I would encourage anyone with an interest in poetry to check out the work of Daniel Paul Marshall. He has kindly allowed a handful of his poems to appear below, but many more are available at his website. Originally from England, he now lives on Jeju Island, Korea, where he runs a café and guesthouse which he built with his wife from the soil up. The poems below come from a longer sequence about Jeju, An Island Comes to the World, which will hopefully reach print soon. His love of everyone from Milton and Blake to Hart Crane and Wallace Stevens are evident in every line, and he is a worthy successor of them all. His website is also filled with wonderful photos of Jeju, some of which are used below. You can email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also read an interview with him here.
you can see them in shoals by drainage puddles after a hunt,
de-snorkeled & out their trademark wetsuits & flippers
they no longer resemble baby seals.
in their mammalian clobber : nylon padded, paisley coats & neckerchief.
the tourists’ timidity quashed, they peddle more raw creatures of the sea.
any place with an outdoor water source they squat,
peeling onions & garlic, slicing the ends off & scrubbing them clean.
all they hunted in red or blue plastic buckets
: abalone, sea snail, mussels & clams;
their rudimentary cells throbbing in the cold salt water.
chattering like clam maracas, arms brachiate blustered replies.
i see tourists with questions halted at the portico of their mouths;
eager to know how mermaids feel whilst rummaging coral nooks
– i know how they’d reply
: why talk romance without even a pocket of oxygen.
at Biyang harbour
a brochure view & salient wind to keep me entertained,
i wait for the boat to Hallim town.
the waiting room is warm but reeks of piss
& anyway there are no empty seats
: ajumma & ajeossi top to toe in Gore-Tex
swap tangerines for choco-pies & best recipes for hangover soup,
prod at their smartphones for the weather report,
debate dinner plans & massage their latissimus dorsi.
& so i make do with the sea wall for a bed.
i do not dream these days,
consumed entirely with the light of stable sleep
: in the Prasna Veda, pandit Pippalada tells us
a dreamless sleep means that the sleeper,
rather than reviewing the trivialities of daily things,
inhabits Brahman’s mind, appeals to Atman
: but i had just been lugging bags of cement too long…
the ocean beats 5/4 against the sea wall.
i wake, before me stand two curious local girls,
eyes like black marbles filling with smoke,
gawping at my exotic, pale complexion.
a tv caught in a purgatory of rock & wave
came from a Chinese boat, my wife explains.
i flick through every channel but there’s nothing on as usual.
when the sun finally appears,
everyone sighs with ancestral relief.
the soju drinker
in the mart, the man with the Dickensian pug
face, who works for the bloke that delivers sand & cement,
the strong man who loads & unloads 100s of bags
a day, each weighing 40kg, even when the weather is inclement;
who never lost his smile though all his 정신 is spent
– i saw you, with calloused hands foraging your several pockets for
the measly amount needed to buy the cheapest soju,
moving coins like cogs across the dirty, epoxied floor
while shoppers haughtily evaded your dilemma due
to their faith that they’re worth more than you.
i helped him gather up his coins & counted
them, gave him the difference & enough to buy
another bottle. i probably did more harm than good.
but he bowed humbly in gratitude & shuffled away,
almost tripping on his happy step as he went to pay.
some people watched me, some perhaps felt
shame & some i could not register their
thoughts on why i, a foreigner, would help this, inebriate
Prometheus on the lowest rung of their society’s ladder;
i doubt they realised that i was helping them, to care.
note: 정신 (jeongsin) is spirit, there is a saying in Korean 정신 없다 (jeongsin oeobda), which translates as without spirit, meaning exhausted.)
water’s pace & scent
the sea roaches come out of hiding to lead me, a band of beetling pipers
who disappear into the cracks of the world when we reach
a dead bird, unidentifiable, looks like a daub of pepper paste,
its beak, an arrow directly aiming at a culvert.
with this constant velocity, with this constantly altered water poured
out this culvert, here, beside me, burrowing blindly through a ramshackle wall
of slap dash cement work, long taunted by the spindrift of the hankering surf & wind.
i’d guess the water has been filing down this ledge
& feeding the moss to the stodginess of a welcome mat a fair few decades now;
i’d also guess the pebbles in the shallows
that look like pot-pouri mingled with green flames of billowing sea weed,
have not been arranged thoughtlessly, but with an eye for thoughtless design.
it isn’t sewage gushing out, i know, because i smell only the sea.
way out a womb
in the complex grain of drift
wood i can plot a route
that leads all the way home,
away from this warm place, this womb.
it is a map & on the adverse
i can make out E.M. Forster’s
profile; he looks pleased with himself but doesn’t smile.
over by where the wagtails, wag their tails
there are hefty bundles of fishermen’s rope
folded like a placenta round a baby’s throat.
how far away ourselves are
i sip from a metal cup the dregs of makkoli & note
how it resembles semen, raise my head that has tip toed
further west without my knowing.
the sun is balanced on the head of a pin.
i am full & my lips are no longer dry.
i can taste salt & i am glad i know why.
i am furthest from the truth of myself when thoughts
pour with the same pace as the water spewing out the culvert
: my whole life i have been the other & now that
i am, i want to be like everybody else; i only just realized this.
i have borrowed myself, my persona, from characters i never met;
i am so many people & they do not know that we are them & they are us.
ideas full of rain
i’ve had my fallings out before, but never with ideas.
& now i’ve no ideas left, i’m left with nothing but ideas;
if ideas in this sentence was left blank you could fill it with anything.
i know Jack Shit about amorous love, the bolt of touch our skin conducts,
its orifices closed to me,
as if the culvert wall gave out to wind & wave
& toppled in crumpled curl like an old man rolled up in a ball.
it looks as if a bad turns brewing in the air: the sky’s collected faggots of cloud
& looks about ready to retaliate upon the refugees of photosynthesis;
you can learn so much from this analogy…
the one anchored boat out there has begun to look lonely & vulnerable.
how is it clouds so malleable & frail have so much influence?
i wish our politicians were more like cloud: choleric & pliable.
things i don’t want to forget
i can’t get Omran Daqneesh out my thoughts: his atomic hair,
his bloodied face, his astonishment; nor Aylan Kurdi’s lifeless body
carried in the arms of that Turkish police officer.
i try to picture them safe, but i just can’t tug the wool down anymore
: those New Age goons are just so full of crap.
i start to sob a pathetic sob, a cowardly sob
: as nobody is here to witness me sobbing so pathetically
i sob pathetically, & it doesn’t change anything, i am a useless, intolerable man,
letting my sobs seep out like water from this culvert i have had to become so dependent on.
i never knew you could become embarrassed to be seen with yourself.
i no longer have any esteem for oneness with anything or everything
: i couldn’t tolerate too long with all that cushioning & support: too much guilt.
the birth of death
i should masturbate & smear the cum on a well composed epithalamium,
wedge it in a bottle & post it to impregnate the sea.
then shoals of our children will drown the whole world.
& i’ll find contentment in my fluids being part of a single eschatological triumph.
i want to say this is just the beginning of something
but i have progressed too far forward in raising murmurs to roars.
i am one of time’s abductees,
let’s counsel each other before the tides shift over our cities
: we have lost too much time, being with time…
i can’t quite put my finger on what it is
about the coast that brings me peace,
: the sea, sure of its higgledy-piggledy sculpting;
the sea-birds’ chiaroscuro;
so much is raw & sopping brine;
the weather’s a charm no matter its conduct
& contributes to my internal reach;
how clutter seems acceptable to everything;
the huddling rust at the lighthouse foot
: here the age of an edifice is sped by the elements,
by the salt dissolved in the wet wind
rather than pollutants & carnage.
i sprout these vines of weedy thoughts
& haggle with the reeds or birds for mantelpiece scoria.
historical episodes from the life of Halla Mt
in her youth, she leaked supple magma from her tantrum head
that cut through ribbons of Pliocene cacophony to grow an island
of offspring. her lake of fire long extinguished, now a lake of water.
she is a docile old dame & curtained by fine dust, which airplanes
that land every 5 minutes coagulate around her once beautiful head
of flaming hair, helped by the ships that berth in the ever widening harbors,
ever themselves widening & leaking a dust spume of tourists,
hot with ignorance & pockets full of rubbish.
the primal cacophony is mechanized & lucky her hearing has
deteriorated while bird song blends or is usurped by smart phones
& the wind in the trees with the rubbing of Gore-Tex on Gore-Tex.
when she was young, womb full of child she spoke a brutal, savage prose
: she was impetuous, omitted formula for orgiastic nights with Buddha’s Generals
who turned to broody crows or jagged rocks that tourists photograph;
back then, when there were promiscuous nights, romping beneath a moon
not yet fossilized but fertile, a moon shaped like a child’s eyelash
& too there was the Great Bear, peeping tom through the key hole Cassiopeia,
who fondled with himself while she washed bare breasted in rains
of a young earth;- she knew that he watched & she knew the Generals would come
(& still she gave the Great Bear his show) horny after hunting albino roe deer
all afternoon, which she broke in for dressage, galloping through cypress forests with urgency. generals wiped their cocks clean with mint leaves that grew in her forests,
they ate amanita muscaria until they lost their minds & tore bits
of her flesh with their teeth which grew back with the seasons & gave
them strength to return each night. all the heirlooms of her profligate womb
have grown antique themselves, their mother long senile- they are helpless.
in her crepuscular years (pre-senility) she settled for a poetry that garnished
all her love sick memories with patronizing incidental details
: the way her breasts moved bare & how she quivered when the Generals
smothered her nipples with vibrato lips & bit her hip bone, how they came
with arms full of gifts & long hair combed into tapers like pine trees,
how they told stories of long wars without end they fought bravely in;
she wrote all this in the diary of her fluid metamorphic rock that if
you have the poetic sense enough to read her odd prose, you can find fragments
leaping into the sea. now her breasts are like plastic bags full of offal hung on a nail.
after the hysterectomy the Generals never came but changed to bitter crows.
the roped trails & the track used for carrying ramen to the shelter
at the foot of the peak have hogtied her & all her milk & honey has dried up,
been packaged for the gift shop. she is Jeju & Jeju is she.
& soon she’ll be a feast for pollutants, corrode into brine & waves.