A tour of the Archive with Danielle McShine

Danielle McShine, poet


The Poetry Archive is an invaluable resource for hearing some of my favourite poems, read by their authors, and for discovering new voices. I often wander through the Archive, stopping at a poem or poet, then, from the corner of my eye, I glimpse the title of another poem that beckons to me, and I'm off again, getting lost in the woods until I finally emerge, soaked in poetry. I hope that you'll enjoy the poems I've chosen here and that you too will stray off the paths to find poems that surprise and delight you.



Angels at Rest

Kathryn Simmonds

My tour starts in the woods with Kathryn Simmonds' angels, who make their way along with "huge iridescent sandaled feet". I love the precision and strangeness of the images, and I especially admire how Simmonds telescopes us in and out of the small and large incidents of life, putting them in a terrible yet compassionate perspective. Her voice and the way she reads the poem heighten the tenderness that pervades it.

Song for a Spent 100W Bulb

Jacob Sam-La Rose

Yes, a poem can be about pretty much anything, I was reminded when I came across Jacob Sam La-Rose's musical incantation to this common household object. The poem transported me to a distant time and place: growing up in Trinidad. We lived in an old, high-ceilinged house where changing a light bulb was a chore that no one ever wanted to do. Perhaps if I'd heard this poem back then, though, I would have looked on the humble light bulb, "suddenly emptied,/ plinked out", with different eyes.

Seduction Poem

Alison Croggon

The intimacy, earthiness, and longing of Alison Croggon's "Seduction Poem" immediately drew me in, and then it was the deftly wrought rhyme scheme that had me smitten. If you don't notice the rhyme scheme at first, it's worth reminding yourself of those poetry exercises from your school days to work it out (or look up rhyme scheme in the Archive's glossary)! And as if that wasn't enough, I got goose bumps hearing Australian poet Croggon say the lines "crying to me, yes,/ the mouthless, eyeless tenderness,/ crying to be let in".

Could it be

Jean Binta Breeze

In the Archive, I often gravitate towards poets from the Caribbean, my native region, to hear voices whose rhythms and intonation are in many ways familiar. In fact, the Archive gave me my first opportunity to hear poets such as Jean 'Binta' Breeze, Fred D'Aguiar and Mervyn Morris, among others with ties to the region. Jamaican poet Jean 'Binta' Breeze's work covers many subjects, from her childhood memories to social or political themes, but the lovely poem I've chosen here speaks of a universal human experience. She never names it explicitly, evoking, rather, a "soft furry ... 'thing'" that inhabits the speaker's body and world so completely that it has taken on a life of its own, just "waiting to bounce out". It's a tactile - and touching - poem.

From The Irish

Ian Duhig

In addition to the pleasure of discovering the range of voices and reading styles in the Poetry Archive, in some cases we get the bonus of hearing the poet give an introduction, as Ian Duhig does here. This can deepen our appreciation of the poems. I don't want to give too much away, so have a listen to what Duhig calls "the most unsuccessful love poem in the past fifty years", ostensibly about the perils of taking language too literally. A tongue-in-cheek humour, quietly conveyed, comes out in his reading.

Fats

John Mole

For a musical finale, I've selected John Mole's tribute to the renowned jazz pianist Fats Waller. Mole's recording leaves me breathless, as I follow the single long sentence of the poem, not sure where it's taking me, surprised by one image, admiring another, until the very last word rings out. I learned from the Archive's biographical notes that John Mole is a jazz musician himself and his enjoyment of the idiom sparkles throughout this poem. Close your eyes while listening to better savour the "thumbnail/gliss" and the description of Fats at the piano, pumping his "pedal car/ along its track of sound". And on that note, I end my tour!


Danielle McShine, poet

Danielle McShine was born in Trinidad and Tobago. She holds bachelor's degrees in French from the University of the West Indies and in Music and French from Indiana University, where she also earned an MA in French Linguistics. Some of her poetry appears in the anthology Strangers in Paris: New Writing Inspired by the City of Light (Tightrope Books) and she was the joint first-place poetry winner of the 2011 Small Axe Literary Competition. She currently lives and works in France.

Enjoy new recordings of classic poems from the past read by contemporary poets

Jordan

George Herbert

read by Lavinia Greenlaw

Felix Randal

Gerard Manley Hopkins

read by Mimi Khalvati