Three poems with notes from Tamar Yoseloff’s The City With Horns

The City With Horns

Tamar’s fourth collection The City With Horns recently came out from Salt, and is a book brimming with ideas, artistic inspiration and style. I’m excited to post three poems from the collection alongside some notes and thoughts from the poet herself today.

City Winter

There’s nothing more beautiful:
a smudge of taxis and buses
crawls across the empty grey; a muddle
of faces – lovers, long-lost friends –
rises to greet you. The mercury drops,
darkness yields to streetlights, headlights.
The edge of your known world.

What you’ve missed –
hidden behind the bright dome
of a church, the slashed glass
of an office block, massed clouds.
Last greens of summer
still in your head, a sudden recollection
of heat – nothing more beautiful

than knowing something is going
to be over. You walk the streets, the map
ingrained in your feet, stare
into uncurtained rooms
lit and ready for intimacies –
you’ve been outside yourself
too long. What you want

you won’t find here. A train
leaves the city, its complicated tracks
weave past buildings still to be built,
girders lifting beyond the horizon,
its passengers bound for those lit rooms
flickering like grubby stars
on the outskirts.

Tamar’s note:

City Winter: In 2007 Tate Etc. commissioned me to write a poem based on any work in their permanent collection. My favourite painting in Tate Modern is ‘Number 12’ by Joan Mitchell. Mitchell was a muse of Frank O’Hara’s, and so it seemed fitting to borrow his lines: ‘there’s nothing more beautiful / than knowing something is going / to be over.’ But the poem isn’t necessarily about New York – I wrote the first draft in the gallery, and to my right I could see the Millennium Bridge and St Paul’s through the window. So the city I’m describing is really London, although I wanted the poem to reflect a common urban experience. In the end, Tate Etc. couldn’t publish the poem – the Mitchell estate doesn’t allow reproduction on the internet, which is a great shame – but it gave me an excuse to write about Mitchell. I wrote this poem before I started my Pollock sequence, so maybe Mitchell led me to Pollock (their paintings hang in the same gallery in the Tate). Mark Doty is also a fan – I love his poem ‘To Joan Mitchell’.


(after Howard Hodgkin)

I see the scuffs and knots and bruises:
what a body takes.

The sea at night, tarmac road –
an obliteration, a mistake.

The Japanese master contemplates
the landscape from his mountain –

I clear the mud from my window,
wait for a revelation:

the antiseptic tinge of boredom,
silt of the airless room.

Now it’s quiet, the memory
of Spring behind us. Nights drawing in,

the tide is out, so when I walk
the edge of the shore my feet stick fast.

What a body needs:
the green warmth, someone to hold.

Tamar’s note:

Mud: I’ve always liked Howard Hodgkin’s paintings because they appear to be abstract, but there are gestures towards the figurative, often in his titles, which suggest seasons, relationships, songs, etc. It’s as if he’s presenting you with a fragment of a story, or the subject is obscured behind a curtain or just out of view or through a window. I wanted to write about his painting ‘Mud’ because the title suggests that kind of obscuring – something messy – but then you can see the surface wood through the paint. There’s something poignant in being able to see through the layers to the surface – a stripping away, a revealing. So the poem is about emotional vulnerability.

Where you are

The river bursts its banks,
spills over the map,
over names of farms and towns,
faded and cracked, the paper
eroding in your hands.

The stones you gathered
on the beach, the trinkets
stockpiled so you would remember
have lost their shine
torn from their source.

You had a mind of summer,
tarmac scalding your feet,
the red stain of the sun,
nothing left but a small pile
of ash, a fire

extinguished – a wound
in the ground. Everything
has floated away: trees, roads,
houses, a world of water,
colours seeped to white,

sharp light of forgetting;
the way he grows pale
behind your eyes,
loses definition, as you
let him go.

Tamar’s note:

Where you are: I wrote this poem after seeing the Roni Horn retrospective at Tate Modern in 2009. I’m a huge fan of her work; I interviewed her in 2007 for Art World magazine. Horn is interested in the ‘personalisation’ of maps: a map becomes a personal document once you have visited a place and can picture its terrain, but also make a connection to what you were doing there, who you were with, what the weather was like, etc. The poem began with this thought, and then shifted to the idea that places become sealed in memory, particularly if you never return to them again. People too – a place takes on significance through its association to one person (as in Horn’s installation ‘You Are the Weather’ or in Sheenagh Pugh’s poem ‘Times Like Places’). The last stanza might seem enigmatic, but I was thinking of my father, who died at the end of 2007. There is also nod to Wallace Stevens’ ‘The Snow Man’; Stevens is one of Horn’s favourite poets.

Visit Tamar Yoseloff’s own site

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