GRASS CLOUDS

2O Years on the poetry bench

Page 3 of 15

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.

My Father’s Things


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.

My Father’s Things: The Watch

The Watch

My Father’s Watch

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

Kept perfect time until the end.

First type-written version 21.8.2019


My Father’s Things: The Optical Level

The World Turned Upside Down….

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.

https://www.facebook.com/events/508541923226021/

The Optical Level

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.

We heard birds singing.

‘My Father’s Things’ based on this by Waits..



Two new poems

A Tiny Spider

A speck
crawling from under Acrimony
seen under the spotlight

A metaphor
for the last ten years
crawling down the hard shoulder

A tiny spider
picks its way through books
and is gone

I stare at the rain
The stationary cars
The Middle of England

Wonder how she’s doing
What webs lay ahead
What sticky yarns

The Lost Decade

Travelling on the Manx electric railway
In Fog
One minute coasting
Could see to Ireland
The next all blank like a page

Then a screetch as foot on brake
Bad news from abroad
Then silence
Mist rolling seaward
Beginnings and endings
A horse on a cliff
Cold black sea

The line ended
We sat silent
At a Victorian station
Overhead cables fizzing in the rain
Then a tired horse pulling
Us along the esplanade

Ten years before dirt rained down
On your sister’s coffin
Even then I felt the cold wind blow
In from the Irish sea
Eating into our bones
Then into our souls
Until we could not find our way home

The New World

Back to basics….

Poetry and I have not been getting on….

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…

The Rattle Bag

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…

Memoirs – Ford and Morrison- Dealing with Death

 

I have just read these two linked memoirs. In discussing his memoir of his parents Ford specifically mentions the influence of his friend’s earlier book.

Both are very strong works although maybe because of its particularly English subject and atmosphere the Morrison just shades it for me especially as my own parents both died of cancer.

In describing that Morrison is accurate and heartfelt. Indeed so poignant is it that it made me look back at the impact of those events in my own life ( Morrison ends up in therapy).

He also discusses the impact on his own writing and if I am honest the death of my mother in 2012 after my father’s passing in 2004 left similar holes….

It only now after another period of near-death experiences that I willing to also admit that it can have devastating psychological impact in all sorts of ways including creatively.

Maybe that is why I turned to these books recently to see how other writers dealt with things.

 

What I am doing…

I wrote this statement in 2010. Nothing has changed.

I am using this ‘credo’ as the basis of my new ‘great leap forward’ with the Thames art and technology idea..

 

Delineation of ‘Theory’: An artist’s personal statement

Throughout my ‘art-working’ life some things have remained stubbornly, one might even say obsessively’, constant. Be it in digital images as recently or in drawing or poetry and song I have remained constant in delineating a clearly ‘map-able’ terrain. This terrain extends about 5 to 20 miles in radius of my hometown of Didcot in Oxfordshire, England. Always the poor relation of the illustrious centre of learning that resides but a stones throw away.

There runs a hard core of intention throughout which draws on politics, ecological thinking and that obsessive returning to notions of ‘place’ and ‘landscape’. I regard my work as being a mapping of constant themes which recur sometimes years later. The River Thames is one theme and the Berkshire Downs another.

Local folk tales and oral literature mined from local libraries another. A recent song ‘Hanging Puppet’ drew on one such ‘tale. In fact one could describe it as artistic ‘Anglocana’ to differentiate it from Americana. I have written well over 2000 songs over the years. Mostly these are recorded in lo-fi versions and only really coming to life when in the hands of other more talented musicians (see the Moon Over the Downs CD 2003).

Poetry has appeared in various magazines and in the Scottish anthology The Ice Horses (1996). I currently have at least 4 unpublished complete books of poetry on the shelf. One could describe my work as multi-disciplinary with a strong streak of green politics colouring the waters beneath.

I have drawn on some clear influences in writing and art. Seamus Heaney’s concept of a personal ‘Hedge School’ going back to John Clare is one thread. My forebear’s personal involvement in Agricultural Unions is another (see Skeleton at the Plough poems). I also am influenced by a ‘working class’ sense of writing picked up form Carver and Gallagher and other dirty realists. In song almost any Americana act would suffice.

I am not American but I have strong American influences going back to Thoreau and Walden lake. To try and build an alternative ‘English’ approach I have increasingly been drawn back to the English Civil War when the notions of science and arts were more fluid and interchangeable. As an example I would cite Robert Plot’s Oxford a marvelous Natural History of Oxfordshire from 1677.

In it one finds specimens such as ‘Stones that look like Horses’. I draw heavily upon cultural geography theory post Williams and Berger and am heavily influenced by Patrick Keiller and David Matless.

It is this kind of merging of scientific natural history and folk-lore terminology that I now most interested in both in poetry and artwork.

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