Poetry Shelf Monday Poem: Vincent O’Sullivan’s ‘In defence of the adjectival’


In defence of the adjectival


An epithet you cannot get rid of

becomes, shall we say, a little house you abide in,

so when the clock dings, or the bird gargles,

the world knows he’ll attend here any second,

the man who lives in the Swiss-chalet-house.


Or you may think, ‘What kind of mantis,

I ask you, if I don’t say “praying”?’

A disappointed mantis I can tell you that.


Stripped of adjectives I’ve sometimes thought,

and you’re Adam & Eve sauntering the Garden,

no one else in sight, as yet quite undecided

as to grasping at fig-leaves.


I know there are writing instructors

who’ll tell you, ‘Shy clear of the adjectival,’

as though they’re telling hikers to avoid

tracks buzzed with wild honey.


What sort of instructor would tell you that?


One who fears the approaching drone.

Who hears the wing-chirrs of intent.

The little hive arriving for him to crouch to.


©Vincent O’Sullivan



Vincent O’Sullivan, who lives in Dunedin, is a fiction writer and poet. His recent works are the poetry collection, And so it is, the oratorio Face, with composer Ross Harris, performed by the BBC Symphony and Choir in London in April, and the novel All This by Chance.





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