Publication Date: January, 2020
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.