Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Tuesday Poem - 'Late Night Critique of Sexton and Plath' - Catherine Bateson

Late Night Critique of Sexton and Plath

All week the mad dead have circled my sleep, creeping
off the pages I read while I rocked my child, fever-flushed
and inconsolable. I asked them why;
why it wasn't enough; the weight of a child
the smell of rain, the comfort of unread books?
The child banged his head on my shoulder -
we raged together, dumbly persistent in our pain.
I hated them for giving in, leaving their lives
a sad pile of pickings for the greedy.
And how we excuse them, write their absent notes,
wipe their faces clean, make them tidy.

In the dark room the dead assembled,
they held out their hearts
like begging bowls but I would not love them.
If I'm called to give witness it's not to that -
death as a blanket, a comforter
but how life takes over, bustles in
opens the curtains,
gives the day a shake.

Catherine Bateson, The Vigilant Heart, UQP, 1998.

I want to firstly apologise for putting up two of my own poems in three weeks - I'm slowly attempting to organise permission from other poets, but it's been busy here with the new teaching year beginning, some family issues and some internet issues. So please forgive me!

This poem comes from my second collection.

Check out other Tuesday Poems here.


Mary McCallum said...

Oh Catherine this poem is perfectly fabulous. I love it. The inconsolability of the child and the mother - this line 'we raged together, dumbly persistent in our pain.' Yes, dumb. It resonates with Sylvia Plath's poem where she stumbles 'cow-heavy' from her bed to the waking child. Or that's how I remember it... And this, the dead holding out 'their hearts like begging bowls' (this is the other angle on the hub poem this week 'Poets' by Janet Frame). The wonderful way death 'the blanketer, a comforter' is rejected for life, the open curtains. All I wonder about is why the semi-colons in lines five and six?

By all means put up your own poems every week - many Tuesday Poets do. It's totally up to you. I for one will be coming back for more.

Ben Hur said...

Great poem. Don't apologise about posting your own poems. I do it all the time. Mainly, because I'm shy and I'm somewhat of a poetry "Outsider" so I don't really know many other poets to ask them to publish their work. Poor old Anne and Sylvia get a serve in this beautifully-written poem. Hey, let's face it, suicide cannot ever be an easy choice. People are pushed to an extreme place many of us will never understand.

Helen Lowe said...

Catherine, there is nothing to apologise for--first of all because the TP can equally well be about one's own poetry or another's and permissions can take time! (I know--I wasn't able to post my first preference of poem this week either, and I believe Jennifer Compton said the same!) And secondly because 'Late Night Critique' is such a wonderful poem. I love it! Thank you for sharing it through the Tuesday Poem blog.

Jo said...

I'm not at all worried that they're your own poems - I'm enjoying them!

Cattyrox said...

Thanks everyone! Mary - those semi-colons worried me, too. They're in the original published version but I don't think they should be. I would normally use dashes. I did go through a stage where I thought semi-colons were somehow more correct - so perhaps those lines were victims of that?

Ben - totally agree with you that suicide is an extreme place that few understand. But when this poem was written I'd spent a few months in and out of the Royal children's hospital with a chronically ill baby and watched as other babies fought for their lives. That experience was colouring both my reading and writing at the time. Not that that is particularly relevant - just a kind of footnote.

Claire Beynon said...

This is a brilliant poem, Catherine - chilling, thrilling and ultimately so very life-affirming. Thank you!

The lines

'. . . they held out their hearts
like begging bowls but I would not love them. . .'

gave me goosebumps - something to do with the way you hold these poets accountable, make a statement of reckoning.

Relief comes pouring in when you conclude

'. . . Life takes over, bustles in
opens the curtains,
give the day a shake.'

(I love the title of your book, too, btw).

As other readers have said, please don't apologize for posting your own poems - the more the better! It's wonderful to have you on board the TP ship, Catherine.