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National World Octopus Poetry Day

Today is National Poetry Day, but did you know that today is also World Octopus Day? Coincidence? We think not.

We discovered not too long ago that almost everyone who worked for the Poetry School had written, completely independently of the other, a poem about an octopus. This included our former Director, Ollie Dawson, whose poem about eating an octopus has become the stuff of office legend (and inspired us to print and publish a one-off chapbook anthology of octopoems, So Long, Sucker!).



To celebrate this long overdue coming together of two of the most important dates in the calendar, we share with you now six octopus poems fresh off the boat, from our very own Poetry School staff. And may all your octopus poems be as squidly and sinister.

Octopus Dreams

octopus traps,
fleeting dreams under
summer’s moon

(Barnhill, Bashō’s Haiku.)

Sleek jars dance their way beneath night water,
moving with the thickness of time passing in fever-dreams,
the octopus seeps in like a rapid change of sleep-scape.
My father says they are quite like us,
they too dream of a safe place to lay their heads.
We offer them refuge for the night
and then…he looks to his sticky takoyaki,
he masticates with the relish we reserve
for underscoring our barbarity;
teeth ripping skin from hot chicken
or pork gristle off the bone. Does the pot-octopus
have greedy dreams like this?
Dreams of layering minced crab and beak-worked whelk,
camouflaging tentacles amongst the coral,
siphoning a giddy expectation –
or are they more expansive than mine?
Dreams of an unfound crevice shaped like a jar
where hungry men are as distant and unknown as stars.


An Octopus’s Burden

Come too close, and I will boldy stripe myself,
expand into a surface mass that stretches far
beyond the tiny boundaries of your courage.
Seek me when I do not wish to be found out:
I will absorb the light and hue, the very crux
of you and hide within plain sight. Tussle with
me and you’ll see the inky mist descending
or at best you’ll be left staring at a phantom limb.

Sing to me, my three-fold hearts, softly brush
my arms of tingling neurons, send the thrill
of touch and taste through every tip of me,
take breath away as if this ocean had been drained,
employ your skills of mimcry, appear to be all things
that I desire, let suction bind us, I am yours.
Then leave. In sixty tides, I will no longer live.
So, ask me once again, why I am so defensive.


Poem to be Read on One Breath: Blue

I am bathing my toddler nephew and doing so cautiously as there are so many ways to shopsoil someone else’s child in a setting such as this such as scalding or drowning or man o’ war attack but still we are having a useful chat about plastic seafood tub toys during which I say octopus and he says doctoper and I say octopus and he says octoper and I say octopus and he says octopus and I see the blue flash flash as the relevant neurone wriggles its tentacles into place and locks them down forever


from Tentacle Ballads

I sizzled like a cinder block
Beneath the overfly
When at once I tripped atop
A roost of curgling octopi;
The yellow sky awash with grime
And swarls of fat, unclarified.

Uninviduous as coffee grounds
Crude oil and buttermilk,
They quivered in a jellied mound
Each encouzened with its ilk:
Expelling water through their mantles,
Spilling ooze across my sandals.

Long-at-mouth (if such things are mouths)
Ostentiferously they grinned
And – ogre-hunched – flopped north-to-south
With full complement of limbs:
Three hearts, two eyes, four arms and legs
And legs and legs and legs and legs.

Aflame I fled, gills full of blood
Across the central junction
My senses caked with drilling mud
Of cooling, ceasing function.
For oft, when in a crouch I lie
Weary and think of octopi.


Making a Meal in London

While you are in Paris I cook the octopus that you refused to entertain eating. Its poached tentacles and suckers are the right chewy consistency to accompany my rubbery thoughts about why you were in Paris and everything we once were: the big epic of Us. I shouldn’t wish for squid in the freezer but then, you shouldn’t be in Paris without me when, in Manaus, Paris of the Tropics, we once slept under shrubs in forty degrees outside the Amazon Theatre and woke when hundreds of ants, busy in-between our toes and in and out of our ears and mouths, began taking us apart along a convoy of pinches, I presume, for reassembly in some other place; some other Paris. Years later, on Youtube, I saw an octopus walk across land from one rockpool to another and it was terrifying to watch because surely the octopus couldn’t have known there would even be another rockpool and it became something else entirely for long enough to return to a place where it could be an octopus again, only to arrive there a different, enhanced, land-cruising octopus; I mean, would a rockpool even cut it anymore? See this is how I worry and I suppose what I really get, now I’ve finished my octopus, is that you and I are neither rockpools nor anthills, we each only have a single heart and we only return to each other by carrying one tiny tender piece at a time. And all the time Paris comes and Paris goes, like a restless octopus.


Octopus at Teatime

When it arrived it was naked,
like the sea had just dashed it out.
I had never seen that: the dead thing
inside the batter, quivering, pink
as blood-rushed cheeks. We had saved
all month for this, date night,
the rekindling. Clumsily we hacked
at tentacles, tongued suckers; rough cavities
that clung to gums like penny bubbly.

I remembered some summer
when we had sucked white squid and octopus
from fried casing, the cavernous Os
rolling out steam and our mouths searing,
your fingers flexed like star-points
across the table top.

When it was over,
you went back to plucking flies
from the scud of your pint, flies I
couldn’t see, you’re lips pressed
to a thin wave, all thoughts of words
receding with the light.



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Image Credits:

Image: Octopus on display at the Key West Aquarium

Image credit: Joe Parks