Poetry Centre

Weekly Poem for 17 February 2014

  • from Night Office

    We were assembled on the station platform.
    He told us not to leave, but rather wait
    for his return, whose signs would take that form
    we should know when we saw them. We should wait,
    wait only, for that certain day; no storm,
    however violent, should now create
    an instant's doubt of his assured return.
    It was magnificent; we felt that we should learn

    in due course every needed detail, nor
    should we at this time question him, but stand
    receiving & accepting, and know more
    at just those times and seasons when his hand
    should by his agents from that further shore
    send news, signs, tokens, which might still strike land
    here in our clandestine assembly, tell
    us of the last new happenings in hell.

    Whether in Khabarovsk or in New York,
    some word should come, some emissary find
    one of our number: as the stooping hawk
    finds out the field mouse, so his keen love's kind
    and irresistible dexterity
    should at each crossed road or each dubious fork
    know how to reach that one of all our kind
    who would with the correct celerity

    alert the rest. The train began to leave.
    The last I saw of him, through sparkling glass,
    or what I could make out, where time can thieve
    no particle of recollection, may not class
    it with some set of likeness, nor bereave
    me of one colour, one swift stroke or pass,
    but still retains each single thought & gesture,
    each hard-won glimpse & hardly-spoken texture,

    was his retreating smile at once and frown:
    where the cheek's stoicism bore its gloss
    set by the brow's lines where they just turned down
    but where the mouth's serenity took loss
    for gain in knowledge; so without a sound
    his lips formed one word which it was impossible
    to make out, though eye strain and ear
    work its drums over so it might come near

    that latest testament.

    by Simon Jarvis

    A reminder that several Poetry Centre events are taking place during the Oxford Human Rights Festival, including a talk by Poetry Centre Director, Dr Eóin Flannery, about the divisive political and human rights figure, Roger Casement, on Monday 24 February, and a reading and discussion with Jamie McKendrick about his 2007 collection Crocodiles and Obelisks on Friday 28 February. To book tickets, visit the festival page.

    Oxford Brookes students from the Department of English and Modern Languages have launched a project to encourage year 7 and 8 Oxford Academy pupils to get excited about creative writing and literature - and they need your help to fund the project! The scheme could culminate in an event at the Oxford Literary Festival. You can find out more about the project - and how to make it happen - on the Hubbub site.

    'from Night Office' is copyright © Simon Jarvis, 2013, and reprinted from his book Night Office, published by  Enitharmon Books in 2013.

    Notes from Enitharmon:

    Simon Jarvis is Gorley Putt Professor of Poetry and Poetics at Cambridge University. He has published studies of Wordsworth, Adorno, and Shakespearean criticism. His previous poetry publications include The Unconditional (2005) and Dionysus Crucified (2011).

    Simon Jarvis writes that: 'Night Office is the initial publication from among a small set of long poems for which the collective title is The Calendar. Each poem relates to the others as the points, not in a line, but of a star: none need be considered as first or last. Each explores those manners in which the invisible life of the soul throws off from itself tunes, colours, times, histories and nations; each, from verse constraints upon syllable and intonation, works towards the concrete freedoms of poetic thinking. Night Office listens out, through its long white night, for the silencing of human sounds - as these last fall asleep into their signs.' You can read a review of the book from the Cambridge Humanities Review on the Enitharmon website.

    'William Blake dreamed up the original Enitharmon as one of his inspiriting, good, female daemons, and his own spirit as a poet-­‐artist, printer-­‐publisher still lives in the press which bears the name of his creation. Enitharmon is a rare and wonderful phenomenon, a press where books are shaped into artefacts of lovely handiwork as well as communicators of words and worlds. The writers and the artists published here over the last forty-­‐five years represent a truly historic gathering of individuals with an original vision and an original voice, but the energy is not retrospective: it is growing and new ideas enrich the list year by year. Like an ecologist who manages to restock the meadows with a nearly vanished species of wild flower or brings a rare pair of birds back to found a colony, this publisher has dedicatedly and brilliantly made a success of that sharply endangered species, the independent press.' (Marina Warner.)

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    Copyright information: please note that the copyrights of all the poems displayed on the website and sent out on the mailing list are held by the respective authors, translators or estates, and no work should be reproduced without first gaining permission from the individual publishers.