"Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world." — Angela Carter

Category: Poetry

The Black Chair by Jackie Kay

Now I am inside the room

After all the dreaded waiting;

A woman is kinder, more gentle.

So you have me open my mouth;

I open it gladly for you.

Tiny mirrors, softly you tell

Your assistant the language of ivory:

My vowels, my consonants, my country.

It is all unfathomable to me

But it sounds beautiful, rhythmical.

I could be crumbling, spotted with decay;

Maybe need a filling, a cap, root canal.

My abscess is a mystery, a swollen book.

You tuck me up and put me to sleep.

My soft swollen gums are stroked, all red,

My tiny dark holes prodded

By one of your strange foreign instruments.

They lie at my side now gleaming

Sharp as a family, smiling in a silver album.

I am laid back on your director’s chair –

The pink glass of champagne at my side.

Every so often I rise for a moment

Like a woman rising from a dream of the dead

Like a woman standing up on a horse

To drink and swirl and spit and watch

My own frothy blood spin and disappear.

You say good, good, you’re doing fine,

Again, again, till your voice is a love song

And every cavity an excuse for meeting;

Floss is the long length of string

That keeps us parted. My mouth is parted.

You are in it with your white gloved hands

I have not eaten garlic for weeks.

But you don’t need to pull any teeth

Alas, no molars to come out in your hands

No long roots, no spongey bits of gum.

We won’t go that far. No. It’s surface stuff,

Really. Not nearly as deep as you or I could go.

You’ll polish them. You’ll give the odd amalgam.

You’ll x-ray. You’ll show me the photo.

I’ll look at my own teeth on the white screen

They tell me nothing about myself.

My teeth, speechless.

Rootless pearls, anonymous white things.

I need you to tell me about myself.

Will the gaps widen with the years?

Do you know the day my grandmother died was hot, baking?

Can you tell I like sex from the back row?

I’d like it now, on this black chair that you move

Up or down, bringing me back to life

Telling me in a cheerful voice. I’m done.

– Jackie Kay, Not For The Academy: Lesbian Poets


“If no other direction can compell” by Marilyn Hacker

If no other direction can compell

me upward from the dark-before-the-dawn

descending spiral, I drop like a stone

flung into some scummed-over stagnant well.

The same momentum with which once we fell

across each other’s skies, meteors drawn

by lodestones taproots clutched in unmapped ground

propels me toward some amphibious hell

where kissing’s finished, and I tell, tell, tell

reasons as thick as frogspawn:

had I done this, that wouldn’t have come undone.

The wolf of wolf’s hour cried at once too often

picked out enfeebled stragglers by the smell

of pond scum drying on them in the sun.

– Marilyn Hacker, Love, Death, and the Changing of the Seasons (1986)

Lily Pond by Vicki Feaver

Thinking of new ways to kill you
and bring you back from the dead,
I try drowning you in the lily pond –

holding your head down
until every bubble of breath
is squeezed from your lungs

and the flat leaves and spiky flowers
float over you like a wreath.
I sit on the stones until I’m numb,

until, among reflections of sky,
water-buttercups, spears of iris,
your face rises to the surface –

a face that was always puffy
and pale, so curiously unchanged.
A wind rocks the waxy flowers, curls

the edges of the leaves. Blue butterfles
appear and vanish like ghosts.
I part the mats of yellow weed

and drag you to the bank, covering
your green algae-stained corpse
with a white sheet. Then, I lift the edge

and climb in underneath –
thumping your chest,
breathing into your mouth.

– Vicki Feaver, The Handless Maiden (1994)

Threat by Gottfried Benn

Know this:

I live beast days. I am a water hour.

At night my eyelids droop like forest and sky.

My love knows few words:

I like it in your blood.

– Gottfried Benn, Morgue and Other Poems (1912)

Emplumada by Lorna Dee Cervantes


When summer ended

the leaves of snapdragons withered

taking their shrill-colored mouths with them.

They were still, so quiet. They were

violet where umber now is. She hated

and she hated to see

them go. Flowers


born when the weather was good – this

she thinks of, watching the branch of peaches

daring their ways above the fence, and further,

two hummingbirds, hovering, stuck to each other,

arcing their bodies in grim determination

to find what is good, what is

given them to find. These are warriors


distancing themselves from history.

They find peace

in the way they contain the wind

and are gone.

– Lorna Dee Cervantes, Emplumada (1982)

Great Sporting Moments: The Treble by Simon Armitage

The rich! I love them. Trust them to suppose
the gift of tennis is deep in their bones.

Those chaps from the coast with all their own gear
from electric eyes to the umpire’s chair,

like him whose arse I whipped with five choice strokes
perfected on West Yorkshire’s threadbare courts:

a big first serve that strained his alloy frame,
a straight return that went back like a train,

a lob that left him gawping like a fish,
a backhand pass that kicked and drew a wisp

of chalk, a smash like a rubber bullet
and a bruise to go with it. Three straight sets.

Smarting in the locker rooms he offered
double or quits; he was a born golfer

and round the links he’d wipe the floor with me.
I played the ignoramus to a tee:

the pleb in the gag who asked the viscount
what those eggcup-like things were all about –

‘They’re to rest my balls on when I’m driving.’
‘Blimey, guv, Rolls-Royce think of everything’ –

but at the fifth when I hadn’t faltered
he lost his rag and threw down the gauntlet;

we’d settle this like men: with the gloves on.
I said, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. OK, come on then.

Simon Armitage, Kid (1992)

In Sylvia Plath Country by Erica Jong

The skin of the sea

has nothing to tell me.

I see her diving down

into herself—

past the bell-shaped jellyfish

who toll for no one—

& meaning to come back


In London, in the damp

of a London morning,

I see her sitting,

folding & unfolding herself,

while the blood

hammers like rain

on her heart’s windows.

This is her own country—

the sea, the rain

& death half ryhming

with her father’s name.

Obscene monosyllable,

it lingers for a while

on the roof

of the mouth’s house.

I stand here

savoring the sound,

like salt


They thought your death

was your last poem :

a black book

with gold-tooled cover

& pages the color of ash.

But I thought different,

knowing how madness

doesn’t believe

in metaphor.

When you began to feel

the drift of continents

beneath your feet,

the sea’s suck,

& each

atom of the poisoned air,

you lost

the luxury of similie.


Gull calls, broken shell,

the quarried coast.

This is where America ends,

dropping off

to the depths.

Death comes

differently in California.

Marilyn stalled

in celluloid,

the frame stuck,

& the light

burning through.

Bronze to her platinum,

Ondine, Ariel,

finally no one,

What could we tell you

after you dove down into yourself

& were swallowed

by your poems?

Erica Jong in Women’s Studies, Vol. 2 No. 1 (1974)