A Poem for NPM, Day 10

Today will see another poem that is part of a grander scheme of things, much the same like yesterday’s. It is from Glyn Maxwell’s powerful verse novel (or collection of poems which, read in sequence, tell a coherent story) The Sugar Mile.

The Sugar Mile juxtaposes London during the Blitz with New York on September 10, 2001, one day before the two planes hit the Twin Towers. The poems cut back and forth in time and place, but are still somehow connected. I do not want to give away too much.

(Read fellow poet Christian Wiman’s review of it in The New York Times from September 4, 2005. This makes for a nice plot summary as well. So do have a look.)

On the formal level, this particular poem is a sestina: it consists of seven stanzas; the first six stanzas have six lines each (six sestets) and the seventh and last stanza is made up of three lines (a tercet). There is more to it, though. Each of the first six stanzas has the same six words at the ends of its six lines, but never in the same order. There is even a rule for this mixing up of line-final words. The closing tercet then has to include all of these six words, three of which are at the ends of the three lines.

It appears to be quite complicated at first. So, for a nice and much clearer visual explanation, have a look at the Wikipedia article on sestinas. Once you understand the pattern, it becomes much easier. Naturally.

The following poem is one of the first in The Sugar Mile. Give it a shot. You won’t regret it. Pay attention to the words at the ends of each line and how their mixing is used throughout, and you will understand what this sestina fuss is all about.

Raul Chalking up Specials

Don’t worry, guy, that’s Joe. Joe’s got issues.
He thinks you’re sitting in his spot. Stay there,
guy, what are you crazy, you paid money
to sit, you don’t buy tickets for the bar stool.
Another Bass? It’s kind of he’s like a fixture.
(Is that how you spell asparagas? It’s not…

with a u? That can’t be right. You sure that’s not
some British thing? Okay.) No Joe’s got issues.
(No way. It’s on the house.) Joe was a fixture
way before my time. He was sitting there
the day I started. I gave you the Bar Stool
of Joey Stone! We ought to charge some money

jeezus. (Fennal.) Charge some freakin money.
(With an e? You’re shittin me. It is? No it’s not.)
But hey you’re sitting on Joey Stone’s Own Bar Stool
so I got to believe you, right? Him and his issues.
And he sits there sure, but he also sits over there,
in the window staring, talk about a fixture

he sits there, he’s a lookout, that’s a fixture
of this establishment. People pay good money
to watch him sitting there. If he’s sitting there
it’s a normal day in the city! And if he’s not,
let’s not go there… Hey Joe, you got some issues
need the window treatment? This is the Bar Stool

of, what’s your name? Of… Clint? This is the Bar Stool
of Clint. (It’s on me, Clint.) No Joe’s a fixture.
Yep. And you know, he’s British. He’s got issues
of Britishness. He saw your British money,
you notice that? Just been there? But he’s not –
I mean you wouldn’t know, right? You cool there,

Joe? He’s one of you but he won’t go there.
Another old guy wanting the same bar stool.
Same place you’re headed, right? Like it or not.
Open your eyes one day and you’re a fixture,
sure, and you got a tab instead of money,
and a kid sits in your spot and you got issues,

then you’re a fixture too. You sleeping there,
Got sleeping issues. At least the bar stool
keeps him awake. (I’m not gonna take your money.)

—Glyn Maxwell

(from: The Sugar Mile. London: Picador, 2005. 8-9.)


Other poems for April

Poets.org: Jennifer Chang, “Pastoral”

Knopf: W. S. Merwin, “Before A Departure in Spring”

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2 thoughts on “A Poem for NPM, Day 10

  1. Great stuff. This poem reads like it’s a movie scene.
    I guess I’ll become a fixture of your blog myself… (can I get a stool and my own tab now?)

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