from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Saturday, 31 March 2012

framed by brightness: a cleave poem

So here's a thing: I'm in one of those lulls between periods of writing poetry. I used to find the fallow stretches scary – fearing the fleeing of the muse over the horizon with his/her pants on fire; and the prospect of not being able to lure him/her back even more terrifying. Now I recognise that inspiration simply cycles, like everything else; and in periods where I'm giving a lot out my own well runs dry, and somehow I need to allow its replenishment (I'm aware of the resonant edge to this, given the drought warnings here in England at the moment – end of March and the rivers are as low as That Summer, 1976. Be sure you can expect another water blog [aka rant] before too long!).

Where was I? Oh yes nil inspiration. Nowadays I know how to dangle a bait: usually a walk will do it, and some spaciousness, and reading one or other of my favourite poets; often catalysing the writing process for others, like in leading my Two Rivers poetry group (as today), or teaching a session for the Poetry School.

And today, what fired me was coming across a new (to me) form, mentioned yesterday by one of my correspondence course poets (thank you, Valerie). It's the 'cleave poem', created by Vietnamese boat-person refugee Dr Phuoc-Tan Diep, who is eloquent in speaking of this form:

'In its most basic form it is three poems:
  • two parallel ‘vertical’ poems (left and right)
  • a third ‘horizontal’ poem being the fusion of the vertical poems read together.
I needed a form that was a dichotomy that embodied the concept of fusion and was instantly recognisable as a work of art. For me a good poem should be an epiphany. It should be well crafted, with depth and meaning, not mere entertainment, not the random scribbles of a disordered mind. The cleave form was a logical step – two poems fusing to become a third new poem. Each poem can stand alone, a true poem in its own right. In its most basic form the cleave poem is a vertical stanza on the left hand side, a vertical stanza on the right hand side, and a third horizontal poem which is read straight across from left to right, as though there is no gap between the left and right vertical stanzas. The cleave form is a contranym: at once a fusion of two poems to form one, and a splitting apart of one poem to form two...'

So a rich morning was had by all of the Two Rivers poets, and it included the creation of a number of very beautiful pieces.

The form would lend itself well to found poetry, concrete poetry, and of course clearly to collaborations.

For the sake of offering you an example, here's a draft of part of a sequence of mine from this morning. Remember to read it vertically first, down left then down right, then read across whole line by whole line in the normal way.

But framed in brightness
last night     the stars –––––––– the stars came down again
in their blue robes –––––––– with their voices like bells
where I stood –––––––– in the frost of the courtyard
and remembered how –––––––– last year    this time

I knew she wouldn’t see –––––––– the windflowers
this spring –––––––– nodding in snowy congregations
among bluebells –––––––– under tall beeches
on the steep hill –––––––– up from the river

here where I touch –––––––– the hem of morning
touch nothing –––––––– touch

the great –––––––– enigma
being –––––––– non-being

I remember

© Roselle Angwin


  1. Wow- that's really interesting. Will have to give one a go at some point during the next month. Love the way that you end up with three poems out of the one.

    Best wishes,


  2. Thanks, Casey - the room was electric with silence for an hour when we were working with these today – the 'silence' bit's unusual in our morning workshops!


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