To be Read in the Interrogative

By Julio Cortazar

Have you seen,
have you truly seen
the snow, the stars, the felt steps of the breeze…
Have you touched,
have you really touched
the plate, the bread, the face of that woman you love so much…
Have you lived
like a blow to the head,
the flash, the gasp, the fall, the flight…
Have you known,
known in every pore of your skin,
how your eyes, your hands, your sex, your soft heart,
must be thrown away
must be wept away
must be invented all over again.
Julio Cortazar

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Corcovado

Quiet nights of quiet stars
Quiet chords from my guitar
Floating on the silence that surrounds us

Quiet thoughts and quiet dreams
Quiet walks by quiet streams
And a window looking on the mountains
And the sea, so lovely

This is where I want to be
Here, with you so close to me
Until the final flicker of life’s amber

I who was lost and lonely
Believing life was only
A bitter tragic joke
Have found with you
The meaning of existence oh, my love

Lyrics written by Antônio Carlos Jobim (Tom Jobim) in 1960


Alternative Anthem

By John Agard

Put the kettle on
Put the kettle on
It is the British answer
to Armageddon.

Never mind taxes rise
Never mind trains are late
One thing you can be sure of
and that’s the kettle, mate.

It’s not whether you lose
It’s not whether you win
It’s whether or not
you’ve plugged the kettle in.

May the kettle ever hiss
May the kettle ever steam
It is the engine
that drives our nation’s dream.

Long live the kettle
that rules over us
May it be limescale free
and may it never rust.

Sing it on the beaches
Sing it from the housetops
The sun may set on empire
but the kettle never stops.


Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?

Questions of Travel, a poem by Elizabeth Bishop, was written in Rio and published in 1956 about five years after she first moved there.

There are too many waterfalls here; the crowded streams
hurry too rapidly down to the sea,
and the pressure of so many clouds on the mountaintops
makes them spill over the sides in soft slow-motion,
turning to waterfalls under our very eyes.
–For if those streaks, those mile-long, shiny, tearstains,
aren’t waterfalls yet,
in a quick age or so, as ages go here,
they probably will be.
But if the streams and clouds keep travelling, travelling,
the mountains look like the hulls of capsized ships,
slime-hung and barnacled.

Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?

But surely it would have been a pity
not to have seen the trees along this road,
really exaggerated in their beauty,
not to have seen them gesturing
like noble pantomimists, robed in pink.
–Not to have had to stop for gas and heard
the sad, two-noted, wooden tune
of disparate wooden clogs
carelessly clacking over
a grease-stained filling-station floor.
(In another country the clogs would all be tested.
Each pair there would have identical pitch.)
–A pity not to have heard
the other, less primitive music of the fat brown bird
who sings above the broken gasoline pump
in a bamboo church of Jesuit baroque:
three towers, five silver crosses.
–Yes, a pity not to have pondered,
blurr’dly and inconclusively,
on what connection can exist for centuries
between the crudest wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden footwear
and, careful and finicky,
the whittled fantasies of wooden cages.
–Never to have studied history in
the weak calligraphy of songbirds’ cages.
–And never to have had to listen to rain
so much like politicians’ speeches:
two hours of unrelenting oratory
and then a sudden golden silence
in which the traveller takes a notebook, writes:

“Is it lack of imagination that makes us come
to imagined places, not just stay at home?
Or could Pascal have been not entirely right
about just sitting quietly in one’s room?

Continent, city, country, society:
the choice is never wide and never free.
And here, or there . . . No. Should we have stayed at home,
wherever that may be?”


Waters of March

Named as the best Brazilian song of all time, Aguas de Março (Waters of March) was composed by Antonio Carlos Jobim in 1972. The beautiful lyrics are a stream of consciousness about March, the peak of the rainy season in Rio.

It is a footstep, it is a bridge
It is a frog, it is a frog
It is a rest of bush…
under the morning light

They are the waters of March,
Closing the summer
And the promise of life
in your heart …


Ode to Bread

Extract from Ode to Bread By Pablo Neruda

Bread,
you rise
from flour,
water
and fire.
Dense or light,
flattened or round,
you duplicate
the mother’s
rounded womb,
and earth’s
twice-yearly
swelling.
How simple
you are, bread,
and how profound!

Click to read whole poem


Quickdraw

By Carol Ann Duffy

I wear the two, the mobile and the landline phones,
like guns, slung from the pockets on my hips. I’m all
alone. You ring, quickdraw, your voice a pellet
in my ear, and hear me groan.

You’ve wounded me.
Next time, you speak after the tone. I twirl the phone,
then squeeze the trigger of my tonge, wide of the mark.
You choose your spot, then blast me

through the heart.
And this is love, high noon, calamity, hard liqour
in the old Last Chance saloon. I show the mobile
to the sheriff; in my boot, another one’s

concealed. You text them both at once. I reel.
Down on my knees, I fumble for the phone,
read the silver bullets of your kiss. Take this …
and this … and this … and this … and this …

Gun With Hand #1. Vija Celmins, 1964

Gun With Hand #1. Vija Celmins, 1964