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Psychics

Thursday, 11 August 2022 at 07:53

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  1977

PSYCHICS


Sometimes I used to wake up with moonlight tucked up
to my chin like warm smothering wool
and hear drops of water smash into the bath.
Then,wanting no more sound than the gentle
irritation of water on enamel
I’d leave my bed and turn at the door
to watch myself grunt and roll over.

Astral projection, a pattern
of upbringing no-one can alter,
even a genetic faculty it worked
like a curse not a charm dividing me
from what I felt and was never
exorcised by the cold rinse I had
before going back to the empty bed.

My father endured the gift, too,
telling my mother how he’d struggle
to get back to her and himself
as he drifted above the bed
watching the rope of phosphorescence
which tied him to his navel dwindle
to an almost invisible thread.

And for his father the thread was broken.
Detached,he lived on higher planes
becoming at each remove a vaguer
more omnipotent apparition of himself.
When my grandmother lay haemorrhaging
he left for work to come back ten hours later
and receive the news that she had died.

It didn’t matter. Whether fleshed or ghostly
she was always summoned and embraced
as dream substance. He used his other gifts
to touch the real. In the Great War a voice
guided him through a doorway hot enough
to melt bullets and one when he refereed
a hockey match a player was injured.

He said “I knelt down. The shin was broken.
I could feel the break underneath the skin.
The player was crying with pain.
I knew I had the power so I healed him.
It was strange how all the players
witnessed the miracle and then
immediately forgot it.”


I wrote this after the return of an adolescent nightmare where I would see myself asleep. My father had similar, but more distressing nightmares perhaps brought on by traumatic experiences in the Second World War and the anecdote about his father’s experience was told to me by grandfather himself.
Farida Majid showed the poem to George Macbeth, who was impressed by it unlike the poems I’d send to him for “Poetry Now.” Farida published this in my second collection, “Naming of the Arrow.”




The Ghost

Wednesday, 10 August 2022 at 12:24

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1976


THE GHOST

She dreams she has been robbed; her orchid,
her clutter of cosmetics, tapestries,
a statue of Ganesha – not even
a stocking trails from and open drawer,

In her sleep she cries for her glass bangles.

“There is hope” she thinks noticing the outline
of the wardrobe and dressing table,
an asymmetry of ceiling and windows
and light mottled by the shadow of railings
outside.But she has no shadow herself
and on the mattress (no bedclothes) she sees
an exquisite arrangement of bones.

In her sleep she cries for her glass bangles.

The bones crumble while she watches
leaving a trace, a calcium smear
and from the ceiling flake plaster, sawdust,
splinters of brick until there is no room
just an open concrete space which might be
an arena or a road if there were
voices or engine noise to define it.

In her sleep she cries for her glass bangles.

“There is hope” she thinks before her gaze
and awareness are left in pure space
knowing only the exact alteration
of absolute light and complete darkness.

In her sleep she cries for her glass bangles.


I wrote this after the late Farida Majid (1942-2021) narrated her dream to me where she had lost everything. As she had plans to publish a collection of my poems she wasn’t best pleased when it appeared in my first full collection, A Singer from Sabiya, which John Welch published in his Many Press. “That’s my poem, Jamie” she scolded me.







Whodunnit

Tuesday, 9 August 2022 at 10:22

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  1975


WHODUNNIT


“We are all guilty,” said Doctor Williams,
head of the household, on the day he died.
The Major slept noisily in an armchair.
The lid of his glass eye was flicked back.
He could have been a winking corpse.
Open on his lap was an Agatha Christie,
“Murder on the Orient Express.”
Stanley, the ex-wrestler, exercised
a yo-yo. It described greater and greater
ellipses, the orbits of the planets.
By the sundial Miss Elsie Sutcliffe
dictated the first clue, “To my loyal subjects.”

In the blue room Lady Amanda had woken.
She rehearsed the customary questions.
“Am I clay or root? Am I stem or leaf,
bud or flower? What did my dream mean;
the church with the diamond-shaped west window,
myself in mourning and my hands so wrinkled?”
She noticed the seams at the room’s corners
widening until a slow avalanche of earth
slid rumbling slightly until it settled.
She watched lichen and moss accumulate.
A fern sprouted from her shoulder
its tip curled like a baby’s fist.


This was published first in George Hitchcock’s legendary California magazine, Kayak, in 1975. I’ve included it as the opening poem in my forthcoming collection, Small-Scale Observations from Shearsman. Kayak was famously surrealistic, but this owes more than a little to Gavin Ewart (1916-1995) who was a great friend.



To An Eleven Year Old Boy

Monday, 8 August 2022 at 07:12

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  TO AN ELEVEN YEAR OLD BOY UNABLE TO SPEAK MORE THAN TWO WORDS


Awaking to the smell of varnished oak,
the waterproofed screws fixing the lid tight
so you must scrabble at the wood with your nails
until earth sags through or your air gives out,
you would shriek “Door! Door!”

Watching an oak leaf turning an edge
and the flat surface towards you disclosing
and shutting out the spinney’s insect whistle,
watching wasps massed around a hole
inside a blackberry patch drowsily
climb the brambles then rise like flak
you would whisper “Door. Door.”

Seeing eyelids open after sleep
and mouths uttering for you mere noise
which,for all you know, could be a curse
or a song you would reply “Door. Door.”

If you were shown the passages
in the pyramids closing up after
the sand counterweights flow out letting
the dressed blocks settle into place,
the widening decorated arches round
the engraved wood of an entrance
to a cathedral where sinners take
their naked worship and if you were shown
the unadorned steel shutters on the grills
in a prison you would observe “Door. Door.”

And you could tell me what is behind me.
It has a frame and panels of pine,
a handle of brass and iron. It is
painted white although unskilfully
where the gloss has run and dried in streaks.
“Door,”you would say “Door. Door.”


I wrote this after reading an article in the Sunday Times about a young lad with an inability to speak. The poem was the occasion of my meeting two friends of nearly fifty years, the writer, Marius Kociejowski and the weaver Bobbie Kociejowski, who loved the poem when I read it at the Wednesday poetry group, Poetry Round.







A Command

Sunday, 7 August 2022 at 11:15

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  1973


A COMMAND


Do not trust the stars.
They arrive when words sleep
and induce the ghost of pure noise.
The Milky Way reels above you.
Its furthest energy began
to reach towards you before
our first gutturals were uttered
while its nearest source of light could,
At this moment, no longer exist.
Be disturbed
by the church’s mineral chime,
the unscuffed grid for hopscotch
chalked on the pavement and the ash leaf
its tissue worn away to a pattern
of veins. It is held beneath
a translucent glaze of ice
like a specimen on a slide.
It is certain enough.
It is not permanent.



I wrote this in Matlock during my training as a teacher whilst living digs in Starkholmes beyond old Matlock in the photograph. The church in the poem and photograph is Saint Giles and the house in the foreground is the former Old King’s Head inn, the oldest building in Matlock which I visited with our History lecturer, the late Angus Watson in 1973 and which is now owned and lived in by one of my sisters. A Command was the first of my poems to be translated into Slovak and published and broadcast in Slovakia.





Chesil Beach

Saturday, 6 August 2022 at 12:03

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  1972


CHESIL BEACH


Somewhere near the approaches to feeling
the sea inheres, even converses,
albeit with shrugs and truisms
allowing such hints as this glassy
restlessness to spill on shingle
while behind a bleak pane of water
hardly seems to fill Weymouth Bay.


Between them the pebble stretch is shifted
as if in response to mood (or perhaps
patterning a reticence before mood.)
All the stones on the shore, wry flints,
enigmatic grits, taciturn basalts,
are smoothed and rounded to perfect shapes
hiding their first, and true, nature.


I went to Chesil Beach on Geography field trips at school and then a couple of time in my early twenties. The narrow spit of sand gravel and stones joining the mainland to Portland Bill is extraordinary with the sea on two sides often with different weathers. The poem was dedicated to my friend, Kevin Crossley-Holland and his second wife, Ruth.





Threatened Species

Friday, 5 August 2022 at 16:36

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1971

THREATENED SPECIES

Here are holly, jasmine, neglected pear
Their leaves dense and languid from rain.
Here is earth banked for potatoes.
Ragwort splits the expedient concrete.

Put aside your hopes for restoration
And pass the peeling common stuccoed arch
To where you don’t receive the vision
Of the sentimental beast in you.

A petty thief, one of the threatened
Smaller predators, pads his fingers
Through the small ads, self-deceivingly
But automatically as instinct.

Milly,an addict, lifts a cigarette
Her movement alien as a lemur’s.
She clasps her handbag protectively
To her as though it were her child.

You don’t find what could be worst in you.
They resist your defining impulse
And drink tea, seated unalarmingly
On the not-quite-fire-engine-red chairs.

Soon they notice you and begin
The corruption of talk. You must choose
Between their lies and breaking the rule,
“Never tell them about yourself.”

You can avoid the choice and just listen.
A drunk snorts in the hall. A knife scrapes
In the padlock on the gas meter.
Far off an express abruptly coos.


After university I turned down the jobs I was offered and worked as a voluntary social worker for the Simon Community in London. This was put together from my notes on one the rest days we were required to take away from the community.‘Milly’ was not the real name of the girl.



An ecologist Comments

Thursday, 4 August 2022 at 10:45

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  AN ECOLOGIST COMMENTS

That original, Adam-and-Eve of a tree,
two lovers united as a single birch,
an eternal clasp of thigh and knee,
should defy the hardest cold and preserve
a perfect human state.
                                   Too far north for such degree
of bliss. Listen as frost wrinkles in the bark
and hear them, inevitably, crack apart.

1971


I presented this in one of the workshops run by Kevin Crossley-Holland at Leeds University under the title “A Marxist Comments” and speedily changed the title before it was collected in “Four Poetry and Audience Poets” edited by Alan Ram. There’s a story, which I read as a nine-year old, by the psychic novelist, Joan Grant, purporting to be from a native North American legend of two forbidden lovers who changed into a single birch tree. I was reading a lot of Robert Graves when I wrote this poem.



Relapse

Wednesday, 3 August 2022 at 17:29

John and Yoko in bed 1969

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

  RELAPSE

You, silhouetted
outside the window in my cell,
were so tranquil, head bent,
hands folded in your lap,
that I was calm for once
and showed a marked improvement.

“My ideal” I claimed,
so was allowed to leave
and learn from you a sight
of sun and moon I knew
only second-hand.

I was disappointed
when you did not see me
and stared inside the darkness
I had brought as if you envied
what I’d left behind.

We were discovered
in a state of total silence,
were locked away together
with curtains drawn across the window.

1969

This was published in Universities Poetry 9 edited by Edwin Morgan and either Ted Hughes or Seamus Heaney. I managed to spread a single sentence over each stanza and make each line mean something by itself, an element of poetic craft I’m quite fanatical about.



1968 Poem

Tuesday, 2 August 2022 at 10:14

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IMMIGRANT


Came off mountains with memories
of woodsmoke and sharp thunder
into city smog which hurt my lungs.
You laughed, dubbing me bizarre
and kept me as a wonder.

Arrived one early morning to present
a honeycomb with bees still buzzing
in my words; imagined you would not resent
stinging with the sweetness. You asserted
I was mad and called the janitor
to throw me out.

Should realise
the city hands out nothing I could want.
But you hold the promise of fresh rain,
cool umber of the mountains in your eyes.
Expect me at eight in evening dress
bearing a box of chocolates.

1968


Ronnie Sullivan told me it had the quality of a telegram, I suppose because of the pronoun drop characteristic of early Auden. Yes, of course, I accept that my vision of the immigrant being truer to the natural world is sentimental.





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