Shark week

A favourite website of mine is www.poets.org ; it has a wealth of poems from every age and from every corner of the world but it has much more. It has biographies of poets, articles about poetry, recordings of poets reading their own work… if you don’t know the site and you love poetry then you will find some real delights here!

I went to visit today and came across ‘Poems For Shark Week’ : http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/20916 . As you would imagine yes, there are lots of poems and links to poems, but there is also more. Sharks kill fewer than twenty people each year and yet the terror they inspire, and the anxiety to swimmers is far greater than their actual danger. This sense of fear was undoubtedly heightened by the film ‘Jaws’ which was released nearly forty years ago. I used a shark metaphor in Flipside, when the main character Jaz, is being interviewed by the police:

“Just a minute,” her tone didn’t alter but I sat down. “I understand, I see… but what I want to know is, how much do you love David Sullivan?”

What did she want me to say? There was an undercurrent of something very dangerous, as if a shark was gliding silently and unseen below the cool placid waters of this civilized interview.

“You would do anything for him, wouldn’t you? You’ve given up everything for him.”

“You’re not listening to me!” I rose to the bait. “You have this weird notion that I fell in love with him when I was little more than a child, and then as an adult I was raped by him. Yes, I would do anything for him because I love him, that’s what people do. I would do anything I could for him.”

I pleased her with this reply; my sense of a shark heightened, it had flipped its tail and rolled beneath the surface but had not yet shown a fin or gaping maw.

I was surprised at the number of poems on the site which had mention of sharks, including work by Rudyard Kipling, Carl Sandburg, Robert Graves, Herman Melville, and my favourite modern poet, Martín Espada. Here is an example, an excerpt from a poem by Walt Whitman:

The world below the brine

The world below the brine,
Forests at the bottom of the sea, the branches and leaves,
Sea-lettuce, vast lichens, strange flowers and seeds, the thick
tangle openings, and pink turf,
Different colors, pale gray and green, purple, white, and gold, the
play of light through the water,
Dumb swimmers there among the rocks, coral, gluten, grass, rushes,
and the aliment of the swimmers,
Sluggish existences grazing there suspended, or slowly crawling
close to the bottom,
The sperm-whale at the surface blowing air and spray, or disporting
with his flukes,
The leaden-eyed shark, the walrus, the turtle, the hairy
sea-leopard, and the sting-ray,
Passions there, wars, pursuits, tribes, sight in those ocean-depths,
breathing that thick-breathing air, as so many do,
The change thence to the sight here, and to the subtle air breathed
by beings like us who walk this sphere,
The change onward from ours to that of beings who walk other spheres.

by Walt Whitman

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