Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Derek Walcott has just won this year's T. S. Eliot Prize. The Guardian has a selection of poems from the winning book, White Egrets. The book is very good. Wolcott is very good. There's much deserving here.

Still, when I read the poems from the 2010 prize shortlist which the Guardian helpfully provides, it wasn't a Wolcott that took my breath away, but rather this pair of stanzas from John Haynes' book simply titled You.
A child is like a soul. That outlives us.
That starts off wholly physical and then
is slowly transmigrating as it must,
a voice, a face, a bike left on the lawn,
because love's also made of metaphors
of other things. We become sentences.
We get translated into something else.

Dad, what's it like to die? And when you're dead
will you still hear me play the violin?
Will you be you? Or just the word instead
of you?
No, I'll be you. I'll snuggle in
your memory like hide and seek again.
The similes he knows are not quite lies
are not quite tears, quite standing in his eyes.
Though I'm not so impressed with other extracts from the book, this strikes home nicely, bringing forth my own feeling of an incarnated love which joins me with my son and daughter. And it speaks as well to my own sonship with my loving father, who now snuggles elusively in waking and sleeptime dream.

Haynes' book, which, as the Guardian says, is the name of Haynes' wife, is about familial love. Here's what the Guardian editors have to say:
Born in Newquay, Cornwall, in 1936, John Haynes's first book was Sabon Gari (1974), published by London Magazine editions, followed by a book under the Nigerian name of Idi Bukar, First the Desert Came, and the Torturer (1986), published by Rag Press in Zaria. He has won prizes in the National Poetry Competition and the Arvon Competition. His book-length poem, Letter to Patience (Seren, 2006), won the Costa award. He is currently working on a radio play commissioned by the BBC.

The You of the title is John Haynes's wife of many years and the book is not just a celebration of and meditation on personal love and devotion, but a record of how such love moves out of a family and is refracted out into the community and the wider world. The narrator is a white British man and his wife was born and raised in Nigeria. The poem explores a partnership based on culturally quite different – and in some aspects painfully incompatible – conceptions of "love".
John Haynes

{source: jhaynes.tab.co.uk}

No comments: