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Old 05-03-2008, 06:07 PM
Rose Kelleher's Avatar
Rose Kelleher Rose Kelleher is offline
Join Date: Jul 2002
Location: Maryland, USA
Posts: 3,748

This sonnet by Mike Alexander is not eligible to win the Bakeoff (it's just been published in an anthology, in April). I really love it, however, so have decided to abuse my position as Bakeoff Host to post it here. (Don't blame Mike; this was all my idea.) It won't be included in the official twelve. I'm merely posting it because I think (1) it deserves to be read; and (2) there are people who need to read it. (And if all this is so confusing and annoying that I'm never asked to host another Bakeoff, well, then, my plan is working.)

the sirens answer

You filled your ears with sealing wax, sailed
within an inch of transcendental song,
a glory coveted as one among
the numbered wonders of the sea: fish-tailed,

we bared our human breasts as we regaled
your vessel with our singing, singing long
through your prosaic skulls. You did us wrong
to claim in your accounts our shanties failed.

Although you dulled our melodies to keep
what arguments you treasured most intact,
our musicking is subtler & deep

enough to wash away the dregs of fact--
we sing your darkest voyage as you sleep,
until you wake, eyes leaking, voices cracked.


I bet Mark Allinson will like this one as much as I do. Not just because it's mythical and evocative and Petrarchan and all that good stuff, but because it's also an ars poetica of sorts, and it relates to one of his favorite soapbox issues. Poetry workshops seem to attract a lot of literal-minded folk, and some of the nitpicking that goes on can be rather point-missing. I'm not exempting myself; as a former technical writer, I'm one of those who occasionally need reminding that reason isn't everything, that poetry can work on a subconscious level, and everything need not be spelled out as in a legal document or computer manual.

Of course, that's just one possible interpretation of this poem. There are others that work equally well, which is nice; and which, in a way, brings me back to my original interpretation.

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Old 05-03-2008, 06:40 PM
Mark Allinson Mark Allinson is offline
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Tomakin, NSW, Australia
Posts: 5,322

Yes, I do like it, Rose - you're right!

I read it as the sirens' (representing Imagination and the deeper psyche) retort to the heroic, fact-obsessed rational mind.

The rational mind has "arguments" but the Imagination has "melodies".

In short, the revenge of poetry over the prosaic "nothing but" rationalists.

Just an aside here - how weird that rationalism takes such pride in its elevated and detached Apollonic judgements, yet every one of those thoughts is generated from a twitching lump of blood-sodden protoplasm squelching away in the clam-bone skull.

I agree with Lawrence:

A man is many things, he is not only a mind.
But in his consciousness, he is two-fold at least;
he is cerebral, intellectual, mental, spiritual,
but he is also instinctive, intuitive, and in touch.

The danger of human consciousness, however, is that the mind can take exception to the non-rational dimension (the siren realm) and split off from it - disown it as "madness". Then the trouble really starts.

It's a fine poem, Rose, and thanks for posting it.

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Old 05-03-2008, 09:59 PM
Janet Kenny Janet Kenny is offline
Join Date: Feb 2001
Location: Queensland, (was Sydney) Australia
Posts: 15,596

our musicking is subtler & deep
And isn't that just it. The songs we remember may be in another language but we understand them on a level beyond speech. And that is true for poetry as well. There's a trance state where we meet in understanding.
So good, this one.

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Old 05-04-2008, 03:55 AM
Alan Wickes Alan Wickes is offline
Join Date: Apr 2003
Location: Buxton, England
Posts: 347


thank you for breaking the rules. I fully concur with what you say about this deserving to be seen.

It's a clever thing that Mike pulls off here, to my mind the variation in diction - contrasting 'musick' with 'prosaic' mirrors the central theme of the poem - so aptly summarised by Mark and Janet.

Since it was you who started this rule breaking business - can I risk adding to the deliquency by adding a short comment regarding Mike?

He is an unsung hero of the contemporary sonnet world - from 'mission control' in Houston he steadfastly refuses to limit access to Sonnet Central and gives unstinting wise advice to new writers and old hands alike; he is patient with the inept, challenging to the experienced, and tolerant of the barking mad. In all that it's easy to overlook what damn fine poet he is.

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Old 05-04-2008, 04:32 PM
Thomas Newton's Avatar
Thomas Newton Thomas Newton is offline
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Join Date: Apr 2001
Location: Winter Springs, FL, USA
Posts: 4

What Alan said. Thanks for being there for us Mike.
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Old 05-05-2008, 01:11 AM
Mary Meriam's Avatar
Mary Meriam Mary Meriam is offline
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Location: usa
Posts: 6,712

Absolutely gorgeous, Mike. Pitch perfect. The more I read it, the more I'm saying wow.
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Old 05-06-2008, 01:37 AM
John Hutchcraft John Hutchcraft is offline
Join Date: Jan 2008
Location: California, USA
Posts: 375

Yes, this is a stunner. I love "subtler & deep" - the way the iambic rhythm that's been sustained throughout causes you to pronounce "subtler" as three syllables - very subtle!

At the end, is that a Prufrock reference? Why is it that no one can write about mermaids without mentioning "waking" toward the end? I swear this is the fifteenth poem I've seen that does it.

In any event, I enjoyed this a ton. It's sort of ironic that the sirens belittle "argument" in this most argumentative of forms. I like that.
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Old 05-06-2008, 01:43 AM
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin's Avatar
Duncan Gillies MacLaurin Duncan Gillies MacLaurin is offline
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Location: Saeby, Denmark
Posts: 2,799

What Mary said.

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Old 05-06-2008, 05:30 AM
grasshopper grasshopper is offline
Join Date: Aug 2002
Location: Poole,Dorset,U.K.
Posts: 1,598

This is a poem by an author I admire greatly. He is probably one of the most literate and learned poets around, but that richness of learning is never paraded to demonstrate how much he knows and how clever he is, but in an engaging and unassuming way. His poetry is accomplished, witty and smart, and he has a great ear. His range makes me green with envy.

Not only that, but the time and trouble he takes to help and critique other authors' work is incredible. I'm sure I'm not the only person who has been helped by his detailed and perceptive comments.

I think this is a lovely poem. The classical theme is treated elegantly and with the sure hand that's a feature of his work. I'm grateful to Rose for including it, because I think his work deserves to be better known.

Regards, Maz
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Old 05-06-2008, 08:41 AM
David Anthony David Anthony is offline
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Location: Stoke Poges, Bucks, UK
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Very nice.
I second what others have said about the author.
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