Category: poetry (Page 1 of 9)

My Back Pages: Thunder Circling

THUNDER CIRCLING

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.

1993

My Back Pages: Hawker Siddley Argosy

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.

My Back Pages: Diving for Change

GB. England. New Brighton. From ‘The Last Resort’. 1983-85. Martin Parr

DIVING FOR CHANGE

Below and to my right from this window a Volvo lorry crunches gear
shredded leaf, dust and gravel trickles from bumper and wheel-arch.
The digging of the new pool has been going on now for two weeks.
Yellow digger-buckets mouth the park’s soil and turf into lorries
that rumble off, indicators flashing, down dusty A-roads
to tip their loads as land-fill or as embankment on the new trunk road.

I used to swim badly across the old pool that’s been demolished
splashing a clumsy trail from three to six-foot but no further.
Now a JCB arm is swinging deeper than the best then could dive
clanking engines and carbon fumes replacing yells and splutters.
Pale teenagers, we swarmed round a tin and hardboard kiosk
where we’d buy ice-cream speared with flakes every summer.

Now sub-contractors, mis-managers and bankrupts delay completion.
Keep us waiting for a false vision of the sea in middle England.
Meanwhile every other council-painted door has a fresh veneer
and satellite-dishes mark the newly affluent from the newly poor.
Communal flats have been knocked down, replaced by home ownership
whilst the council chambers echoed to ’private sector linkage’.

Down the road kids clutch change that grows sweaty and sticky
as the division between white and blue collars frays at the edges.
The water is milky like a disinfectant bath, ice-cream melting.
Every Friday my school class fizzed in that copper sulphate pool.
Some from that class dived into the eighties, came out with coins
but others still stumble round the wire slaked in mud and urine.

From Landmine Poems 1992-1996

This is an old poem that was never published it was too political, too edgy, too working class in the early 1990’s. To fit into a poetry world dominated by the white middle-class in those days took a certain amount of camouflaging.. some blended in well like Armitage always cloaking their politics ( after all he was a probation officer when I met him hardly a radical occupation).

I resigned myself to being an outlier in poetry then and frankly little changed…This poem was about the slow spread of corruption that started with the council house sell-off…..land-owning became a badge of the new right. It mattered not that many got left behind or that the environment was trashed as long as the showers of gold trickled down to.. well the gutter.

I stole Mr Parr’s photo he will not mind he owes me one for a favour I did later and it the perfect image of a country on brink of selling its soul.

We all went diving for change in broken fountains….

My Back Pages: Arteries

Arteries

“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

Diesel on Gravel 1991

My Back Pages: The North Field (1992)

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
unleased.



Another poem from my back pages. London 1992.

From an overall collection called Landmine Poems 1992-1996

30 years ago today….My Back Pages go Mod and ‘England Swings’.

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..

ENGLAND SWINGS

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

Michael Longley and ‘The Fallow Period’

The Candlelight Master

Looking back at those difficult years now, do you feel that the silent
stretches were detrimental to your work?

If I hadn’t been fighting battles on other fronts, I might have been scribbling boring middle-aged verse – like MacNeice who twittered on for a decade until the miraculous final poems. It seems that the Muse favours the young and then, if you can weather the middle stretch’, the pensioners. Silence is part of the enterprise. Most poets write and publish far too much. They forget the agricultural good sense of the fallow period. The Muse despises whingers who bellyache aboutwriter’s block’ and related
ailments.

One of the best things ever said to me about poetry was John Hewitt’s off-
hand remark: `If you write poetry, it’s your own fault.’

JODY ALLEN RANDOLPH – Michael Longley in Conversation

This interview is taken from PN Review 160, Volume 31 Number 2, November – December 2004.

I was relieved to see that I not the only middle-aged poet who had a fallow period. Until now I thought my future was more akin to a Larkinesque slump as he detailed in the majestic yet sad refrain on this late poem…

THE WINTER PALACE

by Philip Larkin

Most people know more as they get older:
I give all that the cold shoulder.

I spent my second quarter-century
Losing what I had learnt at university.

And refusing to take in what had happened since.
Now I know none of the names in the public prints,

And am starting to give offence by forgetting faces
And swearing I’ve never been in certain places.

It will be worth it, if in the end I manage
To blank out whatever it is that is doing the damage.

Then there will be nothing I know.
My mind will fold into itself, like fields, like snow.

So maybe like Longley (still alive at 81!) the best is yet to come….or some is yet to come ….

https://www.irishnews.com/arts/2020/08/15/news/michael-longley-at-81-the-poetic-life-is-still-filled-with-excitement-and-surprise-2031662/

Michael Longley | Authors | The Soho Agency

Edwin Smith – Catching Light – Recordings


Horseshoe Press Tapes

Back in October 2014 (now six years ago) I was on the first term of a Creative Writing M.A. at NTU.

I was also with uncanny timing commissioned (the first and so far the only time I been commissioned) by R.I.B.A. through Apple and Snakes to write in response to a lovely collection of Edwin Smith Photographs at R.I.B.A. that autumn.

I missed my course deadline but fulfilled the commission and promptly left a course that frankly I should not have been on at that time. The £500 fee almost covered my first term fees!

The RIBA website has ‘mislaid’ the entire project basically so I publishing whole thing here instead.

Here is the work which is one of the best things I done so far and as I not as flavour of the month as certain other poets hasn’t been seen since unless you delve deep into my obscure back catalogue.

Apple and Snakes put up a blog post of the recordings we all made as well but they been deleted since as diversification took its toll..
also deleted from RIBA too….ticked the wrong box?

So here they are again..

My First Telephone Call

The new grey phone in the hall
That never rang
Until one day nervously
I had to answer

It was my uncle from Spain
His father had died that morning
Whilst he was on holiday

My first conversation was cut short
“Yes dead, your dad is dead”.

Silence and then a sob
Then his wife Sue saying

“We’re coming home”.

I could hear him sobbing against her.

Then nothing.

Line dead..no connection.

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