three: Michael Schmidt, The Resurrection of the Body

Another fairly challenging collection this week, from publisher and poet Michael Schmidt, who is the founder and editorial director of Carcanet Press and editor of PN Review (which has the nice tagline poesie sans frontieres). I heard him read a few of the poems from The Resurrection of the Body at the joint launch party he had with Elaine Feinstein for Talking to the Dead; I remember very vividly his reading the first poem of the collection, ‘Pangur Ban’. (An aside: I must try to get along to more poetry readings.)

As with last week’s Far From Sodom, I often felt rather lost, not quite following the action or really sure that I understood the meaning of what I was reading. However, unlike last week it seemed to matter less. The aesthetic, the rhythm, was much easier to pick up and to enjoy, and I think that with repeated readings (and perhaps a little research) the poems may disclose a little more. For some reason, too, I was happier with the opacity of many of the poems, willing to be caught up in the worlds they suggested without having to interrogate or pin down a particular meaning.

Many of Schmidt’s poems are quite long, and I relished their narrative, particularly in ‘The Resurrection of the Body’ and ‘Inordinate Desires’. Other favourites were ‘Pangur Ban’ (partly because the character of the cat Pangur Ban is a familiar one, from childhood stories such as this series), ‘Nine Witches’, ‘Furniture for a Ballad’, ‘Not Yet’ (wonderful), ‘Amphion’, ‘Victor Casasola, Photographer’, and this poem, ‘John Gilpin Eludes the Hunt’:-

Perhaps the saddle slipped,
Not cinched quite tight enough,
Or did he choose to slide
Under the horse as it ran
Away from the hunt and the fox
Whose swift red flare of a brush
Between the combs of wheat
Into the smoky wood
Drew off the lilting dogs,
Red coats and silly hats,
The gentry of the shire?

Whatever was the case
The roan horse rode him rough.
The man hugged its long neck
With both arms and his thighs
Clasped the belly tight.
The horse came out on top
And seemed to ride the man
Faster and further off.
Clattering stone and shale
It fled the hunt as if
The shire was on its tail
And it the vixen whose cub
Clung to her quaking heart.

Up the steep chalk cliff
It pummeled, above the sea
Looking not right or left
It sped, and the breakers broke
In time with its rasping breath.
Over the parching moor
It scattered fiery prints,
Onto a road that swerved
Along a river bank,
Always its head straight out,
And straight out its tail behind
And hung from the missile the man
Clenched tight with desire
Into the final stretch
Where the river borders a rise
Into a pasture field
And sheep and cattle wade
In buttercups and grass.

There with a whinny the horse
Halts. It trembles its mane.
Released from the thundering speed
Reluctantly the man
(John Gilpin is his name)
First with his tingling knees
Then untwining his arms
Gently lets go the horse.
He drops and rolls like a stone
Into the summer grass.
The horse lies down beside
And places its frothing head
Giant and full of love
Against the rider’s curve,
Against his cheek and his heart.
They lie in the sun and breathe.
Around them sheep and cattle
Nuzzle the sweet blades.

Far off somewhere a horn
Bleats, and the blood red fox
Is torn like an old coat
By hounds, and the hunt goes home.

The Resurrection of the Body, Michael Schmidt (Smith/Doorstop Books, 2007)

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