Posts filed under ‘Hatshepsut’


Billy Collins

Listen (to Hatshepsut read)

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” –
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls “Metaphor” next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of “Irony”
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
Hands cupped around their mouths.
“Absolutely,” they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
“Yes.” “Bull’s-eye.” My man!”
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written “Man vs. Nature”
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird singing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page-
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”

Hatshepsut says, “I’d recorded this a while ago but never thought to send it in. Strangely I had never noticed that there was no Collins on pō’ĭ-trē, which is monstrously unpardonable, given that I think he is a genius and love him with much ferocity. I was galvanized into action when you pointed it out though.

I tend to blow hot and cold with most poets, liking certain poems or phases of their creative development distinctly more than others. I confess to liking Collins rather indiscriminately – he has such range that man, and I like the sound of all his voices. “Litany” especially is chockfull of lines I like to quote in just about any context (Try for example “There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.”) Also ever since I read that poem, I’ve thought of myself as a blind woman’s tea-cup. It’s one of those thoughts I have not been able to shake out of my head.

Anyway I digress. I love Marginalia for many of the reasons I love Collins: a felicity for graphic description (I especially love the word-picture of Irish monks scribbling in their cold scriptoria), a perverse humour and moments of unexpected tenderness and bitten-back pain. My favorite line from this one has to be about the memory that “dangles from me like a locket”. Just gorgeous.”

* Collins reading Marginalia here. (thx! Hatshepsut.)


October 1, 2006 at 12:15 am 2 comments

Extract from “Perle” (Cotton Nero A.x manuscript)

Pearl Poet

Listen (to Hatshepsut read)

in Middle English

In Translation

Perle, pleasaunte to prynces paye
To clanly clos in golde so clere,
Oute of oryent, I hardyly saye,
Ne proued I neuer her precios pere.
So rounde, so reken in vche araye,
So smal, so smoÞe her syde3 were,
Quere-so-euer I jugged gemme3 gaye,
I sette hyr sengeley in synglere.
Allas! I leste hyr in on erbere;
Þur3 gresse to grounde hit fro me yot.
I dewyne, fordolked of luf-daungere
Of Þat pryuy perle wythouten spot.

SyÞen in Þat spote hit fro me sprange,
Ofte haf I wayted, wyschande Þat wele,
Þat wont wat3 whyle deuoyde my wrange
And heuen my happe and al my hele.
Þat dot3 bot Þrych my hert Þrange,
My breste in bale bot bolne and bele.

Pearl, to delight a prince’s day,
Flawlessly set in gold so fair
In all the East, I dare to say,
I have not found one to compare.
So round, so radiant in array,
So small, so smooth her contours were,
Wherever I judged jewels gay
I set her worth as truly rare.
I lost her in a garden where
Through grass she fell to earthen plot;
Wounded by love beyond repair
I mourn that pearl without a spot.

Since from that spot it fled that day
I waited oft, in hope to see
What once could drive my gloom away
And charge my very soul with glee;
But heavy on my heart it lay
And filled my breast with misery.

Hatshepsut writes, ” I have a real weakness for Middle English and Anglo-Saxon poetry. Its cadences, its internal rhythms, its dense alliteration – so, so beautiful to listen to. ‘Perle’ is one of my favourite dream vision poems. And the dream vision is my favourite genre within Middle English poetry. Its self-reflexive, meta-nature and the possibilities its structure opens up (the dream within the dream within the dream etc.) are only part of why I like the form so much. What really fascinates me, are the historical and philosophical reasons for the evolution of the form. What fascinates me is the idea that, in a time when creative writing had to have a reason to be (just like other growing disciplines, each of which was trying to establish its place in the world), the dream vision was a way of legitimizing the exercise of creative writing and elevating it to the status of divinely conceived, while infusing it with the heady rush of the other-worldly mystical. It was also a way of freeing the author from incriminating creative offspring: “I dreamt it, I have no control over it, I’m only transcribing.” I’ve only included a small excerpt from ‘Perle’ where the dreamer talks about the loss of his daughter – his immaculate pearl. The manuscript is one of the most poignant poetic explorations of loss I’ve ever read. The emotion of the dreamer’s voice slices through the seven centuries that separate us with consummate ease.”


[1] The Pearl poet (/Gawain poet) at wiki.

[2] Text of Pearl online.

[3] A brief discussion on the structure and content here.


July 10, 2006 at 5:06 pm 24 comments


William Shakespeare

Listen (to Hatshepsut read)

When my love swears that she is made of truth
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutor'd youth,
Unlearned in the world's false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false speaking tongue:
On both sides thus is simple truth suppress'd.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O, love's best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told:
Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flatter'd be.

 She writes,

Ok. Simple premise. The dark mistress and Will here have a neat deal going. A deal based on mutual flattery and unadulterated lust. They lie to and lie with each other.  Straightforward punning and a fun poem. 


June 16, 2006 at 5:34 pm Leave a comment

Poem To Take Back The Night

June Jordan

Listen (to Hatshepsut read)

What about moonlight
What about watching for the moon above
the tops of trees and standing
still enough to hear the raucous crickets
chittering invisible among the soon lit stones
trick pinpoints of positions even poise
sustained in solitary loss

What about moonlight
What about moonlight

What about watching for the moon
through windows low enough to let the screams
and curses of the street the gunshots
and the drunken driver screeching tires
and the boombox big beat and the tinkle
bell ice cream truck

What about moonlight
What about

What about watching for the moon
behind the locked doors and bolted shut bedrooms
and the blind side of venetian blinds and
cowering under the kitchen table and struggling
from the car and wrestling head
down when the surprise when the
stranger when the surprise when the
coach when the surprise when the
teacher when the surprise when the
priest when the surprise when the
doctor when the surprise when the
family when the surprise when the
lover when the surprise when the
friend when the surprise
lacerates your throat
constricted into no
no more sound

who will whisper
what about moonlight
what about moonlight

What about watching for the moon
so far from where you tremble
where you bleed where you sob
out loud for help for mercy for
a thunderbolt of shame and
retribution where you plead
with God with devils with
the creatures in-between
to push the power key
and set you free
from filth and blasphemy
from everything you never wanted to feel
or see

to set you free

so you could brush your teeth
and comb your hair and maybe
throw on a jacket
or maybe not

you running
curious and so excited and
running and running into the
asking only asking

What about moonlight
What about moonlight


Hatshepsut writes,

This poem kills me. It’s by June Jordan, one of my favorite activist poets. I went to a tribute to her last year, where Adrienne Rich, Cornelius Eady and other incredible poet-friends of Jordan read her poetry and talked about her inspiring life. Jordan was raped twice. The first time by a friend. Since then she has done much activist work against rape and written extensively about methods of resistance to any kind of violence. I think the poem is about the fact that this throat-lacerating, silencing surprise can be from a friend, a priest, a teacher a coach. The poem talks about wanting to be obliterated by “a thunderbolt of shame and retribution”- it is rent by the screamed plea to be set free from filth and everything she never wanted to feel or see.
But for all the unspeakable pain she has felt and seen, what is heart-stoppingly breathtaking about Jordan’s strength, sensitivity and voice is that her experience has not stripped her of her faith in beauty, in life, or in the crucial importance of seeking out moonlight. She insistently asks the question (what about moonlight), and uses the moon to illuminate the disturbing truths she refuses to hide. But it’s more than just a tool of exposé for her. In dappled dream-like lunar incandescence there is hope for beauty and a life beyond pain.
She’s been described as the most personal of political poets and this poem makes it easy to see why.


June 10, 2006 at 4:11 am 2 comments

Spanish Dancer

Rainer Maria Rilke

Listen (to Hatshepsut read)

As on all its sides a kitchen-match darts white
flickering tongues before it bursts into flame:
with the audience around her, quickened, hot,
her dance begins to flicker in the dark room.

And all at once it is completely fire.

One upward glance and she ignites her hair
and, whirling faster and faster, fans her dress
into passionate flames, till it becomes a furnace
from which, like startled rattlesnakes, the long
naked arms uncoil, aroused and clicking.

And then: as if the fire were too tight
around her body, she takes and flings it out
haughtily, with an imperious gesture,
and watches: it lies raging on the floor,
still blazing up, and the flames refuse to die –
Till, moving with total confidence and a sweet
exultant smile, she looks up finally
and stamps it out with powerful small feet.

Hatshepsut writes,

'So I took this Flamenco class with this crazy Spanish lady from Juilliard for six months of my life last year. She was an incredible dancer and if I can execute a dramatic and flawless Sevillanas, it’s thanks to her sound, fury and insistence on form. This poem is her. The fire metaphor is just perfect. It’s poems like this one that make me wish I knew German. Come to think of it, I wish I knew Rilke. But I would be settle for just being able to pronounce his name (Honestly, the way it’s written is nothing like the sounds my German friends make when pronouncing his name).'

And the original in german,

Wie in der Hand ein Schwefelzundholz, weiss,
eh es zur Flamme komt, nach allen Seiten
zuckende Zungen streckt -: beginnt im Kreis
naher Beschauer hastig, hell und heiss
ihr runder Tanz sich zuckend auszubreiten.

Und plotzlich ist er Flamme, ganz und gar.

Mit einem Blick entzundet sie ihr Haar
und dreht auf einmal mit gewagter Kunst
ihr ganzes Kleid in diese Feuersbrunst,
aus welcher sich, wie Schlangen die erschrecken,
die nackten Arme wach und klappernd strecken.

Und dann: als wurde ihr das Feuer knapp,
nimmt sie es ganz zusamm und wirft es ab
sehr herrisch, mit hochmutiger Gebarde
und schaut: da liegt es rasend auf der Erde
und flammt noch immer und ergiebt sich nicht –
Doch sieghaft, sicher und mit einem sussen
grussenden Lacheln hebt sie ihr Gesicht


May 27, 2006 at 6:07 pm Leave a comment

The Stories

Stephen Dunn

Listen(to Hatshepsut read)

I was unfaithful to you last week.
Though I tried to be true
to the beautiful vagaries
of our unauthorized love,
I told a stranger our story,
arranging and rearranging us
until we were orderly, reduced.
I didn’t want to sleep with this stranger.
I wanted, I think, to see her yield,
to sense her body’s musculature,
her history of sane resistance
become pliable, as yours had
twenty-two years ago.
I told her we met in parks
and rest stops along highways.
Once, deep in the woods,
a blanket over stones and dirt.
I said that you were, finally,
my failure of nerve,
made to the contours of my body,
so wrongly good for me
I had to give you up.
Listening to myself, it seemed
as if I were still inconsolable,
and I knew the seductiveness in that,
knew when she’d try to console me
I’d allow her the tiniest of victories.
I told her about Laguna, the ruins
we made of each other.
To be undone — I said I learned
that’s what I’d always wanted.
We were on a train from Boston
to New York, this stranger and I,
the compartment to ourselves.
I don’t have to point out to you
the erotics of such a space.
We’d been speaking of our marriages,
the odd triumphs of their durations.
“Once….,” I said, and my betrayal began,
and did not end.
She had a story, too.
Mine seemed to coax hers out.
There was this man she’d meet
every workday Thursday at noon.
For three years, every Thursday
except Thanksgiving. She couldn’t
bear it anymore, she said,
the lies, the coming home.
Ended, she said.
Happiest years of my life, she said.
At that moment (you understand)
we had to hug, but that’s all we did.
It hardly matters. We were in each other’s
sanctums, among the keepsakes,
we’d gone where most sex cannot go.
I could say that telling her our story
was a way of bringing you back to life,
and for a while it was, a memorial
made of memory and its words.
But here’s what I knew:
Watching her react, I was sure I’d tell
our story again, to others. I understood
how it could be taken to the bank,
and I feared I might not ever again
feel enough to know when to stop.

Hatsheput writes, ‘The first line is such a brilliant hook. I like this poem because of the interesting questions it raises about how we tend to define infidelity. Is it infidelity to be riding rough-shod over sacrosanct memories? Is there such a thing as sacrosanct memories? Is the act of constructing that memorial of words, an homage to the beauty that was, or a trivialization of the indescribable in that which was? A slight to the effing ineffable It-thing. To quote Donne, is it “profanation of our joy to tell the laity of our love”?’

BM adds, there is a sense of déjà vu when you read this poem. Many of us have been spectators to (or been part of) intimate conversations between complete strangers, as they unravel their lives, reveal their deepest secrets. The shield of unfamiliarity and transient nature of the space (a train ride, for instance), makes these moments perfectly ripe for sharing – complete openess, no scores, no history, no checks on accuracy and no offence or judgement – its a stranger’s story told to a stranger – it almosts smells like … fiction. It might be the story of lost love, an illiness hidden from dear ones, or plain frustration, failure, … infidelity. Every life has some of these and The Stories reflects them, so well.

You see, I want this poem to be nicer
than life. I want you to look at it
when anxiety zigzags your stomach
and the last tranquilizer is gone
and you need someone to tell you
I’ll be here when you want me
like the sound inside a shell.

– Dunn

More on Stephen Dunn here.


May 23, 2006 at 10:19 pm 2 comments

His Coy Mistress to Mr. Marvell

A.D. Hope

Listen(to Hatshepsut read)

Since you have world enough and time
Sir, to admonish me in rhyme,
Pray Mr Marvell, can it be
You think to have persuaded me?
Then let me say: you want the art
To woo, much less to win my heart.
The verse was splendid, all admit,
And, sir, you have a pretty wit.
All that indeed your poem lacked
Was logic, modesty, and tact,
Slight faults and ones to which I own,
Your sex is generally prone;
But though you lose your labour, I
Shall not refuse you a reply:

First, for the language you employ:
A term I deprecate is “coy”;
The ill-bred miss, the bird-brained Jill,
May simper and be coy at will;
A lady, sir, as you will find,
Keeps counsel, or she speaks her mind,
Means what she says and scorns to fence
And palter with feigned innocence.

The ambiguous “mistress” next you set
Beside this graceless epithet.
“Coy mistress”, sir? Who gave you leave
To wear my heart upon your sleeve?
Or to imply, as sure you do,
I had no other choice than you
And must remain upon the shelf
Unless I should bestir myself?
Shall I be moved to love you, pray,
By hints that I must soon decay?
No woman’s won by being told
How quickly she is growing old;
Nor will such ploys, when all is said,
Serve to stampede us into bed.

When from pure blackmail, next you move
To bribe or lure me into love,
No less inept, my rhyming friend,
Snared by the means, you miss your end.
“Times winged chariot”, and the rest
As poetry may pass the test;
Readers will quote those lines, I trust,
Till you and I and they are dust;
But I, your destined prey, must look
Less at the bait than at the hook,
Nor, when I do, can fail to see
Just what it is you offer me:
Love on the run, a rough embrace
Snatched in the fury of the chase,
The grave before us and the wheels
Of Time’s grim chariot at our heels,
While we, like “am’rous birds of prey”,
Tear at each other by the way.

To say the least, the scene you paint
Is, what you call my honour, quaint!
And on this point what prompted you
So crudely, and in public too,
To canvass and , indeed, make free
With my entire anatomy?
Poets have licence, I confess,
To speak of ladies in undress;
Thighs, hearts, brows, breasts are well enough,
In verses this is common stuff;
But — well I ask: to draw attention
To worms in — what I blush to mention,
And prate of dust upon it too!
Sir, was this any way to woo?

Now therefore, while male self-regard
Sits on your cheek, my hopeful bard,
May I suggest, before we part,
The best way to a woman’s heart
Is to be modest, candid, true;
Tell her you love and show you do;
Neither cajole nor condescend
And base the lover on the friend;
Don’t bustle her or fuss or snatch:
A suitor looking at his watch
Is not a posture that persuades
Willing, much less reluctant maids.

Remember that she will be stirred
More by the spirit than the word;
For truth and tenderness do more
Than coruscating metaphor.
Had you addressed me in such terms
And prattled less of graves and worms,
I might, who knows, have warmed to you;
But, as things stand, must bid adieu
(Though I am grateful for the rhyme)
And wish you better luck next time.

No she doesn’t stop with a passing comment on the previous post [1]. Hatshepsut, welcome!

[1] This poem needs no introduction. To ensure the best experience, dear listener, here is a link To his coy mistress. :)


May 16, 2006 at 1:34 pm 6 comments