The World at One.

I love discovering new poets who give me the same kind of thrill as my old favorites, and the latest is Kate Bingham, whose “The World at One” was published in the New Statesman last year:

I lie in bed until The World at One,
why should my heart go off with an alarm?
The body’s woman’s work is never done,

the blood gets up to exercise the lungs.
The kettle sings, I count my lucky charms –
a chain connects and separates each one

and when I shake my wrist it shakes the sun
that scatters off the wall and scalds my arm.
It’s only skin and coffee, no harm done.

War continues, voting has begun;
my left-hand thumb elects my right-hand palm.
We couldn’t all go on to be someone.

I have a little silver house to run,
a silver Scottie dog to keep me calm.
I don’t remember everything I’ve done

but bring me pencil, paper, chewing gum
and I will stay at home and do no harm,
imagining myself a world for one
where what I did was what I should have done.

The easy mastery of iambic pentameter, the simple lines that sink instantly into the memory (“the blood gets up to exercise the lungs”; “and when I shake my wrist it shakes the sun”), the lovely use of repetition and variation — that’s real poetry, folks. Her latest collection, Infragreen, was published by Seren in 2015. It has a beautiful cover and I’ll bet the poems are just as good as this one.

Comments

  1. I love this line: “The body’s woman’s work is never done.”

  2. my left-hand thumb elects my right-hand palm. echoes Lewis Carroll’s Or madly squeeze a right-hand foot/ Into a left-hand shoe,. Carroll’s verse shows an equal easy mastery of rhythm.

    To show my age: I remember The World at One on in the background as I waited for Listen with Mother at 1:45. It was the BBC’s authoritative, measured tone and reporting (that I miss so much!).

  3. @AntC: No need to pine for WatO. You can listen live online anywhere in the world or stream or download previous episodes from the BBC’s site: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qptc (For Listen with Mother, though, you’ll have to head to YouTube, which appears to have just one full episode and a few snippets.)

  4. It’s common to say that poets master rhythm, but I think they are people who have allowed rhythm to master them.

  5. Trond Engen says:

    John Cowan: It’s common to say that poets master rhythm, but I think they are people who have allowed rhythm to master them.

    Ooh, I like that.

    We have been told that poets master rhythm,
    and words obey their will, and symbols with them
    But poetry is made by those whose muted drum
    reverberates, so still that rhythm masters them

    (That took a long time. Does it even work in that slightly off-meter English meter and slightly off-rhyme English rhyme that I never really get the grasp of?)

  6. Works for me.:-)

  7. For me, drum-them is too much of a stretch: verse with simple stress meter usually has strict rhyme, like Ogden Nash’s poem “The Cobra”:

    This creature fills its mouth with venom
    And walks upon its duodenum.
    He who attempts to tease the cobra
    Is soon a sadder he, and sobra.

    (i.e. soberer ‘more sober’). Also the last line has too many slacks: either change reverberates to something shorter, or drop still (which is rather unclear anyway: does it mean ‘quiet’ or ‘yet’ in this case?)

  8. For me, drum-them is too much of a stretch

    Same here.

  9. Is there actually a pronunciation of duodenum that rhymes with venom, that is, denim?

    Neither of mine do: do-oh-DEE-num, that obeys the long vowel in duodēnī, from among all those schoolboy Latin number words, and do-ODD-uh-num, that ignores it.

  10. J.W. Brewer says:

    Ogden Nash would have just rhymed “muted drum” with “masters thum.” Problem solved!

  11. MMcM: No dictionary will admit to any such pronunciation; perhaps Nash should have written duodennum, though that might have been a bridge too far. However, it is not the Latin vowel quantity that makes the English vowel tense, but the English spelling rule that -VCV- makes the first vowel tense. Latin vowel quantity affects English stress but not English vowel quality. For example, Latin stadium has a short a, but the only English pronunciation is staydium. Wikipedia has the details.

    JWB: Yes!

  12. Trond Engen says:

    John Cowan: For me, drum-them is too much of a stretch

    Yeah, I feared that, but I think I often (for a low value of n) overdo my rhymes in English and try to figure out how to relax them. I tried for a long time to rhyme rhythm with “did them” or “hid them”. But to obtain a licence to vary I’d probably have needed more than one stanza, setting the pattern before breaking it — like in the third stanza of Kate Bingham’s On Highgate Hill. (Ogden Nash is brilliant but a different beast — with unexpected and inobedient rhyming being a point in and for itself.)

    Also the last line has too many slacks:

    Not in my count, but you’re probably right. And that is a very bad place for badly counted feet! I worked with the punctuation to force my prefered reading on the fourth line, not being pleased with any one solution, before finally deciding that I was overthinking it. Trying not to overdo the meter, I also first had the third and fourth line one trochaic foot shorter, to contrast more with the first two, but that gave less room for off-beat reading. Or at least it did for the versions I tried.

    Edit. Jambic! I meant jambic! At least I think so…

  13. You mean iambic. English spelling strikes again!

  14. The third line “But póetry is máde by thóse whose múted drúm” is most naturally read as pentameter, because the first two lines are pentameter. Alternatively, we can read it as a hexameter by promoting the final slack in “póetrỳ”. But when we come to the fourth line, it has to be read as a hexameter, as “revérberàtes, so stíll that rhýthm másters thém” — but it’s too late, because the pentameter pattern is already set. A pentameter reading, which is what I first gave it, would indeed have too many slacks.

    If the fourth line had six strong stresses, it would be tolerable as a closing alexandrine, as in the Spenserian stanza. But promoting another slack to stress in order to avoid too many slacks in a context where no such extra stress is expected just confuses the reader-reciter, by which I mean me. Partly it’s that we have no tradition of 5s-5s-6s-6s epigrams, I suppose.

    Dropping still forces the stress onto so and makes the number of slacks within the permitted limits: “revérberates só that rhýthm másters thém”. The commonest fault in English verse-making is to pack too much content into lines that are elastic but not infinitely elastic. When I was commenting on an ongoing limerick contest, Michael Kay wrote this counter-limerick against my strictures on this point:

    A poetical purist named Cowan
    Once put the rest of us dowan.
    “Your verse would be sweeter
    If it only had metre
    And rhymes that didn’t force me to frowan.”

    My response was, of course, “Overpacked fifth line”. But at least he rhymed my name correctly. Anyhow, I am not my Irish ancestors, to die of depression after being satirized in verse.

  15. Trond Engen says:

    Ah, It’s probably me not understanding the secondary stress on an unstressed long syllables. I was thinking that a iambic reading (after the first foot) of the third line

    But póetry
    is máde
    by thóse
    whose mú-
    ted drúm

    forces

    Revérberates
    so stíll
    that rhýth
    -m má-
    sters thém

    on the fourth. Which is awkward and staccato. I wanted a more, er, ambimetric count, or a shift back to trochaic feet::

    Revérberates
    so stíll
    that rhýthm
    másters
    thém

    It felt like the change of foot put emphasis on the end of the fourth line. But to achieve that the second foot would have to be read as an afterthoght — which it isn’t. “Revérberates … so stíll .., that rhýthm másters thém”

    Would “is vibrating” be better than “reverberates”? I fancied the drumbeat of “vérberate”, but vibrating is a simpler word, so it was a close call.

  16. Yes, it does force it, and that’s the problem: there are three slacks between -verb and still, which is one too many for iambic verse. Two slacks instead of one is no problem, three slacks is mumbling. Is víbrating so stíll has the same problem, plus being semantically less powerful. Víbrates so stíll, with a standard trochaic substitution, would work metrically, with no extrametrical slacks.

    You still haven’t explained what the meaning of still is.

  17. Trond Engen says:

    Nor have I tried to provide a better thyme than drum-them. I was more concerned with trying to figure out the metric rules. In my count there are three slacks also between po- and made. Then it’s not about the numner of slacks alone, but about forcing slack upon a too tense syllable. And I gather that -ting of vibrating would be be too tense too,

    (But I meant ‘still’ to mean “quietly”.)

  18. Ah. Póetry is máde is no problem because poet, like flower,
    power, fire, heaven
    and some other words, is a so-called hypermonosyllable that can be read as one or two syllables as the meter demands. Reading it as a single syllable here, we have a trochaic substitution and no extrametrical slacks.

  19. Something that might work then is reverberates; quietly rhythm masters them.

  20. David Marjanović says:

    I can parse it two ways:

    But pó|etrý | is máde | by thóse | whose mú|ted drúm
    Revér|berátes | so stíll | that rhý|thm más|ters thém

    or, if we put the Poe into poetry:

    But póe|try’s máde | by thóse | whose mú|ted drúm
    Revér|berátes | so stíll | that rhý|thm más|ters thém

    The first version has 6 stresses per line. The second has 5 in the first and 6 in the second – but I can’t hear it! I had to count three times to convince myself. Sneak attack of the elegic distichon !!

    Dropping still does give us 5 stresses:

    Revér|b’rates só | that rhý|thm más|ters thém

    …but the extra shortening strikes me as artificial, as it does for poetry.

  21. As I noted above, English has no tradition of 5-5-6-6 epigraphs.

  22. @JC Ah. Póetry is máde is no problem because poet, like flower,
    power, fire, heaven and some other words, is a so-called hypermonosyllable that can be read as one or two syllables as the meter demands.

    Which reminds me … In the recent brouhaha about the poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty, I noticed Stephen Miller pronounced it with a single syllable ‘pome’ or maybe ‘powm’.

    To my Br.Eng ears this sounds like a jokey/kid’s pronunciation, but wiktionary tells me it’s a U.S. variant. How widespread/regional is it?

    Somewhat discussed before here: http://languagehat.com/poiem/, where ‘pome’ is alleged to be Southern. But “Miller grew up in a liberal-leaning Jewish family in Santa Monica, California.” sez Wp. [gratuitous outrage: what the hell is he doing mixed up with Sessions and then Trump?] Did he pick up the pronunciation working for Sessions in Alabama?

  23. Joyce’s poetry collection is called Pomes Penyeach, for what it’s worth; it’s said to be a pun on poems and pommes. The original price was in fact one shilling, so there is an extra poem (the first one, whose title is “Tilly”) to make a baker’s dozen.

    Antisemitic Jews, or self-hating Jews, definitely do exist, though the term is more often used by the Jewish right against the Jewish but allegedly anti-Israel left. So far Miller has not outright identified himself with white nationalism, though.

  24. Ah yes, I’d forgotten about the Joyce Pomes. Is anybody claiming the U.S. pronunciation is derived from Irish?

    I’m not suggesting Miller is an antisemitic Jew [and I note a significant number of Jews in Trump’s administration], but wrt the “huddled masses yearning to be free” of that poem, I am suggesting he’s an anti-immigration immigrant — not unlike Drumpf. Wp again: “On his mother’s side, he [Miller] is descended from the Glosser (originally Glotzer) family, which arrived in the United States in the early 1900s, fleeing from Antopol in Belarus.”

    Or is it that yearning to be free from a mess created by the U.S. doesn’t qualify, whereas fleeing from pogroms/racial oppression in some other empire is O.K.?

  25. Perhaps he merely wishes to pull up the ladder behind him. I well suppose his family is grinding their teeth and waiting.

  26. David Marjanović says:

    From what I’ve read he’s simply a natural-born bully.

  27. He’d best be careful flitting near the candle-flame of white supremacists. More Wp: “Distinguishing between the Statue of Liberty and Lazarus’s poem has been a popular talking point among the anti-Semitic alt-right.” (Lazarus was Jewish, needless to say; and a woman; and her family of European origin, although far longer settled in the U.S. than Miller’s or Trump’s.)

    Wp also points out that distinguishing is bogus: the poem was commissioned to help raise funds for the pedestal. But pardon me for fact-checking.

    “Bully” is not the word that comes to mind: it’s all verbal threats, he has no executive power; he’s more the creep that slithers gollum-like behind the bullies. Career “arsehole” judging from the wp history.

  28. Willis Barnstone , from Maine, says “pomes.”

  29. David Marjanović says:

    the creep that slithers gollum-like behind the bullies

    I think you’re on to something.

  30. I have no idea why, but I rhyme “duodenum” with “denim”.

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