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My Thoughts Fly To You – Love Poems: Carol Ann Duffy / Peter Seelig

My Thoughts Fly To You by Peter Seelig

My Thoughts Fly To You by Peter Seelig

Miles Away
I want you and you are not here. I pause
in this garden, breathing the colour thought is
before language into still air. Even your name
is a pale ghost and, though I exhale it again
and again, it will not stay with me. Tonight
I make you up, imagine you, your movements
than the words I have you say you said before

Wherever you are now, inside my head you fix me
with a look, standing here while cool late light
dissolves into the earth. I have got your mouth
but still it smiles. I hold you closer, miles away,
inventing love, until the calls of nightjars
interrupt and turn what was to come, was certain,
into memory. The stars are filming us for no one.

Language and Structure in the Poetry of Carol Ann Duffy

     It is now nearly ten years since Carol Ann Duffy published Standing Female Nude, her first collection of poetry.  Since then, volumes have followed at intervals of two or three years, and a Selected Poems, which includes five poems (plus an extract from another) from a volume in progress, has been published by Penguin.  Her third collection, Mean Time (1993), won both the Whitbread Award and the Forward Prize.  Much praise has been heaped on Duffy, but perhaps the most remarkable claim for the quality of her work so far has been made by Robert Nye, who suggests she writes love poems “as if she were the first to do so”.

Duffy’s second book, Selling Manhattan, contains the love poem ‘Miles Away’, a piece both structurally and linguistically representative of her work in general.  It begins with the line  “I want you and you are not here”.  This bald statement of fact sets the mood of the poem and immediately deprives us of any excitement of discovery or surprise.  A detached, almost journalistic approach to composition has been used with great effect in formal poetry such as Larkin’s or Auden’s – then it is the form itself that surprises us, or rather the ability to express powerful emotions in detached ‘everyday’ language within the limits of set poetic form, and the seeming ease with which this is achieved.  In ‘Miles Away’, devoid of any form, the element of surprise is completely absent.  The following lines of the first verse could have done something to alter the situation, but what actually happens is this:

I pause
in this garden, breathing the colour thought is
before language into still air.  Even your name
is a pale ghost and, though I exhale it again
and again, it will not stay with me…

The image of the absent lover’s name breathed, and the breath then dispersing, could be very effective if it did not go on for so long.  This is what is actually being said: “I pause…in this garden, breathing…your name…though…it will not stay with me…”.  This is a serious problem.  It is as though Duffy has lit upon an image that pleases her so much she is unable to avoid doing it to death.  After introducing the image of breath in lines 1-3, she needs to explain what she is talking about.  Is she afraid we will not understand?  The same thing happens in lines 5-6: “Tonight/ I make you up, imagine you…”.  Since the poem is not metrically regular and there is no need to add up syllables, what can be the point of “imagine you” here?  Again in lines 6-7: “your movements clearer/ than the words I have you say you said before”.  “I have you say” does nothing at all for the poem.  We know she is imagining her lover – we have been told twice during lines 1-6 – but yet again in line 12 we find her “inventing love”, this phrase following “I hold you closer”.  Again: “I want you” (you should be here) “and you are not here”.  And “I hold you closer” (you are here) but “miles away” (not here).  Nothing at all is left to the imagination.  If this is all symptomatic of a fear of being misunderstood – that is, of being elitist – Duffy makes sure in line 13 by following “what was to come” with “was certain”.

The above essay is extracted from a larger, as yet unpublished critique of Duffy’s poetry by the author – Ed.
Page(s) 58-64
Source: http://www.poetrymagazines.org.uk/magazine/record.asp?id=5267

Listening with the poem: Django – written by J. Lewis

Michel Legrand – arranger, conductor
Miles Davis – trumpet
John Coltrane – tenor saxophone
Bill Evans – piano
Phil Woods – alto saxophone
Jerome Richardson – bass clarinet
Paul Chambers – bass
Kenny Dennis – drums
Herbie Mann – flute
Barry Galbraith – guitar
Batty Glamann – harp
Eddie Costa – vibraphone

Legrand Jazz


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