Poem of the Week: “The Sofa” by Medbh McGuckian

It’s been nearly two decades since we published the last selection of Medbh McGuckian’s work, and in that time she has written eight more volumes. Needless to say, it was time to re-visit this poet’s remarkable ouevre. Over the last several months as we prepared The Unfixed Horizon: New Selected Poems, it’s been a true delight to look closely again at these poems whose images stay with you, even as they transform and transfigure with each pass.

As the editors comment in their introduction to the work, McGuckian’s “unique poetic style renders her one of the most compelling voices in contemporary poetry in English. Her unusual method of composition, weaving together strands from various prose texts, turns her poems into strangely original, dreamlike creations, both haunted and haunting.” We’ve chosen an early poem from McGuckian’s ouevre to share with you today, and we hope you’ll come back to this blog on publication day, Dec. 4, when we’ll be sharing a new interview with the poet.

The Sofa

Do not be angry if I tell you
your letter stayed unopened on my table
for several days. If you were friend enough
to believe me, I was about to start writing
at any moment; my mind was savagely made up,
like a serious sofa moved
under a north window. My heart, alas,

is not the calmest of places.
Still it is not my heart that needs replacing:
and my books seem real enough to me,
my disasters, my surrenders, all my loss. . . .
Since I was child enough to forget
that you loathe poetry, you ask for some—
about nature, greenery, insects, and, of course,

the sun—surely that would be to open
an already open window? To celebrate
the impudence of flowers? If I could
interest you instead in his large, gentle stares,
how his soft shirt is the inside of pleasure
to me, why I must wear white for him,
imagine he no longer trembles

when I approach, no longer buys me
flowers for my name day. . . . But I spread
on like a house, I begin to scatter
to a tiny to-and-fro at odds
with the wear on my threshold. Somewhere
a curtain rising wonders where I am,
my books sleep, pretending to forget me.

Medbh McGuckianThe Unfixed Horizon: New Selected Poems (2015)


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Video Highlights from Ciaran Carson’s Wake Forest Reading

Last week, Ciaran Carson visited Wake Forest University and gave an enchanting reading on campus. He read from his latest collection, From Elsewhere, and played traditional Irish tunes with his wife, fiddler Deirdre Shannon. Watch the video below for highlights from this wonderful evening! And don’t skip the ending; one of the most special moments happened during the reception, when Ciaran and Deirdre played an impromptu session with local musicians Fred Lail and Mary Mondon.

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Poem of the Week to Celebrate Samhain

It’s the last week of October, which means it’s almost Halloween, the spookiest time of year. Did you know that Halloween originates from the Celtic festival called Samhain? We enjoy getting into the Samhain spirit by reading some of our poets’ eeriest pieces. Here’s a particularly creepy poem of the week from Louis MacNeice.

Plant and Phantom

Man: a flutter of pages,
Leaves in the Sibyl’s cave,
Shadow changing from dawn to twilight,
Murmuration of corn in the wind,
A shaking of hands with hallucinations,
Hobnobbing with ghosts, a pump of blood,
Mirage, a spider dangling
Over chaos and man a chaos.

Who cheats the pawky Fates
By what he does, not is,
By what he makes, imposing
On flux an architectonic—
Cone of marble, calyx of ice,
Spandrel and buttress, iron
Loops across the void,
Stepping stones in the random.

Man: a dance of midges,
Gold glass in the sunlight,
Prattle of water, palaver
Of starlings in a disused
Chimney, a gimcrack castle,
Seaweed tugging the rocks,
Guttering candles, the Northern
Lights and the Seventh Wave.

Whose life is a bluff, professing
To follow the laws of Nature,
In fact a revolt, a mad
Conspiracy and usurpation,
Smuggling over the frontier
Of fact a sense of value,
Metabolism of death,
Re-orchestration of world.

Man: a riot of banners,
Bulge in the wind, a prism,
Organ-pipes in the sunset,
Orgy of brains and glands,
Thunder-crackle and the bounce of hail,
Wink of wings and fog’s delusion,
A rampant martyr, a midnight
Echo, a forest fire.

Who felt with his hands in empty
Air for the Word and did not
Find it but felt the aura,
Dew on the skin, could not forget it.
Ever since has fumbled, intrigued,
Clambered behind and beyond, and learnt
Words of blessing and cursing, hoping
To find in the end the Word Itself.

Louis MacNeice, from Collected Poems (2013)


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