The task

April 17, 2009

People who follow my blog will know that recently, I’ve become obsessed with Polar Bears. It’s something of a displacement activity, possibly, and a long story. Anyway, happily I’ve been able to tie this pathology to a course of formal study and my Polar Bear poems are currently forming the basis for my Creative Writing MA’s latest assignment.

The task is to challenge a weakness (don’t worry, not the pathology) but instead my past tendency to shy away from form. Actually, once we got into the swing of things I and my tutor were coming up with weaknesses like nobodies business … Mahendra, I said, I think we’ve ‘identified’ enough…

Anyway, back to my weakness for form…in addition to my Polar Bear fetish, it’s now become something of a fetish all by it’s self. In fact, I’ve become quite the bore… ‘oh yes [fellow poet who really doesn’t want to know] you must try writing SESTINAS – no, really – YOU MUST – let me force this one by Elizabeth Bishop on you..’ ecetera, ecetera…

But the task…

The MA task, as negotiated by me and the man, is for me to write THE SAME poem, AGAIN and AGAIN in as many different forms as I can get my hands on. Given this, the below should be in context.

It started out as a sonnet (so bad, I really can’t bring myself to post it) then it became the villanelle (posted on previously on this blog) – now, it’s the below sestina. Personally I think I prefer the villanelle, but then, I guess the sestina version is perhaps too different to compare. Unlike the sonnet (granted, you can’t see it but take my word) the sestina’s so much longer and therefore inevitably seeking to cover more content. The sonnet version was better as a villanelle because it had a refrain in it, and villanelles
work on refrains. The sestina doesn’t do that so much, repeat, so maybe, in that way, it’s it’s own animal…no pun intended, but wayhey anyway 😉 See what you think, if you can be arsed. . .

Mr Polar Bear

What must it be like to never be touched?
to never feel wind against your fur,
the ice packed snow, beneath your claws
your pink tongue click against your teeth;
to never see another bear,
to never feel another body.

Mr Polar Bear: now that your body
is only ever touched
by the eyes of people visiting Bears
inside of museums, how does your fur
feel? and the 42 teeth
inside of your muzzle – and your claws –

balanced on plaster, are they curled claws?
stiff and useless at the base of your body
not stroked by anyone, or touched
by snow, or held in the teeth
or another bear:
lovingly, passionately, their fur

bristling with electricity like fur
that has forgot its own name in the clause
of a contract? – Perhaps: they couldn’t even bear
to look at you, when they dragged your body
back from the snow – your teeth
exposed in a rictus grin. Perhaps – nobody touched

your corpse as it touched
the wagon. Perhaps you were their first fur
their first kill, first teeth –
and claws
and body
and bear –

or perhaps you were bear
number 50 – or 100 – and touched
by them all as they hauled your body
and grabbed at your fur,
your ice pick claws,
your razor teeth.

Mr Polar Bear, you’d have wanted to kill them
as they touched like they owned, your fur and your bones.
I can see it now: it’s in your claws, your frozen teeth.


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