The Year of Adverbs

Don’t open this impetuously before Christmas
you’ve written in capitals across
the brown cardboard-stiffened wrapper

but two days before, feeling in need of
it turns out—adverbs—I do
and restore myself with Edward Gorey’s

The Glorious Nosebleed’s glorious placements.
This now will be a year devoted to adverbs.
Adverbs can push adjectives aside

and if it comes to a choice they can be
the darlings that go. Quickly. For adjectives
are often lewd, wrapped in mufflers endlessly

or walking aimlessly in deserted woods.
A baleful regard will not hurt them.
They are part of the jaded furniture

even if they get themselves up killingly.
See April (inadvertentlyjadedly) they must go.
Gorey sends so many subjects outdoors

with only an adverb to comfort them.
Vaporously, yearningly, the tears flow
tearfully and there is mainly snow

except for someone dancing girlishly on sand
and lightly clothed. Here is the trunk: Presumably
buried nearly to its clasps in snow

and here the drawing room concert: eXcruciatingly
in which the stage cannot be viewed
but a tormented aspidistra waves.

Outdoors and in are both claustrophobic
without an adverb to escape by
quickly, zealously, maniacally.

An adverb can even escape from an adverb
of lesser vitality. Numbly sitting on the train
or yearningly, the arms around a monument.

This shall be, as month zealously on month
floats in misty garments through the year
and an adverb bites each end

the year to honour them, to find
in every incident the adverb
which summarises it and points.

Elizabeth Smither’s most recent collections of poems are Red Shoes (Te Mata Poet Laureate 3, Godwit, 2003) and A Question of Gravity; Selected Poems (Arc, 2004). She also writes short stories:Listening to the Everly Brothers (Penguin, 2002) and her novel The Sea Between Us (Penguin, 2003) was short-listed for the Montana Book Awards, 2004.

She comments: ‘Barbara Ewing sent me Edward Gorey’s marvellous calendar for 2004 “The Glorious Nosebleed” in which each month is illustrated by a pair of drawings illustrating an adverb. So there was:

January: The pudding was served Clumsily
They played whist Distractedly
May: They got themselves up Killingly
He exposed himself Lewdly
October He explained himself Unconvincingly
She appeared on the roof Vapourously

‘As I turned its enchanting pages month after month I found myself thinking of adverbs and their importance – surely more important than adjectives which merely describe whereas adverbs act. So it became a year of adverbs. In the poem I squeeze as many adverbs from the calendar into the poem as I can.’

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