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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Tomfoolery of Poetry

Douglas Dunn’s Rumoured City¸ a Bloodaxe anthology of poets from Hull with a tersely memorable introduction by Philip Larkin, appeared in 1982. Ian Gregson and Carol Rumens have now co-edited a successor anthology, Old City, New Rumours (Five Leaves Press, £7.99).

The contributors are as follows: Peter Didsbury, Douglas Dunn, Andy Fletcher, Tony Flynn, Cliff Forshaw, Sam Gardiner, Chris Greenhalgh, Ian Gregson, T.F. Griffin, Douglas Houston, Margot K. Juby, David Kennedy, Angela Leighton, Frances Leviston, Roger McGough, Andrew Motion, Grace Nichols, Sean O’Brien, Caitríona O’Reilly, Ian Parks, Tom Paulin, Tony Petch, Genny Rahtz, Frank Redpath, Christopher Reid, Carol Rumens, Maurice Rutherford, DW, Susan Wicks.

Being in the book as I am it’s not for me to speak up on its behalf, other than to say how gratifying it is that a place so easily overlooked or written off by those who have never been should have hosted and nudged into being so much writing, some at least of it very good.

People put the oddest things in biographical notes though. Here is Margot K. Juby: ‘For several years now Margot has taken no part in the tomfoolery of poetry. She prefers to spend her time in revisionist research into the life of Gilles de Rais, who was re-tried and acquitted in 1992.’

More enviably, Frances Leviston ‘has worked as a librarian and a snowboarding instructor.’

As an inducement for you to go purchase the book let me reproduce ‘Ring’ by the always excellent Sam Gardiner(Portadown-born, Grimsby-resident, but Hull architect in his time).

Ring me, she said, years ago, before this ring,
This remembering. Soon she was coming round
And round, and the polarity was changing
From change in the air to bodies on the ground,
Bodies only, carefree and freestyle night
After night, shocked at not being appalled
At the shock of our animality, the feral cries;
That cry from the bathroom: your Hot is cold!
Cold hands in those days couldn’t stop her
Stopping my blues guitar. No No, she’d moan
And as two noes make one yes I did, never
Expecting ever hand in hand to turn to arm in
Arm, to tongue in cheek. The old fairground
Is fair game for ghosts, white stars hanging
Unchanged, while merrily we two go round
And round, the light catching her ring.


Earlier disclaimer aside, I am of course very pleased to be in Old City, New Rumours and heartily recommend it.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Cow May Be My Future

Lucie Brock-Broido’s work may be the poetry equivalent of slow food, with her current tally standing at three books since 1988, namely A Hunger, The Master Letters and Trouble in Mind. Still, it’s good to see a generous selection of them published by Carcanet as Soul Keeping Company, but what takes my eye straight away are two notes, both to poems from A Hunger. One is to ‘Elective Mutes’, and tells us the poem is narrated by June Gibbons, as well as summarizing her story and that of her identical twin Jennifer.

As the sisters grew up together, they became more and more detached from the real world, eventually living and speaking in an invented world of poems, novels, and diaries based on the lives and rituals of their dolls. Eventually, their fantasies and languages became more symbiotic and more pathological. As they became impossibly and progressively intertwined and encoded, they began to turn on one another; they became arsonists, and eventually [third time now!], they began to think of murdering one another. Now in their twenties, they are imprisoned in Broadmoor hospital for the criminally insane.

{Quotation ends}

The twins remained at Broadmoor for 14 years. Jennifer mysteriously died or viral myocarditis within hours of leaving Broadmoor in 1993. June now lives in Wales and continues to write.

The other note that took my fancy is to the poem ‘The Future as a Cow’, and quotes the words of former Bridgeport basketball player Manute Bol. The subject is his Sudanese background:

My father was a farmer. Not a big farmer. He made some money. He sold potatoes and tomatoes. He had about 150 cows... When I want to get married to some girl, and her father says, ‘I want 100 cows’, what are you going to do if you don’t have the cows? That’s why you keep cows. I took care of the cows. I looked for animals that would like to kill the cows. Lions, hyenas. Sometimes I talk out loud to keep them away... Right now I play ball. I can stay here in this country and I don’t have to sell my cows, because I like the cows like my father liked them. I’m going to school right now. I play now. I can’t say the future is not a cow. The cow may be my future. I don’t know.

{Quotation ends}

Manute Bol is 7’7” and is currently the brand ambassador for Ethiopian Airlines.

Giant Kitteh

Many thanks to Silver Fox for alerting me to this stirring example of remedial topiary around the corner from the post office on Chanterlands Avenue here in Hull.

Saturday, May 22, 2010


A ship in a bottle, a ship in a bulb.
My love the lighthouse-keeper sleeps
in a circular bed, his toes almost

touching his head, and I his wife
dance by the shore, a flag in each hand.
He watches me from inside the storm,

and knows the code. Red,
yellow, red: I found your toothbrush,
the swallows have fledged. The light

has a god’s all-powerful whimsy –
flashing, occulting, isophase –
and he’s the man will catch fish with a kite,

and knit me a chough’s red beak
on a jumper. Come the worst
of the swells, relief is impossible:

where is the light to warn the man
inside the light and under the sea’s
own tongue? When they saw

the Flannans lamp dark and no one
to greet them, the search party
knew the island unmanned,

its savage tideline notional
henceforth, up in the air.
I too am carried away,

who have gone nowhere.
But, o, he’s the man will come
back to me, winched over

the waves with his jigsaws done
to a total absence of potted meat,
to where no spray leeches into our bed.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

More Than Usually Revolting Depravity

Doing the dusting this morning, as I like to do once every five years or so, I paused on a 2003 issue of the now-defunct Galway magazine The Burning Bush, and noticed therein the following couplet of mine, of more than usually revolting (for me) depravity. It is called ‘Inside Out’ and I recycle it here in a spirit of the utmost disgust:

Between your arse’s two baby elephant
ears the trunk appears to have swallowed itself.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Out of this World

Like a spelling mistake
on a postcard from
a possible lover, like
the Algerian quarter
in a town where the muezzin’s
cry has never been heard,
is this suddenness,
my watch put forward
an hour we still hide
ourselves in and consume.

The sensation of tracing
two coiled melodies
at once lies heavy
on my tongue, testing
itself against and splitting
the atom of my name:
like the rules of the games
children play
by the lake shore,
impenetrable to me

and yet I watch; I follow
and cheer. It is something
to do with the weight
of your feet in my hand,
a journey not taken,
your flimsy slip-ons
abandoned and sinking
into the wet mountain clay.
Whistle to me Coltrane’s
‘Out of this World’

while I carry you home.
But there is no whistling
that tune. It is like
nothing on earth,
or not even that.
Like is not like: putting
itself to sleep, my tongue
foreswears my similes
and all their gluey works.
Do not take my hand,

language, my sweetest
downfall, now nothing
remembers its name.
Kick my hand away
and stride out into the water
while there’s a moon
to scoop up and save.
That too carry home. Be
to me like nothing on earth
or be nothing at all.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Flamborough Head


Saints of Seu

Stiges (You Have Me in Stiges)

Triangular Hour

The Elbow

When I fell, I fell hard.
It snapped right through. Don’t beat
yourself up over how
I beat myself purple and blue
galloping down the road
after you, but come to my aid.
Take, snap me back to myself.
It won’t hurt a bit, I know,
if you just haul me aloft,
or lie down in the road, you too.