Litany on the line: subversive sonnets in thirty-three suites, a manuscript I've been working on for five years, is finally at the point where I've decided to stop working on the poems – at least until someone agrees to publish it.
I don't know that any poet ever feels completely satisfied with a poem, so I'm not saying the MS is finished. Taking a leaf out of the books of Kamau Brathwaite, who has always felt free to revise and has done so extensively in, say, Ancestors, and of Mervyn Morris, whose 1997 edition of The Pond contains revisions of several poems, I had included in Certifiable (2001) three poems from my first collection, Journey Poem (1989), all of them revised in varying degrees. I've been repeating one or two poems from collection to collection, with the exception of my crucifixion poem de man: a performance poem (1995). So Certifiable contains those three poems from Journey Poem, and The True Blue of Islands contains an excerpt from one poem in Certifiable.
Continuing that tradition, Litany on the Line contains one long poem from The True Blue of Islands, slightly revised and re-lineated, and a poem from Journey Poem that's been substantially rewritten. The remaining thirty-one poems are new. They are collected in suites, mainly of two or three, though a few are longer and there is one suite that contains only one sonnet. I'll end this post with that one, called "Who loves not self, loves not..."
Three of them, "Counting the Ways and Marrying True Minds," "Jamboree – Darfur maybe," and "Yarn Spinner" have been featured on Geoffrey Philp's blogspot. Many thanks again, Geoff, for that, and for the blogspot's continuing great work..
The first can be found here:
and the other two here:
I've just said that I've been working on this MS for five years, and that's both true and not true. The oldest notebook for writing drafts of poems that I have to hand contains some "Endsongs" with drafts dated 1984 and 1985. The idea for Litany on the Line begins with those poems. In fact, I think I recently came across grant proposals for this collection that used Endsongs as a working title.
In the beginning, the poems were conceived of as being about various kinds of endings: former lives, old worlds, old friendships, life itself, the world.... That idea composed and recomposed itself several times in the course of the writing, and the collection as it now stands is as much about the (often comic) desperations of living as those of dying. So there are indeed endsongs, poems like “From Everlasting to Everlasting,” Our Lady of Good Voyage,” "Poor execution," and the title poem, “Litany on the Line,” and there are endings of other kinds sneaking around under poems like "Zambesi 1995,” "Wade in the Water," and “Remembering nothing", and there are poems about beginnings and the triumph of just being like "Temitope," "Zoey stands up to Schrodinger's Cat" and "Blooming in Barcelona."
So, as promised:
Suite thirty-one: Who loves not self, loves not…
If Robert Southwell made a hymn for a soulful boy child
‘whose heart no thought, whose tongue no word, whose hand
no deed defiled;’ if Hopkins sprung new rhythms for
his falcon spry on wing, wind hovering bird,
up full, fiercely flaming on Spirit’s swing, is it not Lord
that these are saints who have selves that they love,
and loving self so, and so loved by self, can others love?
You Self have said that we must love others
as we love self. But what if we despise
that craft, sweet purling that your Father set
about as he wove every self each in
his mother’s womb? What if inside us, animus
flares furious, eating all air, prayer? What then, most valorous
when we say no to God’s grandeur in us?
© Pamela Claire Mordecai 2010