He needed to talk to someone.
It happened to be us.
His rolled tobacco slipped from his fingers
as he went over events fifty years before.
The harbour, Singapore, thunder circling
and lightning flashing across the sea.
A merchant navy man,
sitting on deck with his mates,
watching a free show.
‘lf they’s could only ‘arness that energy’.
The same bar two hours later.
Someone else who wanted to talk
but blocked by E’s, drunk,
it came in staccato bursts, the sense,
mouthed through a vocabulary
borrowed from rap, rave and T.V.
Eighteen, jobless, staring through glass
at a wet car park, he rocks gently
like a ship stuck in harbour.
Outside, flashing lights, sirens.
HAWKER SIDDLEY ARGOSY
Improbable squares, steel-framed frogs
hopping from aerodrome to aerodrome
through an emulsion sky, wool clouds.
You could hear them from miles away
before they’d flash over the barn
and into my wide open six-year old eyes.
Other times they dissolved through
the outhouse plastic corrugated roof
into distorted birds that rattled
like boxes as they headed south
travelling so low and slow
as if weighted down by air.
Sometimes two would appear together
flickering through the tall roses
as I clung to the wooden fence
head hung back, off balance.
l tried to read the letters and numbers
painted on the dull grey fuselage.
I imagined them picking up our house.
Slotting the wooden walls, corrugated
plastic, roof slates and felt, windows,
my mother washing clothes in clouds of steam,
even our spaniel and me
and spinning us all into whiteness.
From Landmine: Poems 1992-1996
Read more here: LANDMINE
My first six years I lived in a wooden clapboard house on top of a hill near Wittenham Clumps. We were under the flight-path of Benson aerodrome which is why these aircraft had a profound affect on me.
“Never knew what hit them ,
the impact must have been tremendous
to have left that much blood on the road,
looked like it had exploded”.
My father talking about the accident.
One side of the car had caved right in
and there was a bloodstain twenty yards long
across both sides of the road.
“What was left of the deer was laid on the grass
like a sack of bones”.
Ten days later.
In the same kitchen he is gingerly fingering
row upon row of tiny pink pills.
“Everybody’s on them these days”
My mother says, trying to lighten the road ahead.
But we could all see what he could see.
Moving through the trees.
His mother heart failure 65.
His mother’s father heart attack 65.
Right now I prefer not to look too far ahead.
But I can feel movement deep in the forest of arteries and veins.
Something unseen and unexpected pushing out..
Toward the lights.
Addendum: This poem was written in 1991 my father remained in good health until 2002 when at the age of 70 he was diagnosed with advanced pancreatic cancer and died in 2004.
Another poem from my back pages.
From an overall collection called
The North Field
You lying exhausted in another room, me taping,
trying to drag some of the past with me.
Three stories up in West London
I think of old friends, forgotten journeys
and the cracked ceiling reminds me of ice
and cars swish beyond the stained curtains.
You say I never talk, never explain things
clam-up, freeze-up, a tight-lipped Englishman.
You should have tried talking to my father
and his step-father, stood in a field mid-winter.
Tried catching a word as snow blurred the hills
and kept the rooks clinging to the high trees.
Cold as winter cattle, boots white with frost
they’d say nothing, just stamp chilblained feet
and whistle the dog back to the track they knew
lay under six inches of fresh snow.
Their maps were in their heads.
Now I clear mine and stumble on the edge of a new path.
Forgive me my sullen silences, my outbursts
at years of missed chances, frustrations, laziness.
Tonight there is no spate water froze across meadows,
no fields buried under six foot drifts,
yet I can feel the words tugging at me
wanting to arc a white half-acre
Another poem from my back pages. London 1992.
From an overall collection called Landmine Poems 1992-1996
No not a reference to Sergeant Pepper that was 20 but out of curiosity here an unseen poem from 1991.
Ah, but I was so much older then I’m younger than that now..
Soho doorway, December ’66
sleet melting on daisy-patterned
plastic raincoat, seeping to salt lines
up purple suede slip-ons
Her front teeth bite her bottom lip
as she shivers, flicks her fringe,
and waits for a Mini-Cooper S
to arrive in a spray of slush,
Boutique lights flash in chrome wheels
splattered with ice, laced with tinsel.
Saturday morning, December ’86
she stands outside her mum’s semi
as her hubby shifts furniture out.
Cascades of bills, snaps, cards
fall from a draw into the dustbin.
Then a photo of her at 17
surfaces from the layers of 20 years.
Bobbed hair, raincoat against chequers,
she is staring, unwed into space
as flecks of snow speck the black lid.
Another poem from my back pages.
From an overall collection called
Diesel on Gravel 1991
IGGY POP IN A SIDEBOARD
Too much thinking fucks you up
Too much time slips through the cracks
Worrying about the rain, the funerals
The way the poplar trees creak in the wind
And all along the drip of ice melting off
The corrugated asbestos roof a metronome
The beat of a disillusioned parade
Spinning through a muddied field outside Berlin
The piano disintegrating under the 400 blows
Of a clown and Judy Garland’s axes
Through the wires and chords
The splinters of a life fading away
I was 17, Lust for Life, in a rack at Woolworth
I bought it although it was so warped it didn’t play
Spinning on a tweed covered second-hand record player
Hidden inside a wooden sideboard it rattled the china
The Passenger woozy and stumbling into a Motown beat
The future on a plate, disintegrating in the shooting match.
Finally like a chord wrenched from a broken piano a new poem. I think. I not sure any more if I actually am a poet. Whether poetry even worth writing in the U.K. at this time as it seems to me to have become a sport for the white middle-classes and to be slowly suffocating in academic rules and careerism. I always felt distanced from anything remotely resembling a British novelist scene. That to me was pure drawing-room from the get go with a few notable exceptions e.g. Ballard, Sinclair etc but most of what I see paraded in Waterstones fiction section I’d rather see pulped to be honest. Apart from helping second-incomers pay off their mortgages or buy a nice cottage in Cornwall I don’t see the point. Now poetry has gone the same way…
The poetry I felt part of has disappeared under the weight of participants..many good and talented ..but for me hugely boring. I felt attracted to iconoclasts and outsiders…politically motivated poets of region. I don’t see that any more in fact I see careerist tick-boxing on a scale that would make a fine-artist with a wad of ACE forms blush…..so what has happened…is it the internet? Â The everybody can do it mentality when patently most cannot..sorry that not CW PC speak but I don’t buy into the revise enough times you will get it right school. In fact I increasingly believe in less revision is better.
I may be wrong but if so why do I feel so miserable whenever I see yet another worthy but dull white middle-class poet read?
As a counter-blast here a poem about smashing pianos and other things….
First version hand-written in one go whilst listening to music. Second as written directly to facebook ( a well known literary outlet) and finally posted here and removed from facebook.
Not the way you told to do it in a CW class maybe ..well fuck it it’s the only way I can write. Â It may be rubbish who knows.Â It’s this or nothing…and I mean nothing…I that far away from writing right now.
Smashing Pianos is how I feel.
In fact looking at the poem again ( It was deliberately written in a semi-trance whilst thinking about other things to try and unlock something other than bland formal concision). I realise it all about the sentiments above.
It is about the futility of being a ‘working-class’ poet in a middle-class scene. A real working-class council-estate chavvy poet. The kind of poet some younger middle-class poets have been attacking lately for ‘parading’ their working-classness for fuck’s sake as part of the attacks on David Harsent and Simon Armitage. Yes being brought up poor is now a stigma in poetry circles…..that subject is no longer required..in fact we have all moved on..gender politics, feminism, animal liberation they fine ..but male, left-wing class-based politics that not allowed any more…it so 2oth century darling.
That’s fine if we in turn are allowed to point out the dire middle-classness of poems about Daddy’s Bermudan holiday or how wonderful France is…or is thatÂ somehowÂ OK? Is it also aÂ fact that a majority of white middle class poets under 30 choose poetry as a life vocation or profession, a bit like being an architect, and can only afford to study and crawl up the academic league ladder of riches and fame because of money made from Thatcher’s Britain?Is part of being a citizen of Cameron’s state being allowed to say what one likes if one has money only?
Julie Walters said recently that there would be no working class RADA actors soon…the same applies to all the visual arts and poetry too. The marginal and the poor are being squeezed to the edge of everything…taking away a voice is the first step in eradicating a ‘problem’…….ask Tony Harrison..he quoted Arthur Scargill’s father in ‘The School of Eloquence’ from V…..nothing changed but the hands on the dictionary….
The epigraph to Tony Harrison’s long poem v. is a quote from Arthur Scargill, the miners’ leader:
‘My father still reads the dictionary every day. He says your life depends on your power to master words.’
A poem I started in 2010 and finished yesterday…
My Father’s Crashes
We could tell by the engine
When my fatherâ€™s truck was home.
The diesel engine would vibrate
The windows as he reversed in.
My mother would boil the kettle at 5pm
Knowing he would arrive.
Three times in five years he did not
Arrive on time.
One time back-ended by a Lotus
That shattered like an Xmas bauble.
He spent half an hour prising glass fibre shards
From the wheel arch.
Another time he and my Uncle John
Arrived ashen faced.
Drank tea before they talked.
Both cheated death as a car span toward them.
Finally he retired and bought a smaller van
But grew tired of working then grew tired
As the cancer ate away his stomach.
My mother made tea at five pm every day just the same.
Until one day he didnâ€™t make it.
Dead North M1 7 p.m.
Braided like D.N.A.
we flicker in a northbound lane
twined like flax
woven with fertilizer lorries, flat-loads
tankers and porta-kabins
under digitised words
Capital’s crawling artery
bunged northward creeps
each vein full of despatch
tall orders, whims and haste
precision marketing targets
the next truck reads
I couldn’t make this up.
We pass Reality
and then ‘Real Distribution Solutions’
before skidding past ‘Future Logistics’
there is another script being read here
The exhausts liming the banks with its breath.
We are all headed dead North
Scott’s hand on the ledger waits.