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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.’
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
Probably a forlorn hope but trying to write a poem a day to get back to writing ..here the first try. Will end up a poem every other day or a poem a week if lucky but at least started .
No preamble to this just wrote it – will consider meaning about five years down the line…then did web search on troop train / Didcot and found out the following…wonders of the internet!
There are some excellent footplate reminicenses by Harold Gasson (Footplate Days, cure Firing Days, Steaming Days Pub. Oxford University Press) who was based at Didcot when Skylark was based there during the war and immediately afterwards. He talks about operating Skylark and I particularly remember when Gasson (with his father as driver-contrary to regulations) surprised some US soldiers with engine experience with what an old double framer could do with a troop train on the Didcot, Newbury and Southampton line. Don’t remember any reference to this train but they are a very good read.
The “Railway Magazine” for August 1951 carries a brief report about this SLS special. The train originated in Birmingham, and the correspondent comments that “Skylark” worked the five-coach train up to speeds of over 60 mph between Didcot and Swindon, and Leamington and Birmingham.
A rippling of stalks
raspberry bushes twirling
the flare of green bean flowers
along a row of canes
River, mirror, sky
as chalk whorls rise and twist
up the farm tracks
and dust the cornflowers
Celandines, chrysanths, marigolds
a garden breathing colour
as the sky deepens
toward thunder and showers
A torrent later, pools of milk
as the troop train steams in
a taxi drags a figure home
to an empty hearth, thorns
A bed of weeds, nettles and briars
the overgrown presence of neglect
that first night she watched him
fearful he would fade at daylight
Shaun Belcher was born Oxford, England in 1959 and brought up on a down-land farm before moving to a council estate in the small town of Didcot in 1966 just as England won the world cup..
He studied fine art at Hornsey College of Art, London from 1979–81 where he sat under a tree with Adrian Mitchell.
Began writing poetry in the mid 1980s and subsequently has been published in a number of small magazines and a poem 'The Ice Horses' was used as the title of the Second Shore Poets Anthology in 1996.(Scottish Cultural Press).
He now lives in Nottingham, England after two years in Edinburgh studying folk culture and several years in the city of expiring dreams working as a minion at the University of Oxford.
He is currently enjoying retirement from 20 years of teaching and hopes to write something on a regular basis again. He has been involved in various literary projects including delivering creative writing workshops in Nottingham prison for the ‘Inside Out’ project.
He supports Arsenal football club.
Favourite colours therefore red and green like his politics.
We have not won the world cup again since 1966 and Shaun Belcher is not as famous as Simon Armitage although his songs are better.