The Farrar, Straus and Giroux Poetry Blog

April 11, 2007

"The Shark's Teeth Look Like A Row of Sharks"

This poem, 'The Milkfish Gatherers,' read by the author James Fenton at FSG's 50th anniversary party in 1996, always gives me a bit of the chills up the back of my neck. I think it's a combination of the rhyme at the end of second and fourth line of each stanza, which always fills me with a delicious sense of foreboding (all my embarrassing childhood indulgences in Edgar Allen Poe, no doubt), and then the repetition of the lines "But the spine lives when the brain dies/In a convulsive misery."

An interesting teaser appears in the Author's Note of Fenton's Selected Poems--his collection Out of Danger, where 'The Milkfish Gatherers' originally appeared, was set to music by the composer Dominic Muldowney in the song sequence 'Out of the East.' No word as to what type of music it was, although Fenton's reimagining of Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories as an opera may give a clue (you can listen to an interview with Fenton about the opera here), as do his articles on the Metropolitan Opera and on the preferred way of setting poetry to music.

The link to download the audio of 'The Milkfish Gatherers' is here, or you can buy Fenton's Selected Poems if you prefer reading to listening.

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