the green of days : the chimneys
alone : the green of days and the women
the whistle : the green of days and the women
the whistle of me entering the poem through the chimneys
plural : i flow from the (each) fireplaces
the green of days : i barely reach the sill
the women’s flecked nails : the definite article
i remove i and a colon from two lines above
the green of days barely reach the sill
i remove es from ices keep another i put the c here
the green of days barely reaches the sill
the beachball : dreaming ‘the’ dream
the dreamball we dance on the beach

gentlemen i am not doing my best
cold fingers pass over my eye (salt)
i flow under the beachball as green waves
which if it were vaves would contain
the picture (v) and the name (aves)
of knots : the beachball : the green sea
through the fireplaces spurting through the chimneys
the waves : the whales : the beachball on a seal
still : the green of days : the exit

Tom Raworth (1938 – ) is a British poet and visual artist. With around 40 books published, he crystallizes imagery with deft phrasing, delighting the reader and often confounding the critic. “The Moon Upoon the Waters” appears in his Collected Poems (Carcanet, 2003).

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  1. Sivan Butler-Rotholz says:

    Hmmm… What would this style be considered? It feels highly experimental. There is a strong cyclical element to it, a House That Jack Built going around in circles.

    The style of this poem does not resonate with me personally in the way that your Friday Poetry Series posts often do, but I do appreciate the experience of being exposed to something different. Sometimes art rubs you the wrong way, is even intended to, and that experience has its own benefits and leaves its own unique mark on you as a reader.

    • Lezlie says:

      Sivan, I think Raworth is influenced by the New York School and is embraced by the Language poets too. He’s generally more warmly received in America than in his own country.

      You said sometimes art rubs you the wrong way – does this poem do that? The internal rhyme and the repetition rub me the right way, personally. I wonder if he’s grasping after an image from his past. The faltering start and repeated phrasing are similar to the process of attempting to access a memory. Once he grasps this image of “the chimneys” he’s able to access the poem through them. “i barely reach the sill” evokes the image of a child at a window, but he could also be describing something more intangible, the writing process as discovery. He’s trying to define his experience, but it’s hard because as soon as you try to do that you’re already looking at yourself as an other and that experience inevitably loses immediacy. I like how self-conscious it is, “i remove i…” But he can’t quite accomplish that. “gentlemen i am not doing my best.” It’s kind of funny, right? He’s having fun with words and demonstrating how slight changes can alter meaning. Waves if you lose the ‘w’ and replace it with ‘v’ is vaves. ‘V’ is the representation of a seagull, and ‘aves’ is the name for the biological class, birds. The sea imagery is being tied together and expounded upon, piling image on top of image. He exits the poem the same way he came in, with “the green of days.”

      If you have time google Raworth and listen to his live reading of this poem on poetryarchive. I love hearing it.

  2. Linda Mayers says:

    WOW! It causes me to think way too much! Totally enjoyed the symbolism. I’m lost for words… so much to think about, swirling & spurting – as it were, not as it ought to be.

  3. Lezlie says:

    True, it’s not as easily accessible as some of the poetry I’ve posted, but I’m glad it gave you something to think about – that’s the way it ought to be.

  4. Sivan says:


    Indeed, when I read this poem on the page it rubbed me the wrong way in that way that art often can. When I heard him reading it aloud at the Poetry Archive I liked it better, though I must admit he lost me at the title with “upoon” and it was an uphill battle for him to recover after that. Or should I say “recoover?” ; )

    There is a lot that came out of the New York School and the Langauge poems that I have never been a fan of. I am not one for John Ashbery. (Pause while every poet I know gasps aloud.) I love, however, Barbara Guest and Bernadette Mayer who both come from one or both of those groups. Perhaps I prefer the way women attack language poetry because they are able to more strongly tie emotion and a sense of story to their work? Or perhaps I am generalizing too much.

    All in all I think it is important for their to be art that rubs some people the wrong way. All aspects of art should be explored, and that is inevitably going to lead to some people not getting it or disliking it. Art should cause reactions in people, one way or the other.

    • Lezlie says:

      Well, better to be rubbed the wrong way than never to be rubbed at all. I’ve been thinking lately about how much of poetry should be emotion, and how much should be intellect. Maybe it’s unsavory to drift too far to either side.

      By the way, the response I left above digging into the poem a little wasn’t directed at you so much as at a certain facebook friend who didn’t find meaning in it on first glance. Have faith, the Emperor is wearing new clothes.

  5. Ann Other says:

    Interesting. The extra O is probably the full moon inserting itself into the title. Influences are always problematic, and based on what the reader, rather than the writer, has read. This poem is from a book published I think in 1968, long before Language Poetry reared its head.

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