The World Before Snow

The World Before Snow

by Tim Liardet


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The World Before Snow by Tim Liardet

In 2013, Tim Liardet met an American poet during a blizzard in Boston and the two began an immediate, life-transforming love affair. The World Before Snow was the result. In a book of passionate extremes, the self-portrait— itself reinvented—documents the ways in which a very particular species of love can allow for the rediscovery of identity, as all fragments of persona put forth to the world are stripped down to expose the raw self.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847772091
Publisher: Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date: 04/01/2015
Pages: 80
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Tim Liardet is an award-winning poet and the author of several collections, including The Blood Chair, a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and short-listed for the T. S. Eliot Prize; Competing with the Piano Tuner, a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation; The Storm House; and To the God of Rain, a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. He has reviewed poetry for the Guardian, PN Review, and Poetry Review, and has been poet-in-residence at the Guardian.

Read an Excerpt

The World Before Snow

By Tim Liardet

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2015 Tim Liardet
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-78410-009-4



    We're told how a flight of grackles and cowbirds
    dropped out of the sky in Baton Rouge, thudded
    everywhere on the ground, blossomed into gardenias:

    the like of light on all that wan and numinous yellow
    had never been seen before. A rainbow jetted up
    against a pitch black sky. In a single short stretch

    of the entire Arkansas river, a million drum fish
    flapped ashore. We are not dead, said the fish, we merely
    change state, and some prefer to say that we are dead.

    You're entering, you say, the new nature in which
    anything can happen, where fish begin to swim on dry land
    and you and I meet and fall, meet and fall ...

    this could be something we have done before,
    each stoop, each step itself, some form of resumption
    though the feet are longer, flatter, the feet are longer,

    and what we carry, like a greeting, like old pain
    kept in a ciborium that holds it as any sealed pot would,
    cupped in our hands like a hawkmoth which beats.

    Self-Portrait with Mysterious Figure as Coup de Foudre

    Sanctus. I could not tell exactly who or what you were,
    were not. I thought you might have been the I, I, I, of the seabird
    seeming to ride out the morning's pale gas, as it seeped, and rose;
    or the swathes of light, fretful above the cloud-flown derricks;

    or the cloud, see-what-you-will, moving across at such a lick
    and seeming to sacrifice itself the minute it was formed
    or whatever fugs and currents of the North Atlantic could
    reach New York Bay and be lost in its plug-swirl of phosphor;

    or the cry vying with truck horn, surge of yell upstaging
    the piano scale drifting like time through the open window,
    or the motor chug-chugging, the dumped melons trundling
    along the wharf as the radio static everywhere seemed to say

    that everything was reaching everything — all of these — drawn
    into the silence which arches its back and swallows them whole
    and mixes them into one, or distils them into the lone figure
    standing on the quay, whose hair is blown across her face,

    who paces to and fro, and seems to wave but not to wave
    and makes the electricity, its charge, its field.

    Self-Portrait with Drag-Field and Dark

    There was the dark in you, it hung over your features;
    there was the dark I saw and recognised what it was;
    there was the dark along the eye-line, the wilt of dark

    as if it had branded a mark from inside you blindly
    onto your forehead, and settled all along your mouth;
    it had settled all along your bottom lip, changed its shape,

    as if to inflect your countenance however brightly
    your hair flashed and you shone. The dark charged
    to barter with the dark in me, you belonged to someone else;

    you belonged to someone else, and so did I.
    We were caught, it seemed, in the star's drag-field
    which meant the room very slowly started to rotate.

    What began was begun at the dun, customary table
    where all things must begin. The id seemed to hug
    to the dark that could not be shaken from the head, and dragged

    you from your costly peace. Nose to tail, the dark
    lay docile at our feet, where we sat and granted one another
    the cheekbone of our best profile, lit from the same side.

    Self-Portrait with Survivors as Nineteen Selves

    But you bring me this wandering-from-the-wilderness
    of fractured selves. If it's forty days it's been out there
    it could be forty years. It could be the survivors

    of the crash, the wreckage left ticking in the heat.
    Behind, the dust a ghost skittering up. Look how
    the selves idle apart, their clothing torn and stained;

    there are eighteen, no, nineteen idling apart this way;
    Genefer — with specs half broken, shirt torn at shoulder;
    Jenifry — whose brain for all its worth sniffs future wafts

    of heat — Jenniver — so bellicose, her knuckles raw;
    the fourteen others sift from Jenufa to Ginevra while they
    shade a different mood beneath a greenish baseball-peak;

    Ginoveva — mildest of all selves, swivels hers around;
    she seems uncertain if to stop, or stroll. Or sit.
    And this one bringing up the rear — Gwenhwyfar — who took

    what all the others could not, and humps the bags;
    whose little face is crowned with long, invisible thorns
    pressed deep, pressed deep. Who bleeds from her palms.

    Self-Portrait with Expulsion from the Garden of Eden

    We could have been sinners who found love, and found their painting:
    the guilt-ignored, illicit lovers, breakers of the covenant,

    the shed and straying ones, who found in one another's hands
    like death, but not like birth, the end of separation;

    the ones who lived off the savour, not the meat, of the apple,
    who lived off the meat, not the savour. The painting of the light

    which shoved the sinners out of Eden brought us to it
    and we said to each other it is ours, it is ours, it is ours.

    And when we looked through craquelure and atrium-strains
    which lodged as dust might on the high crests of the paint

    we felt (with a ghostly shivery sense) all of their despair;
    we saw how it was us, after all, and had been all along,

    we the ones weighed down by the dimensions of the apple,
    bent double, or not bent double, beneath the weight of it.

    The great light washed them out. The light at their backs —
    as we stepped from museum-cool into swathes of heat —

    broke on our faces. It bleached us and struck us immediately pale,
    stopped us here. Our faces, our feet to the knees, so white.

    Self-Portrait as Shamdeo Talking to his Future Self

    Each fingernail grew like a creature yenning for a new existence,
    arched, grew grimy and long, became a kind of implement;

    I grew, I cleaved to the muckle of warm wolf-blood
    and whatever sort of feather and down it actually was

    the filthy nest was woven with — sorrow and ferocity.
    Those two old antagonists, so much at odds, both riled

    by how much of each they found in one another,
    the cast in the eye encroaching like some sort of moon,

    snapped and squeaked, and circled. They opened their mouths
    as wide as they could but not a single word came out.

    There was only their scrapping. And the gasp. In one,
    in many, mouths. I could not talk. I was dumb with filthy hands

    which bled from the stones, like my soles. Every longest step I took
    comprised of tinier steps. You stood me on two feet;

    you said, from way way up here, this is what you see.
    You read to me slowly from the excellent texts;

    my grubby finger, its one trimmed nail, caught up with every word;
    you taught me to gargle your vowels and consonants

    and a mouthful of them both began to make a sound;
    I was shocked by — afraid of — the growl of my own voice.

    Self-Portrait with Bite as Coral and Jewel

    It was my chin into which you sank your teeth,
    or was it my shoulder, my cheek or my neck,

    or was it my nape's furrow or my bottom lip?
    You who had to go way way up on tiptoe to bite —

    there was the bite, the bite. Whatever it bit.
    By morning there was no swelling or toothmark,

    no ring-moat anywhere. Were blood drawn,
    it was drawn back in and sent through the body

    where it bled to itself. The bite bled inside.
    A bite can bite so deep, it can cut in two ...

    By Wednesday, my left eye began to turn deep green
    flecked with amber and scarlet, bespeckled in gold;

    my mouth my mouth was gradually changing shape,
    my mouth was fuller and somehow grew wider;

    my cheekbones first they locked, and then unlocked,
    my hands shrunk to half their size, nails painted dark;

    my hands shrunk to half their size, half their size
    as yours grew bigger and your eyes turned blue.

    Self-Portrait as Oxymoronic Love

    We like to bite, so fierce that it is tenderly. We mime to wound and tear,
    we grip to hold, with teeth. But do not wound or tear or grip or hold.

    We like to bite so hard, so tender. We scrabble, we panic, smile
    and relax, we balk, enthuse. We energise, withdraw, we make, are new,

    there at the gate of being, where we live. It is an oven, a clock,
    a thermometer. It is a gate now closed, now open. We will talk the kindly,

    ravaged way to ferocity, the blissful walk from fierce, to happy.
    Talk has no end, we know, but we talk our way to the end of talk,

    gull-gasp with open mouths when nothing comes out at all.
    Biting's the new talk. To kiss, to kiss and to bite, at once:

    newly budded in want, our teeth that are lethal, are harmless,
    are sharpened by want, are blunt, blunted. They scar, draw blood,

    those tiny ring-moats are not ring-moats but marks of birth.
    I only hate, forgive me, because I love you too much,

    now sweet, ferocious-tender, fair and just, now bottoming in grief.
    Your hands, diminutive, grow large when they induct

    a solace that disturbs the nerve, comfort that bends us double,
    reassurance that makes to fret, fretting which becalms. Oh,

    we shout, we shout — grow furious — we kiss the shout to sleep!
    We bring each other these offerings, one by one. Finding it among

    a million smoother and more symmetrical on Einstein's beach,
    you have gifted me a lopsided heart, like a stone.

    Self-Portrait with Hummingbird as Fingers and Tongue

    They might have a ruby throat, black chin, fly vortices,
    they might be sleek aquamarine and weigh no more than a penny

    and might have wings that whir at infinitesimal speed
    as they hover at my ears — your diminutive fingers, your hands —

    as if they're drawn by fructose and glucose and galactose
    each of which could be sensed, smelt, while something drinks,

    something drinks in mid-flight. Your fingers and hands
    will hover there in mid-flight at my eyelids, as if little bits could

    be nibbled from them when they're shut. So tiny, your hands
    could be weightless, or the weight of them lifted by wings

    that are so tiny and beat so fast they beat but cannot be seen.
    They beat so fast, like a racy heart. They lift the weight

    of your fingers until they hover at my forehead, peck;
    your fingers, your hands are not heavy, but need the wings to lift them

    to my ears, to my eyelids and to my forehead.
    Your tongue, your tongue also has wings that beat so very fast,

    that blur invisible though the tongue's foregrounded plainly,
    it needs the tiny beating wings to lift, to lift the weight of it

    until it touches my tongue's tip and hovers there like a beak
    tip-tap-tipping on the window, wooing its own reflection.

    Self-Portrait as the Tongues of Ellis Island

    Speak to me, the way you can, in that embroiled voice
    born somewhere way down underneath the Great Hall:
    I dreamt it was perpetual water softly bubbling up

    and which rose, at source, from the deep pressure below
    like a ghost-spring of dialects, at first a pulse:
    and now it is what it is, the softest spry crackle

    at large in its fluency, like an accord of fractures,
    of pain and resilience, indignation and despair,
    of joy, of hurt, hope and disappointment, of ache;

    its little decibels crinkle into one another to procure
    the singsong sum of it. It is your voice —
    it is a voice lush as a Rousseau jungle with tiger;

    rich as a ballroom interior, lit like an atrium
    that drags into view the dark attached to its wheels;
    it is the tiger, half hidden, half in brilliance;

    it grew out of the soft and multitudinous
    and now bubbles softly up, becoming only itself.
    It is the threatened tiger. It is the tiger's prey.

    Self-Portrait with Badlands and Illicit Lovers

    There should be no talk of Job — out there in the Badlands,
    where the cracks are bottomless, nothing grows but rock and gulch,

    dry soil without root, slick clay, deep sand, dust and stones.
    There's no dry grass to blow at all, no shaggy pelt

    of anything — and every edge — every starved inch — says
    No afterlife. It is the place of many circles where the punished go

    to punish, they say, where the masked and primally injured
    set out to exact at last the tribal, intimate revenge.

    The covenant's smashed. They would surely want
    to send us to The Badlands for thoughts such as these.

    They will not like, they'd surely hate us, as God does,
    for our very special kind of poison, our black sap;

    locked together in the embrace we can neither sacrifice
    nor break, we hear no hacked or dissenting voice at all;

    or we hear a dissenting voice but spoken in what might
    as well be Horo or Muskum or Elymian, the spook-minims

    of a sound which is merely a sound which seems to ape
    the scrape of tumbleweed, beautiful but dead.

    Self-Portrait as the Nashua Girl's Reverse Nostalgia

    So many times it might have been me, now here, now not;
    it might have been me wading waist-deep in cornfield and flat mist,

    or uncertain among the pooling firs, now here, now not.
    I might have stood in the long coat at the end of your bed

    when you woke and could not remember who you were.
    Once, you found your way to Nashua, or Nashua found its way to you;

    you loved the old mill ghosts, their bleached, half-legible signs;
    you loved, through the gap, the Doberman in the fenced yard,

    the air timed to sirens as if they brought you home, not home.
    You loved this wasteland of flat tyres, copper piping ripped out,

    you spent all your time alone, went to the crumbly picture house
    and wept alone in the stalls, wept alone. While what you looked like

    dated the oafish boy who drove the big machine, what you were
    crouched over your desk in the back room, and wrote and wrote:

    you can't, you can't make me live like this! you shouted at a life of writing;
    as if it were mother and jailer. As if it were father. Or lover.

    I might have shown up on the corner, brushed past you in the long coat;
    You dreamt — twenty years from this place — the man with the beard

    not yet older than you, maybe sitting in some underground station,
    and I stood up and walked. You turned your head blindly to listen.

    You turned your head to look. You turned your head blindly to see
    and I walked in, but did not walk in. I walked in, but did not walk in.


Excerpted from The World Before Snow by Tim Liardet. Copyright © 2015 Tim Liardet. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Self-Portrait with Mysterious Figure as Coup de Foudre,
Self-Portrait with Drag-Field and Dark,
Self-Portrait with Survivors as Nineteen Selves,
Self-Portrait with Expulsion from the Garden of Eden,
Self-Portrait as Shamdeo Talking to his Future Self,
Self-Portrait with Bite as Coral and Jewel,
Self-Portrait as Oxymoronic Love,
Self-Portrait with Hummingbird as Fingers and Tongue,
Self-Portrait as the Tongues of Ellis Island,
Self-Portrait with Badlands and Illicit Lovers,
Self-Portrait as the Nashua Girl's Reverse Nostalgia,
Self-Portrait with Faucet Raised into Red,
The Universe as Room Forty-Thirty-Nine,
Self-Portrait as Old House Filling Itself with Furniture,
Self-Portrait as the Iago-Cajolement,
Self-Portrait with View of the Greater Chihuahuan Wilderness,
Self-Portrait with Opium Den Deep Interior,
Self-Portrait with Flowershop Idyll and Nihilistic Love,
Self-Portrait with Thunderstorm and Eschatological Tears,
Self-Portrait as Water,
Self-Portrait with Goffstown Deep Black and Sun-Up Intensity,
Self-Portrait as Borgesian Time,
Self-Portrait with Grief-Parting as Shakespearian Precipice,
Self-Portrait with Bryd and Brydguma on the Bridge at Dusk,
Self-Portrait with Bryd and Brydguma above the Burning Thames,
God Love the Art Deco Angel,
Self-Portrait with Cylindrical Snowstorm and Tired Pony Playing,
Self-Portrait with Blind-Hounding Viewed in Panoramic Lens,
Self-Portrait as Sea-Fret and Decompressing Self,
Self-Portrait as Homicidal Love,
Self-Portrait with Tattoo-Ink Galleria and Genderless Being,
Self-Portrait with Nettlebridge as Hunkpapa Lakota Dreamtime,
Self-Portrait with Dreamwhite and the Ignominy of Dying,
Self-Portrait with Mary Ann Lamb's Arkansas Toothpick,
The Guam Fever,
Self-Portrait as Truth-Houdini and the Chinese Torture Cell,
Self-Portrait as Truth-Houdini at the Confessional Grille,
Self-Portrait with Prayer as Stupidus for Continued Sobriety,
Charm Against the Dandelion Wine,
Self-Portrait as the Sarawak Bats Addressing Hans Lipschis,
Self-Portrait as Hans Lipschis Addressing the Sarawak Bats,
Self-Portrait with Porlock as Laudanum Spook,
Self-Portrait as Laudanum Spook Addressing its Maker,
Self-Portrait with Shroud and Radiation Ghost,
Self-Portrait as Homo Erectus,
Self-Portrait as my Grandfather Lip-Synching to Crag Jack,
Self-Portrait as Crag Jack Lip-Synching to my Grandfather,
Self-Portrait as New Virginity,
Self-Portrait with Rhode Island Spontaneity and White Light,
Self-Portrait with Water-Dry and Laws of Probability,
Self-Portrait with Hiss and Rattle of Sleet,
Self-Portrait with Turgid Blossom and St Paul's Stooping,
Self-Portrait with Flames and Arapaho Bison,
Self-Portrait with Aquarium Octopus Flashing a Mirror,
About the Author,
By the Same Author,

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