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Today it’s rain of toads

October 25, 2011

Sometimes I think Xander from Buffy would have made a brilliant poet. He had the uncomfortable charm, the poverty and eventually the work ethic…not to mention that only a poet could really rock an eyepatch nowadays.

And there’s the toad thing. Which is really the main thing; I just like to get a tenuous Buffy link in wherever possible. There is a long-standing love affair between poets and toads (and frogs, but ‘toad’ is a nicer word). Indeed Norman MacCaig was famed for it, and readers’ comments on this fact in turn produced ‘My Last Word on Frogs’ (totally not his last word on frogs). There’s even an online literary journal called TOAD.

As MacCaig observes, they do keep jumping into poems. Kathleen Jamie’s poetry has seen frogs caught in coitus interruptus by an oncoming car, and a human speaker desperate to rescue them. A young Seamus Heaney flees from “the great slime kings” in the poem literature teachers just can’t let go of. Even younger poets like Jack Underwood have caught the toad pandemic, and Marianne Moore has gone so far as to call poems “imaginary gardens with real toads in them”. So why are these damned amphibians so important to poetry?

It may be that poets just can’t  escape the life-cycle lessons from primary education — that the toad’s existence is the one most easily allegorised to the human condition. Maybe we feel guilty for all those biology class dissections and jars full of frogspawn, so we resurrect the dead in the impossible space of a poem (or countless, in this case). Maybe we see our own flaws in the toad’s warty visage, and we write them out of fellow-feeling. Maybe a poet is someone who never stops waiting to kiss the frog and marry the prince/ss.

Maybe I’ll stop idly wondering about this one day and make it my reserch interest for a PhD. Actually, that’s a good idea — shotgun!

For now, have MacCaig’s most famous toad poem (or listen to Jackie Kay read it), and enjoy my favourite opening line of all time:

Toad

Stop looking like a purse. How could a purse
Squeeze under the rickety door and sit,
Full of satisfaction in a man’s house?

You clamber towards me on your four corners –
Right hand, left foot, left hand, right foot.

I love you for being a toad,
For crawling like a Japanese wrestler,
And for not being frightened

I put you in my purse hand not shutting it,
And set you down outside directly under
Every star.

A jewel in your head? Toad,
You’ve put one in mine,
A tiny radiance in a dark place.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 25, 2011 7:55 pm

    What was that…

  2. November 1, 2011 2:12 pm

    I believe you’ve neglected my favourite poetry-toad, “the toad work”, squatting on our lives: http://plagiarist.com/poetry/4885/

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