Diving into the wreck

Well it’s after 2am and I just got in from a fabulous poetry evening with my Poetry Society hat on at the awards ceremony of the National Poetry Competition – and the Ted Hughes Award – two in one, and it was a great evening.

Allison McVety won the National with a layered, structurally integrated poem called ‘To the Lighthouse’, about rereading the Virginia Woolf novel (which I have never once managed to read through). Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch won second place with ‘Ponting’, a poem about Captain Scott at the Antarctic. And Zaffar Kunial won third with ‘Hill Speak’, the first poem he’s ever even sent off for publication, a very textural piece about what language is. And Lavinia Greenlaw won the Ted Hughes ward for her installation Audio Obscura.

Loads of people were there, and many I didn’t get to speak to – but many I did, and it was very jolly and a wonderful event. Well done the Poetry Society. It always amazes me, even now, how much the poetry world manages to get done with so few people. And of course I was still dining out on the news that Baroque has made the Orwell Prize longlist…

Someone suggested going on for a further drink, which alas I did. Late!!

But then, as I approached Baroque Mansions on the bus and checked Facebook on my iPhone, I saw a message from my sister. It was just a link:

Poet Adrienne Rich, 82, has died

So therefore, I must give you this. Diving Into the Wreck.

This extract doesn’t start at the beginning of the poem, and it doesn’t end at the end. Here’s the rest.

I go down.
Rung after rung and still
the oxygen immerses me
the blue light
the clear atoms
of our human air.
I go down.
My flippers cripple me,
I crawl like an insect down the ladder
and there is no one
to tell me when the ocean
will begin.

First the air is blue and then
it is bluer and then green and then
black I am blacking out and yet
my mask is powerful
it pumps my blood with power
the sea is another story
the sea is not a question of power
I have to learn alone
to turn my body without force
in the deep element.

And now: it is easy to forget
what I came for
among so many who have always
lived here
swaying their crenellated fans
between the reefs
and besides
you breathe differently down here.

I came to explore the wreck.
The words are purposes.
The words are maps.
I came to see the damage that was done
and the treasures that prevail.
I stroke the beam of my lamp
slowly along the flank
of something more permanent
than fish or week

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage
worn by salt and sway into this threadbare beauty
the ribs of the disaster
curving their assertion
among the tentative haunters…

And by the way. Last night, March 28, was the anniversary of Virginia Woolf’s suicide. How spooky is that. AND, today is both the birthday of the National Competition judge John Glenday and the centenary of Captain Scott. The poems’ presiding spirits were hanging over us! Diving into the wreck indeed.

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