Wednesday 12 February 2014

Radio Poems

Radio - spoken word radio, that is, with which we Brits are abundantly blessed - has inspired a few poems over the years. The tangy prose poetry of the Shipping Forecast, with its evocative litany of sea areas, sparked a Seamus Heaney sonnet -

'Dogger, Rockall, Malin, Irish Sea:
Green, swift upsurges, North Atlantic flux
Conjured by that strong gale-warming voice,
Collapse into a sibilant penumbra.
Midnight and closedown. Sirens of the tundra,
Of eel-road, seal-road, keel-road, whale-road, raise
Their wind-compounded keen behind the baize
And drive the trawlers to the lee of Wicklow.
L'Etoile, Le Guillemot, La Belle Hélène
Nursed their bright names this morning in the bay
That toiled like mortar. It was marvellous
And actual, I said out loud, 'A haven,'
The word deepening, clearing, like the sky
Elsewhere on Minches, Cromarty, The Faroes.'

And it also finds its way into Carol Ann Duffy's Prayer, a sonnet in strict English form -

'Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer
utters itself. So, a woman will lift
her head from the sieve of her hands and stare
at the minims sung by a tree, a sudden gift.

Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth
enters our hearts, that small familiar pain;
then a man will stand stock-still, hearing his youth
in the distant Latin chanting of a train.

Pray for us now. Grade 1 piano scales
console the lodger looking out across
a Midlands town. Then dusk, and someone calls
a child's name as though they named their loss.

Darkness outside. Inside, the radio's prayer -
Rockall. Malin. Dogger. Finisterre.'

And then there's Philip Larkin. Hearing the evening Office of Compline - of which I've written elsewhere - on an old-fashioned radio (the dial lit from behind), he wrote this, in three typically well crafted quintains:


Behind the radio’s altar light
the hurried talk to God goes on:
'Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done...
produce our lives beyond this night,
open our eyes again to sun.'

Unhindered in the dingy wards
lives flicker out, one here, one there,
to send some weeping down the stair
with love unused, in unsaid words:
for this I would have quenched the prayer

but for the thought that nature spawns
a million eggs to make one fish.
Better that endless notes beseech
as many nights, as many dawns,
if finally God grants the wish.

It's not vintage Larkin perhaps, but it's getting there - especially in the middle stanza - and it ends, for once, on an up beat. It's dated to this day, February 12th, in 1950.

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