"Out in the bush is silence now: Savannah seas have islands now"

Posted by Expert Gadget Reviewer on Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Jane Holland has an interesting short post on rhyme on her blog at the moment, and it got me thinking about rhyme being this really transformative element in a poem, something, as she puts it, 'which launches the poem off into space', and, when used to its fullest potential, can make a poem truly moving, provocative and memorable. And it also made me think about Mick Imlah's work, something I'm writing a piece on currently, and how for all of the wit, ingenuity and syntactical invention in his narrative poems and dramatic monologues, for all of the impressive scope and surprising shifts in the ambitious pieces in his new collection, the poem of his that always astounds me is the first one in his first book: 'Tusking' from Birthmarks.

It's a really incredible poem (a meditation on colonialism via an imagined elephant hunt) with so many layers to it and a beautifully executed rhyme scheme, the sort that you feel really lives up to the whole 'best words in the best order' idea, without a single one wasted. And I'm clearly not alone in my thoughts of this poem being great, as I read something by Bernard O'Donoghue a while back describing the poem as one which should be in the running for the best poem of the past twenty five years. If you haven't read it, it's worth picking up a second-hand copy of Birthmarks for it alone. To give you a taste, here's a couple of stanzas:

'But if, one night
As you stroll the verandah
Observing with wonder
The place of the white
Stars in the universe,
Brilliant, and clear,
Sipping your whisky
And pissed with fear

You happen to hear
Over the tinkle of Schubert
A sawing - a drilling -
The bellow and trump
Of a vast pain -
Pity the hulks!
Play it again!'

Oh, and after two blog posts in a row on Imlah, I'll be sure to post about something different next time, promise...