I happened to be in Huntly last week when the town’s little Book Festival was kicking off with an open poetry session with Huntly Writers in the Library. Happened to be there? Well yes, I had an hour and a half to kill while Ellie was doing her dance classes; and why didn’t I know about the Book Festival and the open poetry thingy? Well, duh… When do I ever know anything about anything? Annie had got us off to the classes more or less on time, I could hardly expect her to give me a comprehensive list of Thursday afternoon entertainments in Huntly. Anyway they’re a nice friendly lot and they let me read two poems, which was more of a struggle than I’d imagined because although there’s sixty pages in the “new poems” file on my laptop there’s not many that are really “ready”. So I’ve extracted the two for anyone’s delectation who wants any and here they are.
The first is my little tribute (sort of) to W B Yeats and his “Wild Swans at Coole” poem, Yeats continuing to be – often despite myself – one of my favourite poets. Anyway, Yeats’ poem was about him counting 59 swans on the pond, just when he happened to be 59; and when Ellie & I were visiting Anna & Dean & in Musselburgh we saw – well, the poems says about that bit:
62 Swans at Musselburgh
Between the last bridge and the last weir
just where the Esk’s currents
are lost in Forth, Ellie and I admire the swans
performing their morning stunts;
nibbling beaks into wingpits, dunking green heads
out of the raw wind in the trailing weed.
Aren’t they clever, I say, to arrange
themselves to the number of my age
just like they did for Mr Yeats
when he was fifty-nine; and like mine
his heart was a poet’s
though a lot more refined.
I wonder what filter he had on his specs:
they’re about as mysterious as geese
with that gunk on their necks,
and as regards their beauty
one can only assume he must have
been a little tipsy
– From the smart talk, that, of the Coole Park set;
or maybe dedicated staff maintained the wild
in a high-coutured state; or again,
experience hammered by tranquillity
crusted those dirty birds in
an enamel of gentility.
I don’t know why I do it, Ellie,
don’t know what I’ve ever done.
I wish I could tell you there was something
worthy of the passion
we pour from our inflated chests, to chart
the principles of Art.
The second was the poem I wrote in Maddy’s birthday-card this year, which Annie also did a cool illustration for: as she’d turned fourteen (Maddy, that is) I thought it was high time she had a grown-up poem. I should have told the Writers all this, and it might have been a bit clearer where the thing was coming from, but in my confusion I forgot to (I don’t find Tin Hut sessions alarming any more, but this Library session was actually quite alarming, even though a not dissimilar deal).
I haven’t asked Maddy’s permission to post it here because she’d probably want to negotiate, and that might be expensive. Maddy has taken a leaf out of the “No” Campaign’s book and has said she no longer wants any pocket money, if she can “occasionally buy stuff on the Internet” on my card. Neat.
Waiting for Rain?
There’s a two-headed man. Perhaps he’s you
it’s hard to see for the mist
Mist in his nostrils, his ears, his view’s
obscured, the sight unwitnessed.
Two heads, you see, better than one:
what one sees, the other denies;
cancelling out, two becomes none.
One drops to the ground, one flies.
The wings open, and it’s a bird,
a book, a butterfly, an axe….
In my hand an object, in my mouth a word:
twist it, the light refracts
light that’s the same as mist, a halo-
maker, a two-out-of-one
and what was solid fades, grows paler,
shifts out of this illusion
into another, into the same.
Here, let me hand it over,
take it and weigh, call it fame
or obscurity, either’s a cover,
love, imitation; axe-play, killing;
game and deadly earnest;
a chess-grid, a wound spilling;
who was worst at, and who best,
each is a blind, a window looking
into another window.
Out in the sunlight there’s something spooking
a wisp of cloud; a crow –
A rumble of thunder. A silence in the dust.
Prick-ears under drooping leaves.
A two-headed man. You can’t see him: you must
he’s under your eaves
He’s on your ledge, in the twist of a penny
He’s asking, asking again:
is there any silence? is there any
silence? The silence of rain.