Douglas Clark, A Preferred Selection, Benjamin Press, Bath

Three poems from 'Troubador' (Benjamin Press, 1985)


A landscape of unwanted sounds

Mark the serenity of old stones
No chiming on these shadowy rocks
They stand forever
And did a nation joyfully construct
Come from mud hovels
To erect the sanctuary
Here a people strove the immortal
Clocking planets moon and sun
Watching the watchers
Strange gods awoke the northern sky
Their voice a harmony upon the stations
And they speak no more these humming tops
Their messages unlooked for
A people from the mud
Listened as heaven spun
The cobweb silk of nightfall
They built it


The grey ships are pulling out on the dawn tide,
The grey ships are leaving.
You sit in your citadel by the sea
Watching the grey ships leaving.
The city is burning all around you
Buildings crashing down, men dying
And the fighters are leaving.
Grey ships slipping out to sea on the morning tide,
The fighters are leaving.
As you sit in your citadel by the sea
Grey ships leaving.
The barbarians are over the wall
There are men dying
And the city is burning.
You weave your patterns on the page
Recording details of grand events
Watching the fighters leaving.
The barbarians are in your citadel,
They took your heart long years ago
As you sat in your citadel weaving,
And the fighters are leaving.
Grey ships pull out on the dawn tide
Sliding swiftly over the sea
While you sit in your citadel
I climb on the last ship and wave goodbye,
Loving you,

The elegy of G. Cornelius Gallus

It is the season of lambing.
The gasgun burps its rhythm through the night
echoing down far distant foxholes.
The ewes stand in the hills above Lanark
waiting to be brought down to the barn for labour.
Robin births his triplets and succours the weak,
stuffing them with warm milk and drugs.
The Daihatsu will deliver them to the flock
when they are well.
I lie in my bed and think of Empire.
The farmlands drifting across the world
to the distant lair of technocratic Europe.
The centre holds me in its tiny grip.
Lycoris climbs the steppe to High Germany
where the missile squadrons pout and glare,
Feeding off the incorruptible power that we made,
The dark reds and the dark blues of the Legions
swathed over brown forested countryside.
The plateglass city built on papiermache. Appointed
to administrate this outpost.
Once upon a time, at Durham,
The dark queen watched green ivy
crawl over the tomb of Cuthbert. Oh Antony,
She ran her fingers over the stone,
nodding at your candle.
She hid behind the altar.
As I looked in the door, merrily chatting,
Always one for words; and I had her. At Alexandria.
It's not the same when you have to carve out your own statues,
from Nile mud,
I always loved a good fighter.

The sheep have no fear of the gun.
The lambkins huddle around it for protection
As it thumps away,
That it frightens foxes must be an old wives' tale,
Like our city resplendent in marble.
That's what our clerks scurry for:
That the vision may proceed.
I always chose the right side, like Plancus.
Until there were no sides left to choose,
Only myself to make a monument,
They cannot burn it all.
In the North Country you cannot see the satellites
The eternal spinners that dip low over Egypt.
The horsemen parade before proud Lycoris.
Over the Heath is the sound of a drum.
Am I dreaming?
White horses. She walks beside a coffin.
Her heroes have no staying power.
Crossing the sea from Actium,
Holding all the pieces in my head
and playing the ropes of organisation,
Allowing a flourish here and a quiet spot there,
Invigorating the whole troop,
And never losing sight of the objective,
The great prize waiting at journey's end,
The conquering of the one dark queen.
Placing her white bones back in the foetal position.
Luring her to doom. Loving her.
And now I can celebrate.
My name is entered in the Annals, as Praefectus.
Did Lycoris back the right horse then?

I am in bed in a farm above Lanark.
Beyond Cuthbert's tomb is the sea and the city.
The rules girdle the globe that girdle men's lives.
Unspoken regulations, a diminishment of grandeur,
They even govern love.
The houses of New Lanark are a ruin to be restored.
An experiment in a better way of living
Fallen, as all are fallen, into disrepute.
A museum of antiquities. Folklore.
We have seen it all before.
In Little Egypt men must work and die.
I once believed in poetry.
It won me the love I had never had,
It paved the Angel's path,
But it was an illusion.
The world belongs to the city
and he has the power who pulls the strings.
At the centre is the committee. With Augustus.
They may despatch me as they despatched my Lycoris
but at least I am of them.
Tomorrow I will leave Cousin Robin and the farm
and journey South nearer to the heartland.
In this day and age you cannot afford
to be out of touch for long.

For I will go where the starships go
And follow the bleating wail of a child.

Three poems from 'Disbanded' (Benjamin Press, 1991)

Theocritus at Alexandria

Where does it come from Where oh where
The words flow forever tapped from some deep lair.

I cannot remember.
I have forgotten the smell of the byre;
The suck of nozzles at the cow's teats,
Descending milk turning the face of the cooler white,
I hear it no longer.
The silence at mid-day in the olive grove
As Pan rests from his hunting,
I cannot remember the silence across the narrow valleys.
Cos and Sicily are gone from me.
I am too old. Older than Philetas.

Here I sit in this Library
Waiting for the committee meeting
Where we will continue to classify four hundred years.
When I came to this city
I was the golden boy of the Western world.
My little bucolics opened all doors.
Philadelphus bought my tongue.
Now I lose faith in my Doric,
Imitate Apollonius in fun,
Why can't I remember Sicily.

I am just one among many
Too old now to suffer Daphnis' fate.
I sold out for the easy life.
I write nothing now that's worth a damn.
And these pretty Egyptian boys
They don't want to know.
I would be back home again.
But Heiro has no welcome.

The best of me was on the islands.
Forgive me Nicias but that is true.
The walk on Cos when we never wanted to stop talking
And crossed half the island
Only to retrace our steps.
The streams of Sicily sparkling,
Grape-clusters on the vine.

I grew up to the Muses,
Singing contests across valleys,
Cattle queuing up for milking,
Sheep and goats.
The real presence of an altar by a pool,
Libations and the sacrifice.
Simple country concerns.

Unending classification is not my forte,
I am the poet of the everyday.
Harmony of living in Nature
Friendly to the gods.
I must return to my roots.
Sniff out the smells. Soak in the scent.
Seek hilly landscapes and green fields.

I advertise the little local songs,
Spread them half across the world.
That is where immortality lies.
To occupy your earth and people it real
As if it had always been there.
One among many I made the word-hoard
The after-time does not appeal.


'You had all of me --- in your own way.'
There is only one way.
Through the eyes,
The interlocking eyes.

To swim in another person's head,
To have them occupy you.
That is the only way.
It is in the eyes.

Some things last forever.
I fed you love till it flowed out of your eyes.
Then we exchanged souls.
Now I can never be alone.

Always with you.
You have all of me.
It was the end of a search.
Now we have the after-time.

Wisdom was the prize.
We share that.
A short walk on a Spring afternoon
Taught me I had a home.


And the fuck is still burning in me,
All my life it has been there
The fuck burning in me.
I'm getting old, the prick's not so stiff
But the fuck still burns in me.
It burns for you for I love you so
The fuck still burns in me.

One poem from 'Dysholm' (Benjamin Press, 1993)

Mary of the Songs

Great Mary of the Songs said to me:
'Why aren't you writing?'
I answered 'My black widow haunts me.
'In the mists of winter I see her face.
'In the brief mid-day sun I strangulate.
'The black widow stands between me and summer.
'I must write her. She will be the death of me.'

Big Mary of the Songs said to me:
'Is it at an end, your poetry?'
I answered 'If my lilac takes.
'If my lavender revives. If the sun shines.
'I will live to name the place of my tomb.
'The black widow will dance on my grave in rage.
'I have made her immortal. She will never die.'

Sweet Mary of the Songs said to me:
'Was it worth it, the agony?'
I answered 'I have purged the widow.
'No more will the black widow plague me.
'She was there from childhood and I have defeated her.
'I walk into an empty future with a blank mind.
'I lived with the black widow and now am free.'

Great Mary of the Songs said:
'Listen to me.
'You came from the morning. You walked to the citadel.
'You married the black widow. You wrote it.
'There's an end of it. Now you can be happy.'
I answered 'Without my widow I am nothing.
'She was the heart of my days. Let it end.'

One poem from 'Selected Poems' (Benjamin Press, 1995)


The Maiden of the Silver Bow crosses the quadrangle,
Headed for her pentagrams and whisky.

The Greek gentleman with his black shiny shotgun
And his white red-eared dogs examines me
As I cruise past on my motor-scooter
On the way to my favourite Skiathos beach.

The island is thick greenery, close-packed trees,
I climb the steep slopes to train my thighs for the swim.
In early evening as the sun goes down behind the mainland
I look at the waters below the orange globe.

At night the voices come, they say I will be raped,
They say I will be killed, they dare me to sleep.
I sit in the bars and drink, terrified, a spell
Has been cast on me, I talk with my hands.

I lie on the sand with my arms spread reciting my poems,
My face buried in a towel. I am a hunted animal.
The voices come out in the night-time. They say they will rape me.
I haven't yet entered the water since I arrived. My swimming a

I leave my clothes and my Omega Constellation watch on the beach.
And swim. Out into the rich water. My thighs crackle.
I swim to the nudist beach where I talk to a girl.
The voices are absent. I wait till evening for the magic time.

The fisher boats wallow in the bay with lights to attract fish.
I sit naked watching them approach. Fireworks explode over the
There is a commotion inside my head and I stand up erect.
I address the god. I accuse him of hounding me. He ignores me.

I realise I have to swim for it. I wade into the water.
It is a beautiful swim. Like clockwork precision.
My muscles well-trained. I could swim forever.
I pass a ship with its red and green lights. They see me.

They wave to me. But I am on business. The voices will follow.
As the morning comes up I am half-way across the channel.
There is no going back. I swim beautifully. Forever.
I hear the voices coming up behind me. They are to rape me.

They talk to me telling me of my fate. I swim.
I swim for hours. I am slow but I do not tire. Breast stroke.
I see the land ahead. Like Omaha Beach. I see a village.
I head North. I have to wait for my brother to fly to Athens

After I am reported missing. I head up the coast.
After sixteen hours I emerge from the water. I live.
I stand on the stone blocks staring back at Skiathos.
And howl derision at those who would have killed me.

In the night the voices come. I sit at the foot of a cliff
They talk to Switzerland and to Aycliffe for me. I think of
The Lady in white watching from the hill in Skiathos as I left my
I think how she walked away, leaving me. To die.

I survive the night among rocks that become dead babies.
In the morning I swim South to a safer spot.
I try to cut my throat with a stone. I am unworthy.
I have to wait another night. Then the voices come back.

I see boats searching for my body in the channel but I hide.
There are men sitting in the boats scanning the water.
I am frightened of men. The voices are a part of me.
I decide it is time. I swim down to the village.

I emerge naked from the sea and an old man gives me
A plastic sack to wear. I am taken into the cafe
To drink beautiful Greek brandy. They talk of a miracle.
The ambulance is on the way. The voices say they will kill me.

I am clothed. I strip my clothes off in the ambulance.
I want to die naked. We come to the hospital in Volos and I have to
I am put in a ward two floors up. I try to fling myself from
A window onto the concrete below. An old Greek peasant saves my

With his strong grasp. The voices still tell me I will die.
The nuns teach me the Greek for 'Thank you'. My brother
Arrives and heads for the psychiatrist. We drive helter-skelter
To Athens Airport. The voices say I will live. I am mad

As a hatter. I believe they are running conspiracies against me.
It takes ten years and five books of poetry to recover in England.
The Maiden of the Silver Bow crosses the quadrangle,
Headed for her pentagrams and whisky.

Douglas Clark was born in Darlington, County Durham, of Scottish parents in 1942. He was educated at Glasgow University, where he studied Mathematics, and in Edinburgh. From 1973 until his redundancy in 1993 he worked in Computing Services at Bath University. He is a member of Bath Writers Workshop.

From 1985 to 1991 he published an integrated set of four books 'The Horseman Trilogy' from his Benjamin Press completed by the pamphlet 'Dysholm' in 1993. His second set of books are 'Selected Poems' (Benjamin Press, 1995), the 'Cat Poems' pamphlet (Benjamin Press, 1997) and 'Wounds' (Salzburg University Press, 1997). He edited the Webzine 'Lynx: Poetry from Bath' from 1997 to 2000. All his poetry is available on the World Wide Web where he has his readership. The Lynx magazine can be found at

Douglas Clark/ A Preferred Selection/ Benjamin Press, 69 Hillcrest Drive, Bath BA2 1HD, UK/