Poetry News

The Guardian Gives Poem of the Week to Denise Riley, Whose Say Something Back Is Shortlisted for Forward Prize 2016

By Harriet Staff


The Guardian's poem of the week is "Death makes the dead metaphor revive" by Denise Riley. Carol Rumens looks closely at the poem, putting it in the context of Riley's other work, particularly her forthcoming book, Say Something Back (Picador, 2016), "a deeply moving document of maternal grief and loss by one of our finest writers."

“The only constant is a commitment to the thing that is song,” Riley said of her poetry in an interview with Shearsman Books. (Shearsman magazine, in fact, was the first publisher of this week’s poem, in issue 97/98). Riley’s new collection, Say Something Back, frequently foregrounds song, not least in her major elegiac sequence, A Part Song. Death makes dead metaphor revive, a poem born of her prose essay on Time, Time lived, without its flow, demonstrates the recovery of time-as-movement through the sounding of “a curious lilt”. “Curious” here suggests “eager to know” and the related word, “care”, from the Latin cura.

In the interview linked above, Riley mentions the hymns of Isaac Watts. Emily Dickinson thrived on similar metrical stringency, and the description, in line two of the poem, of dead metaphor’s capacity to become “stiffly bright and strong”, seems to evoke Dickinson’s brilliant, lapidary quatrains.

The linguists’ definition of “dead metaphor” is worth a glance. In The Language of Metaphors, Andrew Goatly defines a dead metaphor as one in which the vehicle has become so remote from the tenor that all that remains is a homonym. He gives the word “pupil” as an example: few of us now recognise there was once a metaphorical connection between the two meanings: the tenor (or, as Goatly prefers, “topic”), “young student” and the vehicle, “an opening in the eye’s iris so as to admit light”, parted company long ago.

The colloquial definition of a dead metaphor as one that has lost its force is more applicable to the poem. The third line offers the clue: “Time that is felt as stopped …” This complex passive construction already challenges the cliche inherent in it. “Time … felt as” acknowledges the subjectivity of the metaphorical interpretation. “Time that is … stopped” could be time as movement halted in its progress, time stoppered, like a bottle of liquid, and time stopped like a musical instrument...

Find it all--including the poem--here.

In more good news, Riley has been shortlisted for the UK's Forward Prize 2016 for her new collection (Riley won the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem in 2012, for "A Part Song," linked to above).

Picador reports: "Writer Malika Booker, who is joined on the Forward judging panel by the poets George Szirtes and Liz Berry, the singer/songwriter Tracey Thorn and Poetry magazine’s editor Don Share, said that this year’s contenders were writers 'who are challenging poetry, who are using the formal constraints but are really modern, really expanding what we know as poetry and what we know as the English language.'"

The Forward Prize for Best Collection Shortlist

Vahni CapildeoMeasures of Expatriation (Carcanet)
Ian DuhigThe Blind Roadmaker (Picador Poetry)
Choman HardiConsidering the Women (Bloodaxe Books)
Alice OswaldFalling Awake (Cape Poetry)
Denise RileySay Something Back (Picador Poetry)

You will find the other shortlists (for Best First Collection, and Best Single Poem) at the Forward Arts Foundation website.