Saturday, 2 February 2013

More numbers poems

In 1986, I wrote a poem called 'Values: what the parties think of the number nine'.  A couple of years later, I conceived the idea of incorporating 'Values' into a sequence of poems, one for each of the digits 0 to 9.  I wrote all of the projected poems, but soon realised that I had to deal with them separately, if I wished for any hope of publication.  I evidently came to that decision long before I began keeping my poetry card index in 1994, and I cannot now lay hands on a copy of the sequence as a whole.

The poems for 3 and 4 I put together.  They were published in Streetwise 12, October 1993, p. 26.

3 4
4 4

hard to hold against pulse and a holding
in balance in tension impossibly
big for cohesion and tight for division
three is a time and a stretch and a way

Four, plus-minus, fridge, central heating, neat,
clicks over, give or take, its even beat,
four weeks a month, an issue every quarter,
four simple elements, earth, air, fire, water,
four mind-forms, melancholic, or phlegmatic,
or sanguine, or choleric, automatic
four strokes to turn an engine. Give or take,
four is for things we comprehend or make.

The poem for 7 doesn't explicitly mention the number at all, but it mentions the whole-tone scale, which has seven notes, and the last two lines have seven syllables each.  It was published in the Poetry Now anthology Mating rituals, edited by Veronica Hannon (Peterborough: Poetry Now, 1993), p. 142, and is, I suppose, the kind of thing I have had in mind when I've described myself as partly failed puritan and partly failed enfant terrible.


Straights are major, gays are minor,
transsexuals bitonal,
and awkward in their whole-tone
scale some choose to be alone.

The poem for 8, on the other hand, names the number in the title and first line.  It is concerned mainly with visual images; the date in the first line has to do with the figure 8 as a sun and its reflection, not with historical events.  The picture that I had in mind when writing the quatrain was the cover illustration of the Unesco Courier for November 1987.  It shows the remains of a ship, which went down two centuries ago, caught by sonar imaging on the floor of one of the Great Lakes, with masts still standing.


The eighth of August eighty-eight,
a shimmer of reflected suns,
the water heating back the light.

Sound shudders through, down, octaves down,
echoes the vessel, fathoms drowned,
displays green of years or water,
shadows two masts on a deep ground.

'Eight' was published in Saint Matthew's church magazine, Cambridge, May-June 1989.

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