'Man and Camel, & others, animal' by Dominic James is Poem of the Week

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The new Write Out Loud Poem of the Week is ‘Man and Camel, & others, animal’ by Dominic James, a reflection on the poetry of American Mark Strand, pictured, who died in 2014. In his poem, which also summons up Shakespeare and Ovid, Dominic talks of reading Strand’s poetry in a pub in Stratford-upon-Avon, and says that, “despite the bibliography and / too-gay-for-my-taste-black-and-white-vain-old-man’s /photograph adorning the cover … / I found familiar the rhyme and manner, / quite often like mine, only much better.” In a note accompanying the poem, he adds: “Any apparent bitterness over the poet's dust jacket photograph, by the way, reflects more on my ugly-sisterish persona than any ill-will I might have to this urbane American about whom, beyond the second-hand book, I know nothing at all!” Dominic has his first collection, Pilgrim Station, coming out in the autumn with Sentinel Publishing.

He has been a regular contributor to Write Out Loud for a number of years. Dominic revealed more in his answers to our quick questions:

 

What got you into writing poetry?

Among several influences that converted me to poetry first, perhaps the most essential was a TV programme I caught in the 80s with the actor Stacy Keach, at a window on the snowy, Boston Common reciting Robert Lowell’s luminous poem, ‘For the Union Dead’. My thought was, if we have to speak, let’s speak like that. Not practical, of course, but it made an impression.   

 

How long have you been writing?

Besides short stories and the occasional shot at verse, perhaps as a reaction to, say, Richard III playing the villain, I have been writing poetry seriously for six or seven years. I’m a latecomer, but am glad to have started with a fair amount of the old, raw life still in me and advancing age suits my slow-burn understandings.

 

Do you go to any open mic nights?

Yep.  I think a few of the Write Out Loud team have seen me at Rhythm and Muse as-was in Kingston, mumbling through the odd piece, a stash of A4 in my hand.  My first try was at the Poetry Cafe  in Covent Garden, the Tuesday night open mic hosted by Niall. “I am not angry, and I am not funny” was my hello, I loved it. Most recently, with a group at the Bicycle Shop in Norwich.  I think it is important to speak the poems, also to take the opportunity to listen to people speak their work.  Listening is hard.  Next, I am looking forward to joining the Write Out Loud Woking group on July 18th in Send, Surrey: something of an expedition.

 

What’s your favourite poem/poet?

There’s a point where poems are so good they lift off and take you away, I never tire of them, and can’t fault them, then it’s all magic. Included are short pieces, and passages from long works, such as a page in Paradise Lost where we meet the snake describing his appetites to Eve.  Considering favourite poets: what’s-his-name from Stratford does keep tugging at  my thoughts, which might be apparent from the poem below – that was a surprise! - but his sonnets I do find somewhat cold, technical.  Yes, my favourite.

 

You’re cast away on a desert island. What’s your luxury?

After Mahatma Cane - illegal, immoral or fattening.

 

 

MAN AND CAMEL, & OTHERS, ANIMAL

by Dominic James

 

I first read these lines, Mark Strand, in the snug
of the Falcon, in Stratford 'pon Avon,
a "scholars' room" off the entrance corridor’s
deep and darkly smoothed flag stones: the ground floor
should have smelt of sweetly stale wine, ginger
roast hog and crackling only at this point
in thyme it did not.

                               I came from Sheep Street
Oxfam, via Shakespeare’s birth place gift shop
where I had purchased Measure for Measure
and The Two Gentlemen of Verona
and, Cymbeline, the day before.

                                                     A good haul.
With some minutes to spare I read in “Man and
Camel: Praise for Mark Strand’s Poetry, and
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and, The King,
which I did find pretty good even if
stuck in the vein of The New Yorker,and,
I Had Been a Polar Explorer.

In both of which, despite the bibliography and
too-gay-for-my-taste-black-and-white-vain-old-man’s
photograph adorning the cover, the hype:

I found familiar the rhyme and manner,
quite often like mine, only much better,
and that good, good last line, repeated here:

But when I raised my hand to say hello,
he took a step back, turned away, and started to fade
as longing fades until nothing is left of it.

A view of departing sorrow tied in
with Imogen, in Cymbeline, and Ovid’s figure
or, through the wrong end of a telescope,
sight of a loved one dwindling, rather than
longing that fades until nothing is left of it.

More a glancing off than a collision, then,
of coincidence among the multi-
tudinous vignettes uncovering a soul
on the brink of solitude.

                                  Cast your mind
back to Ariadne on her sad shore
watching Theseus depart; behind her
Dionysus’s chariot harnessed to a leopard.

But I, small i, do not feel entirely
stranded at this juncture, looking neither
near nor far for any source of comfort;
such times will come.  Today these cares to me
are an entirely separate matter
or, they seem so: I never am too sure.

 

 

The piece refers to Mark Strand's collection: Man and Camel, 2006.  Any apparent bitterness over the poet's dust jacket photograph, by the way, reflects more on my ugly-sisterish persona than any ill-will I might have to this urbane American about whom, beyond the second hand book, i know nothing at all!

◄ Write Out Loud Woking at the New Inn tonight

What the immigration caseworker saw: poet who aided MP launches collection ►

Comments

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Rodney Wood

Sat 23rd Jul 2016 16:37

A good 'un. Honest and meandering yet sharp as well. Hearing Dom reading it is a great experience.

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Dominic James

Thu 21st Jul 2016 12:17

Thanks Steve,
and Stu
thank you for your kind words. I'm glad the poem was worth the trouble, it wasn't meant to be so very dense, but now I think I feel a little cleverer too, and slightly ashamed to find myself showing off. Well, I should have picked up a few things along the way.
best,
Dom.

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Stu Buck

Thu 21st Jul 2016 10:40

i have now reread this three times and it is wonderful dense and heady. i'm not going to lie, parts of it passed me by until i googled the various characters referenced but i love learning and this is one of those poems that afford the reader an opportunity to do so. i felt cleverer when i was done and for that i am a fan.

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steve pottinger

Wed 20th Jul 2016 16:54

There's much to savour in this piece. Like Graham, I come back to it and find something fresh each time. Nice work!

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Graham Sherwood

Tue 19th Jul 2016 19:59

I rather thought challenging was a good thing?
I think I read it 6/7 times and saw something different each time. Sorry if I wasn't clear.

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Dominic James

Tue 19th Jul 2016 16:26

Thanks guys,
Greg you put it at its best and Graham, thank you for persevering, Most challenging POTW to date, eh? ouch.
Dom.

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Graham Sherwood

Tue 19th Jul 2016 12:46

The first verse? Is a wonderful travelogue where the colours sounds and smells leap off the page.

The meat of the piece I found quite complex and hard to reconcile (not unusual for me) but it leaves the reader more determined to spend time deciphering it.

I had remembered V1 when it appeared on the blog section.

Perhaps the most challenging POTW to date but well done!

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Greg Freeman

Mon 18th Jul 2016 10:00

I admire this poem for its relaxed, conversational approach, reminiscent of a lot of American poetry, although I am no expert. Then the mood and direction changes. The poet empathises with "a view of departing sorrow", although "at this juncture" he does not necessarily share it. He thinks he is happy, but he is not counting his chickens. A wise man!

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