The Determination of Love (in a year of foul parliaments)

by Professor Andrea Brady

21 Mar 2017

To mark World Poetry Day, Professor Andrea Brady shares one of her poems.

Professor Brady writes, ‘This poem is an intimate address, reflecting on the following questions: the difficulty of writing a poem affirming loving intimacy in the midst of a historical catastrophe; the way love poetry approaches utopia, and skirts the edge of doom. As the subtitle suggests, it draws on Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules for some of its language; the occasion was Valentine’s Day, and as usual, I found my efforts to write a gentle, loving poem to my valentine, which celebrated his beauty and particularity, blocked and diverted. The poem became a work around and about that blockage, a private gift mired in public necessities.’


The Determination of Love
(in a year of foul parliaments)

Having never learned how to fly
or how to settle into the dip
of comfort where all ragged
voices go quiet, peace
curtained with patience, I write up
love’s determinations in the middle
of catastrophes: a dramatic word for re-
cognition, the unforgetting of what
ever was never known, the cold open
where the houseless identity appears at last
ghostly and luminous in the dawn
chorus a rage of twittering
no one can sleep in their own bed.

This story is covered every day
by pleasure, by the gift of tongues
and an understanding that feels
its way like a root pressing out
of the dark, towards that luminous day,
though I say nothing
that’s not already in the news
and can’t help
turning the furious world’s prolixity
into the proscenium
under which my luck plays,

My portrait of you is never equal
to your gentleness, except maybe in prose,
and my tongue which switches on
when you open. I recognise you
by your shadow at the door, your coming
home every day you speak
words I’ve never heard before
and yet I recognise them immediately
to be true. So it is dumb
how all my lines swerve around
your actual reflection, they avoid
containing it as they would forestall all
ends, the life
so short, the craft so long to learn.
(And you know I’m in the habit of not refusing any way to be ungentle about what a poem might have me

say.) About you I can say
something unequivocal – that you make love
a certainty, new corn
each year from old fields, new song
from familiar notes, you make
me feel like music
that has finally been played
in a world I would never have other wise
made, not so noisy, not so ghostly and catastrophic.

The case (full of rubies and seeds)
for sure we are
rests in a single voice
made of our two,
doubling and giving, sounding
then resting
for the air speaks too and with the phone
turned down is full of actual birds
each electing and singing roundels and debating
and recovering their makes.

The birds pick each other, and the fruit
from useless stones, hover
over glittering values they refuse
to recognise. The trees
they modernise are full of poisons
and the poem also breathes it in
to its small vesicles
and strophes: but still sings, in smoke,
and judges, chooses, and you - lover - single

out what is nourishing
scatter a handful of wet rubies in the field
of our belonging turn up
with juice on your fingers knowing
what each day is worth, what
will grow and with what you’re saying
something certainly, so I learn
from you first
to jump out into the air
following your singular
voice with this
one into two

Andrea Brady's books of poetry include The Strong Room (2016), Dompteuse (2014), Cut from the Rushes (2013), Mutability (2012), and Wildfire (2010). She is Professor of Poetry at Queen Mary University of London, where she runs the Centre for Poetry and the Archive of the Now

The views expressed by our authors on the British Academy blog are not necessarily endorsed by Academy, but are commended as contributing to public debate.

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