Three Poems

01 November, 2013

ABOUT THE POEMS In these poems by Anna Selby, human beings are always gravitating from earth and air towards water. It is as if the transcendence they seek (the desire to “leap/hot out of your own life”) requires a physical departure from the very medium they inhabit. Selby’s ringing titles evoke not just a subject but a sensibility, and her versatile forms and deftly run-on lines very persuasively reenact the thrill of sense experience and the shape of thought. We see how the lyric poem works both to slow down our world, teasing out the many disparate elements of our experience, and to reorient it, by exposing an entire universe of instincts, paradoxes, and mysteries beneath all that we know, or think we know.

Swimming in the Abandoned Quarry

It’s like dying, you shout,

then leap

hot out of your own life.

But such a short death:

your feet barely down

before your head crowns,

so the pool seems confused:

a blue-skinned creature

trembling at its own dream.

When we dive,

we dive with our hands

and legs bound—

dead meat

hung upside down.

The water wakes.

Watch it choke.

Feel a beast-heart bloat,


then settle,

like a parachute

in the night trees.

Is it Too Late for the Bath

given that all the car doors

have shut and the last foot rang

the drain cover—our gong—

and the foxes

imitating dogs

are lapping the dark tennis court,

where only leaves dry as rice

roll over the sidelines

and back across

in a slumbering waltz?

We are no use if we can’t see

the boundaries’ white marks.

Given this, and the ominous

shapes anointing the sink,

it is too late to turn the tap

East in a shared house

where the old Estonian sleeps,

and the heavy German

wakes at the flinch

of a match.

How Sundays Would Sound if People Described Them

A fly dies on a windowsill. It rains

a lot in a small town. A man thinks he’s seen

his dead father in the shed again. The crux is

there’s a fox in the garden, where there’s never

been one before. Someone has a rambunctious dream.

Sussex horticultural show—nobody knows who’s won.

A girl runs through a wood, wet, then sits. A couple

have sex on the worktop, it’s the last time, afterwards

they discover there isn’t enough bread. A man

summarises a year’s Sundays, as if they were

lift-pitches for uncommissioned films.

Anna Selby is a British poet, editor and dance collaborator, whose first pamphlet, The Burning, will be published this month by Salt. She works at Southbank Centre as the literature programmer, and is the co-editor of The World Record (Bloodaxe), an anthology of contemporary poetry from 204 countries.