|From and About Caruso for the Children, & Other Poems|
|"[Dunlop] is richly allusive, a gifted parodist, and often very funny.... His view of the world is about as jolly as that of, say, Thomas Hardy or Philip Larkin. Yet his bleakest visions are rendered with such technical elan that one rejoices with them at the simple pleasure of finding darkness made so wittily palpable in rhyme and meter." |
— Jonathan Raban
|"Caruso for the Children, & Other Poems is an enduring book, vivid with wit and longing and sympathy."
BESIDE THE SEASIDE You wouldn't say that she "submitted." No, whatever prompted her was something new and docile not at all. Perhaps it had to do with the short turf, the white cliff edge, the slow cloud promenade, the surge and thud below as each fresh wave broke down. So, anyway, touch, tremor, nakedness all made good sense to her, quite suddenly, and down she lay and smiled, and helped him to forget the tense first panic, meeting not the least defense. And afterwards, she begged a cigarette, lazed on her back, and beamed back at the blue sky, blameless. He was dumb. More vehement yet the sea beat up against the cliffs, and threw its whopping slogs into a cave that drew the sinewed swell out of a foaming sleeve and sucked it in, to—like one heaving block of quartz—explode: boom hollowly; and leave in skittery files licksplittling through the rocks, till the next wave recruited them, and shocked itself to spume, finding passivity exceeded penetration. He watched (while she lay with her skirt around her hips, and smiled as at a dutiful, obliging child) and felt the strangest pity for the sea.
LOVE DUET Some—I believe it—find this most pleasing fiction the stuff of truth: a voice that pulses conveys the strains of spirit in excelsis, the full heart's purest diction; and when the strings squeal loudest, brass bombardment thunders, true love, they moan, and on that top note founder. I like it, too, but in a dubious fashion: great gulps of airs that I sup up inflate the body's currency; at such high rates, the poor heart pitches to contrary motions, churns blood to borscht, and canonizes hormones, and bellows bravos at its own performance. And so, my love, switch off that braggart tenor plighting his troth in full fidelity, that shrill soprano's billowing high sea of outrage offered her ambiguous honor— I love them both, indeed, but to distraction: your being here concerns my satisfaction. Love moves by subtler rhythms, and small sounds: a glass set down, clothes shucked, skins' conversation, duet of breaths—the orchestration's conventional enough, but it abounds in touches of a sheer felicity: catch in my voice; your chuckle; a struck match.
SQUARE is what you may call me, and welcome. Should I be ashamed that the trendy patter would place me in a pride of resonant names? Quadrangle, cloister, piazza, the marketplace— wherever men like to be serious, or need to develop a sensible space, they tend toward squares; of all games the purest is checkered: giving reason to pastime, and logic its music, is, by definition, living. In a pure state of Nature, squares may not exist, but for man to shape his life by right angles is natural enough; he can neither improve upon Nature, nor live by her crazy directions. He may only create alternatives, ordered constructions, a pattern becoming his state. She squiggles and doodles, at best she describes perfect circles, like sun that warms the carved stone, illuminates squares that attest to the good sense of man. Some squares are more shapely than others: I hope to be one that gathers the sunlight, and offers relief from the sun. With room for diversion, yet ever a center of craft, and fair trade, and even my shadier sides maintaining a decent faade. Let me be wrought into balance, my lines discover perspective, amounting to more than the sum of my parts. Set in the middle, performing its function, a fountain.
Copyright © 1997 by William Dunlop