October 24, 2019


Sad Steps
Philip Larkin

Groping back to bed after a piss
I part thick curtains, and am startled by
The rapid clouds, the moon’s cleanliness.

Four o’clock: wedge-shadowed gardens lie
Under a cavernous, a wind-picked sky.
There’s something laughable about this,

The way the moon dashes through clouds that blow
Loosely as cannon-smoke to stand apart
(Stone-coloured light sharpening the roofs below)

High and preposterous and separate –
Lozenge of love!  Medallion of art!
O wolves of memory! Immensements!  No,

One shivers slightly, looking up there.
The hardness and the brightness and the plain
Far-reaching singleness of that wide stare

Is a reminder of the strength and pain
Of being young; that it can’t come again
But is for others undiminished somewhere.

Larkin's title refers to Sir Philip Sidney’s sonnet from “Astrophil and Stella”, beginning  “With how sad steps, O Moone, thou climb’st the skies”, in which the moon is portrayed as a lover spurned by ladies of the court. Larkin says, “The connection between 'Sad Steps' is tenuous in the extreme – I suppose I just thought it a good idea at the time. It wasn’t. My poem has nothing to do with love, or disdainful beauties, or anything like that.”

In fact Larkin takes considerable pains to strip this moon poem of the genre’s usual poetic baggage. His parody of

October 17, 2019


South Frontenac

South Frontenac’s muggy nights in June are thick
with sex and death; on Highway 38
teenagers race the black future
beyond their cars’ twin antennae of light

where frog-dotted asphalt slices the marsh
and the dark pulses with ephemerae
whose day this is to fly and mate and die;
exoskeletons tick against the glass

that curves to shield these children covertly
glancing by dash light at faces, bodies
who never again will feel so much as now
and we cooler at heart

half-remembering, dream them safe to bed.
Sunday morning in the wrecker’s yard
a chipping sparrow picks bugs off the grill
of a Dodge Ram 1500 truck.

(August 1, 2008)


End of July, trees call it a season
shut down their green workshops and let them rust.
Bumper cars in water dimples, whirligig
beetles zoom and carom, rippling moonlight.

Perseids sing their fire songs
as they streak our black stadium, burning up
into atoms of atmosphere.
Crickets begin, and a thousand insect voices

(scraping legs are a voice), and deer mice trill
high urgent love calls from the trees.
On an outflung arm of the Milky Way
we wonder what to do and what to say

from our lush life, so postmodern, so free
to equal their conviction, their necessity.
Long past moonset we lie outside and listen
and stare up into the star-hazy night.

(August 13, 2010)

John Donlan's most recent collection of poetry is Out All Day (Ronsdale Press). "South Frontenac" and "Whirligig" appear on this page by permission of the author.

October 3, 2019


SUSAN GILLIS: How did poetry come to you? You've written eloquently about some of your early experiences with poetry; are there other aspects of beginning you could talk about?

MADHUR ANAND: I've written for TNQ and Poetry in Voice about the conscious beginnings—the first poem I recall being asked to read, or the circumstances of my life when I started writing poems, that I was already a practising scientist. I will use this space to acknowledge unconscious ones, as well as the fact that there are a multitude of them.
How far back should I go? How many parallel existences and identities could have started this trajectory towards poetry? Should the things I remember be weighted more than the things I don't remember? That seems unfair. There is a lot I don't remember.

Let me just pick out quickly the first couple of things that come to mind of, say, my grade school experience, Grades JK (where I locate my very first memory) to 6. My memories are often reduced like this to one or two most distinct ones per year.

JK: Premium Plus crackers and peanut butter (for everyone), apple juice. Believing that the Grade 6 girl helping to hand them out looked exactly like