Feature > Poetry
Michael Laskey

Michael Laskey

Michael Laskey co-founded and directed the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in Suffolk, England through its first ten years. He also co-edited the poetry magazine Smith's Knoll for twenty-one years. He has published five collections of his own poems, most recently Weighing the Present (2014). 

Thomas Lux

Tom Lux in November 2000 at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. Stephen Dobyns had recommended Tom to us (Naomi Jaffa, Dean Parkin and I did the programming), and we'd checked out the poems and loved their unpredictability, their hard-edged humour and compassion. So we invited him, trusting our audience would love the work too. But of course we were a little anxious. He hadn't read in England before. He had no English publisher at the time and hardly anyone in the audience would have heard of him – they'd bought their tickets for the evening's other two readers. How would they react to him? How would he come across live? Stepping up to the lectern, he was reassuringly relaxed, unfazed by the packed hall, delighted to be here, etc. So the change in his voice as he began "Refrigerator, 1957," his suddenly loud, intense, larger-than-life, wholly committed delivery was electrifying. His "More like a vault" stunned us. Could the English cope with this? Tom strode on, sure-footed, inhabiting his poem, and at line 6 and his three relished adjectives describing the look of the contents - 'dispirited/drained, mugged' – the astonished audience laughed. Yes, it was going to be all right, a triumph for him, a joy for us.

A Library of Skulls

Shelves and stacks and shelves of skulls, a Dewey
decimal number inked on each unfurrowed forehead.
Here's a skull
who, before he lost his fleshy parts
and lower bones, once
walked beside a river (we're in the poetry section
now), his head full of love
and loneliness; and this smaller skull,
in the sociology stacks, smiling (they're all
smiling) -- it's been empty
a hundred years. That slot
across another's temple? An ax blow
that fractured
her here. Look at this one from the children's shelves,
a baby, his fontanel
a screaming mouth and this time no teeth, no smile.
Here are a few (history):a murderer,
and this one -- see how close their eye sockets! -- a thief,
and here's a rack of torturers' skulls
beneath which a longer, much longer, row of the tortured.
And look: generals' row,
their epaulets
on the shelves to each side of them.
Shelves and shelves, stacks stacked on top of stacks
floor above floor,
this towering high-rise library
of skulls, not another bone in the place,
and just now the squeak of the wheel
on a cart piled high with skulls
on their way back to shelves,
while in the next aisle
a cart is filling with those about to be loaned
to the tall, broken-hearted man waiting
at the desk, his library card
face down before him.

 

 

 

from The Street of Clocks, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2001

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