Where are the Waters of Childhood?

To advertise their Poetry Season in 2010, the BBC made a number of short films, featuring TV personalities reciting poetry in everday situations. This one, starring Frank Skinner, features the start of Mark Strand’s poem, ‘Where are the Waters of Childhood’.


This poem comes from Strand’s collection, The Late Hour. Read the full poem below:

Where are the waters of childhood?
Mark Strand
See where the windows are boarded up,
where the gray siding shines in the sun and salt air
and the asphalt shingles on the roof have peeled or fallen off,
where tiers of oxeye daisies float on a sea of grass?
That’s the place to begin.

Enter the kingdom of rot,
smell the damp plaster, step over the shattered glass,
the pockets of dust, the rags, the soiled remains of a mattress,
look at the rusted stove and sink, at the rectangular stain
on the wall where Winslow Homer’s Gulf Stream hung.

Go to the room where your father and mother
would let themselves go in the drift and pitch of love,
and hear, if you can, the creak of their bed,
then go to the place where you hid.

Go to your room, to all the rooms whose cold, damp air you breathed,
to all the unwanted places where summer, fall, winter, spring,
seem the same unwanted season, where the trees you knew have died
and other trees have risen. Visit that other place
you barely recall, that other house half hidden.

See the two dogs burst into sight. When you leave,
they will cease, snuffed out in the glare of an earlier light.
Visit the neighbors down the block; he waters his lawn,
she sits on her porch, but not for long.
When you look again they are gone.

Keep going back, back to the field, flat and sealed in mist.
On the other side, a man and a woman are waiting;
they have come back, your mother before she was gray,
your father before he was white.

Now look at the North West Arm, how it glows a deep cerulean blue.
See the light on the grass, the one leaf burning, the cloud
that flares. You’re almost there, in a moment your parents
will disappear, leaving you under the light of a vanished star,
under the dark of a star newly born. Now is the time.

Now you invent the boat of your flesh and set it upon the waters
and drift in the gradual swell, in the laboring salt.
Now you look down. The waters of childhood are there.

To read The Poetry Foundation’s biography of Mark Strand, click here: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/mark-strand
Discover more about the 2010 BBC Poetry Season here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/poetryseason/

‘…the way we assert our title is by writing…’

‘As poets, we have a title to assert – a part of our inheritance lies unclaimed. And the way we assert our title is by writing. The way we refute, say, the death of the sonnet, or the reported demise of the epic, is not by argument but by assertion. My sonnet asserts that the sonnet still lives. My epic, should such fortune befall me, asserts that the heroic narrative is not lost – that it is born again, perhaps in some form which seems hardly at first recognisable, but nevertheless, there it is, born again.

As poets we do not ask permission before we begin to practise, for there is no authority to license us. We do not inquire whether it is still possible to pen a drama, for the answer to that question is ours alone to give. It is our drama, spoken or sung, that asserts our right to the title of poet. It is our decision that counts, and not the opinion of some theatre management, or the ponderings of the critic, or even the advice of our friendliest mentors. It is our decision, our assertion, that alters the whole state of affairs.

This is possible, we assert, because this is what I have just done. This is achievable, because I wanted enough to achieve it.’

 – James Fenton, An Introduction to English Poetry

‘Poets are always taking the weather so personally.’

Poster by Evan Robertson.

View more of Robertson’s literary quotation posters here: http://www.flavorwire.com/308256/pithy-literary-posters-perfect-for-writers-salons?all=1

‘The community of any English poem today is larger than any nation-state.’

‘English poetry extends back around 500 years, and its scope is the scope of the English language. That is to say, when a North American, an Australian, an Indian or a Jamaican writes a poem in English, that poem enters the corpus of English poetry. Of course it may be that the poet in question was intending to contribute to a national school of poetry, was intending to add his or her brick to the edifice of a national effort. But the community of any English poem today is larger than any nation-state. And besides, the geography of poetry is not the same as the geography of nation-states. Welsh poetry is written for Welsh-speakers wherever they may be. It is not written for all citizens of the United Kingdom. A Spanish poetry, written for Spanish-speakers in the United States, would enjoy a community, through language, with Hispanics everywhere. An Amharic poet, writing in Toronto about life on the streets of Toronto, would be writing for Ethiopians – or at least Amharic-speakers – everywhere. And a poet writing in Chinese has the notable advantage of being able to communicate with anyone who understands written Chinese: the community is in the script.’

– James Fenton, An Introduction to English Poetry

Poetry Prompts Galore!

Fingertips itching to type? Got a bottle of ink just waiting to ooze words onto the page?

Well, this could be exactly what you’ve been waiting for – because we can point you in the direction of not one, but TWO sets of poetry exercises. That’s right: two!

Number One:

The first is organised by the Young Poets’ Network, with the exercises themselves set by the recent Eric Gregory Award winner, Jon Stone. They’re appearing every other day throughout August, and you’re welcome to post your results in the comment boxes for people to peruse.

There are five challenges up already, so plenty to get your teeth stuck into.

The link to the first challenge is here: http://www.youngpoetsnetwork.org.uk/2012/08/01/august-writing-challenge-1-book-shelf-poem/

Number Two:

The second set of challenges comes from quite frankly awesome poet Jacob Sam-La Rose, and is found on tumblr site, probable causes.

There’s a ‘submit’ button here, too (on the left hand side – it’s the little envelope symbol), so you can send in your efforts.

Personally, we’d like to recommend today’s exercise (the one headed by the Mark Doty quotation: http://probablecauses.tumblr.com/). Since it’s a beautiful day, head out into the open air, enjoy the sunshine, and write a poem about wherever you end up.

Now excuse me, I’m off to pack my picnic…