Poetry Unplugged, Part II

On Tuesday night I returned to the Poetry Cafe for my second experience of Poetry Unplugged, hosted by the boisterous and talented poet Niall O’Sullivan. I must say he does a great job keeping things moving, keeping the audience amused, and putting out small fires (in the sense of occasional flaring tempers) as they arise.

The Poetry Cafe
The Poetry Cafe

(As a brief side note, as far as I know, Niall hasn’t had to put out any real fires, as apparently happened once or twice in the time of the first Poetry Unplugged host, John Citizen, who references some zen-guys setting the basement alight awhile back and wanting karma to “sort it out.” Hear the story on the podcast.)

There were a good thirty or more people there, the basement was packed, and the readings were very good quality. It’s very interesting to see the variation in audience/reading and I think it’s great that Poetry Unplugged welcomes newcomers and “old hats” alike, with equal warmth and gusto. “Poetry Unplugged virgins” (those who have never read at the Poetry Cafe before, no matter where they have or haven’t read otherwise) get special cheers & applause.

This time I read second to last, due to the approximate process of pulling names out of a hat (or close to it,) and, probably due to having spent the past week reading the aforementioned Melville: His World and Work, I chose to read a selection of “whale” poems.

Yes, poems about whales-or cetaceans as they are more technically called. This included a poem about Ahab that did not make it into the Darwin’s Microscope manuscript, mostly because the Darwin’s Microscope manuscript focuses on- surprise- Darwin, and I didn’t want to muck up the issue. Now that I’ve thrown a poem referencing Emily Dickinson into the book, though…well, hopefully it was a good choice.

a sperm whale, like Moby-Dick
a sperm whale, like Moby-Dick

The reading went very well, so well, in fact, that Niall, who records the poetry evenings for selected use in a podcast that can be found on the Poetry Society website, asked to briefly interview me so as to use the poems in the next podcast. Thank you, Niall! And it was good talking with you about Daniel Dennett & paleoanthropology.

On this note, I must apologize for blathering on about poetry whilst never actually posting any. At first I had some up that I removed as I was concerned about copy-write with my publisher, Flambard Press, but they are pretty chill, so here’s the above-mentioned poem on Ahab and the one referencing Emily Dickinson.

(I also feel obliged to pedantically point out that the first poem is supposed to be in couplets but wordpress doesn’t seem to agree with me on the matter.)


Ahab to Fedallah

I will go to the sea

without coffin, without ceremony.

Every day I sit on deck, watching her.

She gives nothing: lies silent, flat.

Should I pull myself over? Wait?

It will be days, weeks,

until they drop me in with more care

than I would care to use myself.

The surface is so dark, I can’t see

what is beneath. But I know.

Will the cold lull me to sleep

before my lungs fill?

That part—

needing a breath,

inhaling water, not air,

suffocating, body seizing,

gasping, sinking, light

overhead growing smaller,

dark swallowing me,

a pain I cannot imagine,

while I can do nothing but sink—

that part keeps me from jumping.

I would rather float

to a cold, peaceful sleep.

But with this ivory leg,

I will sink instantly.


Deprived of its Medium

(Poem integrating lines from E. Dickinson, ‘Hope is the thing with feathers’)

Hope is the thing with feathers

Bird in a bell jar

That perches in the soul,


and sings the tune without the words,

proves the ether

and never stops at all

runs out.

4 Replies to “Poetry Unplugged, Part II”

  1. As I’m a haiku writer I could be considered ‘zen’ but I promise there will not be any fires when the Wing Beats haiku event happens next month!

    Yep, Niall’s great, and likes the occasional haiku too. 😉
    I didn’t know John Citizen duties including putting out fires, but he’s more than capable! 😉

    all my best,


  2. Great poem on Ahab, am a big fan of Moby Dick and that poem captured the feel of it very much; looking forward to reading your other works

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