Featured Anthology: Oxford Poets 2007 – Hilary Menos

Hilary Menos is the second poet we’re highlighting in this feature. Previously working as a journalist, Menos now runs an organic farm in Devon.

As to ‘why poetry’, I can think of three possible reasons: My mother read me poetry as a child; My father spent hours every night drafting and redrafting technical documents, publicity material, minutes from meetings – he would worry for hours over the meaning, and placement, of one word; and when I left my junior school at eleven, Mr Sutcliffe told me to never stop writing poetry. We all have a Mr Sutcliffe.

The influence of rural Devon is felt in her poetry through recurring themes of nature and traditional life but avoids the idealised and romantic forms, “I hope my poetry is firmly rooted in the real”, Menos says, “No herons, no buttercups, no fluffy lambs – I’m more of a slaughterhouse and slurry pit poet.” She also writes about global environmental damage – in a way that’s oblique but not obscure, only political in the broadest sense – and the wider, more general themes of poetry: community, death, and our lost faith in society. “There are lots of different ways to say something and poets might as well say it in as interesting and entertaining a way as possible. And, generally, brevity is a good thing.”

‘The Gift’ presents to us a unique perception of the creative process: starting with the infinite, spiraling down into a physical landscape only to then unfurl itself into its own possibilites and boundless space again. This charts the process of the poem’s creation but also, how once formed, the poem is then open to its reader’s interpretation and to soar once more.

The Gift

I want to write you a small square poem
that starts with space and a vague notion of form
then pitches in headlong – not holding its nose
at the pull of another body – to atmosphere,
the curve of coastline, a fjords fold and wrinkle,
borders, boundaries, the abrupt hyphenation of dams,
and hurtles through the sprawl of domes and spires
of a small Italian town to a piazza where,
between candy-stripe carts of ice-cream sellers,
past lunchtime chatter, waiters bringing Lavazza
and orange juice, it finds firm ground,
lands on the page like a flag, like a map of a world
impossible to resist and, catching the wind,
unfurls and soars like a bird circling the square.

(This poem is reproduced with permission from Oxford Poets 2007: An Anthology, edited by David Constantine and Bernard O’Donoghue, published by Carcanet Press.)