When I was a kid in High School we learnt things ‘off by heart’:
poems by Keats and Coleridge, extracts from ‘The Ancient Mariner’,
soliloquies from ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Macbeth’, whole passages from Dickens;
chronologies of The Persian Wars, War of the Roses,
biographies of the Tudors; not neglecting the sciences, we memorized
physics and maths formulas,chemical equations, and slabs from The New Testament —
we were walking Wikipedias; now I’m a big kid, into my senior years,
I’ve grown rusty, which is why I’m in the backyard walking up and down —-
the bees must think I’m mad —- learning by heart my NEW mobile number
which everyone but me knows
- what things did you learn ‘off by heart’?
- do you still remember them ?
Now it is spent and lying limp
and placid at my feet —
a contentment of inky blue
but the other day if you
could have seen it bucking
with energy , flailing its
wild hair and arching its back
[ sea mountains surfers abseiled
down ] you would not have been
surprised to see it thrust
its loins again and again against
the soft white dunes nor after
to see the body of the foreshore
bruised and torn nor its rump
so foam wracked .
pic by Lachlan-Ross on Pexels
It wasn’t the person from Porlock; it was my aunt
Who got on the bus, brought my poem to an end.
My notebook slumped on my lap as she told me
The long sad story of a friend.
When she got off I had my chance but this young bloke
Sat next to me, iPod blaring, hair swooped back.
It was the White Stripes live from Splendour.
How could I not listen ? It was Meg and Jack.
But then a cross-eyed biker got on, hair in a rat’s tail,
Skin graffitied with tatts. How could I not look?
His arms a graphic novel. Then a woman got on
Shouting into her mobile, angry as ‘The Angry Book’.
The sad sack on the other end was out for the count.
Luckily Coleridge didn’t board this bus
while he was dreaming ‘Kubla Khan’. He wouldn’t
have written a word. The poem would be dust.
- picture courtesy of Pinterest by TheTatt
If I were to change my name
I would change it to something
light and leafy like Forrest Gander,
the name of the poet whose poem ‘Pastoral’
I am reading now: ‘swarms of midges
bobbed up and down like balled hairnets
in the breeze’; nothing blunt and earthy,
like his nearest namesake, Forrest Gump
would write; but ethereal; I see he has a degree
in ecology and was born in the Mojave Desert,
all part of the grand design; his photo
portrays him, smiling, upstanding, arms outspread
as if ready to take off on another flight of whimsy.
photo courtesy of Ulle
Reading an article by David Remnick,
editor of ‘The New Yorker’
he was born in Paterson, New Jersey
the same place as Philip Roth,
the novelist whose biography Remnick was profiling,
as was Ginsberg,
the man who wrote “Howl’
that poem that still echoes down the decades.
the same place too
as William Carlos Williams,
the man who wrote ‘the red wheelbarrow’
and wait for it,
the comedic partner of Bud Abbot
whose films split our sides
in the fun house of the fifties;
what do they have in the water of Paterson, New Jersey,
that so many famous people
grew up there;
it must be quite a place
I wasn’t going to wear it. ‘A hoodie is not a cardigan’, I said.
‘Anything that does up at the front is a cardigan’, he insisted.
‘A flack jacket does up at the front; is that a cardigan?’ I said.
We were off and running like the cabbie who couldn’t get us
to the venue fast enough. And then he started on my silver hammer,
why I used the word ‘silver’ when the important word was ‘hammer’.
I could have hit him over the head. And then he said I was embellishing
the tale. ‘I’m a writer’ I pronounced from the saddle of my high horse.
‘It’s the writer’s prerogative to embellish,’
‘You call yourself a writer,’ he said. ‘Your poetry doesn’t even rhyme.’
Now I admit calling him a ‘Neanderthal’ didn’t help matters.
But it’s not just writers who are prickly.
I reckon if someone calls a book, ‘Come Closer and Listen’ they ought to have something to say.
Something vital, urgent, new. Provocative.
I leaned real close and listened. I wanted to be shocked out of my stodginess.
Take something away, to share with my mates at the pub Friday night.
But there was nothing.
Admittedly the poems are well crafted, And there are a few good ones
and even one stand-out poem but that’s it in 60 + pages.
But really it’s the same old stuff as in the previous 10 books.
God help us, we;re all in danger of repeating ourselves and if I do I pray someone
calls me out.
But it’s like I said of the Seinfeld book.
You coulda done better, Charles. You coulda done better.
You don’t see many poems celebrating the sense of smell.
Sight rules the roost, cock-a-doodles its pre-eminence
on every page; the nose rarely gets a look-in.
An anthology of ‘Smell’ poems would be very thin indeed
and would be ‘on the nose’ for most readers.
I haven’t had a whiff of a good smell poem for years.
- I can’t think of a single poem celebrating the sense of smell, can you?
- have you written a short poem, perhaps a funny one, on smells you could put in the comments column for the delight of readers?
- have you a vivid memory of a particular smell?
That’s the stuff you’re keeping out of your poems,
Ted Hughes said to his dismantling wife,
smashing the mahogany tabletop, the high stool,
during one of their periods of interminable strife
and I thought of the things each of us omits
when we sit down and write our little poems,
our peccadilloes, annoying habits, the times
we’ve ghosted or been ghosted on our phones,
whether at times we’ve kicked the dog or cat
or when someone’s needed us we didn’t give a rats.
Little things we’d rather not disclose
like walking around in our poems without clothes
It’s the little things I love
‘Paterson’, the movie
About the bus driver
Who wrote his little epiphanies in his note book
like William Carlos Williams
the doctor who wrote
the red wheelbarrow
And finding out
That’s where Lou Costello grew up,
Paterson, New Jersey
There’s even a park named after him,
Lou Costello the chubby comedian who played alongside Bud Abbot,
The straight guy.
I used to watch those guys in the funhouse
Of the fifties,
Frolicking with Frankenstein and The Wolf man.
But it was Lou Costello
The funny little fat guy
And that’s where he came from,
Paterson, New Jersey.