The concept of a Desert Island Disc is something that I have always loved. Which 10 songs would you take to a deserted island? Is it possible to take only 10!?
To take the concept into the world of poetry, this lost shark has asked some of his favourite poets to compile a list of of Desert(ed) Island Poems as a way of having each poet explore what makes a poem sing to them and to share with us the poems that are embedded in their mind, body and spirit.
First up in the series is Melbourne based poet Ashley Capes. So… which 10 poems will be sailing with Ashley to his deserted island?
Marriage – Gregory Corso
On the island, if I needed cheering up I would read Marriage. I first read this some years after getting married and found it highly amusing (though not because my experiences were similar, quite the opposite) but it has a very 1950s America vibe, the fear and the ‘goodness’ Corso is discussing does what good poetry often does – it examines and challenges social norms. And with great wit too.
Read it here: http://www.litkicks.com/Texts/Marriage.html
Hadda Be Playing on a Jukebox – Allen Ginsberg
I seem to enjoy repetition and variation within political or socially aware poetry and Ginsberg was one of the first poets to show me that these two could be combined. While Howl would last me longer on the desert island, Hadda Be Playing on a Jukebox is a little more direct and sets the bitterness and outrage in very familial settings (the kitchen, the basement, the streets, the factories, (workplace) the Mafia etc) and is all the more terrifying for it.
Read it here: http://www.musicfanclubs.org/rage/hadda.html
China – Bob Perelman
There’s so much room for the reader in this one. Every time I read it I can bring something else to the piece. Words, lines and images bounce off each other, bounce off my understandings (or lack thereof). When I looked at China in uni, there wasn’t a single student in the class that gave the same interpretation when asked to discuss it.
Read it here: http://www.murgatroid.com/china.html
Pas de deux for Lovers – Michael Dransfield
This poem is so delicate, so complete. The language seems to have an echo of the Romantics but lacks pretension. It opens and closes strong. I’d take this to a desert island and feel both homesick and awed.
Read it here: http://www.angelfire.com/me3/jackispage/lit/dransfield.html
I’d Shoot the Man – Gig Ryan
The words in this poem smoulder on the page. I first read it in a high school literature class and asked the teacher if we could study it. I was fascinated by the use of repetition and the honesty, the ‘lived’ nature of the narrative, and by the way gender was challenged in it. This really showed me that poetry could accomplish much.
Read it here: http://www.austlit.com/a/ryan-gig/doa.html
Clear – Viggo Mortensen
Someone at uni showed me Clear. I read it alone, and when I finished I actually said ‘wow.’ Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when I thought about this I went back over a lot of work I’d read, and tried to recall what my initial reactions had been. There are very few poems that made me express my appreciation verbally, especially when there was no-one around to discuss it with.
Tyrannus Nix? – Lawrence Ferlinghetti
Although I don’t have what it takes to write good social commentaries, I would keep this on the desert island so I had something to aspire to. If I could be as insightful, cutting and energised as this, I would be pretty pleased. Tyrannus Nix? is impressive too, in the way it reclaims the oral nature of poetry – the poem is written like a letter (or a speech) directly to Nixon, but it’s an open letter for anyone reading it (not just America) and does something to thrust poetry into a public sphere. The poem operates in a political fashion and it’s so effective for it.
This is Just to Say – William Carlos Williams
Simplicity often strikes me – that and openness or accessibility. The purpose of language is to communicate, so I don’t always enjoy a writer attempting to communicate, then clouding meaning by making language opaque. (It could be argued that China is too opaque) I would take This is Just to Say as a reminder for myself, to remain open when I write.
Read it here: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15535
Edge – Sylvia Plath
Revisiting some of the poems I first read in high school to see which ones I still re-read, I remembered Edge. It seems to be one of her most restrained/resigned (language wise) yet evocative poems, especially in regards to the images and the way they’re linked to thoughts and biography.
Read it here: http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/edge/
Watermelons – Charles Simic
In this poem the everyday becomes poetic – as is often the case in the hands of great writers. A clear and resonant image, the poem always makes me smile. And because it bears some similarities to haiku, I thought I would take this to a desert island in one folder, in case I wasn’t allowed to take a separate folder of 10 desert island haiku.
Read it here: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15260
Ashley Capes co-edits www.holland1945.net.au and recently completed studies in Arts and Education at Monash. His work has appeared in a range of Australian print and online publications and his first collection of poetry pollen and the storm was published with the assistance of Small Change Press in 2008.
Find out more about Ashley and his work at: