Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Minor poems, major effects

Many of my favourite poets are associated with certain renowned poems, pieces that bear their hallmarks and are thus invariably chosen for anthologies. However, I find that often one or two of their so-called minor works stick most in my mind.

One such example is Keith Douglas and a little-mentioned poem, Canoe. For all its defects, Canoe entrances me from the start ...

""Well, I am thinking this may be my last
summer, but cannot lose even a part
of pleasure in the old-fashioned art of
idleness...

...through to its ending, precariously balanced, somehow pulling off a success, as if Douglas were indulging in poetic excess in the context of war,as if he were writing an elegy for himself...

"...when this boat

travels with you alone towards Iffley:
as you lie looking up for thunder again,
this cool touch does not betoken rain;
it is my spirit that kisses your mouth lightly."

Canoe captivated me when I first read it at the age of eighteen, and I've carried it with me ever since. It might be a minor poem in the context of the body of Douglas'work, but it's had a major effect on me.

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