Sunday, 30 March 2014

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Ursula K. Le Guin: poems that are not out of this world

American author Ursula K. Le Guin, internationally famous for her seminal Science Fiction novels such as The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed, and The Lathe of Heaven among many other incredibly successful titles has also written some exceptional poetry. When an author has achieved acclaim from one genre, it can be challenging to make similar inroads in another. Hence, I thought I’d spotlight a few examples of her verse which appeals to me in its gentle narrative and its subtly emotive quality.

Waking in April

Drifting on the birdsong river
between no light and light
and the sleep of a man and a cat,
I wear the soft old shirt
my mother made me seventy years ago,
nightshirt, dayshirt,
winter coat, wedding gown.
I wonder, as it wears away to rags
and gauze, will there be a mirror
to see the naked soul in,
or only an unraveling of shadow
as the day widens
and things grow clearer.

Le Guin’s involvement in environmentalism translates her love of the natural world to many of her poems which are very much grounded in the terrestrial here and now:

Incredible Good Fortune

O California, dark, shaken, broken hills,
bright fog reaching over the beaches,
madrone and digger pine and valley oak,
I’m your dryhearted daughter.
I listened when the earthquake spoke
and learned what the quail teaches.
The stony bed the rain of winter fills
waited all year for the water.

Some of her poems, while part of a larger sequence, also work when they’re self-contained, as this one taken from Love Songs In Late May:

May 22

I will spend four days
writing love songs
in a house that’s near
but doesn’t look at
the sea.
     The first
is to the cat Archibald,
the demure, ceremonious,
innocent, elegant archer
of back, bestower
of affection from aloofness,
too young in wisdom
of death and people:
Mischief, slantways,
devoutly greedy, gaze of amber,
erratic and indolent silk sherpa
to holy wholly mysterious everests,
I make a lovesong to him,
a gift, a dreamfeather.

Le Guin is not averse to using rhyme and meter in her poetry, a rare thing these days among the heaps of what is published.  Although she’s often more generous in its use in a number of poems, it’s utilized sparingly in the piece below:


O silence, my love silence,
I have feared you: my tongue
has rattled on my teeth
dreading to be dumb so long
when I am done with breath.
     And I have needed prattle,
kind blather, and the come and go
of voices, human voices,
the sky whose moon you are,
the ground whose flower.
     But I beseech you come,
now, my love silence, O
reward and freedom, balance
beyond choices, in whom alone is heard
the meditation of the twilight bird
and the never to be spoken word.

All poems ©Ursula K. Le Guin, taken from Incredible Good Fortune, published by Shambhala Publications, 2006. ISBN 1-59030-314-8

Saturday, 8 March 2014