks with us about the poem that has been a friend to him – 'Cuimhne An Uisce' / 'A Recovered Memory of Water' by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, translated by Paul Muldoon.
Pádraig Ó Tuama is a poet and theologian from Ireland whose poetry and prose has been published widely across Ireland, the US and the UK. He presents Poetry Unbound with On Being, a hugely successful podcast where he explores a single poem. Short and unhurried; contemplative and energizing, this podcast had more than a million downloads of its first season. The second season began 28th September 2020, with new episodes released on Mondays and Fridays for twelve weeks.
Pádraig joined The Poetry Exchange online and is in conversation with Poetry Exchange team members, Fiona Bennett and Michael Shaeffer.
Many thanks to Gallery Press for granting us permission to share the poem in this capacity. Do visit them for more inspiration here:
Fiona reads the gift reading of 'A Recovered Memory of Water'.
Cuimhne An Uisce / A Recovered Memory of Water
by Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, translated by Paul Muldoon
Sometimes when the mermaid’s daughter
is in the bathroom
cleaning her teeth with a thick brush
and baking soda
she has the sense the room is filling
It starts at her feet and ankles
and slides further and further up
over her thighs and hips and waist.
In no time
it’s up to her oxters.
She bends down into it to pick up
handtowels and washcloths and all such things
as are sodden with it.
They all look like seaweed—
like those long strands of kelp that used to be called
‘mermaid-hair’ or ‘foxtail.’
Just as suddenly the water recedes
and in no time
the room’s completely dry again.
A terrible sense of stress
is part and parcel of these emotions.
At the end of the day she has nothing else
to compare it to.
She doesn’t have the vocabulary for any of it.
At her weekly therapy session
she has more than enough to be going on with
just to describe this strange phenomenon
and to express it properly
to the psychiatrist.
She doesn’t have the terminology
or any of the points of reference
or any word at all that would give the slightest suggestion
as to what water might be.
‘A transparent liquid,’ she says, doing as best she can.
‘Right,’ says the therapist, ‘keep going.’
He coaxes and cajoles her towards word-making.
She has another run at it.
‘A thin flow,’ she calls it,
casting about gingerly in the midst of the words.
‘A shiny film. Dripping stuff. Something wet.’
From 'The Fifty Minute Mermaid', Gallery Press, 2007.
A Short Story of Falling by Alice Oswald - A Friend to Charlie
In this episode, Charlie talks with us about the poem that has been a friend to him – 'A Short Story of Falling' by Alice Oswald.
Charlie joined The Poetry Exchange online, via video call, for one of our 'Lockdown Exchanges' and is in conversation with Poetry Exchange team members, Fiona Bennett Alistair Snell.
Many thanks to Alice Oswald and United Agents for granting us permission to share the poem in this capacity. Find out more about Alice and her work here:
Al reads the gift reading of 'A Short Story of Falling'.
A Short Story of Falling
It is the story of the falling rain
to turn into a leaf and fall again
it is the secret of a summer shower
to steal the light and hide it in a flower
and every flower a tiny tributary
that from the ground flows green and momentary
is one of water's wishes and this tale
hangs in a seed-head smaller than my thumbnail
if only I a passerby could pass
as clear as water through a plume of grass
to find the sunlight hidden at the tip
turning to seed a kind of lifting rain drip
then I might know like water how to balance
the weight of hope against the light of patience
water which is so raw so earthy-strong
and lurks in cast-iron tanks and leaks along
drawn under gravity towards my tongue
to cool and fill the pipe-work of this song
which is the story of the falling rain
that rises to the light and falls again
Reprinted by permission of Alice Oswald and United Agents
Source: Falling Awake (W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2016)
Ae Fond Kiss by Robert Burns and I Am by John Clare - Poems as Friends to Brian Cox
In this episode, world-renowned actor, Brian Cox CBE talks with us about two poems that have been friends to him – 'Ae Fond Kiss' by Robert Burns and 'I am' by John Clare.
Brian joined The Poetry Exchange online, from his home, over the course of lockdown in 2020. He is a Scottish actor who works in film, television and theatre, and as a multiple award-winner, has gained huge respect in the industry for the many captivating roles he has undertaken. He currently stars in HBO's critically acclaimed television series, 'Succession'.
Michael reads the gift reading of 'I Am'.
Ae Fond Kiss
by Robert Burns
Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, and then forever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee.
Who shall say that Fortune grieves him,
While the star of hope she leaves him?
Me, nae cheerfu' twinkle lights me;
Dark despair around benights me.
I'll ne'er blame my partial fancy,
Naething could resist my Nancy;
But to see her was to love her;
Love but her, and love forever.
Had we never lov'd sae kindly,
Had we never lov'd sae blindly,
Never met—or never parted—
We had ne'er been broken-hearted.
Fare thee weel, thou first and fairest!
Fare thee weel, thou best and dearest!
Thine be ilka joy and treasure,
Peace. enjoyment, love, and pleasure!
Ae fond kiss, and then we sever;
Ae fareweel, alas, forever!
Deep in heart-wrung tears I'll pledge thee,
Warring sighs and groans I'll wage thee!
by John Clare
I am—yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes—
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live—like vapours tossed
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
Even the dearest that I loved the best
Are strange—nay, rather, stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.
Spring and Fall By Gerard Manley Hopkins - A Friend To Vahni Capildeo
In this episode, Forward Prize-winning poet Vahni Capildeo talks with us about the poem that has been a friend to them – 'Spring and Fall' by Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Vahni joined The Poetry Exchange online, from their family home in Trinidad, as part of City of Literature - a week of conversations, reflections and connections presented by the National Centre for Writing and Norfolk & Norwich Festival.
Vahni Capildeo is a Trinidadian Scottish writer inspired by other voices, ranging from live Caribbean connexions and an Indian diaspora background to the landscapes where Capildeo travels and lives. Their poetry includes Measures of Expatriation, awarded the Forward Prize for Best Collection in 2016, and Venus as a Bear, published in 2018.
You can discover more about and purchase Vahni Capildeo's work at the Carcanet website (Vahni's publisher): https://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?owner_id=1167
Michael Shaeffer reads the gift reading of Spring and Fall.
You will also hear Fiona mention some new publications by members of our creative team:
Andrea Witzke Slot's 'The Ministry of Flowers' is published by Valley Press: https://www.valleypressuk.com/book-info.php?book_id=146
Victoria Field's 'A Speech of Birds' is published by Francis Boutle: https://francisboutle.co.uk/products/a-speech-of-birds/
Sarah Salway's 'Let's Dance' is published by Coast to Coast, Spring 2021 and 'Not Sorry', a collection of flash fiction, is published by Valley Press Spring/Summer 2021. www.sarahsalway.co.uk
Spring and Fall
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
to a young child
Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
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I can’t believe I didn’t already review this podcast! I’ve been listening since the earliest episode. This is my favorite podcast for so many reasons. I love the poetry and have learned to appreciate poems I didn’t pay attention to before. I’ve also heard others speak about some of my favorite, most loved poems. Each conversation gets to the heart of the poem but also to the foundations of human experience. These conversations reveal how words and ideas build connections and enrich our lives. These conversations reveal the depths of a human life - not just the poet’s life but real, everyday people. I am always uplifted, left in deep thought, or stunned by the power of the episode. I save my listening for those times when I need something to give me hope or solace, or a laugh. This podcast is incredible. It’s like magic. I love it!