Poems of the year

New voices join old friends in our selection of the best poems published in the New Statesman over the past 12 months.

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Candy Windows

He runs in slow-mo with a wall of flame
Boiling behind him like Valhalla’s fall
In Götterdämmerung. He made his name
From being bulletproof. He summons all
His skills to get the girl from Bucharest
To Rome or Paris or wherever suits
The budget. Somewhere she can get un-dressed:
The only scene for which we give two hoots.
The heavies blast the road or bomb the train.
The dialogue is dreck, the plot inane.
 
They make love. Breasts and bottoms fill the frame
When suddenly the whole motel explodes:
The bad guys in a tank. Devoid of shame,
He frisks her lovely corpse for the launch codes
Of the secret anthrax time-bomb missile thing.
They’re tattooed on her thigh. But look, she stirs.
The soundtrack fills with strings that soar and sing.
When has he ever seen a face like hers
Since his last movie? They run for the car,
She is the jail-bait, he the veteran star.
 
The enemy is an army: all the same
He kills the lot, but finds himself alone.
The girl is gone, and gradually the game
Changes. He fails to steal the new nose-cone
His HQ wants, and where once he could burst
Through candy windows, now he fears they might
Be real glass, and – much worse, the very worst –
The gathering night could really be the night
When he, immortal once, but not again,
Must bruise, and bleed, and die like other men.

 
Published in the NS of 31 July. Clive James’s most recent collection is Sentenced to Life (Picador). His Collected Poems will be published in spring 2016.


Fred


“Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were sexy, but only with their feet, like butterflies.” – Clive James
 
Forget dancing backwards in high heels and all that jazz –
I’ve told you before, I want to be Fred.
 
A sparrow of a chap turned shining black-
bird, magpie-tuxed, woodpecker heel
 
and toe, but gliding swallow-tailed, smooth
as you please. Mr Anti-Gravity. Impossible
 
geometries of flair and speed. No map.
I ache for the ease, the froth of her skirt,
 
the gloss of his shoes. And yet am sick
of so much breeziness, balsawood plots,
 
paper plane trajectories. She can fluff those ostrich
feathers up all she likes, if he’s in love
 
with anything it’s the steps. Sometimes
in a solo, there’s a glint, a glimpse – of what?
 
All of this perfect lightness.
Where on earth did you find it, Mr Auster-litz?
 
Published in the New Statesman of 9 January 2015. Isobel Dixon’s col-lections include A Fold in the Map (Salt). “Fred” appears in Double Bill: Poems Inspired by Popular Cul-ture (Red Squirrel Press).

All illustrations by Max Gregor


The Glen


April morning, rising mist,
                        last fugitive snow-drifts
cooried below the dykes’ north sides;
                                                a naked mountain
ash tree next a tumbling burn . . .
Ay, it’s a different season here, different world . . .
 
So if you don’t mind, heather of the hillside,
and it’s alright by you, small invin-cible bird,
I’ll lean on this here boulder
                                    by the old drove road,
and get my eye in, lighting on this and that.
 
“It’s nothing to us” you might shrug,
– and you’d be right. Under the bright-hemmed clouds
above the ridge
                        a dozen jackdaws chack.
 
 
Published in the NS of 27 March 2015. “The Glen”, which fea-tured in the Bristol Festival of Ideas new Lyrical Ballads project, also appears in Kathleen Jamie’s latest collection, The Bonniest Companie (Picador).


The adulteress


was her joke name    for herself though
unfashionable &    (except in the literal
sense) incorrect.    She had to stop
attending dinner    parties as someone
would inevitably    say something
like, “I didn’t know    which husband to
expect tonight!” or    “Your husband” this/
“Your husband” that    with her partner
sitting right there.     She did not view herself
as a joke & yet this    joke word “adulteress”
was in her head so    she said to her daughter
who was learning    to sew, “Can you make
a big red A & sew    it on my black dress?”
Her daughter said,    “Which black dress?”
& the woman said,    “Every black dress.”
 
Published in the NS of 2 October 2015. Kathryn Maris’s most recent collection is God Loves You (Seren). Origi-nally from New York, she now lives in London.


Words


I know that when the words are clear and bright
nothing else is, as the milk of street lamps
dims out the stars, but I can only keep echoing my own footsteps
longing for brightness, for streets lit by the stars alone, dark and shining.
I want to learn the language of these trees that line my streets, dreaming
   upright
all through the dark till light wakes in them and crows slowly
make their own blacks out from the dawn. But the words of trees
are so large we cannot hear them. I want to make them out
from the hungry waking-up of the crows
in the dawn coming from the bay, like a song
of the light itself. I’m stranded in our dream of learning ceaseless
ripple-waves of language I cannot quite but always almost
can make out the words of. Words care-fully,
like marsh waders in silvery after-dawn light as the tide comes in
meandering to shore, picking their way towards us.
 
Published in the NS of 5 June 2015. Patrick Daly lives in California. His work has been published in the New York Times and his chapbook Playing With Fire (Jacaranda Press) won an Abby Niebauer Memorial prize.

 


On approaching Pendle Hill


The path up to Pendle. The sleeping beast. The purple skies.
 
Folk tell of witches burned or branded or drowned or hung
up there. They tell of failed crops, stillborn calves, murrain.
 
Always the women. Always the witches. Never the men.
Never the frost, never mastitis or scours or footrot; never
blackthorn or angel trumpet, hemlock, ragwort or lupine.
 
Never in drink or lust or fear or guilt. Never in penance or
madness. It’s always the women. It’s always the witches.
 
The path past Pendle. The buried bones. The violaceous skies.

 
Published in the NS of 24 April 2015. Benjamin Myers’s novels in-clude Pig Iron and Beast-ings. “On Approaching Pendle Hill” features in his collection Heathcliff Adrift (New Writing North).

This article first appeared in the 17 December 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas and New Year special