On ‘Aquarium Watch’

Image by Ralf Kunze from Pixabay

Publication Date: January, 2020

Location: poetsonline.org, go to Archive, then ‘rereading and rewriting’

Genesis: This is one of those creations born of synchronicity. An amazing poem that I’d noted down in Raw Materials a few months ago suddenly found a home in my response to the PoetsOnline December writing prompt, which was to reread a poem and then create something new from it. ‘Aquarium Watch’ by A.R. Ammons was the obvious choice! I found it in the London Review of Books a few months ago and was mesmerised by it. So much so, in fact, that I copied it down and read it often. It’s one of those poems where I feel humbled in the presence of greatness; I hope I’ve done it justice here.

 I love the fact that the title is so misleading!
 Aquarium.
 Do you think of one in a home or office,
 With rainbow-shards of tropical fish
 Swimming above pale gravel and a toy treasure chest
 In vaguely moss-green water?
 Or do you picture the sparkling tanks
 In the public aquariums in London,
 Palma, Brisbane, San Francisco,
 With their exotic sea creatures;
 The rays, the sharks, the improbable seahorses
 (That I believed to be mythical, like unicorns, 
 Until, as a young teenager,
 I found and bought a perfectly preserved, dried specimen 
 In a shop in Lyme Regis)?
  
 The word ‘aquarium’ conjures such pictures, such memories.
 It does not invite us to focus in on a lowly snail!
 Yet Ammons takes us from the vastness and variety of marine-life containers,
 Both public and private,
 To a close-up of a single snail,
 Taking air into his shell,
 Taking too much air,
 Letting some go and, 
 In a magical final couplet,
 “and down he goes, as if
 dreaming gravity’s smoothest dream.”
  
 Amen, Mister Ammons. Amen. 

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