Amateur city beneath sun-petalled peaks like a gypsy camp lazy in decay where mongrels sleep on sidewalks and impossibly beautiful women display their almond charms in bright saris like flowers that rhyme in wicked shade. Beggars begging with rusty tins, a slim Nepali boy with spade clearing gutters where baying traffic fights it out - cars and rickshaws, wire and string, of a shanty city that flouts and shouts humanity in the midst of dust and personal disaster: and sacred cows amble undisturbed forever and never faster. Published in the Journal of Literature & Aesthetic Studies (India)
Dancing in the jungle with a tiny Nepali - not entirely sober me - and she a purple flame flickering across the floor. It was then and there in that hot safari night where lamps burned gingerly and strange music wailed beat-filtered tunes I could believe she was the child Kumari, only living goddess in the non-believing world, our smoothly rational globe that still awaits its smash. Could hear the nearby rustle in moth-mad undergrowth; the padding amber tiger and crash of grey Behemoth swayed by mythic loads. Dancing in the jungle drinking to the stars, I watched my body move through all its ebbing years but still felt everything like a hand without a glove.
In grey light, the early Caledonian Road, a first car starts, coughs, groans; I hurry towards a summer-loaded day as a beggar, a whore, a black man each address me in turn. What hoping for? I am mindful of nearby Islington - squares of whispering trees, secretive houses, even a hidden wood locked behind great iron gates; and also, of the coldgreen soup canal creeping by ten thousand blackbacked houses down King's Cross way and Euston Road, through Regent's petalled park with its joggers and nannies and old thinking men sitting on benches like broken chess pieces. London, I love each dirty brick of you, your bad-cold headache skies, each new district I get to know because of the brief blazes of vision you give. Like now on the long crummy Caledonian Road or yesterday when, momentarily, King's Cross and Islington, lifted up like a great scab of accumulated wounds and I saw a lost green landscape of waterways, shimmering weeds, inlets of the hidden Fleet, common land for cattle, birds, creatures extinct which time has called back to the first sun from whence they came. Saw primitive nature evolving tribal glory, and ghostly armies coming, going. And saw a future of words, a rainbow, holding together forever a people and their city through the grace and mystery of poetry. And it was good. It was light. It was now.
Light came up from the edge of childhood and found me in a grey-walled modern pub by Waterloo Bridge where, sullenly, the great Thames shoulders by. That fifty-year-old light swished in my face as I sipped a glass of young wine, and slipped once more, like Alice, through the frame of life. For a second the bar's dry air smelled of old cut summer's grass, of seasons that once were ripe as plums, and days of empire-time that were leisurely and different, fine as best china. I saw them all again: Old Grimshaw whose teeth clicked, John's dad with a temper worse than Adolf's, and Farmer Johnny who swore and wore clothes no self-respecting scarecrow would have worn; and the Children of the Road running through apple-scented orchards and splendid fields, free as northern clouds that danced for the sun, free as they would never be again - though having tasted that freedom each remained in part a child of light? Then I thought fifty years is so long, for some there must already be no more time; and in the cosy riverside bar the light that came up from the edge of childhood faded, and I would have been sad had I not chased after it down my personal tunnel of words, hoping to catch its afterglow, its poetry.
The sun is always going down in the embered west like a missile into ever-steaming seas; but the real west, the west of the imagination, is another west that belongs to the old gods, to warriors and poets, the fierce, the gentle, the free. There the Valkyrie meet St. Brendan, there Arthur was carried dead from Camlan, there shone Tara and the pagan heaven Tir nan Og, there sun glints on the roof of Valhalla, there wandered Odin and Oisin, and Mael Duin voyaged: there is the focus of the Anglo-Celtic spirit, its Hesperides and Blessed Isles - the outreach of Europe's poesy from Helicon, Parnassus and tearful Troy. A strange land, the west land, as Masefield said, where rain-laden air curses and kisses sunset to dawn and a red wind opens vistas on the never, never dead. And out of this mad myth the sanest language in the world whose destiny has been to give voice to the stars, to longings and feelings of so many races who have chosen its golden vocabulary as their own.
Sunlight limps quietly through the wide square: Rodin's burghers beneath the absurd tower stare with fierce solemnity beyond their grave world - figures of iron and acid out of a green mould. Indifferent, the cars squeal by, and tulips gape while dimly I perceive what it takes to make so perfect and furious a group as this: one frozen moment of agony, one of bliss, and the whole of human history in each face displayed monumentally in a municipal place. The above poems, apart from 'Kathmandu', were published in 'Reclaiming the Lyre: New and Selected Poems 1967-2000 (Rockingham Press, 2001).
Today is a good wind, a clean wind, a wind without travail. It somersaults the headland and prods the dragon swell of a smoke-grey bay. A good wind, a clean wind that courses down from moor to sea and mind. It finds its way into words, singing through invisible grasses, whispering little shells of meaning that litter the human shore. A wind of wit, an irony pulling at leaves and dust that insists we see and feel things lost or never there. But like bellows it also blows up fair, with hidden mouth, yesterday's embers that give fresh form to dawn and what in the world it warms to love. Wind that shapes and haunts and never leaves this coast - a western wind, a flying force, a kiss, a ghost that plays around the rocky edge of bitterness in strange ambiguities of happiness.
The glass weeps in this window near Waterloo Station and coldly hisses on rails that loop away to Surbiton or elsewhere. Nowhere so ugly as in rain, bedraggled bushes of town, buildings leaking and looking their age, skies that are down- cast. But there is something numinous too, shiningly implicatory in the out-there of roofs and streets. Like the mad whisper of history it floats out and up from shapes even of shops: edging along walls like a cat its creeping luminosity of how and why and what. The above two poems were published in 'Chapman'. The remaining poems below, apart from the unpublished 'Cascade', were published in 'Reclaiming the Lyre: New and Selected Poems 1967-2000 (Rockingham Press, 2001)'.
This church, built By Sir Christopher Wren Consecrated on July 13th 1684 Damaged by enemy action on October 14th 1940, was reconsecrated By William, Bishop of London On June 19th 1954 Drinking AROMA coffee in St. James' churchyard She leaned into my life, God's wife if He had one. Sir Charles Wheeler's statue of Mary of Nazareth clothed in grubby samite with day's leaves all around like a rustling autumnal sea far off. Hands raised to shoulder level, She leans forward looking down with horror from a small box plinth - a blind-eyed statue's horror at the horrors of this life? While, nearby, acid green putti disport their cherub nakedness by a dry fountain and sparrows whisper in the twigs. Here, a guest at one war-poet's wedding was Wilfred Owen who knew horrors more than most; here, too, England's most holy poet Blake was baptised; and I think of all the ceremonies of hope made by men and women in this grave exploited place with its cafe and flapping canvas stalls - and in other temples of this ringing land. But I cannot take my eyes from Wheeler's Mary with its captured horror; and think how he ran his chisel over white stone and found such blackness under blankness but bravely carried on to leave a holy message in this Madonna by the crawling hub of Piccadilly; where paper napkins blow about and tiny tables wobble and leaves in too-much wind rustle like an autumnal far-off sea.
He gave pleasure without hope gained admiration more than imitation - the lost laureate of a lost nation, he crashed out of life on a dark-suited evening: one more dead poet. Stood in a rain-pimpled bus queue with people like bedraggled birds their eyes full of revolving lights of hissing cars and sliced shop windows and headlines bursting with death. One death. Of the muse's moors' man who yet - by what imaginative leap? - had shambled among court silk far from black Yorkshire's peasant skies. Out of this London evening emerged hard images of a wild earth: monumental mares in frosted fields, a crow for whom words were the entrails of language and salmon that torpedoed through the spray. This man who bred suicide in women, now dead by that nature out of which he'd punched poetry of pathological beauty.
It has been the way of things for me to be some peoples' solitary guest, year after year to share their lives, houses, food and rest, their affections and their rows. I was there in their best bickering years. The gleaming winter fires pleasing cats and unfreezing rural windows within, lighting up costly wallpaper, candelabra, expensive Indian miniatures and faces vivid with charm and sin. Or long summer days when a lovely county breathed out its haysmelling odours and the fixed gold message of its sun. Their cars, their habits, their kids and all their careless wealth left around: an overstuffed wallet on a windowsill a wineglass staining the Steinway for days and fashionable gadgets that never worked. I was there in their best bickering years. While horses frisked nearby fields and pheasants honked in hedgerows, bright friends breezed in for booze and I listened to 'both points of view' - was confidant and sharer of a wealth that was also a wealth of unhappiness - yet no more than spectator, a cinemagoer at a private movie of domestic disaster. Now, though, it is a show that's over save for feeling and undivorced images of pain.
Out of the blinding, the intolerable, the fruitful sun that nest of the golden-feathered Phoenix the shapely vision of life somehow emerges and in men's breasts is reduced to ashes. The young hold hands awhile and then grow stale and only the sun and the prophets rebuke them. But in me the silent rage of love goes on and the endless struggle with dreary time. Every day the painful renewal of vision, everyday the empire of money grows and the futile procreation of stones that leave me a nomad in a desert of shame. It is hard to get used to being poet and lover when the shiver of pleasure animates time and every damn fool is a cankered navel and God's shut away in a dictionary of death. But she said: 'Let your integrity protect the spirit from waste, my phoenix of fury, I will be your cool bride of flame and exquisite moon to your troubled sun.' Then in imagination history like a photograph burned and I saw the coals of eternity glow under me, as at the words of a loving woman my shabby bird, fresh plumed, flew back to the sun.
Sudden licks of wind around the roof as the dark volleys up the valley. That morning the Cotswold fields and walls had been brushed with frost. Briefly. And a touch of sun, wet, lemon and aloof. But now nothing but the echo of small squalls faintly tugging at the ears of those within. In the fireplace a squat warm stove's glow, lamplight and rumination, four faces, friends coloured by time and wine. To know what it is like to be alive and certain, we need find from time to time old places in which to dwell. Cottage rooms with beams, doors that creak, water plugging away in old piping, candles a-smile at meal times; also that faint musty smell of decay and sin, the betokening presence of ghosts and dreams. A little fear, a little joy, and the serious meeting of minds. Yes, decay and sin like shrunken plumstones, and joy like all the buttercups on earth! Then, while another snores in bed, like a hippo under mud, and the world outside's a dark sweet shell, just to lie awake remembering mirth - alone, unfeared, and dwelling on the good
I have collected stars all my life for beauty's sake whether as frozen raindrops in a black bowl or dry points on a lake. The smell of their sparking lingers through summer nights they outshoot the near planets and brighten winter's dying. Farther than the farthest thought yet nearer than we know, they are the flowers of light unimaginable in variety yet all the same. Cassiopeia, Sirius, the Pole Star each has its name not all known to man, and their sidereal day, night, season also not known to man. But I have collected them not on maps or anything but through nights of perfect feeling and green dawns ripe with imagination: in old cities and young fields for beauty's sake and because they are the visible sediment of an invisible eternity, glistening.
The grass cud-green and rollingly wet with billions of worlds of dropped dew on it, and the copse behind chewed brown and gold its autumn hang-dog leaves no longer new. An idyll suspended of folds of fields shadow-quilted and patched in unfixed light of a November day resting briefly between bouts of weather, first dark, then bright as I stand on the scarp of a windless landscape gauzed forever by one man's immortal poem. Between Boar's Hill and the Vale of Uffington this breathless, gentle scene will ever know him, figure more obscure than Jude, who became a living wraith before his death, a lost one fellow to the Green Man, Old Lob, a rider of the White Horse who must always live alone. Alone with the deep sad green of forgotten Englands. There he goes, pallid-faced, by mill-race and willow river, clothes torn and muddy, his soul flocculent as a gypsy cloud in space. Yet so thought-haunted and loam-lored it cannot but be he is more truly learned now in perennial truths than we for whom the 'yes' of faith has become a computer-proven 'no'. Even so, this cloud-cradling sky, sun-luminant, above farms and broken fields, hedged and stiled, so old and leaf-gilded and unmistakably Arcadian declines Victorian melancholy to a peace more mild, and afterwards to that one pure unlament which flows through even the most luckless of lives: a waterlight of joy which wears down stone ages against whose hard horror each one of us strives.
Smashing, the effect of the brown leaf-storm like great coils and curls of rusty barbed-wire blown down along luminous lawns, slopes of London-nature that belong to tired metropolites, towards the shimmering plonk of underhill ponds where Highgate greenly dreams. A moment after, the sepia- and-gold bluster of autumn passed, we found the acorn shower lying still. And now I hear two tiny spheres of that day's life are at rooting rest, potted in 'gentle Charles's' grimy Islington where skies are cemetery-grey but forever fertile. We live through others' eyes more than our own, and over pigeon-slated roofs I gaze and think where poet Leonard lies in Islington - who loved the earth of Heath and Highgate too - and my mind flies into newer lives again where one would nurture bonsai oak like hope in face of direst traffic, a greater growth than evil in London's plastic life. So good for you, I say, and all others in the Flatlands of decay, while Islington despairs and dies grow acorns, grow flowers, grow old tenderly tending your lives: for the organic alone will fill space, the acorn inhabit the abyss.
Wild olives out of red earth (Blood of past praise and death) first tasted in a crooked orchard that clung on crumbling terraces - the peculiar taste of wild olives all the green of the world in their green smooth skins. High above that valley where the roofs of Soller swam in incalculable light it was a taste bitter as Spain's history yet simple as poetry. All of our long climb through the small sierras we savoured it the peculiar taste of wild olives. It was like having tasted civilisation for the very first time.
-- Edmund Spenser, Complaints.
Like ribs of half melted snow
clouds lay long across the sky
overlapping the high world's glow,
and it seemed to me that this was my
waiting to release fresh cascades
of thought, spewing out of blind
subconsciousness like meteor tirades.
And that never again would I lie
under a ban of stupidity or error --
which is prematurely to die
in pains of self inflicted terror --
but to rage once more like a boy
into the choking creativeness of joy.
The gold has come in blocks and bars
to Torbay, a Nineties' solid summer
full of shimmer, darling seas, long hot
hours, guests and paradise again.
And in the sun-stunned fields about
the Dart the celebrating butterflies, skies'
encapsulating gaze, the dehydrated trees --
all the wonder of old world walls and lanes
empty and waiting as for another life.
Sandwiches on the narrow beach at Galmpton Creek,
trout ringing the flat-faced water, then
summoning the ferryman by loud bell
over the dark luminosity of Raleigh's river
following drinks at the Ferryboat Inn.
Agatha Christie's land once, and Graves's,
now mine, if anyone's, this close-stitched
spread of fields and lanes and river's
perfection, a poet's mind calls up and
praises out of an unsatisfied heart.
It's hard, it's hard remaining stable,
Dear God, I sometimes feel unable!
On some blue morning
of petrol-driven city touch
me and torch me
sun-dusted Baker Street,
snatch me to Bond Street,
lose me in Regent's
take me to Kentish Town.
He toyed with a salt encrusted stone
by the groan of the immarcescible sea,
one soul was his or none
if he could not live as free
as anyone, anywhere chose to be.
But thought of friends in Kentish Town --
its shadowy drunks that most obscure
star-sloganed walls as they go down --
and asked himself: what had they known,
neurotic wits, sad singers, the griefly
gay, word-worriers and the secret elect
with one skin less than most who briefly
shine, then pass back into mystery?
And that was it? Just like this stone,
souls of wonder lost in godless shape
and, therefore, each separate, alone?
An Oxford Street arcade, electronic
fairyland, even for the tough T-shirts life's
a video game, is where the rainbow
ends (for many). But I'm a book,
live a different shelf life.
Buses grunt by, windows glare,
the excitement comes in candy-coloured
waves: we are all slaves of a sort...
the sky above is dotted with prices,
consumerism's music just yells and yells,
the edges of everyday are frankly frayed.
Soho Square bounces on the bedsprings of the future
and when it rains there one can hear
the vociferous leaves licking loudly, for
this post-modern world's still surreal.
A life lusty with data, networking,
tap, tap, tapping the quiet computer keys
but can't forget death's lurking
nor the immortal spindling of the seas
and their unstaunched washed-up trash:
thoughts beautiful as dead-and-alive fish.
So I must go on dipping my cup, my grail
for there is something there, something
in all this ... like deathless powers?
The cascading brain at the heart's behest:
even in our agony we are somehow blest?
even in our ashes the wonted fire?
where Hercules ascends the microsoft pyre.
Now and then the storm-
clouds clear, the estuary's
stripped face gleams serene
The Ancient gazes from
the brine-cracked windowframe --
an enormous mind-sky
a world full of peace --
and sees seabirds ticking
in the retreating tide.
Out of the squeezing mud
the spluttering lugworm rises,
the taxidermic heron stands
still as an old grey rock,
-- Blue eyes in a leathered mask
perceive all this, All,
while water discusses with wind
its next move, under and over.
The psychiatrist opens the door
shows the thin-faced patient in
back to the leather couch,
the gleaming probes of question.
He-she is schizoid, one who's two,
and that's the devil's own truth
sure as heaven-hell's surrounded
by angel-demons' dance of nerves.
It's all about coping in the end.
For he-she goes one way and
the mind -- that ever-rolling planet --
another. Help me, doc, or I am lost.
Pills and poetry, poetry and pills --
what other cure or care for such ills?
It is this: a black hole
in the side of God. Beyond
this blue, light-swirled world,
dust and ashes and emptiness.
A poet does not need
to believe in God
to be religious: thought's
wind rushes and broods
over the heart and that's
enough. The fiat of faith.
But remember this: a space-
craft's endless light years
of travel can neither outreach
nor unravel the endless.
The watch's time ticks till
it bursts. Time's fobbed off.
But between the cascading
water-threads that throw up
star drops which
glisten on a black dome
(lovely light-speckled pantheon)
is joy's choking silence
to which your heart listens.
Think and forget. Feel and know.
A pocket-sized museum, a big
haiku of small-town nostalgia,
the past under glass: pinned photo's'
corroded amulets, coins and pottery --
shards of the amphora of life.
Early Ware, its maltings, gazebos,
the time-stunned dark River Lea
overhung by swimming trees, osiers;
a famous local loco manufacturer, timber
yards where wood matured in old sun,
the slowly changing elegance of its
squat Priory of monkish memory,
and the wooded tumulus beneath which
crouches Scott of Amwell's grotto:
these things restored to browsing
through the memory of photography
(these things shored against our ruin)
and old prints, darlings of detail,
redolent of another time's idyll
all and more (the staring-out folk,
peasant and poor: men in flat caps
with waistcoats and beery moustaches,
heavy women like black dumb bells
with their broods of scrawny brats)
in a pocket-sized museum kept.
...And we walked from Ware to WaresidePublished in South.
through flat fields of summer-spun gold,
and 'the idyll' was now not then
for the world itself is a living museum
(one technicolour snap in eternity nature
takes). And as we ambled along long
coarse cart-tracks to the empty horizon
where either side small flowers nudged the breeze,
we knew what it was like to be alive,
knew all the anxieties of beauty and peace --
that it is impossible to hope for more than
friendship and some bright scene to adore.
How I would like to have been your friendPublished in Acumen.
instead of an interloper in your life --
quondam publisher and occasional
correspondent! But I doubt we'd've got on,
you with your poetry and politry, me
with only poetry. Still, Tam, I admired
ye frae the first, poet and polemicist,
wi y'er 'polysemous veritism' tuik
frae Dante -- y'auld Villon, villain o' Lallans
whom the kailyard mafias couldna hang!
And you had the music too, cael mor,
that belled out atween your wildest lines,
heathery fragments sound as truth:
the last of the makars in our time,
you worked overtime for the Muse.
I still sometimes think of Epping,
the far away and vanished years
and for a moment, children, want to sing
of a time when you could hear birds, not changing gears;
then you were young and almost mole-small
and ran around in friendly corn,
and we would take that walk to ruined Copt Hall
fire had disembowelled before we were born.
I think of it because it had
magic, was an echoing green time
that only memory could make out sad,
for the heart remembers otherwise what was mine:
the blue-trust of young eyes
among the celebrating campion
knowing something never dies,
but out there by hill and stream goes on and on
and has so much to do with seed and place.
Clamshell city on the edge of time
you cling and star and contain
all the soft human substance
sprinkled with a few stiff bones.
There's no raising your implacable dome
just to get on with living under it,
or become a lone patient, alone
and impatiently ill.
How many days of despair known?
Days crusted with depression,
soul-gore, because even in its crowded-
ness a city's empty, empty.
The rattle of leaves, blown paper's
tedious swish, lamplight's sickly grin:
all this since Troy's fall let
more than Greek bullies in.
When the ghost of Himmler came to BosniaThe Baghavad Gita was apparently Himmler's favourite reading.
with the Bhagavad Gita in his pocket,
I stood in a collector's shop at Eynsham.
Where Aelfric wrote his holy letters,
I held a document of infamy signed by Himmler.
The sunlight of a marvellous summer
came in through roasting windows
to flood my hands like blood.
And last night when you came,
my psychotic friendly chum,
and discussed the swine again,
talked of the death camps then
and 'now again',
how Himmler 'thought the Führer was divine',
I could only think of that clear bold
signature of a far too little man.
Cigar smoke and roses
got to me, one bon vivant
evening, distinct doses
on the living air
incongruous by the wet harbour-
side. I was everywhere
in that absurdly-scented
moment. Luxuried, sent
hurrying up ladders of
This dull instinct for the everyday
is part of life's deep mystery
so feel the wonder of just how it is
the mind may marvel still at that and this.