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Humphrey Astley

The problem with my work

is that it’s far too Apollonian

God, it must drive you mad,

my wrist-grabbing dance with Order!

The hope is that it drives me mad, too.


Little by little I chip away at these

monoliths and call the dust ‘hope’:

hope that what’s eternal must be un-

realised… I’ll get behind a word

like ‘time’, and put a hand over its eye.


But what if hope itself

is another red herring

stuffed with sawdust?

Back in the river you go, little fishy —

perennial river of rust.


‘Why do you throw it back in, Mr Stevens?’

‘I throw it back in to be kind.’

‘Then why even throw out a line?’

‘Kind to the river, that is — not the fish.

That it gets to feel whole again is my wish.’


‘And what did you mean when you said that death

is the mother of beauty, Mr Stevens?’

‘Well, what could be more beautiful than Heaven?’

‘But if the measure comes before the myth —

is beauty not the mother of death?’


Toby Martinez, tell me, if you know —

might that well of memory welcome coins

gifted from the present, sailing down

like patched-up lanterns brightening a pond?

Tell me — are they lighting on us now?


Could poets of the future use their verse

to sift the great detritus of our culture?

Their suffering a self-inflicted thirst,

they’d pause and sieve for gold while others drink

from a river of information fit to burst.


Pound rejected nineteenth-century verse

and good for him — the post-Darwinian world

was primed for a cull. And what did modernity’s

apotheosis birth? One-hundred million



The human soul in conflict with itself—

it sounds so simple, the author’s proposition

for a better critique of life, a better art…

Except there’s no such conflict. There is only

the hare of the mind, and the hopeless tortoise heart.

Note: some of these quintains reference the poem ‘Sunday Morning’ by Wallace Stevens, as well as Stevens’ ‘The Idea of Order at Key West’ via ‘Breakfast, Plaza de la Magdalena, Cordoba’ by Toby Martinez de las Rivas.

Humphrey ‘Huck’ Astley is a poet based in Oxford, England. His works include the pamphlets Reasons Not to Live There (Sabotage Reviews Recommended Release, 2012), The Gallows-Humored Melody (Albion Beatnik Press, 2016) and The One-Sided Coin (Rain over Bouville, 2018). His writing has appeared in Agenda, The London Magazine, Poetry London, and more.


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