Existential Angst --- 1998


It was all done for you.
I really should have died
last summer when I was on 95% oxygen
with two collapsed lungs
and the doctors and nurses shaking their heads
after catching MRSA at my operation.

Now I haven't the nerve to send you
the copies of my new books
after the way you played up over
those email messages back in '96.
The whole business hardly seems worth the bother.
I'd have been better off dead.

I don't want to write poems
so American college students
can scrabble over my guts.
I get a reader every 15 minutes on the Internet
but they are totally anonymous to me.
Nobody's sleep under so many eyes.

You must think me insane to write to you
when I haven't seen you in twenty years
but it was all done for you.
Even the lies of Hulagu's Ride.
Put them off the scent.
I'll miss you with the horses and hounds on Boxing Day.


I sit by the campfires of the tribe
On the evening after the afternoon
That my Bath defeated Brive for the European Cup
In rugby football at Bordeaux.
And I think how I never have been so alone.

The youthful opportunities of transcendental love
Have vanished into the periphery of vision.
The future is mundane, detrimental.
I would wave a candle at life
But its remorselessness crushes me.

Once I believed in the morning
That the onward surge of living leads to success.
But now I know better,
It is enough to be alive
The energy of a new day confirmed.

I have been there.
I have seen the eyes and heard the voices.
Written down the bloodjet metaphors of poetry.
The Augustan anthem rolls off my tongue.
There is nothing in my life now but being alive.

I don't want orgasms. I don't want death.
What I want is the dream I carry with me.
Of not being alone in all this mumbo-jumbo
Of sharing a skin.
Not knowing where one person ends and the other begins.
They will have to bury me to put an end to that.

Two poems for Sally Purcell

1. Again

In Intensive Care
As I realised that I was going to live
I wrote a note to my surgeon:

'Why did you save my life?
Now I will have to go back home
And suffer once again.'

I don't want to live
I don't want to die.

2. Medicine

Every morning I swallow my pills.
The pink capsule lets me drink my beer.
The blue tablet stops my blood clotting.
The red and green capsule thins my blood.
The orange tablet controls my blood pressure
And minimises my erections. Or is that just old age?
The cherry red vitamin pill is just for fun.

And I have my monthly injection of depot
To keep the schizophrenia away.

God bless the NHS.


Nearly fifty years ago
I used to lie in my bed at Coatham Hall
In the darkness
Watching the dying red glow of the coke fire
Before I went to sleep.

Norma, our maid, used to creep in
And change into her pyjamas
Shadowed against the fire
As she sought for warmth.

Once I watched a lively mouse
Run along the top of the fireguard.
I would try to get the cat to sleep with me
But it always objected and fled from beneath the sheets.

In the early hours of the morning
I would awake screaming in hot sweats.
This happened frequently
And my mother, worried, would come to comfort me.

I was screaming at the nothingness I
felt all around and in me.
The emptiness.
My being alone in the world of my head.
No affection reaching me.

I have been alone all my life except for three girls.
My trilogy.
Love is all you need.

poeta nascitur non fit

1     All poets are in a competition:
      the prize is immortality.

2     In this life we are each
      given a set of cards to play
      of our nature and our nurture.

      All we can do is to play the right card
      at the right time
      and hope for the best.

      We have no control over the outcome.

3     On John Clare's gravestone
      the Latin motto
      is written in English.

      Surrounded yearly by
      the Helpston children's midsummer cushions;
      John Clare, who so loved Nature.

      Mary Joyce lays her tribute.

4     Drink to me only with thine eyes
      And I will pledge thee mine.

      I am of the tribe of Ben.

5     My books rival the Brontës' Poems for sales,
      I will never be famous.


<< Censored >>

At fiftyfive

You should know that my life has been a disaster.

I couldn't hold a job.
I never found a wife.
My health has been dreadful.
And the poetry was an absolute waste of effort.

It's all been a terrible mistake
putting me on this planet, Lord.
Couldn't you have chosen
a better time and a better place.

I wonder if I'll ever grow old.

Snapshots --- 2002

1. Home

The house of the Amundevilles:
Coatham Hall,
That is where I come from.
The icicles six foot long in the winter of '47
And the damp running off the walls.
Croquet on the lawn
The meet up the drive
Another world.
Before the trees were cut
Before the daydreams began
When the night was woken to panic attacks
And I was five years old.
The first home you remember is where you come from
And I remember the great stag's head
And the coconut matting of the stone corridors
And the ruined brown three piece suite in the living room.
Cats and dogs.
Cats and dogs.
The Jarldom of Sadberge is my home
And me a little Scots boy,
Brafferton, Aycliffe, Coatham Mundeville,
Durham born and bred. Home.
I grew up to the greentime.


2. Ten

Coatham Hall is where I come from.
Red ivy on the walls,
Nettles headhigh
Where the trees were cut,
Hacked paths through the undergrowth
For a child's delight.
Following the Chinese advance to Pusan, the Gloucesters,
And McArthur's landing at Inchon
In the local newspaper, the Northern Echo.
The Coronation on next-door's primitive TV.
Queen Salote of Tonga waving smiling in the rain
To we children standing watching.
Eleven plus at the village school at Brafferton,
I needed special coaching from my Darlington prep school master
To pass,
Failure was unthinkable.
My mother taught me my tables by rote
With an iron Scottish will,
Without a sign of any ability in me.
Except for the Reverend Piper, my Latin master,
Having me recite Cassius in the dialogue at Brutus' tent
For the prep school play. Typecasting for life.
Coatham Hall is where I come from
And was quiet as a dormouse so nobody knew I was there.

3. Fifteen

Beveridge's New Town:
Newton Aycliffe,
Our new house was in Macmillan Road.
Three buses to Grangefield Grammar School in Stockton-on-Tees,
Up at crack of dawn,
Back late at night.
A new spaniel Mac replacing Sandy.
It was a dreadful life.
No friends, only books,
And I can't remember now what I read out of the Library,
That's why I hoard my books nowadays.
Escape to University at Glasgow was the only way out.
I had to choose between History and Mathematics.
I chose the future.
My paedophile headmaster chased me round the table,
I escaped.
There was never any affection in my life.
I had entered a nightmare when the daydreams began at Coatham.
It couldn't last forever. But it did.

4. Glasgow

Maclay Hall, Park Terrace, Glasgow.
A training ground for young gentlemen.
I played table tennis with Philip Taylor
For six hours a day in the fives court.
The mathematics at the University
In the Junior Honours Class was quite beyond me
But I struggled on.
Awni Sa'ad from Amman in Jordan
Educated me in life
At the Cafe Continental in Sauchiehall Street
Along with his Arab friends.
I learnt the loveliness of their manners,
A skill I don't possess.
I loved the Jewish girl Penelope.
Spent afternoons in the Cosmo cinema
And at the cartoons in Renfrew Street.
Learnt to drink in the State and the Meadow.
Ate egg and chips in the Chatelet.
Later met the destructive Fiona loving her.
I spent seven years in Glasgow.
Now that's what I call education.

5. Edinburgh

Thanks to my Second Class Honours
Achieved by breaking myself in the Finals
Stuffed full of pills from the psychiatrist
I arrived at the Scottish Widows Fund, St Andrews Square, Edinburgh,
With a lovely bedsit in Great King Street in the New Town
And my trusty Ford Popular car.
I soon had Joanna to bed.
I was going to be an actuary
And a great one in Edinburgh.
But I could pass no more exams
And the madness of poetry took me over,
As I had promised Fiona years before.
I wrote poems the nights before exams.
And I had my worst nervous breakdown ever.
Eleven weeks in the Professorial Unit
Of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital under Henry Walton.
No more exams.
Back to Glasgow to fail a Masters in Statistics.
Then work in England. Failure.
I just didn't have the ability.

6. Bath

Retreat with the sack from British Steel Research on Teesside.
My manager wanted a Go opponent
And I wasn't prepared to play ball.
But Bath University wanted me. I left Durham.
At Bath I fell in love with Susan at second sight.
There are no words for what she has done:
My comeuppance.
The agony of Susan destroyed me for twenty years
But, in the long run, made my poetry.
I bought my house
And I bought my car, a new bright blue Citroën 2CV,
Which I took camping to Spain.
Furnishing the house required raiding the junk shops
And having a vanload of artefacts sent down from Durham.
Furnishing my mind was entering a numbed silence
With no poetry for six years.
With Susan went my future,
Although I didn't know it.
When she left Bath she shrivelled me.

7. Thirtysix

In the middle of the dark wood enter Fritz the black kitten...
In the middle of the dark wood enter schizophrenia...
In the middle of the dark wood enter polycythaemia...

Five years of schizophrenic episodes
Until the right drug was found.
Mad as a hatter in Greece.
Mad as a hatter in Bath.
No wonder Fritz Cat grew up neurotic.
Animals acquire their owners' characteristics.
The blood disease is there for life.
Every so often the blood clots form
And try and kill me.
And the pathological letters to Susan
Telling her every moment of my day.
They arrest you for that nowadays.
And then the poetry came back.

8. The Horseman Trilogy

The next ten years
Were the four books and pamphlet
Of the great work 'The Horseman Trilogy':
Penelope. Fiona. Susan.
Sequence upon inter-related sequence.
Book upon inter-related book.
The life experience
Published by my own Benjamin Press.
It kept me sane.
Travels to Europe
And getting to know my mother for the first time
After my sick sick father died.
The new Ferdia Kittencat arrived, an expensive White Persian,
Then went North to my mother because of Fritz's jealousy.
And always the voices called Susan.
Travels to Scotland
Taking my mother to visit the relatives.
I have thirtyfour first cousins
And two married younger brothers.
We came from Lanarkshire.

9. Fortysix

Thoughts of marrying Patricia
Which came to nothing
Because she wasn't interested.
My mother died.
The computing job at Bath University
Became deskilled and the future shaky.
I didn't have the character or ability
To impose myself upon the future.
I waited half-praying for the axe
Drinking white wine on the beach at Hengistbury Head,
And got redundancy/retirement at fifty.
My brother Ron hired the luncheon room
At the Chewton Glen Hotel for my birthday party.
In another year I found I could survive
On the pension and my investments.
I was out to grass.
Nothing to do for the rest of my life.
Time to dig deep.

10. The Internet

On retirement I equipped myself
With PC, printer, modem,
As I had been given external use of
Bath University computing facilities.
I soon had Web pages up
And transferred my poetry books
From disk to screen.
I fell in love with Mary from Arkansas on the Internet
And wrote her a set of love poems by email.
She came to visit Bath
And we travelled the country
Visiting all the poetry sites.
She was back several times but now is married.
I published my 'Selected Poems'
And realised I would never make it as a poet.
So I started 'Lynx'. A poetry magazine on the Web.
Articles on poetry by Douglas's friends!
But my own poetry died. Discouraged.
I researched my mother's family history
Using Edinburgh archives on the Web
And got back to 1699. Village shoemakers.
With my grandfather Clark from Ireland I got nowhere.
I have been on computer networks for twentyfive years.

11. Fiftyfive

I was back in the Royal United Hospital, Bath,
For an operation on my small intestine
To remove a section coated in blood clots from my disease
Which was causing me agonising pain
When I caught MRSA.
Three weeks in Intensive Care.
Written off. Floating away.
But it takes more than death to kill me.
I am a poet.
Brother Mick was great in visiting me weekly from Durham.
After seven weeks flat on my back
I came out of hospital in a wheelchair
To recuperate at brother Ron's.
This is typical of my life.
Fritz Cat was long dead
And my new cat Ludovic died young
Of a blood disease like mine.
Black times unable to write poetry.
I shut down my Webzine for lack of material.
But Salzburg published my book with the Mary-poems.
And I collected the Cat Poems in a pamphlet.
The Cat Poems are my popular work.
Nobody understands my proper poetry. Nobody.

12. Sixty

In my sixtieth year my cat is Marty.
I have published his Kitten Poems in a pamphlet
Which is not talked of
Because I padded it with a prose poem of my illnesses.
Not the done thing.
And after thirteen years I have retired my car
And bought a new bright blue Citroën Saxo.
It is a pity I never had money or status for a wife
But with the drugs I am on
I wouldn't really have been up to it.
Cats are so much more convenient. They eat less.
As for Susan she is in Ottawa.
Soldiering on as ever. A globetrotting development economist.
Husband seems discarded but what about the children?
It is not important.
And my poetry is back. Ramble on.
I wish I had something to say
But truthfully all's said and done.
The books are published. I will sleep easy
For ever and a day.

Summer Poems --- 2002

The Spider

In the pub with my depression
I watch Manchester United thrash Chelsea on Sky
And ask Owen, the Jamaican,
If he has a horse for the afternoon bet.
He won't gamble on cricket or boxing no more,
Except Lennox against Tyson.

Then I walk over and sit with Cider Joe
Whose insomnia and alcoholism
Keeps him unemployed on Disability.
I am depressed and unemployed too.
After Cider Joe was sacked
He took A-levels at the Tech
And was offered a provisional place
In Arts at Exeter University.
But the DSS refused to pay his fare
For the interview.
He spends his day doing crosswords
And acquiring coupons for free food
For his mongrel dog Susie.
When Susie dies he says he will kill himself,
He has saved up the pills,
She is all that keeps him going, and the drink.

I go home to read a chapter of 'Rabbit Remembered',
Sleep, get the football scores on TV,
Then feed Marty the cat.
He gobbles up his food and comes
And lies with his head on my chest, purring.
I give in and give him more:
Luxury IAMS. Expensive.
He heads out through the catflaps
And is back in ten minutes
With a present for me:
An enormous brown spider, alive.
I pick it up by a leg
And throw it into the weeds
Outside the front door.
Marty departs in a huff, puzzled.

Cider Joe has snatched me
Out of my depression
And I investigate Ramallah on the Web.
I find the reports of the IWP delegation
To Palestine and Mahmoud Darwish's poem for them.

Thank God for the drink.
It is all there is in life.
When you die it is like switching off a lightbulb.
The problem is how to fill in the time
Between now and dying.
An empty space.
It has to be filled with passions and love.
When love goes there is nothing else left.
Where is Marty the cat this Sunday morning?
And his spider.


Mandy brought her Alsatian bitch
Into the Englishcombe this afternoon.
Mandy lives in Twerton so it is
A long way up the hill for her.
She works as barmaid in the Livingstone
In Moorland Road.
77-year-old Bert had great fun with the dog
Egging it on to play with its blue rubber ball.
Mandy went and bought Bert a Ginsters' pasty for his tea.
From Cornwall.
Bert talks about Mozart and Beethoven on the same stage in Vienna.
I had been down in the Livingstone
With Charles earlier.
On my way from the Trowbridge to carry his shopping.
The Livingstone was packed.
We didn't get our usual Tuesday seat.
Polish Stan (he was in the camps) and his daughter Chris
Were sitting on stools.
And Chris's boyfriend was up at the bar.
Chris has an alpha brain. She is a tiny little woman.
Charles seems to have recovered from being poisoned
By cod and chips in the Dolphin last week.
He and the doctor blame it on stones but I don't believe that.
Sue's Bass in the Trowbridge was brilliant.
Even though she has put the price up 5p.
But I drink Newcastle Brown in the Livingstone.
Then Charles and I got the bus back to his home
So his wife Mavis could show me souvenirs
Of her last week's trip to Prince Charles' house Highgrove.
No sign of Camilla.
Then down to see Bert at the Englishcombe.
Chinese are thinking of taking it over.
It has been my pub for twentyfive years.
And Mandy is a new face.
Pity she has a boyfriend.
I could do with falling in love.
Now that Blondie is absent at Norton.

Early Music

The cat tries to pinch my chair
As I reach for the scribblepad.
Cleansed by Nelly Sachs' poetry
As she weeps for her Jewish nation
I think of Siegfried's grave in Mells churchyard
Which I could not spot yesterday.
Not far from Monsignor Ronald Knox and the Asquiths
I was told later.
Jordi Savall was playing his gamba
Before the nave where the Countess of Oxford worshipped.
The foxhunting man was an inspiration
Of my youth and Sassoon capped it with the 'War Poems'.
Pity he got married.
Ruined Mad Jack's image and his life.
The Catalan music of the Renaissance
When Arab and Troubador met.
From Gascony to Toledo and its wonderful translators.
And the Sephardic influence.
Adelard of Bath was at Toledo.
From Barcelona to Edinburgh
We are one culture in Europe.
Jordi's Hesperion XXI demonstrates that.
I had two pints of Butcombes
In the Talbot in Mells yesterday
And talked of the previous Saturday night in Bath Abbey.
Hesperion were like Paddy Moloney's Chieftains.
Virtuosi every one.
It is repeated on the radio next Monday night.
Before the nationstates
A Europe of the Regions: Catalonia.
I must buy some CDs.
Siegfried sleeps in Mells.
This postmodern newsletter is for him.
His grandchildren killed in the carcrash.
I know what it is like
To have a brilliant beginning to your life
Then to find it has all gone dreadfully wrong.
Nelly Sachs never lived to see presentday Israel.
Siegfried spent fifty Catholic years.
The rain stops and the cat heads for the catflap.
The poem is over.


First thing I did this morning was lock the catflap
Trapping two-year-old Marty in the house
Because Carrie my CPN
(Community Psychiatric Nurse)
Was coming for her final visit
To give me my monthly injection of depot
As since she got married last year
She has become pregnant
And is stopping work.
I will soon have a new CPN, Elena.
Marty gave up battering the catflap very quickly
And after eating his breakfast
Headed up to the back bedroom to sleep for the day.
Carrie has known Marty since he was a tiny kitten.
When she came I carried him down to be cherished.
It is always terrible saying goodbye.
Carrie, an Australian, has been coming for three years.
She has an intellect and likes to talk.
Cinema, psychiatry, cats and her Jewish accountant husband,
She peed in my toilet.
I enjoyed her visits.
Someone to hang on to.
And she loved Marty.

Douglas Clark /Alive/ Benjamin Press, 69 Hillcrest Drive, Bath BA2 1HD, UK/