Questions

Questions is a collaboration by Lucy Kempton and Joe Hyam. Poems are based on questions drawn from an agreed starting question and formed by answers, which contain and inspire the next questions. In response to Lucy's first question, Joe kicks off. This follows our earlier work in Compasses, archived here, where Lucy's photographs illustrate Joe's series of 50 sonnets under the title Handbook for Explorers.

Monday, 10 January 2011

What I see in the flames

This new year, amid the crack of ice
And unspecified threats, I look into the fire
For help and comfort, or advice,
As anxious flames leap high and higher.
They're puzzled by the elements they're in,
Crowded down by elephantine shapes
In drifts of darkness they can't contain
While in the embers a salamander slips
In and out like a promise to be given.

What promises have you to give?
Or give up on?

I think again about the phoenix
And doubt the promise of redemption
When looking at the burning sticks;
Yet think of what is going to happen,
Of leaves composting in a bin,
Of yeast cells working through the dough,
Of  a spinning top's brief, trembling spin
And the crunch of frozen snow.
I promise that I'll watch the fire
Till it gives way to smoke, and the smoke
Has climbed the air and is no longer there.

What promises have you to give?
Or give up on? Or break?

2 comments:

Barrett Bonden said...

I'm not sure I'd like to be in Lucy's place, given those three options. The questions do reach down...

What I'm starting to enjoy about this project is an awareness of two quite different voices. Better still, two different people since the detail points to more than just a tone or a style. Yeast cells and compost are hallmarks of the way you view the energy involved in rebirth, of the sub-atomic movement associated with energy, and of energy's tantalising there-ness and not-there-ness. (Concepts touched on yesterday by the ex-physicist turned comedian, Ben Miller, who sought to define temperature in the latest Horizon).

Also I particularly like, and am presently seeking to imitate, the simplicity of the language, the deliberate limitation of the vocabulary. Besotted by polysyllablism (And there's another!) I know I should be aiming for "Has climbed the air and is no longer there." and conjunctions like "unspecified threats" and "drifts of darkness".

Lucas said...

I agree with Barret that there is a very distinct voice here, one that is true to the physical world in its hidden processes and fine detail, yet which picks up on universal themes of human existence: what is real? And what imaginary? What is it that we know and don't know? (...elepantine shapes/in drifts of darkness they can't contain). And all based in the imagery of a domestic fire, here and now.
Poetry at this intensity takes a while to absorb and maybe other readers are - like I did - taking some time before making a comment.