The following poem is a translation of Baudelaire’s early ‘Le Serpent Qui Danse’.
A Serpent’s Dance
How I love, dear indolence, to gaze ……….Upon your body of delight,
That flickering of material ……….A shimmering of skin!
Upon the dark depths of your hair ……….A tangle of pungent odour,
A wild scented ocean ……….Of surging blues and brown,
As a vessel setting sail ……….Upon an early morning breeze,
My erring soul embarks ……….For far-distant skies.
Your eyes let nothing show ……….Of the sweet or of the sour
But like two frigid jewels ……….Gold is merged with steel.
Gazing at your moves ……….Of rhythmic carelessness,
One might say you were a snake ……….Responding to the charmer’s stick.
Burdened with idleness ……….Your child-like head
Wags with the sluggish motion ……….Of a baby elephant,
And your body stretches out in leaning forward ……….Like a trim vessel
That sways from side to side before dipping ……….A yard-arm in the sea.
Like a flood-tide swollen by the deep groan ……….Of a melting glacier,
When the saliva in your mouth surges up ……….To the tooth’s tip,
I seem to quaff Bohemian wine, ……….Powerful and bitter,
A sky of moisture strewing ……….Stars in my heart!
Ian Brinton’s recent publications include Islands of Voices, an edition of the selected poems of Douglas Oliver (Shearsman Books) and a translation of the selected poems of Mallarmé introduced by J.H. Prynne (Muscaliet Press). Forthcoming publications include a translation of the selected poems of Valéry introduced by Michael Heller (Muscaliet Press) and a sequence of poems by Philippe Jaccottet (Equipage). His Paris Scenes by Baudelaire will appear from Two Rivers Press in July 2021.
Wren, robin, dunnock, rat
Mandarin ducks in a raft of eight
great-crested grebe, cormorant
Canada and Egyptian geese
on a winter’s afternoon around the lake –
this strangely vacant campus
the traffic now distant, peripheral.
Shrill coot’s tewk, moorhen curruc
laughing kwarr of black-headed gulls
perched on the underwater bench
and now a pair of dabbling gadwall
the monogamous shovelers
the usurper rose-ringed parakeet.
true litmus of the change
a little egret, out of the water
showing the world its yellow feet.
I feel it in my thighs.
When it rains, my fingertips shrivel,
and when I walk along a beach’s shoreline,
my shoulders burn
to turn themselves inside out;
wriggle ………….through flesh,
ripe for fresh air.
…….My fingers are cold goldfish
nobody won at a summer fair.
They feel heavier …….than a sledgehammer,
than a deity— ………….and you—
when you smoke,
my appendix knocks against my abdomen,
keen to finish his joke.
He thinks I’m a slice of toast.
He brings butter, he brings honey
to the bedroom, looks up at me
through his eyelashes,
the shape of his left iris asking a question.
He wants to coat me, smother me,
does this honey know me?
I swelter in its shroud and stand,
naked and pink, in the middle of the room.
My skin—taut, unyielding—wants
to be stripped away like lurid satsuma peel.
The threads of my hair stick
to the nape of my neck, form rings
around my throat. They smell
overwhelmingly sour, are dark as molasses.
My universe is viscous. It sticks to my teeth
like a piece of toast buttered with tar.
Ava Patel studied at the University of Reading and was awarded a first-class MA in Writing from the University of Warwick. She has published poems in webzines (Runcible Spoon, London Grip, Ink, Sweat and Tears) and magazines (South Bank Poetry, Orbis, South, Dream Catcher). Her debut pamphlet Dusk in Bloom has recently been published by Prolebooks and she runs an Instagram poetry page: @ava_poetics.
There are fun and informative walking tours around our town in this little book for children of all ages.
Author Kerry Renshaw writes:
One of the silver linings of lockdown is that it has got families exercising together. Currently, families who live together can exercise together, and grandparents can join in if they are part of a support bubble. Even if not, a grandparent can exercise with one grandchild. Town walks are a great alternative to country hikes, especially at muddy times. The great thing about a guided walk around town is that children (and adults!) can be connected to Reading’s intriguing local history. There are so many clues in our statues, plaques and buildings that give us glimpses into Reading’s past. The book asks children to spot the history they will find on Reading’s streets and answer questions. There’s a real sense of achievement in tracking down things that others miss.
What happened to Queen Victoria’s finger? Is she turning her back on the town? Why are there cartwheeling German boys in Reading? Why did loads of steamrollers crowd onto Reading Bridge? What battles were fought in Reading – yes, even in Broad Street! Which of our churches was regularly visited by Good Queen Bess? Which Norman knights fought a duel by the Thames? Who was the unlucky young man was killed by a whirlwind? These and many other questions are waiting to be solved.
The book has loads of excellent photographs of Reading past and present. And there are longer pieces on the Abbey, the “three B’s”, the bridges, and many other shorter, fascinating tales.
Peter Robinson’s poem about Reading Gaol being put up for sale (‘A Ballad Footnote’), with its associations of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment, depicts an eerie, unsettling landscape, depopulated and filled with theatrical light effects – sunset, neon and a moon that is ‘gibbous’, a word that jogs us into thinking of ‘gibbet’ and the condemned convict Wilde featured in his ballad. Robinson’s focus is the gaol, and at a time of national lockdown, the sale of an epitome of lockdowns is an irony that Oscar in particular would have appreciated.
The poem made me think of incarceration in general and how lucky I am during this pandemic to enjoy the space and freedom that was out of reach of Wilde in his enforced confinement in Reading. Unlike his prison yard, my own, here in West Cork, stretches for a statutory five miles over boggy fields almost in every direction; and his ‘little tent of blue’ is a pinprick compared with my daily panorama of grey.
Wilde’s first experience of incarceration actually occurred in 1864 when he was nine years old – not for the ‘gross indecency’ that landed him in Reading Gaol, but for being the right age to be sent to boarding school: Portora Royal in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland. There he would have experienced a typically Victorian school regime, centred on the Classics, cold showers and canings; as in Reading Gaol, he would also have seen little tents of blue – through high classroom windows – as well as, by compensation, generous vistas of mud on the rugby pitch. Perhaps Portora was the perfect Prep School for his boarding years in Reading?
As it happened, my father, Brian Harpur, also went to Portora (in the late 1920s) and would have experienced something similar to Wilde’s school regime (sadly my dad was six years too late to play cricket with another Portorian, Samuel Beckett). After his time at Portora, my father remained a loyal alumnus – to such an extent that in 1971 we spent a couple of days of a family holiday there on the vacated school premises. I can still remember walking into what was the ‘guest accommodation’: a line of six iron beds, beautifully made up … in the sanatorium. I half expected Florence Nightingale to read us a bedtime story.
I recently wrote a poem about that holiday, as part of a sequence about my own ‘incarceration’ in a boarding school in Surrey in the 1970s. For me, the holiday is a reminder that lockdown is not just a physical phenomenon, but also a psychological reality in which we are constricted by the roles expected of us, or which we adopt through necessity.
We’re like a troupe of travelling players
the six of us rehearsing holiday roles
as we motor through the Irish midlands
the sky blended with a layer of turf smoke.
At Enniskillen we enter Dad’s old school
out-of-term deserted, a huge sepulchre,
headmaster with a warm off-duty smile
showing us our rooms in the sanatorium
then guiding us like prospective parents
to classrooms, dining hall; conjuring up
Beckett vulpine in his cricket flannels
and Oscar Wilde casting pearls to swine
while Dad slips back some forty years –
me a mere three weeks – to homesickness.
Next day a change of emptiness: Lough Erne,
headmaster’s boat, glare-induced smiles
islands gliding past us on the water
Dad acting the husband without a mistress,
Mum the unsuspecting wife.
Next day sickness strikes, a tummy bug,
and it’s like a scene from Endgame
all six of us in the sanatorium moaning
like mourners, and none of us knowing
this will be our last family holiday,
and all of us knowing.
‘Portora Royal’ is from James Harpur’s book, The Examined Life, published by Two Rivers Press in April 2021.