For my sins I have been watching ‘The Crown’ and it reminded me of a poem I wrote back in the 1990s before the death of Diana…..
As you can see I was always a staunch Royalist…
The Empty Stair
A fleur-de-lys fissured by sulphuric rain crumbles but still hangs, paint-peeling, above an entrance that is being scored with wire-brushes and repainted. A gang of workmen and a beat-box blasting out Bangra. A century of soot and grime from the Thames basin flecks their hands as the cavalcade of Daimlers shoots by.
Across the Goldhawk Road a ringed hand adjusts saris as ice melts on prawns and swordfish in the market. Tube-trains coil round the tower-blocks, necklaces flickering above the stalls of bric-a-brac and fake cds. Sirens wail and a Range Rover‘s blue lights glint as it U-turns outside Clifton House, Hammersmith, W6.
At the turn of the century Prince Edward gilded this cage for the pleasuring of Lilly Langtry so the neighbours say. Now the tabloids bark out the latest royal adultery on hoardings between kebabs and Kentucky Fried Chicken as thieves grab Rolex and Vodaphones from execs in Mercs. Clifton House has been rehabbed into council bedsits.
At night kids clamber up its abandoned spiral stair and leave graffiti on the scalloped plasterwork. Between rooms crammed with flickering TV’s and clothes horses they flick torches on the dusty steps, mahogany handrail. The rebuild left the stairs hanging like an empty net where corks popping and loud laughter no longer echoes.
Meanwhile a figure on a staircase in Kensington Palace watching rain splash across the Serpentine and the Edwardian facades of Knightsbridge darkening under clouds like calamares en su tinta on silver plate. He returns to his watercolour of a house that is falling as rioters in Hyde Park fall under all the King’s horses.
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?
The series of illustrated poems titled ‘My Father’s Things’ are complete. They include ephemera related to the objects. The whole sequence are the first time I have attempted to deal in writing with the loss of my father aged 72 to pancreatic cancer in 2004.
I was infuenced by my reading of Richard Ford and Blake Morrison’s memoirs of parents. I also produced the original drawings last year at a period of crisis in my relationship with my now ex-wife who was suffering from mental health issues related to late stage alcoholism.
A gold Limit Silhouette watch leather strap hardly worn A dress watch for a man who never dressed always working Most times he didn’t carry a watch as it would be get damaged or snagged whilst working..too dangerous…
A man who cheated death twice..first a burst duodenal ulcer I remember him being taken in the ambulance It was touch and go. The Radcliffe saved him..the surgeon told him later he found carrots before cutting him to save him. Convalescence in Didcot Hospital..now housing..long gone
Later a wall collapsed on him he was two feet away from death Was catapulted out of the way just in time..battered and bruised He joked about it later..even the Lotus Elan that smashed into him Or the spinning car in the rainstorm that missed him and Uncle John
Neither made a dent but then his luck ran out at 70 A soreness in his stomach was scanned..revealed pancreatic cancer Too advanced for surgery..he grew greyer and weaker..could no longer Get into the garden..chemo making him vomit black bile He died in the extension we built in that last year defying the odds
to the end..he died on a bed in that building…almost perfect
like that watch stopped at 9.05 but hardly used
He died at 7.10 a.m.
The time he left for work every morning rain or shine
I am currently working on a project called ‘My Father’ s Things’ which is a series of drawings I did last year to stay sane amidst the chaos of my life then..don’t ask…the chaos has departed and is now far away.
This is the first draft of the first poem that I plan to attach to the drawing above. The entire sequence will eventually be published in a pamphlet hopefully through the Carousel as a riso printed publication.
The sequence of drawings and writings will be exhibited in September as part of Castle Ruins III at the King Billy Pub Nottingham.
Gun metal grey-green, heavy in the palm My father’s optical level The metal worn through use, a record of my father’s presence as is the smell of leather case and faint aroma of tarmac as if his hands sunburnt and grimy with tar still waved at me on thsoe frosty mornings I helped him set levels somewhere below the downs. A ritual since the age of 14 as I earned pocket money holding the levelling rods, red and white striped icy cold that stuck to my fingers as I held them straight waiting for the hand raised, a signal that he had the reading. Then another wave to move back up the slope and start again tied together by the upside down image of cross hairs rising and falling on my hand then the rod like a bomb aimer looking for a target
One morning we are out early. Steam rising from the power staton cooling towers. Stood in early morning sun on a former airfield at Harwell. The airfield the Dakotas lifted off from before dawn on D-Day. Carrying the last memories of men destined to fall caught in the cross hairs of German gunners. The rattle of munitions cascading from a thousand guns blurring the coastline and making the earth move.
Turning the world upside down.
Like the poor pilot spinning out of control trying to bring things back to a level.
I stare through that old telescope and call to him.
Right, right..back a bit.
That’s it we’re level now.
Roll out the string and mark the foundations. Knock in the pegs and start to build again. A nation fit for heroes on a sunlit morning when the smoke had cleared.
In fact I have been ignoring poetry, shelving it, filing it and generally pushing it to the back of my mind for the past decade.To start with this was deliberate as the combination of employment in an art school (note word art there not a writing school) and the first consistent art studio close to home promised great things…
But the best laid plans..mice and men etc.
The art school post ended in 2015 and although I still rent a studio I have been fairly incosistent in using it and the great rebirth of my painting career and the fame and wealth that would surely follow never happened.
A fairly shambolic attempt to reinvigorate my writing in 2014 on a M.A. in Creative Writing ended in abject failure as the reality of my age and what a modern creative writing course consists of collided head on….
Above and beyond all of these forlorn attempts to concentrate on anything was the gradual deterioration of my wife’s condition from 2009 onwards. Nothing, not an M.A. in Fine Art or international conferences had half the effect of living with someone who gradually showed more and more signs of a serious mental illness and addiction.
I have pretty much lost the last decade to being part of her battle with family tragedy and illness and thankfully despite the recent divorce she is still alive so far. I take nothing for granted now and take each day as it comes.
In that kind of time-frame poetry was the last thing on my mind and with the exception of some hastily produced mini-pamphlets my poetic career has remained parked in the drive until now.
So here I am 60 years old..none the wiser and a lot poorer with no gainful employment looking at writing again as the most ridiculous and least renumerative path I could possibly choose.
Welcome to the New World…same as it ever was..same as it ever was…
This rather nice vintage French leather bag came my way yesterday and I am going to use it to carry my poetry around in and hence the name ‘the Rattle Bag’ which I copped from the Heaney and Hughes anthology title…
As Heaney said : Ted suggested we call it by the name of a strange roguish poem translated from the Welsh of Dafydd ap Gwilym. It’s about an instrument that sounds more like an implement, a raucous, distracting, shake, rattle-and-roll affair that disturbs the poet and his lover while they lie together in the greenwood. In the words of the translator, Joseph Clancy, it becomes a noisy pouch perched on a pole, a bell of pebbles and gravel, “a blare, a bloody nuisance”.
Sounds about right. Any way the last twenty years i.e. the volumes ‘The Drifting Village’ and ‘Burning Books’ fit very neatly in to the bag….the previous twenty would be a stretch…