End of the Roads

June 23, 2017 § 2 Comments

I’m enjoying Thomas Dilworth’s study of David Jones who, harried by a strict religious upbringing and his experiences in the trenches, suffers severe neurasthenia leading to a major breakdown and sustained mental ill health.  In this context, it is both remarkable that he was able to realise his masterwork, In Parenthesis – and unsurprising that he describes its symbolic arc as transcendental.

Crossing similar terrain (somewhat unwittingly – I read Jones for the first time, and in snatches, while writing a long sequence of poems called The Grail Roads) I was always clear that the trajectory for my work would offer a very different perspective.   Like Jones I draw heavily on Malory (though his chief source is the Morte D’Arthur whereas mine is the Sankgreal); but for me, the end of the road is just that: the tragic death of soldiers isn’t alleviated by faithful glory.

Of course, that’s easy for me to say: I wasn’t there. Men who came back had to live out their lives however they could. In Jones’ writing – and painting – ghosts are also angels.   The ghosts  in my poems haven’t moved on.

A JUNCTION
After Edward Thomas

Bors stirred at the jolted stop –
some empty platform outside,
bare sky, line curving towards trees
and a low building.  The guard

passed down the train; someone
in the next compartment spoke to him.
Steam filled the window, cleared;
a cough repeated like an engine.

There was no sign on the platform
and in the late daylight the place
looked drab and somehow ruined.
Then a bird called, close and startling;

and Bors thought of what he might say
to Arthur when he saw him.  Galahad
bydde him remember of this worlde unstable:
better, perhaps, than how and why he died.

 

 

Grace

February 3, 2017 § 2 Comments

At Grace, heads bowed at the table,
they keep their eyes open,
hands knit, chins resting on them.

The lamp burns behind the colonel’s head.
He drops a little, starts, clears his throat,
leads the Amen.

Amen. The soup is brought up
and bread broken. There is good wine
of course, but no song

only conversation, well-informed
and ignorant, knowing the names of battles
but not who died in them.

Once upon a time in America

November 24, 2016 § 3 Comments

Artists and writers are, I guess, utterly bewildered.  As my friend Mark says, Farage + Ferrero Rocher = the death of satire.  Perhaps we should go along to ComicCon for some answers.  Or the Old Testament.  Or to Cormac MacCarthy, who writes like the Old Testament.  As did American writers like Hawthorne and Melville in the 19th century.

Auden got a bit bewildered, sitting in his bar in NY after Spain feeling craven and wretched.  Maybe he thought the new world was still forging heroically.  (He should have asked Hemingway.)  Or maybe it was that Yorkshire rain that just got to him.

Hockney went West, too – but further, and with more optimism.  Now he’s back, of course.  And the same dream/drug-light that rippled across his LA pools glared through Godfather 2 – another segue that reminds me of the Trump / Farage Doors of Corruption photo-op.

So what now? Unfortunately, what happens in Vegas / Hollywood / Trump Tower looks like happening everywhere else.  Our city library will soon be a 5-star hotel.  30s memorabilia is back – as are warrior monks.  I might have to go back to Black Sabbath.  Ah, the 70s.  At least we knew we were lost in a wood.

 

1.7.16

July 1, 2016 § 2 Comments

Somme: grete sorowe

I – Gommecourt

And so on the morne he harde his masse and toke hys armys
and so toke hys leve, and mownted upon hys horse and rode
into a foreyst and helde no hygheway.

Coming up into morning the stumbling men, bayonets lit, blind,
newborn, shambling then charging the three flat furlongs, turf levelling
and buckling, the clatter out of the wood ahead and each fall a thinning
and a sharpening of the summer.
‘There they go!’ someone says.
And the dwindling line walks into the smoke and disappears.

II – Serre

So they began a grete turnemente, and every hurteled with other…
And at the laste… were putte to the wars.

At the wire they gather, bunched as women at a trodden well.
They all come in and are shot there, surprised or grim with heads down,
a pile up. None pass through; some swing on the wire like sails.

III – Beaumont-Hamel

the which woll make the to falle into the depe pitte of helle

In each crater, bodies, dropped fruit from a harvest, husked in grey and khaki.
Thick hands of fingers, legs lopped away, heads, some in tin hats, some loose.
In one hole full of water, an arm stuck out, swordless, slopped gently.

IV – Thiepval

And thorow the watyr he muste nedis passe, the wyche was hedyous.

Down the tunnels the candled miners creep, listen, the stretched front man
lunging his bayonet, the earth-face like old cheese, clay chocks to be passed over
necks and bellies, the cold whiff, mould. Always water in that black place,
the walls sweating and running, drips and wrist-deep pools.
Dirty, faceless, they offend the officers, no salutes, unutterable.

V – La Boisselle

One village and its great elms thrown a mile from the earth: a parish gone,
deep roots ripped from the country leaving a socket, vast and extinct.
Through the morning the dead roll in and the half dead.
A great moted eye, raw, unblinking, glaring at an empty sky.

VI – Mametz

And for grete pryde thy madest grete sorowe.

At the foot of a cross by the village end they put a machine gun
and wait, no birds, silence, sun flickering the wood.
They shoot them just as they are, walking, familiar as deer.
They fall, sit in the road.  A hundred and fifty nine: like a village ended.

Reading at the Turret House

June 12, 2016 § 1 Comment

I’ve been invited to read at the Tudor Turret House at Sheffield Manor Lodge this coming Saturday 18th June.  With a capacity of 17 it promises to be fairly intimate…

No booking available – first come first served!

More details here.

Sheffield+Manor+Lodge

Pascandale | Passchendaele

April 22, 2016 § Leave a comment

After the Revolution
monks from Zonnebeke
walked through the village. 

People wished them nothing ill:
they had always been here
and there were likely worse masters.

Now they were leaving;
and knowing nothing of cities
and the ways of city men

the villagers waited
for news from the high road
of the next abbot or baron.

 

Winter in France

December 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

December, the draped ruins of a village
where the rain has frozen down the street
and a path is scoured across a pond.

They hear voices, stick pounding to a wall:
it’s only crows. They watch them drift
into the pewter sky. Uwayne steps out,

is shot, and drops on the black ground.
Dragged back, he is breathing quickly
and holding on to them like a man

almost drowned. For olde brothirhode
he says, pulling at them gently,
thynke on me.  Then he is gone.

(from ‘Gawain’, The Grail Roads – work in progress)