Poem for June

Poetry and Rhetoric (II)

by David Constantine

When I think of persuasion, of the persuasiveness, I see
You that morning on the Circle Line
With a seat for once but squashed in knee to knee
In a thicket of people somewhere on your own
Among them standing, swaying, slumping half asleep
You reading poems through the black tunnels
And chokes of light and — was it suddenly,
Ambushed, or more like rising wells
Little by little but unstoppably? —
By the sole force of some few signs set out
For absent things in shapes in black on white
The reading clinched you in an absolute
There and then: the truth cold down your spine,
Prickle of love and terror on the nape
And you lift your face to your fellow-travellers
To witness, beyond denying it, your tears.

Selected by David Underdown

This poem will be my last Poem of the Month. It has been a pleasure to choose poems for Voice for Arran over the last eight years, years that have slipped by in the proverbial blink of an eye. Future selections will be coming to you from Isla Blair.

As this is a farewell occasion I have indulged myself by picking a poem from my favourite living poet, but it also seems appropriate that its subject is the way poetry works. Poetry and Rhetoric (II) is the twelfth in a cycle of sixteen sonnets written by David Constantine that were published in 2004 under the title of ‘A Poetry Primer’. The poems are linked by a conceit about the parallels between the art of poetry and the art of love, and in this sonnet he conjures up how, at its best, a poem can tap into the most powerful human emotions. For me it is an example of what makes some poems special.