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Poems from ‘The Slip’.

By SIMON PERRIL.

An Introductory Note:

The Slip is the final volume of a trilogy excavating a crime scene at the centre of archaic lyric. Archilochus, ancient Greece’s first lyric poet, was a soldier, part slave part aristocrat, who took part in the earliest colonial expeditions. When Lycambes broke off the poet’s engagement to his daughter Neobulé, legend has it that Archilochus wrote such scurrilous poems about the affair that the entire family committed suicide. In antiquity and beyond, Archilochus was a byword for judgements over the acceptability, or otherwise, of indulgence in poetic harm; just as the literary form of iambic he is famous for initiating is a locus of ethical crises. Here are the last steps of the ‘wolf walker’, Lycambes, undergoing his curse in the dog days of summer on the cusp of following the death of his daughters with his own, and reminiscing upon his part in colonial exploits.

1.

night breathes caulk
exhales

I remember the ripple
of sails

their snap
as the wind broke

behind us
the ass’s back

of Paros
— or was it Thasos?

Where poke
the bones of home?

4.

I walk the standing water
that pools in the agora

it wets my ankles
gathers as I leak

I feel it lap
in the civic cracks

of morning mouths.
These inopportune fountains

spout

9.

Telesicles, of all knots
Omphalos
binds us tight.
You recall, old friend,
the air drum-tight
at the world’s navel

our descent
towards the grey
sea-spray of olives
at Amphissa;

how we were walled
by the Shining Cliffs
my knees
hobbled like a crane’s.

Let us take, you said,
the weight off our feet
by the Castalian spring
regain your wolf-steps.

We did so,
and pressed on,
met the Kourai
at Delphi.

Friend, you bought me
a gift there, outside
the temple of Apollo;
a fine jug
of black-traced glaze

on one side Dolon
the trick-wolf tricked
on the other
Theseus joined freed slaves
a-twist in geranos.

Old friend, may I turn this yarn
back into its ball;
recall we sailed
at Delphic request
a bristling ship and supped
elsewhere.

We supped elsewhere.

11.

a father overlooks.
This is his perennial task
and he asks

of the passage of light
its business; for if
it marks what it touches

his task
is to mask this. He has
no jurisdiction over the length of days

or their consumption
by shadow.
Still he overlooks,

would angle his branches
just so.
You know

there are compositions of shield
you’ll not find
on any battlefield

23.

things that flex,
stretch their shape,
only then to shrink

I think of them;
wings unfurled, then folded
limbs thrust out

then retracted; necks
craned beyond frame,
heads then sunk back.

That moment of expansion,
native to all that moves,
proves its contrary state

of retreat. Telesicles,
Delphi spat us out
had us reach

at gentle stretch, bid us
fetch the unploughed lands
beyond.

Your son sung
of them; lashed all
that crossed him on this path.

The aftermath was spittle,
oft flecked red, leaking
from more than mouth

— and the space
to plant, sew, mine,
mark, cleave and carve

to hand ourselves what’s other
in name, knowing
how it came to us

and from whom.

59.

Poet, I know Apollo
loves you dearly
and sees fit

to not distinguish
between the prongs
of spear, tongue, and song.

I also know
the dappled throat
of a nightingale

wrung at dawn,
sounds day’s alarum
as if it rang

inside a helmet
just landed
on a gold-bearing shore


Simon Perril’s poetry publications include The Slip (forthcoming from Shearsman in 2020), In the Final Year of My 40s (Shearsman 2018), Beneath (Shearsman 2015), Archilochus on the Moon (Shearsman 2013), Newton’s Splinter (Open House 2012), Nitrate (Salt 2010), A Clutch of Odes (Oystercatcher 2009), and Hearing Is Itself Suddenly a Kind of Singing (Salt 2004). He has also published in magazines such as P.N. Review, Jacket, Poetry Wales, Shearsman, Tears in the Fence and Angel Exhaust. As a critic he has written widely on contemporary poetry, edited The Salt Companion to John James, and Tending the Vortex: The Works of Brian Catling, and contributed many book chapters for CUP, Palgrave, Blackwells and others. He is Professor of Poetic Practice at De Montfort University, Leicester.

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