Poetry Centre

Weekly Poem for 21 March 2011

  • Calligraphy

    Aha, I find the late fourth century pope Damasus
    Had seen to it that the tombs of martyrs

    Were given fresh distinction by calligraphy.
    With a calligraphy from his own pen old stones

    Were incised by a mason selected not only
    For his dexterity, also for his sympathies.

    How different it is, that order of things,
    From the reburial, pronto, of carving dismembered

    By the constructors of emporia and office blocks
    Over the sunken city in modern Mylasa—

    What do the planners care about things Greek,
    Ancient inscriptions or extended gods

    Who still cling with touches of sunlight
    To fluted stone scheduled for reburial?

    If mind did not become a Mylasa, who’d recall
    The crates of American rifles in summer 1940,

    And how the girls and boys of freedom lift
    Those greased guns from the crates in England,

    Old grease, with rags wipe every vestige off,
    Clots of grease hidden in the dark magazines?

    Plain or grainy, the wooden rifle butt,
    Polish it up until it glows

    Fitting snug into your skinny shoulder—
    An age before you knew what calligraphy was.

    by Christopher Middleton

    Copyright © Christopher Middleton, 2010. 'Calligraphy' is taken from the volume Poems 2006-2009 by Christopher Middleton, published by Shearsman Books, 2010. It is reprinted here by permission of Shearsman Books.

    Notes courtesy of Shearsman Books:

    Christopher Middleton was born in Truro, Cornwall, in 1926. He studied at Merton College, Oxford and then taught at the University of Zürich, at King's College, London, and finally as Professor of Germanic Languages at the University of Texas, Austin. He has published translations of Robert Walser, Nietzsche, Hölderlin, Goethe and many contemporaries, receiving several awards, including the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the Schegel-Tieck Translation Prize. His poems, essays and selected translations are all published in the UK by Carcanet Press; his poems are published in the USA by Sheep Meadow Press. His most recent publications are: Collected Poems (Carcanet, 2008), The Anti-Basilisk (poetry, Carcanet Press, 2005—published as Tankard's Cat in the USA by Sheep Meadow), Of the Mortal Fire (poetry, Sheep Meadow, 2003), Crypto-Topographia (prose, Enitharmon Press, London, 2002), The Word Pavilion and Selected Poems (Carcanet / Sheep Meadow, 2001), Jackdaw Jiving: Selected Essays on Poetry and Translation (Carcanet, 1998), Faint Harps and Silver Voices: Selected Translations (Carcanet, 2000). Christopher Middleton lives in Austin, Texas. You can find out more about his latest work here, hear him read from his work at this page, and read other selections from Poems 2006-2009 (in pdf) here.

    Shearsman Books is a very active publisher of new poetry, mostly from Britain and the USA, but also with an active translation list. You can learn more about the publisher here.

    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.