This week’s poem comes from Tamar Yoseloff’s latest collection, A Formula for Night: New and Selected Poems.
Tamar Yoseloff is a poet whose career has been profoundly influenced by the visual arts. A Formula for Night: New and Selected Poems is the eagerly awaited summation of her work, encompassing selections from four published print volumes: Sweetheart, Barnard’s Star, Fetch and The City with Horns (now mostly out of print); and poems from her collaborations with artists: Formerly, Marks and Desire Paths. The book also includes a generous selection of beautiful new poems. The title poem is based upon an installation by Welsh artist Cerith Wyn Evans. An image from his work, a light sculpture, is used for the cover of the book.
The poet’s first collection, Sweetheart, was a PBS Special Commendation and the winner of the Jerwood/Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. She was the recipient of an Arts Council New Writing award which helped her complete her second manuscript, later published as Barnard’s Star. Of her collaborations, Marks was published as a limited-edition artist’s book and pamphlet by Pratt Contemporary Art in 2007. Desire Paths was a limited-edition portfolio produced by Galerie Hein Elferink in the Netherlands. Both books feature work by artist Linda Karshan.
More recently, Formerly, a chapbook of poems based on forgotten London locations, with accompanying photographs by Vici MacDonald, was the debut publication of their co-founded imprint, Hercules Editions. Formerly was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award in 2012. Exhibitions of the poems and photographs have appeared in two venues in London: the Poetry Society’s Poetry Café and the Saison Poetry Library at the Southbank.
The new poems are often artful explorations of paradox: death/birth, dark/light, clarity/mystery. In the ‘Swimmer of Lethe’ the protagonist says: ‘I’ve mastered surface/ here everything is under.’ Atmospheres are conjured, surfaces interrogated and humans are often found woefully or wonderfully implicated in their settings in unexpected ways. A misunderstood creature, the ‘Muntjac’, is seen with tender clarity ‘Now white with May/tar and fern on his delicate hooves…’. The poet’s vocabulary is spiky, sometimes ferociously so. Sex is another paradox, its violence at times palpable: from ‘Pictures of Spring’: ‘I bend and break, bend/ and break, contort my limbs/ into these lovelocked shapes.’ ‘Hospital Time’: ‘collapses, folds the days into sterile gauze,/ a thousand different words for hurt’ beautifully evokes the estranging, atmosphere of a hospital but slowly evolves to become a moving elegy to the poet’s mother.
The Formula for Night
It’s getting late. Light
floods the public bar,
you’re the final one to leave.
The mirror’s silver eye
gives you back yourself, precise.
You’ve lived your life through
glass, you miss the brush
of skin, someone whispering
your name.You hear it now,
a calling on the wind, insistent,
a small but steady flame.
You carry in your bones a gasp
of summer heat, the formula
for night.You arrive at the end-
of-pier reveal – the heart-stop hour,
when this world briefly yields
to the next: a door that creaks
an inch or two to catch
a blinding beam. You want
to understand what can’t
be seen, the fact behind
the trick, the wires hidden
from your view, the blue breath
that powers the machine.
Raise your eyes to read the stars –
streetlight’s glare has cast them
dark; once-bright bulbs,
trembling elements crack
and fizzle as they die. Their light
is obsolete. But close
your eyes, and still you find
gold impressed beneath
your lids, a moment lived.
And when you open them again,
darkness is what’s left.