Wake: Up to Poetry
Poem of the Week: “Artists’ Letters” by Thomas Kinsella
While you’ve probably heard enough about love for this week, today, The Press has one more poem we’d like to share with you. This poem is bit of a throwback for us. It’s from our 1986 reprint of Thomas Kinsella’s Peppercanister Poems: 1972–1978, and it is dedicated to our truest love, the written word. We hope you enjoy it!
Folders, papers, proofs, maps
with tissue paper marked and coloured.
I was looking for something,
confirmation of something,
in the cardboard box
when my fingers deflected among
fat packets of love letters,
old immediacies in elastic bands.
I shook a letter open from
its creases, carefully, and read
— and shrugged, embarrassed.
My hand grew thin and agitated
as the words crawled again
quickly over the dried paper.
Letter by letter the foolishness
deepened, but displayed
a courage in its own unsureness;
acknowledged futility and waste
in all their importance … a young idiocy
in desperate full-hearted abandon
to all the chance of one choice :
There is one throw, no more. One
offering : make it. With no style
—these are desperate times. There is
a poverty of spirit in the wind,
a shabby richness in braving it.
My apologies, but you are my beloved
and I will not be put off.
What is it about such letters,
torn free ignominiously
in love? Character stripped off
our pens plunge repeatedly
at the unique cliché, cover
ache after ache of radiant paper
with analytic ecstasies,
wrestle in repetitious fury.
The flesh storms our brain; we storm
our entranced opposite, badger her
with body metaphors, project
our selves with outthrust stuttering arms,
cajoling, forcing her
— her spread-eagled spirit —
to accept our suspect cries
with shocked and shining eyes.
Artists’ letters (as the young career
grows firmer in excited pride
and moves toward authority
after the first facetiousness,
the spirit shaken into strength
by shock after shock of understanding)
suddenly shudder and display ! Animal.
Violent vital organs of desire.
A toothless mouth opens
and we throw ourselves, enthralled, against our bonds
and thrash toward her. And when we have
been nicely eaten and out parts
spat out whole and have become
‘one’, then we can settle our cuffs
and our Germanic collar
and turn back calmly towards distinguished things.