Collected Poems: Peter McDonald

Collected Poems: Peter McDonald

by Peter McDonald


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A collection of five books of poems by Northern Irish poet Peter McDonald, this book ranges wildly across subjects and forms and combines intense emotional perception with a historical and personal imagination. Ambitious and original, it meditates on place, belonging, loss, and love while exploring the haunting persistence of memories and the acts of remembrance that preserve and shape them. The classical world inspired many of the works herein and his lyrical narrative style has established him as one of the important writers of contemporary Northern Irish poetry.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847770981
Publisher: Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date: 01/01/2013
Pages: 280
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Peter McDonald is a lecturer, a poet, and the author of several books, including The House of Clay, Pastorals, and Torchlight. He is the recipient of the Eric Gregory Award and the University of Oxford’s Newdigate Prize for Poetry.

Read an Excerpt

Collected Poems

By Peter McDonald

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2012 Peter McDonald
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-686-0




    The Dog

    The dog lay there with one leg missing,
    dead apparently, right in front of the door
    all morning. We came out to move it,
    but a crowd from somewhere catcalled and hissed,
    then a stone or two clattered past us, hit
    the window, took a chunk out of the wall.
    We retreated, and the dog still lay there.
    Silence from outside echoed in the hall.

    That night, it was dogs barking everywhere,
    glass crunching on the road. The TV
    spat and flickered for an hour or more
    until the pictures stopped, as suddenly
    as lights blacked out and the phone died.
    We must have fumbled with matches and candles,
    for we made out windows shaking, handles
    tried on the strong doors. Then voices outside.

    The troublemakers wouldn't show their faces
    until the very last, so it was said.
    The only time they'll look you in the eye
    (patterns of plaster on the sheepskin rug)
    it's then you'll know that you're as good as dead.
    Still carpeted, the flat felt like a safe place
    most days, although at night the noises started
    and the locks got stronger. Now there was the dog.

    At last, peace: dawn and a spreading silence,
    fires burning out, maybe a car passing
    and little else to be heard. By midday
    one of us had emerged, and was standing
    on a littered path, swiping the flies away.
    The dog was there still, and the smell of the dog.
    He called back, An accident. In the distance,
    a helicopter with one blade missing.


    Behind them, the radio surges
    its way into the conversation.
    Early evening, and the noise of Europe
    is Babel's atmospherics,

    the sound of dust and headaches.
    Rising in the half-dark
    they close a window, make coffee,
    try to hold down the signal.

    Florence this summer. And next
    year somewhere new – down
    the Rhine, Hungary maybe,
    or that tour of Yugoslavia.

    The birds are deafening, the radio
    white noise by now, and even
    the coffee is burning their tongues.
    Something terrible is going to happen.


    Those lovers in the attic
    who scratch and cry their way
    out of each other's lives
    gradually the night through
    until at dawn they sleep,
    are becoming the soundtrack
    for the worst of our bad dreams,
    those separate B-movies
    where the lumbering, hurt monsters
    turn out to be ourselves.

    I look inside your lovers' heads
    to where you lie naked,
    frozen blue on the soil,
    and lurch away in terror
    through mist and huge trees,
    still hearing the first of your cries,
    your moans, and gasps, and silences.
    A brute, my hands fumble
    from trunk to trunk, as if
    the damp wood kept you there.

    Kneeling at a rain pool
    and about to catch the water,
    I can tap your snow-dream
    through fathoms of ether:
    silence, but for the crack
    and groan of ice
    further and further north;
    some creature's wounded howl
    for a face that shatters
    at the drop of one hand.

    Short Story

    At last there was time to dream again,
    or it seemed that way at least:
    the sunset had changed only slightly
    since yesterday, but it had changed.

    The photograph he tried for became
    a letter, and the letter became ash
    in his own hearth before long,
    even before the sun had set.

    There was always something else to be caught,
    or there would be soon, with luck;
    his fire burned like the sun in Florida

    where, slightly drunk by now, the last
    astronaut alive was still wondering
    how to make his way back to the moon.

    Some Figures

    The clouds were following one another south
    and we were following the clouds, as if
    that were the reasonable thing to do,
    slowly for days, then slowly for a month,
    feeling the ice begin to lace our breath
    like men who had already come to grief
    and were buried now in air and sea-snow.

    But pressing on required no special skill:
    the nights were full of drink, the days morose
    and broody, staring down to a thick sea,
    awaiting the time of arbitrary landfall,
    then wading ashore in ones and twos, until
    we stood, wrapped up like spacemen, close
    together, in ourselves a single colony.

    I think perhaps we wanted to begin again,
    to have another try at that new start,
    but the ice and sleet, as we huddled there together,
    were making for cohesion, and the pain
    involved in staying close seemed less in vain
    than that of separation, being torn apart
    to strike out freely, far from one another.

    And so we stayed, and froze into our places
    as snow-sculptures, first with faces half-defined,
    then bolder, heavier forms with curious features,
    and finally as abstract things, where traces
    of figure or line are conjectural, and surfaces
    are white and changing, leaving nothing behind
    to hold us all accountable as living creatures.

    Cash Positive

    Two telephones all morning giving each other hell
    in the highest office between here and God,
    a desk polished black so you can see your face
    and a silent screen that flashes messages

    across cities, oceans and thousands of miles;
    a printer beside it zipping away, murmuring
    at intervals all day in different inks:
    nobody says much except to the telephones.

    I'd start by talking about securities,
    though nobody is ever safe, and things
    get sticky, dangerous – you might even
    pick up something nasty from the keyboard

    or the one love of your life, just think of that –
    and what reply is there anyway
    to the fax's cruel jibing, its clever This
    is the promised land calling, the poor boy on the line?


    Clutching his sides at the very mention of the name,
    he looks, caught there, as though he might be
    preparing either to laugh or to cry his heart out.

    Around him most of the others are stony faced,
    fixing their gazes on a point some seven feet
    from the floor on the one wall that isn't there.

    Only the dark-haired girl is beginning to respond,
    raising spread palms, opening her eyes wide
    and training them just clear of his left shoulder.

    Although there's no sign of the unexpected guest
    inside the frame, he'll still be around somewhere,
    keeping close to the wall, probably, just about here.


    Even if she had asked him, the blue girl, what
    she might say or do just at that moment
    or how she could ever ask the right way of things,
    even if the music had stopped, or at least
    had become softer, then there might have been a chance;
    as it was, the spotlights flashed over her cheeks,
    over her shoulders and back, the blue of her hair,
    the music dropped down on top of her like lead
    and down from the ceiling a thousand lethal
    bubbles came floating, then confetti and streamers
    came down and burned her; everything, even
    the lights and the cold were pointing to the same
    conclusion, and then of course her colours changed:
    even the doorman was seen to wipe a tear
    away with the finger of one white glove
    as if, with that gesture, he too might bring the house down.


    Each night when they bring her face to face
    with her torturers, when she
    and the branding iron come cheek to cheek,
    he's in his box, watching from behind a curtain,
    and before retrieving his coat and top hat
    from the headless lackey, will have closed
    his eyes just as she and the hot iron
    kiss, opening them in time for her screams
    and the rest of the action, live on stage.

    Is he quite sure she felt no pain?
    Alone at night in his private chamber
    of horrors, locked in with her waxwork double,
    he gives his doctor's hands
    the run of her body, smoothing out
    blemishes and talking as a lover might do,
    allowing himself one classical allusion
    as he starts to unbutton Galatea's dress,
    biting the wax, abject, surréaliste.

    The Twilight Summit

    Imagine the scene:
    it's one of those places in Donegal
    where the Volvos never bother to stop,
    and this pub's more of a dance-hall
    that's empty, near enough, all afternoon:
    a cave for drinking in,
    a cave of making and dreaming,
    more real than O'Hagan's paper-shop
    or the road from here to Bundoran.

    A pair of hardened raconteurs
    are busy finding the words
    to measure the distance between them:
    each leans and leers towards
    a bar where the different ambers
    of two pints dwindle, beside them
    each a glowing talisman
    of Bush or Jameson,
    where nation speaks unto nation.

    By now, those hoarse, raised voices
    are echoing so much
    around this blacked-out dance-floor
    that neither of them really hears
    what it is the other's saying:
    there's one last lunge and clutch
    at a glass, and here comes more,
    though nobody knows who's paying.
    Good man yourself, then. Cheers!

    Count Dracula Entertains

    Unfortunately, it was never simple,
    though for years now you've been dreaming
    of wonderful solutions. Did I scare you?
    I have this habit of coming through
    just at the wrong time, like other things,
    hunger, love, sleep for example.

    Forgive the accent: you will understand
    what it's like to be a foreigner abroad
    or, for that matter, an alien at home,
    where you curse it all, to the last bomb
    waiting its moment on some empty road
    that stretches out into the back of beyond

    – which is my country too, of course,
    completely surrounded by one blank sea
    we call oblivion, despair.
    Maybe one day you could spend some time there:
    it's just the place to write your poetry,
    to go to the bad, and then to worse.

    Our comforts, I'm afraid, will be few
    and simple, but you'll still have your visions
    – a tree of light, then nothing but light –
    and I'll still have my victims every night,
    for ours would be the finest of collusions:
    the best dreams are of dreams coming true.


    The narrow channel they call Neptune's Bellows
    leads into Whaler's Bay, a lava beach
    where tin cans from the fifties and big bones
    are leftovers with few now to disturb them
    along the dull fringes of Deception Island.
    Mostly the penguins come and go, often
    a conclave of fur seals makes an appearance,
    and sometimes you can pick out human figures
    among the oil tanks and dead furnaces,
    like wanderers with nowhere left to go
    who wind up here, the last place on God's earth.
    They'll be scientists, perhaps, or crazy tourists
    on a trip from Cape Horn to the South Shetlands,
    viewing the litter and the whaling relics
    in summer weather. They leave their marks, too:
    soft-drink and vodka bottles, petrol cans,
    or bold graffiti written out in Spanish,
    signatures scattered among the other last things
    where a rock by the sea reads Death To Pinochet.


Excerpted from Collected Poems by Peter McDonald. Copyright © 2012 Peter McDonald. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Biting the Wax (1989),
The Dog,
Short Story,
Some Figures,
Cash Positive,
The Twilight Summit,
Count Dracula Entertains,
A Gift,
First Light,
Out of Ireland,
Ideal Home,
The Signal,
The South,
In the Hall of Mirrors,
Silent Night,
Grace Before Meat,
A Volume of Memoirs is Forthcoming,
Still Life,
A Prism,
The Deaf Wars,
The Hands of Juan Peron,
The Green, Grassy Slopes of the Boyne,
The Third Day,
Sunday in Great Tew,
Adan's Dream (1996),
The Situation,
On a Good Day,
The Brancusi Room,
A Hard Place,
The Glen,
The Creatures,
Five Circumstances,
From the Porch,
An Eclipse,
The Passions,
On Show,
The Glass Harmonica,
About Lisbon,
The Earthquake,
Academic Sentences,
Adam's Dream,
De Gustibus,
The Authorities,
A Pause,
The Rival,
The Dedication,
In the Sketchbook,
The Aftermath,
In His Place,
Lines on the Demolition of the Adelphi, 1937,
Pastorals (2004),
Two Trees,
The Cup,
A Gloss,
At Castlereagh Church,
The Scald,
Air and Angels,
Work: 1958,
The Victory Weekend,
Least Harm,
A History Channel,
The Resurrection of the Soldiers,
Two Memorials at Gilnahirk,
Words for a Poem,
The Cloud,
At Rosses Point,
The Long Look,
The Road to Rome,
An Alarm,
The Blood-Bruise,
A Fall,
The Conversion,
The Risk,
The Mild Autumn,
Two Spiders,
The Full House,
Work: 1998,
The Stand-Off,
The Thread,
Damon the Mower,
The Way to Lose,
The Company,
The Proof,
The Back Roads,
The Watercolourists,
The House of Clay (2007),
San Domenico,
The Hand,
As Seen,
The Gnat,
War Diary,
The Moth,
The Other World,
The Overcoat,
A Schoolboy,
Three Rivers,
The Pattern,
The Fob-Watch,
Against the Fear of Death,
Mar Sarkis,
In Heaven,
The Anniversary,
The Walk,
Quis Separabit,
Late Morning,
The Pieces,
The Street Called Straight,
The Bees,
Torchlight (2011),
The Neighbours,
The Weather,
Reversing Around a Corner,
Rainbow Ribbons 1980,
The Reeds,
Green Tea,
A Pair of Shoes,
Oxford Poetry,
The Interruption,
Canopic Jars,
A Castaway,
The Difference,
The Harbour,
The Wait,
Sappho fr. 58,
Childhood Memories,
This Earth,
The Cheetah,
Index of Titles,
Index of First Lines,
About the Author,
Also by Peter McDonald from Carcanet Press,

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