“I pressed the fire control . . .
and ahead of me rockets blazed through the sky . . .”
a narrative of speed, of war,
of hunting-hype, the cruelty
that skill is shaped to
my life splinters by
lost to a blind infantile
stutter of locked-on wants
a hurtling-by, a scream
of hurting others and (too deep to know it
except at core) myself
merely a moment’s
gaiety, a sliver
of fun, a novelty
page on a wall, a slap-doodle
seeming to pose a question – or an answer –
or nothing at all
A moment of surrender fails. Enough
to call the artist’s bluff – or double bluff.
One cannot win. Roy Lichtenstein, you jammy
picture-card-sharp, you score. A double whammy.
How to respond? I am an old man learning,
a wandering misfit. How to dispel the aura,
that writes its name in lights, of a confidence trick?
Should I set my mind to neutral? Or go for the margins?
Switch the whole caboodle from Central to Skim?
The needle will not shift. Nor would I want it:
a part of me waits to be overtaken,
and in the moment of the overtaking,
to be altered, imperceptibly, by art.
I wonder, as I go downstairs, to see
a most delightful children’s studio
with wild and wonderful lights, materials,
ideas sketched out and snipped up on the air
by glinting minds and busy quick small fingers –
I wonder if the earnestness of modern
thought in the public sphere, that’s so enlarged,
has not become a desiccated strand
of modern art, to rob it of its freshness.
an endless retailing
theories, and the need to theorise
for nigh on sixty years
one or two young musicians
two or three young painters
and four or five young poets
of a marvellous gift
I have seen quicken
to the time’s signal
and gathered up, passed round
to be slam-dunked
into the bin of the present
a litter of mediocrity
the true art escaping
only by accident
and less and less
as time goes on
art needs no words
no padding no stuffing
from a different dimension
Tate Modern, I ask you
slip the dry strand
from your shoulders, unfasten
the choker necklace
of trite robosyllables,
to stand in the ever-new
of the art of silence
This is my journey.
To step among the hopes and dreams
of a planet-people, tilted, it is true
toward a hovering mental mass new-formed
in the thought-sky; and yet pristine
for all that, in its imprint on the way.
To touch in innocence a myriad shapes
of an emergent beauty, breathed
each to a still space, by the imagination
that is the first force and the last. There is
a builder’s yard of dream material,
some old, some young, to fuel it on its way.
Seventy years back a wise guy
dripped paint, poured paint, used a stick for a brush –
let the canvas grab its partner every which way
(not his business) – and you know what? – they did,
they made it. Now that was a trick and a half
the guy thought, and took a few steps back.
It didn’t happen, he thought, but his body knew
it had been midwife to something kicking and screaming,
and there was the evidence staring him in the face.
The damn infant could’ve inherited
something of his, he supposed, but it breathed
slept woke and chuntered to its own design,
its own modification. He knew he was in line with
a current wave of research on the pool
of awareness. And there it was. It was.
Hot damn, he thought, I won’t make it happen,
but if it starts to, that hidden meeting –
that joy-ride, that concept, that frenzy, that labor –
I’ll sure as hell know it, and I’ll sure as hell let it.
He got called on a lot after that.
Who am I
to decry such intelligence?
Such news from the heartland
of art, the dark savannah
where it all began, and in modern terms
from the lit window
of the design office,
or the quiet thrum
of the factory floor.
Even if for some
of a later date
than the breakaway swarm
of Pollock and his ilk,
the mechanics of production
seem to lead merely
to the polluted outcome
of an ‘industrial plant’ . . .
still I salute
the searing intensity
of a once-and-only need:
to half-know, search
and let be made.
But oh my God
I marvel sometimes
at the result.
One Gormley, two Gormleys,
three Gormleys, four . . .
five Gormleys, six Gormleys,
seven Gormleys, more . . .
Just one, against a backdrop of the sea,
may have been beautiful. But if ever a sight
imploded in its own plurality,
it is the Gormley-chimney-figure blight.
Set here, set there, set everywhere on Earth,
and no doubt, one day out in space as well,
on shores of other seas, a sapless dearth
is scattered of our being. A tinpot shell.
If ever a note was fractured in its echo,
if ever a thought was lost in the re-telling,
it’s in this replicated chimney-fellow.
For in its eyes there is a vital quelling;
its frame is of a zombie sturdiness,
and crippled in its uniformity.
And something has been robbed of life, I guess,
in the whole footling set-up. It is we
ourselves who imitate the Tate’s dead chimney.
It is “I” “I” “I” and “I” “I” “I” again,
who people the world of art like a dead army.
Can it be just a blip? Come stinging rain
and wake us up. Come centuries of fashion,
give us new eyes. That this will come to be,
that we will re-discover wit and passion,
I know. Here endeth Gormley’s elegy.
I look at what I see.
And what I see is an unintentional chronicle
of blindness. I see a long line of mirror-figures
each filled with a need to pronounce upon itself.
They do not look at each other (for what would they see?
only themselves) and every homunculus,
each stray solipsist is holding himself unique,
agog with significance.
They look instead at the passers-by
to solicit their aid (and aid is given),
to forge a new thesis.
It is a joint venture, as the sculptor knew,
but what he may not know, is that all they are there for
is a line of words.
Modern art stands on the edge of a sea
of words, a new patter, an existential discussion
ready to sweep in and merely drown it.
I look at what I see. There is a raging need
for a new formulation. The artworks themselves
are set up finally to go under,
a vanishing-point in a wild inversion,
where what they say is no more than a whisper,
an opening gambit, to be buried in a many-voiced
cacophonous shout of what is said about them.
It is one way of doing it. But beware the tide.
How good to see a portrait by Gwen John.
A lady sits, and lets time pass her by . . .
a moment’s universe has come and gone.
After the use of a panopticon
to view the far and small, the whence and why,
how good to see a portrait by Gwen John.
It is not, it cannot be put upon
by micro-talk. Simply, beneath the sky,
a moment’s universe has come and gone.
A stray hair-bow, the dress that she has on –
the detail does far more than hold the eye.
How good to see a portrait by Gwen John.
A new acquaintanceship is undergone.
In a light space, that’s suddenly nearby,
a moment’s universe has come and gone.
Someone is present – a touch woebegone?
Or is it a passing thought and not a sigh?
How good to see a portrait by Gwen John!
(A moment’s universe has come and gone.)
One is allowed
a glimpse of something new, briefly to know
another place. For me
a lightness and a depth, a passionate thought
that’s near and far, invites me to take part.
Perhaps the faintest touch of modernism
heightens a contrast: the lifeless sallow skin
of neck and hands, and a mind-flush of the face
to hold the action there, behind the eyes.
So I observe, and so I am included
within a cameo, to take part from the wings
and centre stage.
If artist and observer
join hands, and so transform
an artefact to something capable
with its own means of life, I make a plea
if only for a trace of wordless passion
to find a tempo, make a space.
there is a vein near-hidden in the compound
that modernism was half invented for.
An element of wit will always linger –
how could it not? – within the walls
of a great painted cave, a glinting quarry,
a treasured hearth-hall, a rambling-rich Alhambra,
a house of travelling delights, a palace.
In a friendly and curious way
they are looking at me, I dare say,
a bird and a cat, a face and a letter
(unless you can think of anything better),
and so they go sailing away,
these Ships in the Dark by Paul Klee.
With a faint mountain-cluster below
(or more sails) they pause as they go,
and bid me hello, and bid me farewell,
and where they are bound for I cannot tell,
and yet I am half in the know
in the night, in the blue moon’s glow.
For I too am sailing in space
(and you too, from some other place),
or else it’s the sea. And I let go a presence
of triangle-tips and rocking crescents
at a moment of ship-shapely play,
the last thing I see on my way.
In part it is no more
than a child’s joy, as I leave, that takes me over,
down the stairs, past other journeyers:
to have gazed again at a row of humorous ships.
In part an unaccountable response
to a poetic truth, in those deep colours.
in an avenue of tall thin silver birches,
next to the busy and bird-haunted Thames,
I happen to look back at the TM tower.
In perfect complement against St. Paul’s
it stands there, plain, unthreatening and real,
a landmark witness to discovery,
Comment text here
The year is introduced. Its name is known
to one at least who writes out poems and cheques.
Money outruns the days of a month. Bills are dropping
airy hints in their computer print-outs
like a conspiracy, an ultimatum.
God! but the land is obsessed with money. Who knows
that there are twenty-six letters that mean far more
than the fancy capital L that is the pound sign?
Money is a necessity like eating:
buying the way. But the dirt in the nails
in the hands that claw for extra is for keeps.
The fighting-for-food is done with claws
and fighting-for-gain – but when it comes to spoil,
claws are for sheathing.
And always the flick of silver across a table
watched by a pair of eyes. And the abacus beads
are shot across the mind: again and again
the income’s counted, matched with contract, till
the notched sticks fit, the computations tally.
The mind goes crazy like a pinball machine
lighting up buffers, when it thinks of more.
But where to draw the line? Before those beads
change to the treasure of a rosary:
before a needful chore becomes a prayer.
The figuring I must do with cash
for our sake and the children’s
is like repairing a Wall Street crash.
Each month I’m in the doldrums.
I hack away at school all day,
I bark, breathe fire and bellow.
But when at last I hit the hay
my salary is my pillow.
But whether by mismanagement
or a more gifted touch
the hour is come, my sleep is spent:
the bills are far too much.
And I must sharpen a pencil, sharpen
wits, and do my sums
to make ends meet and leave them open.
Alack! the uppance comes.
The month’s in shadow, half burned down.
How is it that I see
born of expense, a gorgeous bird
inhabit each month’s tree?
The figuring I must do with cash
is not confined to numbers.
A phoenix rises from the ash,
half January’s, half December’s.
Money allied to hope. That’s how I see it,
the obverse of the claws. A carry-over
of promise, trust, is hammered in each coin.
That is what the strikers do not see.
They have a case, indeed they have a case
in the back room of ‘The Times’, in Leyland tool-rooms –
often unanswerable in strikers’ terms.
But look at Leyland. First it was a place
along the line to Wigan, where they made
buses and lorries. Then it was a name
in Birmingham and Oxford, in the world:
‘Leyland lose ten million pounds a week!’
But none is lost where it is still a place
still turning out a product, buses, lorries.
When name’s too big for place or person,
used for power instead,
like as not it has a curse on.
Like as not it’s dead.
They have a case. But the first question is
what are they striking for? Food, gain – or spoil?
If food, pay double the demand. If gain
a worker takes a fair risk on his worth.
(Not so in present state, but in Utopia?)
If spoil, the hazard’s little, and the test
is not of worth but viciousness of talons.
This is the modern striker.
They think they strike for better pay
who only hammer coins one way
And reap new coin-crops glittering down
from fruit-machine – not up from ground
Then come to harvest-time and see
a bent, defeated currency
Who struck for more – and worked the less
in unconvincing idleness.
Now we have a new look to government
though scarcely more than a fleeting expression.
Callaghan lets Steel in the main gates
and a new voice chunters in the playground:
the papers lap it up, the Liberals love it.
It is still some way to the room beyond,
and the school keeper is notoriously fierce.
In other words they wouldn’t be seen dead
doing the Hokey-Cokey with the Liberals,
the Labour Party – if it were done in earnest.
But a flicker of softness in those set brows,
long rooms at Westminster, is not unacceptable
to a public bored with the heavy denials
of other compartments of thought. A welcome diversion.
Not the new look you were looking for
child of the forties, son of the flag,
not the new hope you were hoping for
child of the fifties, spark of the sunset,
not the new show has yet shown up
child of the sixties, spawned with the box,
not a new drive are we driven to
child of the seventies. But a new box-channel.
Is it hopeless?
New look, new hope, new show, new drive:
are we out of it, prisoners in the groove?
Today is the anniversary of Beethoven.
We remember because we must, seeing he told
the true tale of government: by optimism.
The passionate dialogue of the Kreutzer Sonata,
the simple sketch of the heart in Für Elise,
the ocean-tide of symphonies, piano’s deep currents,
the note struck from the centre of emotion
explosively winning the air, dinning the vaults
with the richness of man . . .
his restlessness, his depths, his gaiety, his freedom
his look his hope –
turn a deaf ear old man to the sounds outside –
those dull notes thrumming pointlessly as rain –
conquer the way ahead – the world’s torn years –
like a man with victory. Then today stride out
into the new, all who in soul attend
an old event. Take note of Beethoven’s death
and summon his music to your mind:
remember that it can be dome again.
In the ill of the year
rain wanders down the greening road
the wind aches in the face of journeys
the same road is to be crossed again and again.
Under the tunnel of dreams I crawl to work
and know of no hope, no enlightenment
the same maze is to be crossed again and again.
In the ill of the year
the show we put on like a peacock’s feathers
has lost its look: the same, the same, the same
makes a cinder of the brain; and emptiness of summer.
The year goes round in the same curve
the year goes round in the same curve
the stars are lost on the same curve
and then the cinder’s dead.
In the brilliant sweep of light in dark
the torrential boundless outpour of space
in all the planetary matter, riff-raff of comets
quarks, black holes
on a flukey edge of existence we look out –
where are we in the archaeology of the sky?
In one pinpoint of light
nowhere now here
Take time off: consider a skill
supremely unimportant and testing.
Seventy thousand are suddenly still,
two more still. To start the contesting
a ball is bounced at improbable speed
each side of a table; then butted, cut, biffed
back over the net, as opponents spring-kneed,
rubber-wristed, imperil it, almost as swift.
This is a dance of deadly intent
as the dart arrows down and the arrow darts back
and the white ball incredibly caught is then bent
by the bat, as defence falls into attack:
and the imperceptible spin is mistaken,
soft-patted but slipped to assailable space,
and the spinner has stunned the return, the point’s taken:
each dancer is in his first, motionless place.
This is the World Championships at Birmingham.
This is Sport.
The radar is on at the table.
I have learned what I like about sport:
the panther man who tracks and strikes –
the leopard lady hurtling home –
the plotted accuracy of the killing touch
in human terms.
To state the obvious, recall the menace
of darker terms – would not assist the name
Now that the year is lit, and branchwood takes
its pearl, budstick, untutored leaves,
I tell of our own flame in all our children.
For they catch life from us, and what we know
is theirs. In warmth or coldness it is theirs.
You climb a mountain for yourself; and savour
wine of the elderflower for its own flavour.
Sons and daughters stay where they belong.
But what we know is what we propagate:
and that’s the burden of the Great Debate.
To let the fire fall – and to stoke it strong.
To let the fire fall. The honour of men and women
in one, is to have children. How they survive the seas
and sands and slopes and mountain snows, is of them:
not parents’ prize. O there is too much nesting
in the same tree.
So to let fall the fire of knowledge
with unpainted flames
is the part of the teacher: and if nigh impossible,
the second part is less perfectible still.
To feed those flames until they take on root
and are mind’s flower.
The air spark-flickers. Leaves like children’s faces
people the flowering globe. And I have seen
a face spit-full of despair on television:
a real face in a mediocre play;
a sixteen-year-old swining in the lost time
of a foul future. Half his brain is rubbed out
by what he sees must come at him. Pig-years.
The other half’s obscured under the scum
of ten years lost at school.
They are learning about the terms of the Great Debate,
but still – and always now – place too much weight
on fairness, equal chances, handouts for all to see
of books, equipment, bodies. The Great Dependency.
Give me a school under a hedge
(but out of the hands of the I.L.E.A.)
and I will sharpen the human edge.
Give me a school under a hedge –
and I don’t mind the thick end of the wedge,
but I must grasp it, plane it my way.
Give me a school under a hedge
(but out of the hands of the I.L.E.A.).
Demand the clear sky
unclouded by envy, uncluttered by unused wealth
in schools. Demand the spaciousness a tree has
for every leaf and branch. This is not cubic feet
so much as mental growing-room: a home
for a throng of minds. Nor do I want mud banks
instead of seats, desks, tables; but a touch
of the al fresco imagination . . . a home
for the mind to be light and responsive in.
One day we may have this for every child.
a steady drizzle
the good soil sown with stones, and weeds confused with flowers.
The turmoil of the state collective farm
in an atmosphere drenched with political ambition.
If it will clear the air
let the Debate shout down
counters of votes, power-salesmen –
but it is never on.
Politics too far gone.
And though Ms Williams seems
to have the touch to attain clear space –
it’s dreams. Monkey-house. Babel. Dreams.
I have no answer. But at this light time
to ask for two things seems no crime:
more loyalty in staffs at large,
less clerk-work for teachers in charge.
Term ends. I went out to the sea
to learn. All day the white lines saunter
into the still point of their end;
and manes a moment long are sacrificed –
but all has slow return. Earth has its space here.
Time is bare. It has a mystery
for me, landlubber, that I would not care
to touch too deeply; but there is something mixed
in with the element, Christ-like to my mind.
I must go down to the natural force
by day to watch, by night to listen
a moment long, to a fact at source.
In words it is, that Christ is risen.
But I deny the words. There are no words
to match the fact of sheer, Earth-driven strength
on a tide of blessing. So it lashes the land’s edge,
drowns the rocks, drags back; working from the deep pits
and under the moon, it goads the neighbour man
to notice for a second its pure being.
So I standing on shore
translate a word of thunder
into a Word. I do no more
Then feel a fool. For what has Christ
who bent to wash the sweat-dirt from the feet
of those who worked for him, up-ending power,
in common with the dervish of the sea?
But I think of Him. The sun on the manes of foam
is there and gone. And I make nothing of it,
walk up the path, returning to home-prose –
and I deny He rose and entered my life.
put down the letters, black on white
hold up the paper-chain words
Discard this prettiness. Deny. Deny.
He healed, turned food to more, had ways
of using life, to show it good to praise
Discard this prettiness. Deny. Deny.
He told the use of power that never lies
in self, but leaves for other agencies
and never dies
Discard this pettiness. Quick. Exorcise
these letters black on white
these Christmas decorations, Easter frills,
words of belief. Light fills
the shore and hillside, farm-life, bush, my heart.
And I can say He lives. His power. His art.
No, not enough for Church, or Faith, or Priest;
but enough for me. This Easter-tide, at least.
Out in the North Sea oil has slammed the surface,
veering for Norway. An upsurge blew the system,
it is roaring out, and only a spark is needed
for an inferno. Experts are on the spot
or near it. Meanwhile a black shape moves
at Sweno’s land. I would not be out there.
And yet I would; for there is the deepest spark
of hope. The North Sea has a fire for us.
(But media-dogged, hamlet-enscribed, we shiver.
We are too far south to know what’s going on.)
the sea-bed, mud, rock. Sink
the shaft in place, fire-structure. Burn in the cold.
The crisis past, the dynamo remains,
ripping out wealth to add to Britain’s gains.
Turn, let the spark burn, turn.
is not my theme.
O come, admire
I’ll make it via
a different gleam.
is not my theme.
Something constant, hands kneeling to work,
water washing clean, a baby crying to be fed,
something constant like song, or up-and-down speech,
the unknown waves in the air relating people;
a wind, cry, murmur. All like a constant flicker
before which my spirit leans, prostrate, no more
than witness, ready to serve. This is the value
of constancy, that it informs of the spark
behind the clamour of day, demands of the hour:
the local account of time.
O my star, I cannot stay in your brightness
nor steer my ploughing ship still to your gleam;
my light, I cannot come too near your lightness
but turn to dust in your beam.
Time has the boat round, sees me off-course;
or adds mass to impulse – I settle coarse.
O my sun
blind as an atom I wander in my self’s dream.
To your love
I am blind, I make use of your care. like a pig bask –
but your love
is to earn and not own. If I like a man ask
by deeds, not requiring – the day flashes by,
nights are like eiderdowns – but if I do not try
(or I try too slow) Time takes me to task, to task.
O my love I am moved about in dark rocking water
pounded by whims of the second, thrashed by desires, by deep greed
– for an hour when we married I was near the flowers on the altar –
my days are now scattered on earth like a few dead seeds.
Yet my light shines, all loves in one. The Creator
draws me to land, and to grow. To have faith and be freed.
Yes, I believe in what you do, Christian, but I
am not inclined to worship things in the sky.
I saw extraordinarily faith, constancy, freedom
alight as one in the United Kingdom.
under hammerbeam roof
the centuries haunt the hall. Royalty
reigns on a stair-platform. The Lords and Commons
have pew for throne. The mace is covered. Hear me!
An Address to the Queen
I remember when they said he was dead they stopped the programme we were all jumping about the floor Music and Movement or somesuch something about up a tree the grownups listened all day and we got mugs I preferred the Festival of Britain
Been going all my life (it seems like) Lillibet they called the goat in the New Forest Charles younger’n me Anne same birthday as sister’s
Never properly realised just begun what it’s about used to say keep us in touch with historical experience of country or similar
or family model, all that, continuity
but I like this Jubilee a ring of bells England England
it is England.
That’s it then, retire backwards. I’m just sorry it
won’t lead directly to my being Laureate.
patchwork quilt of a country
road steeple pub farm council-house snooker-hall
I know what makes you green
light straight rain on May twilight
apple-white, recent grass
I walk down the road
of your past few years, to when George died
a mountain was climbed, we were smaller than we knew
in Egypt, new Africa; and now
no longer on the previous page, behindhand
we learn again what size is (as do all).
steel fence grindstone island
holding in the clutch of red-hot hand
sharp edge, scalding drive –
the skill to beat earth’s metals, shape and weld
a gleaming city
O in this land there is hope
to forge from many makes of men
the new way. Elizabeth my queen
if I vouchsafe a Jubilee wish, hear it:
that while state after state proclaims
your country let an instinct tell
So I the idiot self and subject true
make plea, my country, to be heard by you.
I was not present in Westminster Hall
when Queen and Lords and Commons sat for all
on makeshift thrones. In that short ceremony
honour-of-nation grew from Jubilee;
the heart’s wildflower. It spreads. I wear it.
It means the kingdom has a home in me;
and whether on Royalty or the Economy –
that if I have an opinion, I’ll air it.
the tread is dreadful of boots across the water.
Paisley is punctured, but the thug-balloon rises;
the Provisional I.R.A. have naxalite hearts;
“When I grow up I shall kill British soldiers.”
All that is built in a road
the casing of day
is fractured, pane-blasted
light and dark pour too strongly in
eyes singe to blindness
phrases are shocked from tongues
Child you have galloped in the green meadow
past dandelion-deep grass to the stile
where you can see the black land burn its shadow
a mile ahead of you. The Golden Mile.
Even in this plague of the Devil
aborting love in children, for loyal lies
In the cracked plate of Ireland; the hand with broken fingers
In the hurt gusted over to us, but not over us
In the great dam of Ulster, all the little bitternesses
repelling the want to go on
In what may be its last hour in that land
I see, whole and uninjured, working in freedom
– yet lodged in its own excess – the United Kingdom.
For time, the kind of time a Jubilee tells
has no hours at hand but a peal of bells
And I pray for joint ways-of-life in the world, our kingdom.
Lambing was hard this year.
Shepherds’ oilskins and their spares were soaked,
dogs were wearied in the buffeting wind.
Lean after last summer’s drought, the ewes
had sodden wool all winter, then all spring.
The sheep man’s struggle
against carrion crows, and the cost of winter feed
was carried out in wrong clothes: no good light gear’s invented.
Lambs drowned and froze. But after eight months, the sun
has come to Romney Marsh and the Yorkshire Wolds.
And warm light has them frolicking in their folds.
Let hill men face all weathers; so do I
I trudge through cold, inadequately clothed,
and move about the hill in the falling sky.
My shepherd is a self that I have loathed
inside myself; he ranges without end
for ever on the hills. God is his friend.
I watch him go; would shout at him to stop
except I cannot stop. I watch him search
for younglings – he will wait to see them up.
I turn my back and leave him in the lurch,
but know that he will call me to break stride
to see them foot-firm at their mother’s side.
Christ, you do my work for me. If I
look an and all too quickly look away,
you are the self of which my self is shy.
And though I throw a stone at you by day,
forget at dark – you go where life is fine
and my ghost follows you. Your way is mine.
How else can I say
anything at all
that is not nonsense?
How else recall
the habit of youth
that knew musts and mustn’ts,
large from small?
How else can I experience the truth?