Angela Leighton

Angela Leighton

As well as books of literary criticism and many critical articles and essays, Angela Leighton has published poems in various magazines, including The Guardian, TLS, Poetry Review, Stand and The Reader. Her two collections, A Cold Spell (2000) and Sea Level (2007), have been warmly reviewed by, among others, Anne Stevenson and Elaine Feinstein, and are available from Shoestring Press.

As the daughter of an Italian (Neapolitan) mother and an English father she is well placed to understand the historical and visual allure of the Mediterranean, and many of her poems evoke its landscapes.

Angela Leighton is currently senior research fellow at Trinity College, Cambridge.


Cover - The Messages, Angela Leighton, Shoestring Press

The poems below are from Angela Leighton’s new book
The Messages (2012) published by Shoestring Press.

Cantilena: At Ostia Antica

(for Lucy)

Forse per ogni pietra, ogni fiore selvatico,
passa l’anima vagabonda, persa nel mondo.

Light breaks even in the evening light, wins
a pipistrelle clean, to time–
flighty chatterer, singing into dips and stops of air,
of the rarer altitudes beyond our ears.
What makes you raid
the dusk’s echoing alveary, sound-search its hollows
like open hallways on a world unheard?

Love, stop a while. It’s dusk at the gate.
The dead and living to their separate quarters
gravitate. A hush speaks
in breathing aspirates:
stay, outstay, your time, your ticket, pause
on the way where a bat, see, slippy as a thin shade,
beats, breakbeats
a world in sound waves till the sound makes way.

Nella breve sosta della vita, Siste Viator.
Nel’alto dell’orecchio, ascolta, fra tenebre e pietre.

Odyssean: The Old Fisherman

then a seaborne death
soft as this hand of mist will come upon you . . .
Odyssey, trans. Robert Fitzgerald

Too late to go
in the old way now, alone at dusk on the sun-

diasporing sea–
it’s fishers’ journey-work for him, odd jobbing,

landlocked, homebound,
and only the wood-grain fit for votive offering.

They’ll see him out,
these ranged colourful prows shelved in a room,

plywood and paint
turned to miniature imaginary uses, deployed

in fleets and missing
no piece of a pared matchstick, splint or split-pin.

He cannot think
their sanded buoyant hulls, like hands in prayer,

will ever ride
the turn and rote of tides, wind-speeds of wind.

Yet still, outside,
sea overrides itself in retreats. Indoors

he’s bent, head-down,
sorting a board of parts that lie to hand,

as if he’d touch
the makings of it–life, a way to tend–

and these light craft,
carved to take the headway of a dream,

sail, more free,
a last league of seas beyond the end.

Ex Votos, Palermo

Demeter of the earth, Mary of the skies,
   silences / shrines,
and the last shop in Via Bambinai
for a hand or a heart, an ear or an eye,

where I, like others, might buy to say,
   pay to try
an invocation, prayer or plea
to be spared, healed, helped, eased.

These silver filigree guts and wombs,
   livers and lights–
the indecipherable parts that might
be trophies won for an afterlife—

as if the greedy gods should hear
   odd shapes of prayer,
attend to bladders, gullets, brains
and draw the nerve from thicks of pain–

so grave-goods, midden-hoards, old temple-trash
   are fears made fact,
the word made flesh in silver plate,
cries figured to extricate a hurt.

Punic, Greek, Saracen, Spanish,
   this island place
repeats its ancient, answering ways:
I might, for a trinket, be moved to pray.

At Quattro Canti — Fourways (four songs)—
   at the crossing of tongues,
I seek a language, traverse, home-grown.
I might have come to the shop of poems.

Shrubby Sea-Blite

a species with a distinctly Mediterranean distribution
in Europe . . . Richard Mabey

Small miracles of ways and means,
ingenious quirks of adaptation:
like rats in Lipari crossing the gorge
on telegraph wires–souls of dead messages,

nightly shadows commuting the sheer drop,
overrunners, touching earshot–
as if you saw the quick dynamics
of a hum, the running punctuation of a song–

and beyond, leaf-thickets knotting the shingle,
tough roots locked against the strong sea-wash,
meeting the storm, defying the odds,
sea-blite set against the grievous salt–

and salt tears in my eyes, your voice
carrying across the wires by night—
rat’s claw scratchy on the line, sul tasto,
and the sea, unquiet, and the last sea-blite . . .

For other contributions by Angela Leighton, please follow the link below:

Poetry in this post: © Angela Leighton
Published with the permission of Angela Leighton