Tag Archives: spoken word

Red Fox

Many thanks to Kirsten for teaching me how to pronounce the French bit in this sharp-toothed beauty. Sauve qui peut means “save which can” or “save who can.”

Red Fox

The red fox crosses the ice
intent on none of my business.
It’s winter and slim pickings.

I stand in the bushy cemetery,
pretending to watch birds,
but really watching the fox
who could care less.
She pauses on the sheer glare
of the pond. She knows I’m there,
sniffs me in the wind at her shoulder.
If I had a gun or a dog
or a raw heart, she’d smell it.
She didn’t get this smart for nothing.

She’s a lean vixen: I can see
the ribs, the sly
trickster’s eyes, filled with longing
and desperation, the skinny
feet, adept at lies.

Why encourage the notion
of virtuous poverty?

It’s only an excuse 
for zero charity.
Hunger corrupts, and absolute hunger
corrupts absolutely,
or almost. Of course there are mothers,
squeezing their breasts
dry, pawning their bodies,
shedding teeth for their children,
or that’s our fond belief.
But remember – Hansel
and Gretel were dumped in the forest
because their parents were starving,
Sauve qui peut. To survive
we’d all turn thief

and rascal, or so says the fox,
with her coat of an elegant scoundrel,
her white knife of a smile,
who knows just where she’s going:

to steal something
that doesn’t belong to her –
some chicken, or one more chance,
or other life.

by Margaret Atwood from Morning in the Burned House


Phil has been following and contributing to my National Poetry Month project since the first year I did it. He lives in Hull, Yorkshire, which is a city with a great history of gritty, mouthy, sharply brilliant poets. When he discovers something new that he likes, I file it away to share during April. They’ve been some of my favorite posts over the last few years, and I particularly love this one. Russ Litten is a local Hull poet, and he teaches a creative writing class in a prison (read a little more about that on his website). Phil is guest reading today.

Click the title of the poem to listen.


Every Monday morning I stand up
before twenty or so disinterested faces
slouched around library tables
and tell them
about the possibilities of poetry
and the prospect of escape.

It’s a poor joke, and some mornings
it goes down less well
than others.

Like this morning,
one sullen soul flinging rancour
from the back of the room:
What’s that for then?

Yeah, but what do you get at the end of it?

Do you get paid?

So what use is that to me?

And I said
(quoting Scargill quoting his Dad)

“…the quality of your life depends upon
your ability to manipulate words…”
Does it fuck, he
thus proving
both of

by Russ Litten

The Mercy

Today is a bit of a cheat: I’m reblogging something I wrote several years ago when I started posting occasional poems. I’ve added the spoken work recording, though, so I’m calling it new. 

Click the title of the poem to listen.

When I started this project, I had several pieces in mind to use for the first six weeks or so, but one thing inevitably leads on to another, and I’ve only used one of the poems I had originally chosen so far. This week is no different; I had planned to use something by Frank O’Hara (“oh god it’s wonderful/to get out of bed/and drink too much coffee/and smoke too many cigarettes/and love you so much…”), but in reading him over, there was a poem that mentioned oranges, and that reminded me of this piece by Philip Levine that steals the breath from me each time I read it. I will not be able to keep to my original rules of not repeating a poet; I’m sure Philip Levine will turn up in this space again. However, I’ll start at the end; this is, I think, the finest work he’s ever done, moving backwards through his own familiar subjects of industry, struggle and rage, and arriving at the birth of his own history in this country.

The Mercy

The ship that took my mother to Ellis Island
Eighty-three years ago was named “The Mercy.”
She remembers trying to eat a banana
without first peeling it and seeing her first orange
in the hands of a young Scot, a seaman
who gave her a bite and wiped her mouth for her
with a red bandana and taught her the word,
“orange,” saying it patiently over and over.
A long autumn voyage, the days darkening
with the black waters calming as night came on,
then nothing as far as her eyes could see and space
without limit rushing off to the corners
of creation. She prayed in Russian and Yiddish
to find her family in New York, prayers
unheard or misunderstood or perhaps ignored
by all the powers that swept the waves of darkness
before she woke, that kept “The Mercy” afloat
while smallpox raged among the passengers
and crew until the dead were buried at sea
with strange prayers in a tongue she could not fathom.
“The Mercy,” I read on the yellowing pages of a book
I located in a windowless room of the library
on 42nd Street, sat thirty-one days
offshore in quarantine before the passengers
disembarked. There a story ends. Other ships
arrived, “Tancred” out of Glasgow, “The Neptune”
registered as Danish, “Umberto IV,”
the list goes on for pages, November gives
way to winter, the sea pounds this alien shore.
Italian miners from Piemonte dig
under towns in western Pennsylvania
only to rediscover the same nightmare
they left at home. A nine-year-old girl travels
all night by train with one suitcase and an orange.
She learns that mercy is something you can eat
again and again while the juice spills over
your chin, you can wipe it away with the back
of your hands and you can never get enough.

by Philip Levine from The Mercy


2058 is a masterpiece of efficient space. Its nine lines are enormous in imagery, in narrative and emotion. Christy Ducker writes beautifully story-driven dystopian poems, sounding of angles and edges, but tender underneath. 

I’m reading all of the poems I’m posting this month aloud. Click the title of the poem to listen.


You want a boy so tick Male.
The doctor rigs pipettes
beside a window that’s been rainy
now for months. You come to
Eyes, tick Blue: no squint. A tremor
rolls in from the coast, again
the building wavers. You check the pen
at Feelings where the column falls
away beyond the table’s edge.

by Christy Ducker


This is the first poem I ever posted on this blog, many years ago. It was borrowed from a friend who has excellent taste in words.

I’m recording all the poems I post this month. Click the title of the poem to listen.


Wiglaf the foot-warrior sat near the shoulder of the king, wearily sprinkling water on his face to wake him. He succeeded not at all. –Beowulf

It is the saddest part of a sad story:
a young man in an old man’s heavy shirt,
his helmet, arm-rings, all the gold gone dull

and gummed with blood. The gutted dragon lies
there twitching, and cowards–seasoned fighters–
are dragging themselves, shamefaced, from the woods.

Wiglaf’s own eyes saw his master’s body
caught up by waves of flame, saw long teeth tear
the great one’s throat. Through clots of smoke, he

found the weak spot, struck, and found out later
what is worse than dragons. Kings die slowly,
gasping words. Young Wiglaf loved his king

and carried water to him, in his hands.
This story is and isn’t old. My half-brother’s
sixth-month-born, three-pound daughter was alive

an hour last December, and in spring, he’s
saying this, “You haven’t seen her room, yet”
although he knows I have, the crib and stack

of folded blankets, silver brush and comb
his wife lifts up to dust beneath and then
puts back. Fat bears and grinning tigers dance

across the wall. Foot-warrior Wiglaf knew
the king was dead, and still he bathed his face
to wake him, sprinkling water, while the others

watched. We are standing in my brother’s yard,
where a single mimosa, bloom-decked, leans
in careful arabesque. He’s choking, weary,

on his loss, and I see how love, once started,
can become a thing apart from us,
a being all its own, unstoppable,

just watching as we waste our human gestures
on the air, and who can say if it’s
the monster or the hero of our lives?

–by Marisa De Los Santos

(from her book “From the Bones Out” and also published in “The New American Poets” Breadloaf anthology, edited by Michael Collier. Originally published in the Antioch Review)