Retrospective and texts
Love-Strife Machine. Ferry Press 1969.
Most of the book was written in 1968 in a top floor maisonette overlooking the sea in Hove, Sussex, plus a few written previously in Hastings. A soul cast out of belonging, finding itself on the south coast, a condition of immigrant-like lostness seeking to establish landmarks, which has obtained ever since. The manner was the fruit maybe of five years of reading William Carlos Williams, early Pound, Stevens, Dorn, even Olson without the girth (the girth was exercised in Hastings and abandoned) for I can think of nothing, really, in the British traditions which would have given this kind of textuality. Most of those republished in Passing Measures were given titles and underwent revision, which is a serious habit of mine, intended not to violate the occasions of the originals but to authenticate them more strongly. Or as I said in the note to Untitled Sequence, “A few leaks plugged”.
An edition of 500 was considered normal for the earlier books of Ferry Press and other poetry presses in the 1960s and early 1970s. This figure shrank and shrank as the years went by and has now become an unknown small quantity on print-on-demand paperbacks, although some items, especially anthologies, can reach 1,000. It should be added that poetry books published by the “big” commercial, non-specialist publishers are also believed frequently to appear in editions of below 1,000, sometimes far below. Only about half a dozen poets in U.K. or Ireland have sales which mean anything but peanuts in real commercial terms.
Note that the first sentence of the following poem does not say that I, or any existent entity, is or can be understood as formed by, language.
I am from language & will return to language
& no one will know
what else I might have been
Storm waves blot out the lights
along the sea front of Hove and Brighton
not the back streets of Manchester or
network of estate roads south of
Stockport, not there
the same wind curves across the land
tearing thick grass on the
I wasn’t there
the centre of all this tumult,
this plastic material woven into
the rocks and meteorology
of the continental shelf
a morphosis the colour of blood
and winter sunsets out of
dreams of limestone, coagulates
a device capable of speech and
silence that can
hold the world in a syllable
if it wants to.
[Original version except for the ending. Revised version in Passing Measure, Carcanet 2000]
The Linear Journal. Grosseteste Review Books 1973.
Four-part poem sequence following the course of two journeys, a thing I have done many times since. These were remembered school trips to Spain and Italy. The work was first “finished” in Denmark in 1970, the published form in Macclesfield in 1972. Notwithstanding the note at the end, this proved not to be a final version – a complete revised text done in 2002 exists on disc. In the case of this work, some discomfort about the mode, the intermittent sliding into easy talk, kept me going back to it. A fifth section was written in 1970, following the course of a student trip to Germany, and after many rewritings was finally published as Untitled Sequence (Wild Honey Press, Bray, 1999). Whether this is or is not an integral part of The Linear Journal is the kind of decision I never make. The journey of Part One, in the Pyrenees, was trodden again in 2004 and several texts resulted from this, notably The Glacial Stairway.
[Passo di Gardena
cut through rich and
darker grass into white rock
among small pine trees, can it,
stream in a white trough,
cut through pleasure
and set a touchstone on our
Josquin, the burnt mode
floats in the air again beside which
assertion is lead, endless and
Behind me here is our New Integrated Settlement
combination of geophysical necessity and sports equipment
set up without much enthusiasm
it flops to the ground expelling noxious gasses
that was a short-lived phase of the world’s history
this inefficiency is due to wine.
And the grass-green gets
darker and merges into the
tree-green, pencil-thin waterfall
on the far mountain rustles,
a dim scar. It is impossible
to hate or even distrust the valley
even the black valley
with white lines. You
would have liked it here.
But you are caught in a quite different arena
outside the dream and the whole spectrum
and across the red wine I love you.
[Valle de Antermont
After which to fall howling into life step by step
the secret risks under every stone we have come thus far
and you don’t understand and no one ever will how vital it is
that soon this whole table will darken and be forgotten
while we sit and walk around elsewhere there is no cause for alarm
kindly get on with your work but nevertheless something is coming
out of the sky into the open air we so rarely inhabit it falls down
across the wooden huts and pine trees across the electric toasters half
the radiators in London spring into life once more and people
are standing on carpets murdering truth. Which recovers.
With some help and isn’t that up to us? Isn’t this
what is left of twenty-seven cosmologies while the reels and wheels
grind over and on and I’m far too busy to be important---
call out the dogs, call out the entire office,
forward and upwards to life in the crystal blocks.
strange family. Burning Deck Press (U.S.A.) 1973. (letterpress chapbook)
A parody, item by item, of day light songs by J.H. Prynne (1968). “Parody” is used in the sense in Renaissance church music of the parody mass, in which a pre-existing work was taken as the basis of a new composition by repeating a greater or lesser amount of its substance in new terms. But the transfer there from a small work (motet or chanson) to a large one (polyphonic mass) is not enacted here. The work has never been republished.
I much regret the word “urinating” (meaning raining) in the fourth poem. If you’re going to use slang, and especially that kind of schoolboy slang, you need to establish a spoken housing for it; as it is it breaks the tenor of the lines. Cross it out and substitute “precipitating”.
and now another term
begins, be warned, be
kind to the simple
gestured of management
be before be
yond the pulse behind
the bush, those old games
looking for what
out of it,
The Whole Band. Sesheta, Lancaster 1972.
Written in Odense, Denmark, and a nearby village called Ørbaek. A curious work in diptych form, which means that the texts on the rectos derived echoically from the texts on the versos. Described at the end as “notes on listening to music” though you’d never know. The music was free-jazz, John Tchicai, Arts Ensemble of Chicago, that kind of thing. A curiously unanchored work, a drifting, the writing relying on its own impulsion for its progress. Although I reduced the whole thing to six fragments in The Day’s Final Balance (pp.70-71) that doesn’t mean I view it as wasted, but probably the best value of this book is that it contains almost the only published drawings of Adrienne Riley apart from a few covers for the periodical Collection and one for a Ferry Press broadsheet by Jim Burns. A work of a very similar nature was Five Sets in Two Sessions (The Curiously Strong 1973) which has some interesting verses, four of which form Four Night Pacts in Passing Measures but doesn’t cohere its ambition, especially how to unionise chunks of quotation.
Preparations. The Curiously Strong, 1979.
The cover is from my collection of drawings of prehistoric European rock engravings, some of which were also used in The Musicians The Instruments and on the cover of an LP by Roy Ashbury. Subtitled “26 commentaries”, it doesn’t say (I don’t know why not) that it follows the 26 pieces of Blake’s Poetical Sketches (1783).
This was written at Harecops Farm in North Staffordshire as an interlude from all the work on Tracks & Mineshafts. I’ve been cautious about republishing it or parts of it. Though I’m very happy with a lot of it, there is also a deal of smartness and perversity, writing which by collage or clipping gives the impression of intellectual coverage without actually requiring it (such as item 8), and the insertion of bits of shorthand reference implying in-the-know receptors... Can lyrical intuition function removed from lyric? But some of the pieces break through into an uncynical calm, I think, perhaps as a result of taking Blake seriously.
So where is the population, and where is
the palace we built in the spring when we
knew who we were?
You’re asleep in the other room. It’s
very quiet here. A car passes outside.
Yes we’re continuing and the pause lifts:
we have never known what we are.
Our souls move among the three of us
in constant formation, broken and
glowing at each shift of the huge powers
all over the sky and land, the dawn, the
price of coffee and the beckoning of
a visionary hand,
a hand that seas
Every morning I get up and go to work.
Tracks and Mineshafts. Grosseteste Press 1983.
The advantages of delayed publication. This book (which precedes the next in the writing) was going to be a long work in the open field idiom incorporating a lot of documentation on the history of lead mining in the Peak District. For this purpose I haunted several local reference libraries, joined the Peak District Mines Historical Society, and tramped all over the area for several years in order to locate and contemplate holes in the ground. I even went underground on one occasion, through an old mine at Matlock Bath, which collapsed a fortnight later killing a member of a school trip. Begun in Macclesfield 1974 but written mostly at Harecops Farm near Hulme End, North Staffordshire, finally Bolehill, Wirksworth, 1981. I once spoke to Roy Fisher of this as my “vicar” episode. Most of the time we lived at Harecops I was unemployed; it was a big Georgian stone house on a low ridge-top and I had a big front room as a study with an enormous wooden desk in the window, in the cold weather a roaring coal fire in the grate and in the summer the window before me open as I wrote onto the view of a distant limestone ridge (Wolfscote Hill) crowned by a major tumulus, changing colour all day long. So like an 18th Century vicar I researched local history and informed it with my various philosophies. At the last moment I decided to try to make a book out of the mass of material I’d gathered by including and sequencing only what was clearly poetry, and self-sufficient, and made no claims for the author as geo-philosopher or historian of the spirit. Some of the residue formed the broadsheet Following the Vein published by Iain Sinclair in 1975 and Five New Poems, Pig Press 1978. It begins with something like a manifesto poem:
Given to death and life, no choice,
fallen into these terms, borne as the
tide bears the wave to its strike,
cut to bedrock, crest, charge the shore.
Given to this, life carving itself out
of its knowledge and the earth
is a cup to which the lip fits,
then surely the senses’ final construct
moves, through substance to the houses
of light, mutual devotion
joined to death; danger
specifies its fear, the message forms
its own access or nerve and behind
the point of contact perception opens
onto a cleared space, a settlement, holding
people of all ages together,
the whole of life, is this shift
back, this rearing
and arrival, which leaves a mark,
a birth documentation or yell echoing
down the unliveable corridors and arcades
of transitional time. Flesh scores lines
in the calcium slag of earth and the spirit
wakes, the needle enters the groove,
polar tension shakes the circuit, which
responds, gapes, tremors, issues
forth into the acts of day, for good.
Peace is nothing without this resistance,
engaging distance beyond any possible
repair to the end, the inhabited city.
[this and 12 other pieces reprinted in Passing Measures, Carcanet 2000 ]
Alongside Tracks and Mineshafts Grosseteste Published Two Essays, as it said on the title-page: “to elucidate some of the imagery in ‘Tracks and Mineshafts’”. The only one remotely to do this is the first, “Notes on Vein Forms” though most of the terms in it are not used in the poems and it is more of a contextualising,. Only here is the economic thesis, the resistance in traditional speculative structures to capitalisation, made explicit. The other essay, “Theses on Dream”, is quite original, and currently under scrutiny for republication.
Lines on the Liver. Ferry Press, London 1981.
Moving in 1978 to Bolehill, near Wirksworth, Derbyshire, an end to all that pseudo-epic ambition. Looking back in time through blazing sunsets over the quarries on the other side of the valley. Simple poems, complicated prose, an ordinary life, with a job.
Here out of my writing
your fingertips glow in the darkness
you climb into the valley
and I know my life can never be translated
out of this miserable little hole
full of novels and possibilities---
the very sides of it cut my hands.
On the hard rocks of the heart vale
our sight ends. The magpie moth
lays her eggs in the wound.
26) Lesson, after Philippe Jaccottet
At one time
I, frightened, ignorant, hardly living,
covering my eyes with images,
claimed to guide the dying and the dead.
I, sheltered poet,
set aside, hardly suffering,
dared to tracer paths in the abyss.
Now, lamp blown out,
hand more errant and trembling,
I start again slowly in the draught.
Your mother left you in care.
Maybe she didn't care
who now is to care
for and about you---
that you manage,
and have to bear
these dreadful puns
and cruel rhyme
drive their cares
Ospita. Poetical Histories 1987 (reprinted entire in Passing Measures)
Written shortly before and after moving to Cambridge in 1985. A vision of various merged things: of entering a (dream) hospital as doctor/patient, educational institutions, the death of my father in 1983, landscape at the tip of the Llyn Peninsula and near Winster in Derbyshire. Not sonnets but 14-line poems resembling sonnets, especially, someone said, the Italian sonnet with its particular urgency of movement. But they don’t stand very well in isolation and Ospita is one poem. It is some kind of apotheosis, and was recognised as such at the time. James Keery’s essay in The Gig 4/5 is helpful, and see my own Commentary on Ospita, which is one of those attempts to find out what you’ve done....
Seeking a bearing point on hurt I find
Hollows and rooms in the thick of the night,
A building hard at work flashing its bright
Offers into the star dome. Consigned
Forward I bring my name in a sealed jar
To the steps up, pay the slight fee, assent
To slow harm by the covering letter.
Entering into purpose distance springs
Back from the horizon to hold the cup
The bitter cup but true, of flesh-driven earth
(This night is the day outside the dream, this
Tableau my government, or family wish)
And deep in the brickwork think of asters
Blazing on the far links in slow birth.
I bear my coat and cast to a senior,
A new-old faithfull, who should know the coils
And corridors of the heart, the slender
Ghost smiling to the third tune. What is false
Be set into a pestle, what rings be
Represented as an inner garden
Open to Sirius, one and the same be
Ground and broiled and spoken as your answer.
The house is quiet, old radio music
In the walls, scissors on the table, streaks
Of blood in the sink. A call in the night,
I get up, white coat, glance out at the rain
On the glass, attend. What do I exchange for pain?
Holding a stranger’s thin arm I turn down the light.
[reprinted in Passing Measures, Carcanet 2000]
Noon Province. (1989, republished entire and revised in A Map of Faring)
“Why are you always writing poems about your holidays?” I don’t write poems about my holidays. I just need to feel my feet moving on the ground, and/or attach a sense of unfamiliar space opening before me. Provence, 1987. The occasion was a synthesis of venture out and coming back together, prodded by ancient voices.
Day and night the sky arches over
hills and plain turning against
the earth, clouds springing
from the dark wooded edge fan
over the farmed land and at
night the plethora of stars
turns clear and sure and
compact in their terraces
above a veiled and separated ground.
O fine in their farming the stars
rally and exit all night.
Full adoration without question.
The white rock breaks on the wooded slopes
over there and the sun dies constantly
over the vinefields, burning out fruit.
Repletion without any question
and no curriculum to offer the world
no credentials you would ever believe
for the sun burns cherries out of twigs
And the stars thresh mind pages
to a solitary and quiet wish
to line a space before we turn
to love’s raging difference.
SLOW MEDITATION IN THE CAFÉ-BAR LES CAVES DU MONT ANIS, LE PUY
Sometimes a feeling comes on me saying that to love the very savour of human being is such a rare thing, to love a kind of savour or centre of what we are, which is an ordinary thing but the only truth we wholly know, the only fullness without interference, our own stake in time: the person being here. That is not a sudden or dramatic thing, that does not imply wide revelation, but is here all the time. And on rare occasions we notice, that there is a truth at our pivot, that it fans out through us, that we can act and speak on its tide.
And it is never quite singular, you know, never quite alone, however much we shirk the focus there is always that telling chime; to sit alone in a cave under the cathedral is to smile at a library of honesty. And welcome what we can of it. We can hardly move without that prime informer the tongue across time and worlds funnelled down onto what we perceive and learn. We cannot even guess at the weight and pressure of true souls informing a slight movement of the lower lip, a faint stirring at the back of the head moving towards language, a feeling as of the slow dropping of veils, the narrowing of world light to an entrance.
This feeling says very little, it says only that the light is not yet out and every point in the world continues to exist as every person who ever did exist had a centre which transmitted itself into a vocabulary and on into hope. Even those, I think, who preferred hurt. But it is a feeling which occurs in a pause and protected from both sides, protected and fuelled by the days and futures of searching, obedient, action. Protected from what anybody ever did by what they might. We cannot arrange for such pauses.
It says a little more too, in a kind of weariness inhabiting the resilience and ease of the feeling, almost an edge of anger to the blissful prescience like a line of shadow marking the edge of an arch. It mentions that we also hate this life and all its distracting obstacles. It says that the angels, in the tympanum, with their serrated wings, are more beautiful and more human than the dark twisted flesh of our comedians and newscasters because they also assure us that we are also not here, also not anywhere on this striven planet at all, we have already come to an end and a line and a syllable mark out the wonderful pleasure of not having to be where we are put, not having to be here in this lying cave. One window opening onto a stone wall. That is to say, this is not a mixed feeling, but a feeling with an edge.
This block of sense is beyond harm while it stays. Its tranquil inwardness offers goodness indirectly, as the world understands, shadowed in honour and fidelity, starting with those we know best. For it exhorts us to declare ourselves in full. And at an enjoining of calm by which the offer must be repeated until it is taken, falling again and again to lay the coin at your feet, to make verses. Craftily glossing the past into trust via forgetting it rather precariously opens the future through its own delicately poised moment and totally assures the hesitant bearer: the end is in sight, minutely, so slight it almost hurts to locate. And what is your secret then in the years to come of elsewhere and departure, what does it matter then to have gained a self rise? It is returned anyway, the earth wants it all back. Stay with what you are. Work the burden and blind fear out of continuance by no more than a noticed edge, a flicker of grass, a simple attendance — that is, to shepherd this moment to its kingdom, as we have slowly learned in centuries of script. The continuance held in the instant and helpless out of it, like a lost child. And that is to say, I know nothing but this table. On which is represented by curious skill, a pattern of welfare. A pattern of warfare. A map of faring.
Company Week. Compatible Recording and Publishing 1994.
A sense of unfamiliar space opening before me. Notes on improvised music as it happens, from a series of concerts in London in 1977, with attached scribbles, doodles and daydreams. From the same occasion came The Musicians The Instruments (Many Press 1978), texts worked into more like a series of prose-poems, but not enough, I thought, and too convoluted or dissipated.
Snow has Settled [… ] Bury Me Here. Shearsman Books 1997
Collection of short poems circa 1983-1993, mostly named after places. I was at this time travelling a lot in connection with the book trade, staying overnight in B&Bs mostly in cities of the north and midlands, but holidays, and not going anywhere, are also involved. Most of the poems have 14 lines and some might even be sonnets. The title is made up of the first and last words in the book.
The stack of days is useless, there’s nothing,
The days are nothing in the pocket no books
On the shelf: a white wall and a black kettle.
You can think & feel freely but there is nothing
Left of the day to have or write into a book
Or stack away, finally only a cup and a kettle
That we take with us into the garden where nothing
Grows except statues and ideas or sometimes books
But a real enough garden with leaves. Put the kettle
On the brick-lined hearth to simmer as the book
Says and pour slowly, hot water on the leaves.
Perhaps it is a life’s richer act to wish nothing
Further than its creation out of nothing
Of a real and final thing as true as leaves.
This poem was republished in Passing Measures.
Passing Measures. Carcanet 2000.
The major selection, containing Sea Watches and the other Llyn sequences, Ospita, and a lot of the Peak District and Provence poems.
Aria with Small Lights. West House Books 2003.
11pp poem. The mountainous Garfagnana region of Italy north of Lucca, a hilltop village. But the entire structure is worked out of a single image: the cemetery above the village in the evening glowing with small lights, arrived at in every stanza while the discourse pursues and abandons various positions or modalities. The fourth and last stanzas:
Standing there while the cemetery glows, and hides its bite.
When I reached the gate in the wall it became further
to what was in front of me than all I had known, the cot
of continuing, because it was a town and nothing else
a town with all its lights below me alive and burning
through the night it was the very town of death
busy about its businesses telephoning across the land
balancing its currencies against its goods and I had
nothing to offer it. I had nothing to offer it at all.
Life’s own loss and failure truly owned, will be a pride
to inhabit in some corner of the earth, a sorrow where
the new earth pivots. And some creature will sing
it forth – not the bearer, not the old man on the hill, this
pleasure falls to the reader, the lurker behind, whose care
for distance inhabits the loss, whose truth came
and stood by the widower at the grave. Caresses
of 1965 are set in a nosegay and placed on the ground.
Turns and heads for home without a sound.
Alstonefield: A Poem. Carcanet 2003
Returning repeatedly to the area of North Staffordshire I used to live in, as if to check that it remains unharmed. Long poem in five parts, of which the first four are shorter, meditational, static, rather dense. Begins–
Again the figured curtain draws across the sky.
Daylight shrinks, clinging to the stone walls
and rows of graveyard tablets, the moon rising
over the tumbling peneplain donates some equity
to the charter and the day’s accountant
stands among tombs, where courtesy dwells.
Thus a special and slight enclosure is set,
slight as the dark spaces I fill tonight and
silent and motionless as lives become, swelling
with truth, scattered with glowing plaques.
Darkness opens the sky to space. Fallen
light sets up its booth in the stoneyard
where the theatre of eyes flickers and dies.
The moon sails the eastern sky, rides
the upland fields in sole possession,
the scattered runs of grey wall the walled
yard and the speaking stones, that say there is
something made in a life not to be lost
however small it is not to be crossed,
not to be cast in eyeless wax.
Part V is nearly five times as long as the sum of I-IV and goes at ten times the speed, in the plan of a night-long circular walk. Impossible to make short excerpts. When the national park people gave the book a page in one of their tourist guides, I thought the three quotations made were very adequate--
1) “...waves of limestone dive into the ground and great shoals rear up...”
2) “...as long vales attract extended thoughts...”
3) “Breathe slower, there are other worlds.”
The Dance at Mociu. Shearsman Books 2003.
Prose concerning rural Transylvania: sketches, prose poems, “factual stories”. Landscapes, encounters, meditations, observations, grasping how things work or failing to, notes on musicians, crows, Brancusi, horses, beggars, etc. A lot of these pieces seem to consist of long introductions to a short main point or revelation at the end, long accounts of nothing much and then something happens.
ENTERING THE UPPER IZA VALLEY/p>
Out of Sighet on the main road east, past the only new building, a hotel, clean concrete standing in weeds, full of water closets and entirely suitable for the new business and the new tourism and the new antique-dealers which are eventually going to erase these places.
The road runs up the valley of the river Viseu close to the edge of vast mountain forests which are the basis of the local economy. Somewhere along here there is still a steam railway which takes forest workers up into the mountains at seven o’clock every morning. Past, I’m told, sometimes, bears drinking in the streams, and the rare sighting of lynxes.
You’ve hardly left the town when the next “village” starts, a mass of one-storey houses, some in the old wooden construction, more of them breeze-block and tin roof, all of them poor. It’s called Tisa, becoming Bocicoiu Mare, then Rona de Jos (lower) then Rona de Sus (upper) but for the most part you’d hardly notice, the houses rarely stop, the road gradually climbs, the great valley full of poor housing heads slowly for the Maramuresului Mountains.
The idea is to turn off onto a track through the village of Ruscova which leads to a remote mountain village, Poienile de Sub Munte, inhabited by Ukrainians and described as very beautiful. We do this: the track is a road, not an easy one but a road, full of holes, the village is endless. Kilometres pass and we are still among houses on a road, and it’s past three in the afternoon. There’s nothing “rural” in sight, neither is there any industrial concentration, any obvious factory or centre. There are big stacks of trunks and logs in spaces between the houses, many of which have transportable sawing frames parked outside them – people make a living by taking them to where they’re needed, a house being built or repaired. And people walking, as always, men women and children everywhere, not in that concerted “going home from work / school” way I remember in the streets of northern England in the 1940s – the only thing around here to remind me of that is the daily return of the beasts from the pastures – but an unregimented movement in all directions, in no hurry, stopping and talking, sitting outside the bar... Not then industrial in the western hierarchic mode, but still industrial, still thronging, urban, hanging on money. Waiting, perhaps, for the new multinational presence which is going to rationalise this throng into unidirectional observance. Perhaps ready for that, in a form of poverty, a hanging-around without direction kind of poverty, which only that can offer to relieve. All the houses look in bad repair, the people’s clothes look worn, the very air feels dusty and used.
After 10 Km we have had enough of this. Progress is slow, the mountain village still far away, it’s getting late. We abandon the idea and turn round, and go back slowly through the whole scene again for another hour – unchanged, everyone still on the move – back to the main road and on up the valley. We go on through similar places to Moisei, where we turn onto a minor road to the right curving up the valley side, which is not high, and over into the top of the Valley of the Iza, which runs parallel to the Viseu, to follow it back down towards Birsana and Ocna, and something happens.
Most of the terms for which seem wrong. Like saying we moved back in time, because quite possibly we moved forwards. Like saying we moved into a pastoral, because quite possibly we moved into a reality.
No more than glimpsed. The rich greens and whites of the vegetable garden, where the small river flows past the smallholding. The undertree light of the small orchards. The valley slopes covered in cultivation strips with tall lumpy haystacks standing all over them. Everywhere, clarity. People bending over the work of tending, women in wide black skirts and head scarves, men in white shirts. Wooden farms with decorated entrances to their yards, wooden churches on knolls. The very possibility of remaining self-sufficient, of just about managing, with very little help from the town, and that at a high rate, but in circles of light.
And on down the Iza Valley, which is, almost, a linear city of wooden houses 20 kilometres long. A linear city with the fields on either side reaching to its heart.
Poverty is a complicated thing. There are havens and chapels in it, as well as doors. There are rooms with pictorial walls, and yards where people sing and dance. There are pits of despair but also ceremonies of thanksgiving. And there is the working percept which is in tune with the human condition at its clearest, where the everyday habitation shows exactly what we are, wholesale and outright. And shows, in its physical motions its artefacts its trappings its earth-stained toil, what the business worker knows as an inward, concealed and incomprehensible melancholy, a despair for which there is no reason. Here the reason is carved on the door of the stockyard, and hung on the beams of the family space. And shines from the small river onto the vegetable patch, under the orchard trees, up to the mortal watershed.
Excavations. Reality Street Editions 2004.
180 prose poems with a lot of quoted text from 19th century reports of the excavation of prehistoric burial mounds in the north of England, set intermittently against fragments of old (mostly 15th and 16th Century) love songs and other ancestral texts. Meditations among [in] graves. Not exactly a sequence, though there are sequential sections. Tom Lowenstein’s piece on it in The Gig 4/5 was rewarding – “raking through bones” it is indeed. From the Preface:
“I feel these pieces can be read in various ways, according to the reader’s inclinations or experience of modern poetry, from pure text to monologue. My own preference is to read the piece whenever possible as a kind of Χορος danced over the exhumed remains, as at that point near the end of many of the tragedies when a screen is drawn back revealing a tableau of death (empty figures and masks, the actors from which are now survivors in the foreground). If so, it is a Chorus often uncertain between tragedy and comedy, whose members do not necessarily agree with each other, or even belong to the same group, and of which the author struggles to assume the leadership, but concerned together with bringing the remotest remnant of presence into a full theatre.”
the body in its final commerce: love and despair for a completed memory or spoken heart /enclosed in a small inner dome of grey/drab-coloured [river-bed] clay, brought from some distance and folded in, So my journey ended moulded in the substance of arrival I depart and a fire over the dome and a final tumulus of local topsoil benign memorial where the heart is brought to witness the exchange: death for life, absence for pain, double-sealed, signed and delivered— under all that press released to articulate its long silence, long descended • tensed wing / spread fan / drumming over the hill.
Red in a white matrix the fire stars, lives rendered to a point and sealed in the blue clay dome, to hover over the theatre of memory a finely ground and polished plate of almost transparent flint in front of the face My feerfull dreme / falling angels, hands in front of faces swirling into darkness / to where no earth or sky or any mortal claim has any place nevyr forgete can I love’s harm.
and seek and seek to the final denial, a door open on the world to be neighbours in the grave, to lie Urne by Urne, and touch but in their names (as Paris touched Helen, in name, as Achilles, in death) spelt with a flint blade by the wrist, food vessel, ochre pebble, harsh crown/ five flint splinters set in an arc around the top and back of the skull and touching in name make sentences across the hill, on chalk marl, bisecting habit and season –– ecstasis in Leuke, the White Island (“Passing sailors could hear Achilles and Helen at night, singing the story of their lives in the verses of Homer.”) squaring the circle the mortal right-lined Circle must conclude and shut up all. Indeed the complete halt, the message opened for ever... life is a pure flame | and makes but winter arches.
150. Ekelöf’s Dream
Dead hand in my hand responding, turning, dead taste in my mouth like stale rice. Histories of fear: How the king was dismembered. And when only an arm and head were left was asked, “Are you still sentient?” Yes: the big blue eyes staring out hard and clear to the horizon muttering She and onlie she /what shall I do without Che farò senza and where do it?—on what map, on what paper smeared with dismal farms. The answering silence
2. The answering enemy, the Warrior who tried to kill my voice but missed and struck a hole just above my eyes, black ticket to the cancelled future, small with insipidity and unresponse, caught in the dream unable to [wake, die, love] at the mercy of time’s silence again —but also, “a kind of turning” [tillvändhet: to/from-ness] /these, who craved for life, and lie, like left-overs on a plate, rubbish in the street. Plimsoll altars, full of static, all the messages wrenched to a capsule, until the unfolding. Until the soul is called out of it (because someone needs it) -- father, mother, wife, turn again.
A Map of Faring. Parlor Press 2005.
I get the impression that, perhaps because it was published in U.S.A., this book hasn’t gotten around in Britain to the extent that the others have. It contains the most recent of my extended poems and is to me an important publication. Two poem sequences. The first derives from a hermit’s cave in Derbyshire and is an unexpected intervention into “religious imagery” and the meaning of the hermetic, in my usual contracting with distance. The second concerns a valley in northern Romania and is my only lyrical action towards the true village society I got to know there. Added is an appendix-like group of 14 poems set mostly across central Europe. All this is followed by a revised republishing of Noon Province in what I trust is, by default or not, its final state.
First and last poems of First Sett––
Crucifix and lamp niche carved in the wall
quiet breathing slowly devolving thought
wine corks and olive pips in the ash heap
soft singing, dry powder, global home.
Prevent me from disheartening, spread
my thought into result seal my song
in a small pot my heel turning on the ground
at the centre, where the sky sits.
Night closes in, heat lifts from the valley floor
the stars reappear, the grasses part
and they enter the earth, the sung men.
The traders, burdened with a constant elsewhere.
So the image gets erased,
hope sunk into rock,
We go but we shall be back, we shall
return here. Everything will be
as it was before the war. Walk up the steps
and enter the house. Same old
address, same postcode, same subsidence.
Say hello at the bar, yes, we’re back.
The world is peeling apart but
it’ll be over, and we shall be back, sporting
the uniform in which death is dressed.
Butterfly on the lemon balm,
gentle drumming, my
worst fears, my sweet rest.
First and eleventh poems of Sett Two––
Heaps of fruit piled up against the houses
grandfathers piled up in the ground
churchyard fruit, pears, cherries
travellers selling small bags of hazels
If all the world is to go the same way —
all one empire, all serving the one broker? —
a thin sigh in the fields, baby
where did our love go?
The house in the fields
breathes, its timbers
flex in the night changes,
the star wheels churn
Piles of apples outside in the yard
yellow and red in separate heaps
slowly, under careful control
rotting into the music.
Open land, then forest, then air.
Leonardo Bruni said that the harmonious
workings of the institutions of Florence
derived from the beauty and geometry
of the Tuscan landscape.
A thin track, a line in the grass across
the pastures and over the riverside humps
everywhere worked, the shape of the place
carved from work, lines curving to meet,
leading ultimately homewards.
One of the appended poems––
The world stands. Visitor, reader,
be quiet, learn to die. Lover of sleep,
learn to fall, into a small space
with a plaque on the wall saying: HERE...
This place, this grassy ground where it swells
here against the wall. Was brought here.
And forty thousand more, one by one.
Sang, danced, acted here. Worked,
as people must. Killing work. Nobody
is disqualified from the duties compassion
exacts, nobody is privileged by this suffering
and the vastness of resource it sets in motion.
Vast Europe, breaking circuit at a small
garrison town the mountains in the distance
The mountains in the distance, breaking Europe
across a small child’s arm. The small child left
a crayon drawing and what the drawing said was,
Agree to suffice, not to surpass, agree to be
the actual person, nothing else will break
the circuits of plunder. The drawing was of
two beds and a coat hanger.
The Day’s Final Balance: uncollected writings 1965-2006. Shearsman Books 2007.
Omnium gatherum of a lot (but not all) of the stuff that never got into any of the books, previously published in periodicals or pamphlets or unpublished. Poems, prose, prose-poems, sequences, epigrams. As the blurb says, “...in a great variety of modes, the poems varying (from the start) from the plain to the highly figured...” One thing it reveals is that I have a terrible habit of never quite knowing when a work is finished. Almost every large text has a further episode trailing after which may or may not be part of it, and they are gathered together here, tail-ends of Alstonefield, Excavations, Snow has settled..., The Dance at Mociu, and Tracks and Mineshafts (not all declared as such).
The Llyn Writings. Shearsman Books 2007.
A separate gathering of all the texts related to the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales, visited annually for thirteen years 1977-1989 with sporadic visits thereafter. The mainstay of the book consists of three sequence, of which the first, Sea Watches, is the foundation and touchstone of the entire enterprise. Added are spin-off poems, notes, prose pieces, jottings, lists, descriptions, etc., and topographical notes. It’s all about purpose and direction and ultimate ends, embodied on the ground, in a history, and in compositional strategies (as always).
Best at Night Alone. Oystercatcher Press 2008.
This whole set began with one phrase which the Swedish poet Gunnar Ekelöf (1907-1968) used again and again as the first line of a poem, and which is now my title.
On the 11th page of text, the word “veer” in the last line has been changed to “fear”.
In 2007 I started prefacing some of the more extended poetry texts with prose paragraphs of contextualisation and explanation, roughly modelled on the prefaces quite commonly found in old Chinese poetry. A matter of setting the reader’s feet on the ground. This was partly in rebellion against the law of “No explanations” which was common among poets of my generation who saw themselves as advanced. “Explanations are demeaning to writer and reader”, somebody said. So never explain. Never help anybody. (Most of these poets were professional educators).