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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

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cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Friday, May 22, 2009

‘The Ugly’ by John Glenday

Posted by Adam Roberts on 05/22/09 at 06:15 AM

I love you as I love the Hatchetfish,
the Allmouth, the Angler,
the Sawbelly and Wolf-eel,
the Stoplight Loosejaw, the Fangtooth;

all our sweet bathypelagic ones,
and especially those too terrible or sly
even for Latin names; who saddle
their menfolk to the vagina’s hide

like scorched purses, stiff with seed;
whom God built to trawl
endless cathedrals of darkness,
their bland eyes gaping like wounds;

who would choke down hunger itself,
had it pith and gristle enough;
who carry on their foreheads
the trembling light of the world.

The poem was first published here, which is where I read it.  It’s collected in this book, which you may want to buy.

I like this a great deal; for although there is something awkward in its shift from the slightly lumpish, grotesque humour of the first two-and-a-half stanzas (the weird names, the ‘too sly for Latin’ gag, the male-sewn-onto-the-vagina’ bizarrenesses) to the deepsunk sense-of-wonder of the ‘cathedrals of darkness’ and the final beautiful image … which is to say, although there is an uncertainty of emphasis as to whether the opening three words refer to erotic or spiritual love … nevertheless that disjunction suits the poem.  It’s ugly enough, formally, for the ugliness that is its topic to work aesthetically.  That beastie from Finding Nemo as ICHTHUS: nice.

Not perfectly realised, mind.  Stanza one is a little too much: ‘hey, look at these cool fish names I found!’, and stanza two gets a little tangled up, I’d say, somewhere between the ‘hide’ pun (the sly, the evasive, the hidden) and the more striking being on display angle—the male ‘saddled’ outside the female, ‘scorched; and ‘stiff.’ But the final seven lines are pretty much flawless.

I particularly like the way working down through the poem plays with the sense of sinking down through the levels of the sea.  I like the way the surf-like sibilance is all in the top three stanzas (the sh and the s: Hatchetfish; Sawbelly; Stoplight Loose; sweet; especially; sly; saddle; scorched; stiff; seed) leaving the fourth stanza tonally as cool and free of hissing (the sole exception, buried in the middle of ‘gristle’, is part of a description of what’s not there) as the silent deep.  The beasts ‘who carry on their foreheads/the trembling light of the world’ moving through a poetic space purged of sibilance’s white noise.  A space of black noise, perhaps.

There are some more Glenday poems here.  He deserves to be better known, I think.

[This post is part of an occasional series on The Valve: Excellent Short Poetry About Fish.  For more ESPAF, see here].


A poem with just about everything within its little frame, ugliness, sex, religion, dreadful hunger, spirituality and fish.  The final line doesn’t lose its impact but grows more powerful with every reading. A work of art.

By on 08/21/09 at 04:51 PM | Permanent link to this comment

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