Monday, May 6

The Return of the Ribstone Pippin Poetry Club

What? Like a book club, but weekly and with poems instead of books.
Why? Because books are long and most poems aren't. Because I spent six years of my life studying poetry before bolting for law school. Because it gives me an excuse to reread my favorite poems and to read some new ones for the first time.
I'm intrigued, tell me more. The concept is simple. I post a new, relatively short poem each Monday morning and you read it and, if you think it is worth sharing, please post a link to my post on your site accompanied by this description of the club.
What's in it for me? A weekly cultural shot in the arm. Also, if you send me your reactions, thoughts, insights or any comments related even tangentially to the poems, I will sort through the responses and post a sample of them.
This isn't just an excuse to make me read your embarrassing high school poetry, is it? I assure you that I will choose a selection of both popular and less well-known poems by major poets. Hopefully, there will be opportunities to reread poems you read in high school or university as well as to make some pleasant discoveries.

After a modestly successful debut last week, the Poetry Club is back with its second selection. I received more responses than I had anticipated last week, but they were all of the "great idea" and "wow, what an amazing poem" variety, which was very gratifying but not exactly the sort of thing that cried out for posting on this site. This week's poem, Punishment, by the Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney, was occasioned by the intersection of two events: the discovery of 2,000 year-old mummified bodies in bogs in Denmark and the British Isles, one of which is commonly assumed to be that of a ritually killed young adulteress, and the poet's reaction to the sight of Irish women who had been tarred and handcuffed to railings by Irish Nationalists for dating British soldiers stationed in Northen Ireland.


I can feel the tug
of the halter at the nape
of her neck, the wind
on her naked front.

It blows her nipples
to amber beads,
it shakes the frail rigging
of her ribs.

I can see her drowned
body in the bog,
the weighing stone,
the floating rods and boughs.

Under which at first
she was a barked sapling
that is dug up
oak-bone, brain-firkin:

her shaved head
like a stubble of black corn,
her blindfold a soiled bandage,
her noose a ring

to store
the memories of love.
Little adulteress,
before they punished you

you were flaxen-haired,
undernourished, and your
tar-black face was beautiful.
My poor scapegoat,

I almost love you
but would have cast, I know,
the stones of silence.
I am the artful voyeur

of your brain's exposed
and darkening combs,
your muscles' webbing
and all your numbered bones:

I who have stood dumb
when your betraying sisters,
cauled in tar,
wept by the railings,

who would connive
in civilised outrage
yet understand the exact
and tribal, intimate revenge.

For more about Seamus Heaney, click here.

To submit a response of any kind to this poem or its selection, please email me at