Four poems by Kendel Hippolyte, who is reading at UEA Live on National Poetry Day, 3 October. ‘Air’ and ‘The Fitness of Things’ come from his latest collection, Wordplanting. ‘O’Greedy Says’ is previously unpublished, and ‘Advice to a Young Poet’ comes from his previous collection, Fault Lines.
Advice to a young poet
“What is poetry which does not save nations or people?” – Czselaw Milosz
Ask the question.
Not once but forty-nine times.
And, perhaps at the fiftieth,
you will make an answer.
Or perhaps not. Then
ask it again. This time
till seventy times seven. Ask
as you open the door
of every book of poems that you enter.
Ask it of every poem,
regardless of how beautiful,
that whispers: “Lie with me
Do not spare your newborn.
If the first cry, first line
is not a wailing for an answer,
abandon it. As for the stillborn,
turn the next blank white sheet over,
shroud it. Ask the clamouring procession
of all the poems of the ages –
each measured, white-haired epic,
every flouncing, free verse debutante –
to state their names, where they have come from
and what their business is with you.
You live in the caesura of our times,
the sound of nations, persons, breaking around you.
If poetry can only save itself,
then who will hear it after it has fled
from the nations and the people that it could not save
even a remnant of for a remembering?
What else but gratitude
for a flappering of blackbirds blown into sight below the verandah eaves
as though a hand above, loosening, has let fall what it was holding
How not be touched
under the skin, lighter than felt, by a far wind arriving weightlessly
where you are, the uninsistent intimacy of air, its soft inherence, moving
How to praise
in ultra-language below the palimpsest of cultures, worded histories,
what stirs in the ruffled slow green of a breadfruit tree’s nudged leaves
If not for this –
how it is here, how it is always – how could i even try, even in vain,
to praise what hides from our limning, what eludes, though gently, praise
The fitness of things
The symmetries of household:
how chairs fit into the spaces under tables, waiting;
a glass of cold water placed, lifted, placed back
into the wet translucent circle it has made;
a shirt on a hanger, holding its shape
till you unhang it, slip it onto you,
clasp it with buttons, fill it;
the opened window, framing branches and leaves
into a painting only now discovered;
the nooks behind doors as they open;
floors waiting for a footfall;
the whole house, even when empty,
occupied by its expectancies;
holding itself together, awaiting inhabitance.
O’ Greedy says:
O’ Greedy says:
i’m hungry, you must eat.
As much as you can. As much
as you cannot afford. As much
as you do not need. And more.
Always more. Eat.
Swell my belly, bloat me. With things.
Fill me and unfulfill my being
with cans, packets, boxes, crates, containers, 16-wheeler truckloads, warehouses, silos
of things. Let me be bulimic, globally obese, i’m ordering
an extra-large disorder of mad cows, mercuried tuna and MRSA pigs.
Another helping of fresh flies, slashings of plasma on that – and don’t forget
the drink! Kool-Aid, purple Kool-Aid.
2996 people died in 9/11.
That’s 2996 less consumers.
Don’t lecture me, goddamit, about ‘less’ and ‘fewer’!
Go and shop!
Get your commodities:
sleeping pills, waking pills, morning-before-and-after pills, all-day pills,
weedicides, herbicides, pesticides, homie-cides,
handguns, assault rifles, nooses, white hoods –
KKK-Mart has a sale, Black Friday, hurry!
9/11 SALES ON ALL OVER THE COUNTRY
ONE COMING TO A MALL NEAR YOU
Your government is shopping:
islands for military bases and detention centres,
countries, oligarchies, kleptocracies that serve
our interests and our rates of interest.
Your government is shopping for you, shopping you.
Get out there, show them! We will not stop.
One-stop-shopping-every-day-all-day is the way we go
and go and go and go! – right? Right! Far right! Right down!
To the end.
Which is … what? when?
Don’t know. Don’t have a clue!
No! So! Just go!
O’ GREEDY NEEDS YOU!
© Kendel Hippolyte