good luck to you kafka/you’ll need it boss – Henry Graham

Originally posted February, 2012:

graham

the man from the finance company
came again today he wants to know
when i’m going to pay but what he won’t say
is what it was i bought

one morning perhaps when i was high
on poetry and corned jock butties
i must have wandered threepartsmental
into a departmental store and bought something

a three piece suite for my sweet
a frigidaire to keep frozen my despair
a fitted carpet for the inside of my head

he just won’t say what it was
and when i laugh he looks the other way
apparently i have only fourteen days left
he won’t even say what happens then

i suppose they will come and take away my eyes
(which i know i haven’t paid for)
or the words that live inside my head
or my surprise at raindrops or the use

of my legs or my love of bread
then again they just might forget
about me and go away / fat chance

When Allen Ginsberg visited Liverpool in 1965 he declared the city the centre of the consciousness of the human universe, or words to that effect because there are a variety of alternatives out there, and for those who doubt he actually said it, Brian Patten is quoted as observing I think Allen believed the centre of human consciousness to be wherever he was at the time.

This is by way of introducing Henry Graham who was a Liverpool painter and poet of this time, having attended that centre of cultural significance Liverpool College of Art. He didn’t make The Mersey Beat selection, but he was a similar poet of that oeuvre. This book was published in 1969 and I acquired my copy in 1973. The appeal was obviously the poetic irreverence of the moment and the celebration of comic meaninglessness, or I guess I would have seen in this poem at that teenage time an anti-establishment sentiment, a mockery of the powers to be who would try to deprive us of the words that live inside our heads and a love of raindrops and so on. It was just fun.

I wrote plenty of immature gibberish trying to emulate this poetic hilarity. It’s not as easy as it might seem. I’ll post an example one day when I’m feeling very confessional…..

Return of the Hippie Shirt – Gerald Locklin [1993]

Originally posted in October, 2011:

gerald1

Just read this brief tale today, a 20-year-later sequel to The Hippie Shirt. In that original story, Robert MacGregor, a 35 year old actuary, is befriended by a hitchhiking hippie who literally gives him the shirt off his back – which leads to the comic, if dramatic, dissolution of Bob’s life as lived then.

In this sequel, Bob is hitchhiking across America having spent the last 20 years hanging out in the summer with the Ojibuitske Eskimos and wintering with the Oaxicoatle Indians of the Andes. His reason? Because they wore similar shirts. At least that’s what he tells the two cops he meets whilst hitchhiking again all these years later, and who want to beat him up – like two decades ago – but are scared off when Bob convinces them they are being observed by satellites. It’s the best moment in this sweet revisit.

gerald2

Locklin is a fine poet in the great Bukowski tradition and I have always enjoyed reading his work. I’ve also used it in my teaching: I had the wonderful my son wants to ride the chairlift printed in a book I wrote on teaching and examining poetry, Poems in Your Pocket [Longman], and I have used his poems as stimulus for narrative transformations – he is such a superb storyteller, usually witty but so often punching the reader with the shock of sudden truths. Here’s an example from his book The Firebird Poems

a tyrant for our times

it’s in his novel ham on rye now,
but i remember bukowski telling
a long time ago
how his father used to beat him,
and when he’d turn to his mother for help,
she would intone, “the father is always right.”

i liked the way it sounded
and so, even though i don’t beat my kids,
i do like to tell them
“the father is always right.”

they tell me to get fucked.

oc30_001

……I don’t get that many opportunities to post pictures of my own hippie shirt, back in the day…..

Today’s Headlines

Top tomatoes…varieties tested excited
today, a red adrenaline headline
competing with: History of the NHS;
junior doctors’ strike; the terror of the
Terrorism Act [in context, I hasten to
add, and won’t publish this online];
why Labour lost the election – I know
the answers to that already; More
plastic in the sea than fish nearly got me
hooked, but there’s 34 years for that to
happen; Owen Jones [it doesn’t matter
on what]; Kanye West to cover Bowie;
the ‘lilywhite’ Oscars, and the death of
Glenn Frey, but I wrote about him
last night and have listened to the
Eagles all day.

I Sapori di Corbara: Sua Eccellenza is
no 1, by the way, at £5.99 and
seasonal so that was hard news to take.
But I can handle these judgements of
taste, though balk at the grammar in
recommending third place to Antonella
where the tester is quoted to say he
“could eat the entire tin raw” – no
subject context stated there, even if it is
obvious. Rules are rules.

Some were surely broken that other day
when the TV showed well-lit night-time
shots of Aegean Sea migrants thrashing
in water in those beams, fallen from their cap-
sized boat but no children’s cries – already
drowned. The headline here scrolled at the
bottom of the screen just beneath the pan
of a pile of black coats covering the dead.
I paused – before carrying on
with eating lunch.

Evening now, and features have been
relegated, new news asserts its parodies, and
supermarket tins are still rejected but lower
down the page, simplified to just alliteration.
No one wrote about the boat then, in-between
or today. Details can be found, if we
are looking: there are words trying to
describe – it was crazy and distressing
and tomorrow there will be fresh stories
to roll away and forget, little it seems in
our taste to place “just above average”.

It’s Your World Now, by Glenn Frey and Jack Tempchin

Glenn Fry: 6th November, 1948 – 18th January, 2016

Posted on Glenn Frey’s website by family and friends. The poetry of lyrics, intended for a song, but affecting:

A perfect day, the sun is sinkin’ low
As evening falls, the gentle breezes blow
The time we shared went by so fast
Just like a dream, we knew it couldn’t last
But I’d do it all again
If I could, somehow
But I must be leavin’ soon
It’s your world now

It’s your world now
My race is run
I’m moving on
Like the setting sun
No sad goodbyes
No tears allowed
You’ll be alright
It’s your world now

Even when we are apart
You’ll always be in my heart
When dark clouds appear in the sky
Remember true love never dies

But first a kiss, one glass of wine
Just one more dance while there’s still time
My one last wish: someday, you’ll see
How hard I tried and how much you meant to me

It’s your world now
Use well your time
Be part of something good
Leave something good behind
The curtain falls
I take my bow
That’s how it’s meant to be
It’s your world now
It’s your world now
It’s your world now

Greet ing

When one man that big
shows his pain
that memory is to be captured,
processing through a shape
to handle
as if it can be.

The distance and separation
of words
framing into the pain
shouldn’t take all this time –
acknowledged – but I walked on.
Just walked on.

Early Support and that Review

In the late 70s into early 80s I was lucky enough to have two generous publishers/writers encouraging and supporting me as a poet, though I would be overstating to call them mentors. Jim Burns worked with me briefly over a week as a writer in residence when I was studying in Oxford, and thereafter he continued to encourage my writing, including publishing work in his magazine Palantir from 1980 to 1982, the last in Palantir 19 which was my first truly experimental poem The Chair and Quotations – experimental in that I used quotes from Henry Kissinger’s book The White House Years as well as the Armed Forces newspaper Stars and Stripes from 1973. It is a poem about the Viet Nam war.

The other was Howard Sergeant, the editor of Outposts, and though he never published any of my poetry – and he was always honest that what I submitted was never quite what he wanted – his insistence that I continue writing and continue to submit was a significantly positive encouragement at that time. Sergeant did, however, publish a review of mine about Ted Hughes’ then latest poetry collection Moortown, as I recently referenced in my blog posting about Crow. This was in Outposts 125, in the summer of 1980 just before I began my first job teaching in Devon. As I mention in that Crow posting, I still balk a little at the presumption of being critical about Hughes, but having re-read I don’t feel I could, or should, have changed anything I said. I might have perhaps shifted to begin my focus on the positive then move to the more negative observations, but I can still recall how powerfully I felt about the poems I do criticise. I do think this was fueled by the way Hughes focused so much on these in his reading at Swindon which I had recently attended.

Here is the review:

HR1

HR2 - Copy

Head

Photo by artist and photographer Nick Dormand

pick-axe

There is the pick-axe head, but no skull,
all pebbles cranial though too small to
tease, and a beachcomber might at first
think it has been carried by the tide over
so many miles, but with that weight this is
dubious, even considering the shifting of
tons and tons up and down that coastline,
especially in recent high waves. It will
have been more menial – and less awful –
a handle the only missing link with its past,
rusted by sea-salt rather than blood stains,
likely left after digging holes for balustrades.

Having said that, who knows what floated
way off shore, shaft in a boat’s dark hull.

Crow – Ted Hughes

Originally posted March, 2012:

crow - Copy

Crow Blacker than ever 

When God, disgusted with man,
Turned towards heaven.
And man, disgusted with God,
Turned towards Eve,
Things looked like falling apart.

But Crow.      Crow
Crow nailed them together,
Nailing Heaven and earth together –

So man cried, but with God’s voice.
And God bled, but with man’s blood.

Then heaven and earth creaked at the joint
Which became gangrenous and stank –
A horror beyond redemption.

The agony did not diminish.

Man could not be man nor God God.

The agony

Grew.

Crow

Grinned

Crying: ‘This is my Creation,’

Flying the black flag of himself.

Crow’s Theology

Crow realised God loved him-
Otherwise, he would have dropped dead.
So that was proved.
Crow reclined, marvelling, on his heart-beat.

And he realised that God spoke Crow-
Just existing was His revelation.

But what Loved the stones and spoke stone?
They seemed to exist too.
And what spoke that strange silence
After his clamour of caws faded?

And what loved the shot-pellets
That dribbled from those strung-up mummifying crows?
What spoke the silence of lead?

Crow realised there were two Gods-

One of them much bigger than the other
Loving his enemies
And having all the weapons.

 

When I posted recently on Enright’s Paradise Illustrated I also referenced Ted Hughes’ Crow, a book that had a huge impact on me at the time I read it, probably around 1975/76, 3 or 4 years after its publication. It’s a publication that produced at the time, and continues today I suspect, the poles of opinion and response. Without exploring these, I will say that I still find its nightmare vision and bludgeoning expression of this as compelling today as when I first read.

Unlike the Enright, there aren’t the ostensibly comic moments to lighten the darkness, though I do think the comic-strip hyperbole exists to reflect the poetic madness of any commentary trying to explain our lives and world, and the other mythologies that have attempted the same.

I studied for a Bachelor of Education degree – English and Education – and in my third year I wrote an extended essay on Crow. Whilst I could improve so much on its expression if I rewrote this today, the depth and intensity of my research and use of supporting reference has long passed me by. That awful seepage! It was a wonderful and impressionable time.

I do vividly recall seeing at that same time Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney reading together in the Newman Rooms at Oxford. It was stunning. Hughes read almost exclusively from Crow and it was a mesmerising experience. I was so powerfully affected I wrote about the experience, but perhaps thankfully I couldn’t find the poem when looking for it today [!], though I do remember prefacing it with a quote from, I think, Anthony Thwaite, referring to Hughes’ Pennine stabs of voice which is an apt description.

I saw Hughes reading again one or two years later in Swindon, this time from his book Moortown [1979]. I was upset and annoyed by the repetitive and what seemed gratuitous references to the fluids and other mess accompanying sheep giving birth. It wasn’t some precious antipathy to such agricultural realism – I had completed three years as a full-time farm worker before studying for my degree, and had just finished two years working part-time on a small farm outside of Oxford where as well as a tractor driver I was a pigman and shepherd: I knew plenty first-hand [excuse pun] about that messiness. Hughes’ graphic but literal descriptions seemed a far cry from the myth-making and originality of Crow, and I wrote a critical review of this book for Howard Sergeant’s Outposts magazine, my one and only review for such a publication, and one that had the arrogance to be critical of Hughes’ poetry. I haven’t changed my judgement of much of the poetry from that book, but I wish I had been asked to review Crow and perhaps comment on what a huge impact Hughes had on my love of his and all poetry. Indeed, from Gaudette [1977] onwards I  collected first editions of everything Hughes published, including a number of pamphlet and special publications. It is a personal treasure.

[NB in current support of this re-posting, I have found the Moortown review and will be posting later; I am also posting the Enright poems below]

D.J. Enright

 from Paradise Illustrated
 
XIII

Sighing through all her works,
Nature gave signs of woe.
Earth trembled from her entrails,
Nature gave a second groan

*
‘What’s that strange noise?’ asked Eve.

‘Nothing to worry about,’ said Adam.
‘Just cataclysms, convulsions, calamities -‘

‘Don’t talk with your mouth full,’ said Eve.

‘Donner-und Blitzen, coups-de-foudre, infernos,
Avalanches, defoliation, earthquakes, eruptions,
Tempests, turbulence, typhoons and torrents,’
Said Adam airily.

‘And floods. Or do I mean droughts?’
He added uncertainly. ‘Also perhaps inclemency.’

‘The Snake was right about one thing,’
Eve observed. ‘It loosens the tongue.’

XXII

‘Why didn’t we think of clothes before?’
Asked Adam,
Removing Eve’s.

‘Why did we ever think of clothes?’
Asked Eve,
Laundering Adam’s.

I was never a particular fan of Enright but I have always liked this collection. Published in 1978, I have wondered if it was heavily influenced by Ted Hughes’ Crow of 1972. Hard not to be I would guess. There is in XIII the bitterness of its satirical take on Milton and I think more generally the Adam and Eve myth, along with the litany of predominantly natural catastrophes, that emulates so much of the dark diatribe in Crow [which I must stress is a massive favourite of mine]. It is often lightened in a way that Crow isn’t, however, by the comic playfulness of brief interludes like  XXII.