Music & poetry have always been easy bedfellows, teasing each other with magic to create something wholly cosmic, wholly beautiful. Singers like Bob Dylan & Jim Morrison were choral bards whose words meant as much as the melody – to hypnotise with the tune, to penetrate the soul with the vision. Alas, in recent years, across the music scene, the lyrics of songs have been slowly descending into a sewer of indifference, with A&R folk more interested in social media stats than talent. How sparklingly wonderful is the appearance, then, of a young singer-songwriter who really cares about what she is singing.
A few weeks ago I quite randomly found myself in the Voodoo Rooms one Tuesday evening listening to a young lady & her band. The lady has a name, Louise Connell, a quite bonnie & thickly-accented lassie from Airdrie. A shy performer, Louise has an ethereal voice which soothes the listener’s receptability, fooling us into mentally relaxing as she tosses her songs of spinning shuriken into our psyche. Louise, you see, is a poet. It took me a while to realise – the aforementioned thick accent is difficult to penetrate sometimes – but as the gig went on, & the words & phrases Louise chooses became steadily more transparent, I began to screw down, transfixed, into my seat, resting chin betwyx finger & thumb. It was as if the spirit of John Keats had manifested itself into this gentle & honey-tongued goddess from the Central Belt; but with an edge, for Keats could never have sung the opening lyrics of Connell’s self-penned Maria;
The wine glass slithers down the wall
The cooker’s on but the room is cold
Maria, where’s the girl who swallows lies,
And coughs them up as smiles?
Louise has just released an album, a collection of three EPs called Squall Echo Rale. The songs vary in style & entertainment, but it is in the lyrics that I have found the most pleasure. Louise writes from the other side, presenting us with the flawless dichotomy of silken-sheeted songcraft & spine-raking wordplay. The album consists of 18 set-piece songs, the second of which, Rope, reveals the true genius of Connell’s craft. Less song, more an abstract play, it begins with an impressive cynghanedd-laden couplet which reads, ‘I’m forging quite a career in suppression / Whether passive agression or a spineless silence.’ Let us also examine the opening to the fourth song, Ilo, a love paean delivered with calm lucidity, a majestic capsule of poetic insight & phraseology.
Spending my day’s trying to claim
No one was seeing any of me
Like I was total, embryonic potential
And zero kinesis
I’d feel my hand at the switch
With my mouth forming, “I lo…”
I could have been a genius
But I crushed the brains out of my skull
I could have been a lover
But soft love would make my skin crawl
I could have been a monster
But the screams would fester in my mind
I could have been a good friend
But I always crossed the line
I always crossed the line
And I could have been a genius
If you’d tested me in my native tongue
I could’ve loved you gently, if it ever seemed much fun
I could have been a monster;
sure, I could have the person for you
But friends was just another game
that I was meant to lose
Like life’s a game I’m bound to lose
A nursery rhyme for the other side
A microcosm of my life
Coats a hundred glass slides
I creied eyelashes with my tears
My viscous fear
An eyelash tear
My viscous tear
On the 75th anniversary of the death of John Jarmain, let us celebrate the immortal voices of two of our most cerebally gritty War Poets
O send me great opponents! Day by day
The precious hours like vacant windows passed,
The petty vision & the soft delay.
These bring defeat & rust the sword we bear,
Diminish each bright purpose, till at last
All’s wasted, & the heart’s too dull to care.
On the 26th of this month it shall be seventy-five years exactly since the death of Major John Jarmain, killed-in-action in Normandy during the Allied reconquista of France. The major was a poet, & his death took place at Ste Honorine in Chardonnerette, a commune celebrated before the war as the most beautiful in the Calvados. His second-in-command at the time, John Paul Kaestlin, described the shared loss of one of English poetry’s succinctly sublime stars, at the tender age of 33.
I was awakened at 5 in the morning by his batman in a state of obvious agitation. The major had been hurt; he thought seriously. They had left together at 4 o’clock in his jeep. All was perfectly quiet as they drove over the crest & down the long incline to Honorine; but, as luck would have it, on arrival at the village they found the tanks still moving out into position. The noise had attracted the Hun & a mortar concentration had come over as they reached & were held up at the cross-roads. Jarmain, walking, had dived for a slit-trench by the roadside. He never got there. I got down to Honorine as fast as I could make it. By now, however, it was fully light, & I had to walk most of the way. When I got there he had been dead for some time, & there had evidently been no hope. A piece of shrapnel had entered the base of the skull & he had died, while being evacuated, without regaining consciousness.
Jarmain was buried in the 6th Airborne Cemetery at Ranville. He has been remembered since as a leader, a hero & also a poet of the purest calibre. He left the world a desperately slender collection, among which stand poems that should rank alongside those of Owen & Sassoon among those memorials from the front-line that present an unmisted eyeglass into what it was like to actually fight in those terrible two World Wars of the early 20th Century. For the Great War Poets, especially after 1917, war poetry was all about recording the awful bloodshed & senseless loss of life; when death flew over a battlefield in a thousand & one ways to ravage & maim- the sonic boom of a shrapnel shell was one, turning insides to jelly just before they are pierced by hundred slices of jagged iron hurtling through them at 7000 miles an hour. Asphyxiation is another, gripped by the throat by the fierce hands of an enemy soldier whose bullets had all been spent, & whose bayonet had snapped. By Jarmain’s poetry, the blood and guts had been replaced by a pathos even more effective at touching the reader’s spirit.
Men prove their purpose, in the dangerous hour,
Their brief excelling brilliance is disclosed:
When threatened most the soul puts forth its flower
Jarmain’s poetry flourished in the North African desert, distilling his experiences in the gaps between battle to the light of a doover’s candle. These magical lines were then sent back to England in numbered airmail letters to his wife. He served in the Eighth Army, with the 51st Highland Division, in whose ranks was a Scottish intelligence officer called Hamish Henderson. Jarmain would have attended Henderson’s lectures & briefings, but what they talked about together is unknown to us. We possess no Edward Trelawney here, jotting down the conversations of Byron & Shelley in Pisa, but what we do know is that Jarmain & Henderson are two supremely talented poets, whose works concerning the Desert War are priceless gems in the treasury of English poetry.
In John Jarmain’s work, the mud of the Somme is replaced by desert landscape. Jarmain becomes a connoisseur of sand as he studies its shapes and shifting colours under different climatic conditions
Professor Tim Kendall
Poetically, one can really feel the Italian influence in the anima of Jarmain – he had visited the country many times & spoke near fluent Italian. He also produced one novel in his brief lifetime, Priddy Barrows, published by Collins in the year of his death. If novels are an oblique window into an author’s mind, then the following passage could tell us all we need to know about Jarmain’s personality.
I don’t think he could explain himself, in fact I’m sure he couldn’t. I don’t believe he knows himself why he does as he does. But I’m perfectly sure that once he’s said he’ll do a thing he’ll do it, & no one on earth will stop him. He’s queer.
The best way to appreciate Jarmain is through James Crowden’s 2012 book, Flowers in the Minefields, which places a delicious biograph alongside the poems, with the whole being perfectly embellished by photographs, commentaries & contemporaneous biographical material. The overall experience of the book is like finding the body of a dead soldier blown apart by a land-mine, & putting the pieces back together in the most human – well Frankenstinian – way possible.
Among Jarmain’s poetical offerings, twelve poems in particular stand out as a momentous record of the soldier’s experience. Henderson is different, he survived the war & lived a long life, but it is in his war poetry that his best writings lie. There are two streams flowing from Henderson’s craft; his ballads were on the lips of every soldiers’ singing, especially one composed for the Christmas celebrations in Cairo, 1942, a skit on the ruling house of Egypt & the corrupt British colonial administration that supported it. Sung to the national anthem of Egypt, the Allied soldiers picked it up with fervent enthusiasm, & despite the phraseology appearing wildly ridiculous (&unprintable) to we 21st centuryites, it retains for erudite posterity the vernacular of the time, of how the soldiers communicated with words. Another ballad was the indignantly brilliant ‘Ballad of the D-Day Dodgers,’ composed in response to a condescending remark by Lady Astor about troops on the Mediterranean front. In an insane speech, she had suggested that those soldiers who were bogged down by the mountain fighting in Italy were in some way avoiding the invasion of Normandy.
We’re the D-Day Dodgers, out in Italy –
Always on the vino, always on the spree.
8th Army scroungers and their tanks
We live in Rome – among the yanks.
We are the D-Day Dodgers, way out in Italy…
Naple and Cassino were taken in our stride,
We didn’t go to fight there – we went there for the ride.
Anzio and Sango were just names
We only went there to look for dames –
The artful D Day-Dodgers, way out in Italy
Henderson’s ‘Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica,’ begun fragmentedly in Autumn 1942 & published in 1947, was his tribute to the war in North Africa. Composed in gluts within such recollective moments as when pole-axed by dysentery, the Eelgies are full of compassion for the victimisation of ordinary soldiers, constantly bubbling with an unvisceral, yet emotional truth. When the Elegies are lain beside Jarmain’s poetry, the comblended whole forms a concise reflection of what it was truly like to fight in the desert, a colourful diaspora of experiences to colour in the gaps on those grainy black & white cinereels from the 1940s. By cherry-picking the best of these – sometimes in passages, sometimes whole poems – & laying them by Jarmain’s sublime dozen, we may create the most valuable of poetical testaments to war, composed by the last of those to experience men murdering men on an industrial scale.
I’ve walked this brazen clanging path
In flesh’s brittle arrogance
To chance the simple hazard, death,
Regretting only this, my rash
Ambitious wish in verse to write
A true & valued testament.
Among Henderson’s Elegies, his 7th, Seven Good Germans discusses the backgrounds of enemy soldiers, those ‘seven poor bastards,‘ buried in the desert. The title bounces with deepest irony off the shadowy barrack-proverb, ‘the only good German is a dead one,‘ & Henderson yanks the humanity out of the indifferences of slaughter with such awesome poetry as;
The third had been a farm-hand in the March of Silesia
& had come to the desert as fresh fodder for machine guns
His dates are inscribed on the files, & on the cross-piece
Henderson had found it hard to get this particular poem published in the stuffy literary environs of the ‘Cairo Cage’ & the Salamander Oasis magazine. ‘My Elegy for the German Dead,’ he wrote in a letter to John Spiers, Spring 1943, ‘has been turned down by the Cairo censor – so I hear – from the editors of Orientations, because such morbid writings have a depressing effect on troops! What a laugh. However, it may be more expedient in every way to publish it after the war.’ That Henderson was kept out of the magazines shows how much his work really matters – for the truth suppressed is the greatest truth of all. Of his refusal to bend to the literary conventions of the day, Henderson scribbled a cutting paragraph is his personal copy of Orientations for May 1942.
When I gave them poetry that was neither Audenry nor Spenderish but coarse, sensual, numinous & song-like, acknowledging as influences Lorca, Heine, Clare, Dunbar & Burns & drawing much vigour from my association with Scots & Irish working class people, they squealed & scooted
Towards the end of the summer of 1942, General Bernard Montgomery arrived in North Africa to take command of the Eighth Army. Rommel, the ‘Desert Fox,’ had been running rampant all over the desert, but would be finally stopped in late October by the British & Commonwealth troops in a furious, world-hinging battle named after an obscure train station 40 miles from Cairo – El Alamein. The 51st Highland Division fought in the battle, & it is in the terrifying white heat of its slaughter that the English poet Jarmain & the Scottish makar Henderson became, one would say, true poets of war.
There are many dead in the brutish desert,
who lie uneasy
among the scrub in this landscape of half-wit
stunted ill-will. For the dead land is insatiate
and necrophilous. The sand is blowing about still.
Many who for various reasons, or because
of mere unanswerable compulsion, came here
and fought among the clutching gravestones,
shivered and sweated,
cried out, suffered thirst, were stoically silent, cursed
the spittering machine-guns, were homesick for Europe
and fast embedded in quicksand of Africa
agonized and died.
And sleep now. Sleep here the sleep of dust.
Jarmain was certainly ready to compose war poetry, for he had gone to school in Shrewsbury Owenlike Wilfred twenty years before him. A deep part of Jarmain’s spirit was aware of both his ability & sensibility to match that genius-bard of the Great War. Time, it seemed, had randomly chosen the period of his poetry’s burgeoning in which to enact a new great slaughter. Time had called him to be a witness poet, whose moral responsibility to speak for the dead would transpose into words, with articulate beauty, the brutality & discordance of war. He – & Hamish Henderson of course – now had a dual duty; to fight for the country & to sing for its dead!
I have read the poems with real interest & mounting admiration
Professor Jon Stallworthy
“If I must die, forget these hands of mine / That touched your body into tiny flames,” were two staggeringly authentic lines composed by Jarmain to his second wife, Beryl, in early 1939. In them we have this poet’s encapsulation – he would wear the tradition (Brooke’s ‘If I should die, think only this of me’) of the art, while carving his own beauties in the rock.
Let us now look focus on one moment in the historiography of the two poets; at certain poems, passages of poems & the odd bit of prose which tell a small sliver of the story of that famous battle at Alamein, fought in furnace heat, which prevented the Nazi flag being draped over the pyramids.
Opening of an Offensive
(a) the waiting
Armour has foregathered, snuffling
through tourbillions of fine dust.
The crews don’t speak much. They’ve had
last brew-up before battle. The tawny
deadland lies in silence
not yet smashed by salvoes.
No sound reaches us
from the African constellations.
The low ridge is too quiet.
But no fear we’re sleeping,
no need to remind us
that the nervous fingers of the searchlights
are nearly meeting & time is flickering
& this I think in a few minutes
while the whole power crouches for the spring.
X-20 in thirty seconds. Then begin
(b) the barrage
Henderson describes the intense bombardment of the German lines which marked the opening of the battle, an epic moment in which minute details would embed themselves into his receptive psyche. For Henderson, the sight of two searchlights crossing in the skies at the start of the battle evoked the saltire of Saint Andrew, & gave the 51st an almost hallowed role in the battle. Henderson would actually be wounded, leaping into a slit trench to avoid a stuka attack, a momentary dashing which damaged ligaments & vertebrae to plague him through the rest of his life. Another Scottish poet was also wounded at Alamein, Sorley Maclean, blown 30 feet through the air by a landmine going off in his vicinity. He was wounded in the leg and broke several bones in his feet, but would survive to become one of Scotland’s greatest 20th century poets.
Whatever his desire of mishap,
his innocence or malignity,
he showed no pleasure in his death
below the Ruweisat Ridge.
A bombadier during the battle, F.E. Hughes, submitted the following piece to a title called ‘Poems from the Desert,’ a World War II anthology of Eighth Army poems of which Monty introduced as compsed, ‘at the very time that the Desert Army was wholly engaged in hitting Rommel & all his forces “Right out of Africa for Six.”
There’s a Devil in the dawn –
Horrific spawn of last night’s hideous moon,
That hung above the gun’s inferno
And smiled on men who died too soon.
There’s a Devil in the dawn –
See him fawn on those who served him well,
Who, blinded, deafened, breathed the cordite reek,
Fed the ravening guns, and swore that it was hell.
The Devil will demand his pay
In blood to-day; but those who pass in sunlight will
not see the Moon
Serenely light a desert hell for men who live
And smile on those who die too soon.
The next brief masterpiece of a poem, ‘At a War Grave,’ was composed by Jarmain towards the very end of the battle, after visiting the grave of his good friend Ebenezer Ell, slain by an 88 shell.
No grave is rich, the dust that herein lies
Beneath this white cross mixing with the sand
Was vital once, with skill of eye and hand
And speed of brain. These will not re-arise
These riches, nor will they be replaced;
They are lost and nothing now, and here is left
Only a worthless corpse of sense bereft,
Symbol of death, and sacrifice and waste.
An even greater friend of Ebenezer Lee was Harry Garrett, a sergeant in the 51st Highland Division, who experienced the horror of seeing Ebenezer blown to bits beside during the battle. This near-miss was one of many which earned him the nickname, ‘Lucky Harry,’ among whose charming, grounded verses we may read;
I knew that death is but a door.
I knew what we were fighting for:
Peace for the kids, our brothers freed,
A kinder world, a cleaner breed.
I’m but the son my mother bore,
A simple man, and nothing more.
But – God of strength and gentleness,
Be pleased to make me nothing less.
Help me, O God, when Death is near
To mock the haggard face of fear,
That when I fall – if fall I must –
My soul may triumph in the Dust.
From the general wastings of life through war, the emotional explosions of Jarmain & Henderson have flown from the desert into eternity. Among them stands Jarmain’s rightfully widely-anthologized poem, El Alamein. It was composed 5 months after the events described, during a different battle, the mauling at Mareth in Tunisia. In an essay contained in Crowden’s book, by a battery captian called Joe Dean, we can see the poem being composed;
I remember an evening during the battle of Mareth when by the light of his parrafin lamp he was struggling with a poem on the battle of Alamein
One expects that the shock of Alamein had subsided, leaving fresh memories encrusting in his creative storehouses. It would only take the sounds of battle to shake them from their beds.
There are flowers now, they say, at Alamein;
Yes, flowers in the minefields now.
So those that come to view that vacant scene,
Where death remains and agony has been
Will find the lilies grow –
Flowers, and nothing that we know.
So they rang the bells for us and Alamein,
Bells which we could not hear:
And to those that heard the bells what could it mean,
That name of loss and pride, El Alamein?
– Not the murk and harm of war,
But their hope, their own warm prayer.
It will become a staid historic name,
That crazy sea of sand!
Like Troy or Agincourt its single fame
Will be the garland for our brow, our claim,
On us a fleck of glory to the end:
And there our dead will keep their holy ground.
But this is not the place that we recall,
The crowded desert crossed with foaming tracks,
The one blotched building, lacking half a wall,
The grey-faced men, sand powdered over all;
The tanks, the guns, the trucks,
The black, dark-smoking wrecks.
So be it: none but us has known that land:
El Alamein will still be only ours
And those ten days of chaos in the sand.
Others will come who cannot understand,
Will halt beside the rusty minefield wires
And find there – flowers.
I shall leave this essay with one final poem, which blew anonymously into a slit trench at El Afhelia during a heavy bombardment. It was only a couple of weeks after El Alamein, the Desert Fox & his Afrika Korps were still visciously snarling like a freshly wounded lion. It appeared as the closing piece in the ‘Poems from the Desert’ anthology.
A Soldier—His Prayer
Stay with me, God. The night is dark,
The night is cold: my little spark
Of courage dies. The night is long;
Be with me God, and make me strong.
I love a game; I love a fight.
I hate the dark; I love the light.
I love my child; I love my wife.
I am no coward. I love Life,
Life with its change of mood and shade.
I want to live. I’m not afraid,
But me and mine are hard to part;
Oh, unknown God, lift up my heart.
You stilled the waters at Dunkirk
And saved Your servants. All Your work
Is wonderful, dear God. You strode
Before us down that dreadful road.
We were alone, and hope had fled;
We loved our country and our dead.
And could not shame them; so we stayed
The course and were not much afraid.
Dear God that nightmare road! And then
That sea! We got there—we were men.
My eyes were blind, my feet were torn,
My soul sang like a bird at dawn.
I knew that death is but a door.
I knew what we were fighting for:
Peace for the kids, our brothers freed,
A kinder world, a cleaner breed.
I’m but the son my mother bore,
A simple man, and nothing more.
But—God of strength and gentleness,
Be pleased to make me nothing less.
Help me, O God, when Death is near
to mock the haggard face of fear,
That when I fall—if fall I must—
My soul may triumph in the Dust.
John Jarmaine & Hamish Henderson are two blooms of the same plant, a sweet-smelling desert asphodel whose wafting fragrance touches the souls of all who near it. Away from the sands, Henderson lived a long & fruitful life, reinigorating the Scottish folk music tradition & embellishing his nation’s striving for independence with his poetical insight. Jarmaine was not so lucky, but it in his posthomous life that still speaks to us all. In 2013, a cache of 150 letters written by Jarmain to Beryl hwas discovered in a family bureau. In them we see the originals of his poems, & also his voice as a man, who described his situation in the desert as being one with, “everything liberally sprinkled and intermixed with sand. Can you picture it all?” These letters can only serve to give the future a much wider insight to the one that we have to hand. James Crowden’s book is an excellent start, but I am sure as the decades & centuries flow by, that every word written by Jarmain’s hand will take on some form of quasi-religious status as we look back on one of the last true poets of the ‘archaic’ human dispensity for mass, murderous warfare.
BUY THE BOOKS
Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica
Flowers in the Minefields
Continuing Damian Beeson Bullen’s retrospective adventure through the journey that made him a poet…
MONDAY 27th APRIL 1998
A policeman woke me up, a la Saturday, & went to the usual spot. Jesse was there snoring & Kapitano went off to get stoned. Slept another couple of hours, then went for one last walk around Pisa. Found out last Saturday’s football scores – its an Arsenal championship & touch & go on Burnley’s relegation issues. Then I said goodbye to the gang & actually broke free! I’d never expected to spend ten days in Pisa, but I did & they were mentally funny!
On the way to the stazione I had a bit of wine with a Yugoslavian who had escaped from the civil war in 1991, who very kindly taught me a little Italian. After this I bought a new writing book (4500 lira) & a pencil (500 lira). I was going to steal them, but my good angel took over. I’ve got some important poetry to write & its better I do it with a clean karmic conscience.
I had a couple of hours or so to kill before my train to La Spezia, so I made out an itinerary & sorted my bags. In short, I have a few day’s food, very little money – my emergency tenner plus 3,800 lira including 3000 from Kapitano as a parting gift – & a desire to write some beautiful poetry!
After 10 days’ skill rust, the train jump was touch & go at moments, but successful in the end. The journey was cool, sticking my head out of an open window & feeling the intercity wind rush through my hair. The sky was severely overcast, the mountains obscured in a rolling sea-mist, then I sensed it was time to hide in a toilet. I timed it wrong & emerged face-to-face with the conductor. He went ‘uh’ & pointed to his ticket. I went ‘uh’ & gestured down the carriage, in which direction I went before hiding in another toilet. This made me edgy, so I got off one stop early.
It was now beginning to rain. I bought some water, but pinched some vegetables, & caught a bus to La Spezia. The ride was OK, & allowed me to absorb the scenery. Then, as I caught my first glimpse of the bay – the Gulf of Poets – I felt a mad, poetic rush tingling thro’ my body.
The bus wound along the coast, thro’ Lerici & its ‘Hotel Shelley’ & into busy looking La Spezia, where I quickly caught another bus for Portovenere, my main destination on this leg of my writing tour. This new bus wound around the northern curve of the bay, which was looking really cool. The scene was spoil’d a little by the modern docks, altho’ the warships were charming.
Eventually we arrived in the ‘centro’ of Portovenere, where I hopped off the bus into a shower. I quickly sprinted to a dry-spot, full of rubbish & stray cats. At this point I was definitely NOT buzzin’ off my excursion. The rain stopp’d soon enough, however, & I took my first look at the town.
Portovenere – Port of Venus – is an old wall’d place, the main street being about 10 feet wide, if that, & lined with shops. The place was very quiet, & after a couple of minutes walking I arrived at an old church & medieval ramparts. It was all very poetic & I was moved by the colour of the place – the most violent greys I’ve ever seen. At the end of the village I look’d out over the sea, where angry-looking folding clouds beckon’d more rain.
I scrambl’d down to some rocks, where I ate a small meal while watching the sea roll & thrash its wild sprays as it crash’d against the rocks. I then climb’d some more rocks behind me to the right, where on a jagged promontory I sat like a wizard inspired, rattling thro’ a new stanza for ‘The Death of Shelley.’
Having chang’d my mind about sleeping by the ocean (I was bound to get wet), I made my bed in an old building, dry & windproof, then took a little stroll along the boat-lined seafront. Out across bay the scatter’d lights of various settlements marked mankind, including a largish island just off the coast of Portovenere. I think I will swim across. According to a plaque at a place called ‘Byron’s Grotto,’ the poet swam the width of the entire bay once. The Gulf of Poets indeed!
I had a quick cappuccino & work’d out my stay in the area would be three days -’til the end of this journal & the end of April – & perhaps my money! I then return’d to my bed where, after a scare with a screaming cat, I fell asleep to the wish-wash of waves.
THURSDAY 28TH APRIL
A busy day indeed! Awoke quite rough in a dusty place – I could have pick’d a better spot actually – & breakfasted on one of my pre-prepared butties. A was almost on auto-pilot as I blindly got on a bus to La Spezia, half-asleep & bleary-eyed.
On re-arrival in La Spezia, I asked a couple of folk & discovered where Shelley’s final home was – San Terenzo. I also did a spot of shopping; some lovely bread & few eggs, two of which would smash before the end of the day. Back in Portovenere, I spent the afternoon wandering about, climbing the steep steps of Portovenere a thousand times, & found these amazing caves just along the cliffs. I proceeded to move all my stuff there, intending to sleep there come nightfall.
I then made a visit to Le Grazie, the wee bay before Portovenere, where I bought wine cigarettes & had a very enchanting walk around an old Roman villa. It was then back to Portovenere & my swim to the island I saw yesterday. The waves were quite powerful, but I made it there & back, where I was greeted by screaming Italian schoolgirls.
The physical effort had left me craving sugar, so I went to the local shop on the edge of town to pinch some chocolate. I got out OK, & sat outside chomping it over the sea a little too blatantly. Suddenly the owner appeared on my shoulder & order’d me to pay – fair enough, & he could have given me to the cops.
By late afternoon I was busy preparing an evening’s fire. The caves were cool; a rocky quarry with lots of nooks & crannies to explore, plus a center-piece rusting truck. I also had a magnificent view of Portovenere & the long expanse of the Mediterranean, when to the crash of waves of rocks I was fill’d with the spirit of poetry.
I prepared everything I needed to cook a meal that night, then with about an hour or so of sunlight left I decided to make for the highest cliff I could see. I had arm’d myself with a pen, a book of Shelley’s poetry to read & also write in, plus the all-important wine.
Shoving everything down the back of my pants I had a great time climbing up the rocky cliff, when at any time I could have fallen to my doom. It seemed like a wall of vegetation had been thrown up to keep out humans, but I defied it & got through with only a couple of cuts. My jumper kept out the rest.
I wander up the coastline for to muse,
Set up my camp in the cliffside quarry,
Resplendent in luscious blue sea-side views,
Round the chapel of Portovenere,
For here, tonight, my life & art shall fuse
& I, awakened to my destiny,
Prepare for the sun to set ‘low the line,
By buildin’ fire, entrin’ town, stealin’ wine.
With topless bottle of red in my hand
Up the cliff-face I scamper with the might
Of some fabled hero from Plato’s land.
I claim the top, where gulls in freedoms flight,
Silhouette the settin’ sun, a wide band
Of gold spread cross azure seas, from this height
I muse on the rippling sea meadows blue –
This evening gives birth to a poet true.
I pause to reflect on the life I knew,
Nice house, nice job, nice girl, nice skunk, nice deal
& compare it to these skies & seas of blue
And this sense of assurity I feel.
At joinin’ the elite, select brave few
No more a cog on the soul grindin’ wheel.
Besides, England does my fuckin’ brain in
& I bet, as I write, it is rainin’.
When I could go no further I found myself on a ledge about 300 feet above the sea, watching the gulls swoop & the sun going down. I was in perfect solitude & thoroughly inspired, & flew thro’ a few new stanzas. In the ever-fading twilight I set off back, but came across a path that led upwards & onwards over the cliffs for miles. So, in search of adventure & poetical ascension I too the way.
I pass’d some abandon’d buildings – how they got the stone up there I’ll never know -, then reach’d a TV ariel station thingy. I leapt a few feet onto its roof & took in the panorama. The whole Gulf of Poets was lit up, with a sailboat lit up quite splendidly at its center, & I could even make out the lights of Livorno, way down the coastline.
By now it was almost dark, so I descended back down along the path, gaining another stanza en route. I enter’d Portovenere tipsily singing, “COME ON YOU CLARETS!”, which echoed around the mountains & disturb’d some dogs. I nestled at the foot of the castle for yet another stanza, before plunging into town for even more composition. It was then that my pen finally ran out, so I made my way up those bloody steps one last time & back to my cave.
I lit the fire & cook’d up some noodles, veg & an egg. Another egg & a sandwich had mysteriously disappeared! It tasted gorgeous, & was topp’d off with cake & chocolate & the rest of the wine. A suitable, celebratory feast for being a poet & being alive!
In the firelight I manage to finish off the first canto of my poem. It truly was a magnificent night & made me believe that the life I have chosen is a worthy one. Poetry contains the essence of life itself, & a life of poetry is a life well lived. With this in mind I went to bed satisfied & fell into a sound, profound slumber.
WEDNESDAY 29TH APRIL
Woke up in quite a good state, & just lay in my makeshift bed for a while, staring at the cavernous ceiling. I then emerged & spent a couple of hours writing up neatly last night’s work, which I read aloud on the clifftop to the roar of waves. The day was hot & cloudy, & about 2 in the afternoon, after a quick sketch of the church, & packing up all my stuff, I made my way to the bus-stop. It was time to leave Portovenere.
The bus took me all the way around the bay – through Le Spezia & into wee San Terenzo. On arriving I stash’d my bags on a sloping, forested hill – there was nowhere else to do it – for houses filled all the flat terrain. I took a stroll to the seafront, quite pretty but not rivetingly amazing. I can see what Shelley saw in it, tho’, its very relaxed out of the way.
The bay here is quite small – I could see Portovenere in the distance, & Lerici just along the coast. The best bit, of course, was Shelley’s last house – still standing. The Casa Magni was very enthralling, & I read the plaques & chilled in front of it for a while, in the sun, feeling pretty good about myself.
I decided to prepare for another night of poetics, & walk’d along the bay to Lerici – a similar place to San Terezno, but a little bigger. I bought bread, fags & more 30p cartons of wine, & stole some veg, leaving me 13,000 lira. This part of the Gulf of Poets was thick with small sailing boats, & extremely quiet – not as resorty as Portovenere, but I guess it might my way back to busy up in the Summer.
I made my way back to the place I stash’d my bags, a quite pretty spot surrounded in snowdrop like flowers. I prepared a fire, played my guitar & then, just as the sun was gradually falling, I went on an appetite-building walk. I found a lovely & secluded sandy beach where I chill’d for a while thinking about my poem, then returned to my ‘site’ to light the fire & cooked up a crude but hearty ‘woodman’s slop.’
I then made up a bottle of wine from a carton & went back to the house to write some poetry. Alas, soon after I arrived it began to rain, so I ran back to the site, grabb’d my stuff & moved to a hut near by which I’d scouted earlier in the day as a potential sleep-spot. This turn’d out to be a good move as the rain began lashing it down, belting off the corrugated roof. It was, however, all proper buzzin’ as I drank my wine & composed poetry – the first two stanzas of the second canto of my poem.
THURSDAY 30TH APRIL
This is my final entry in this journal. A time to reflect on what has been quite an interesting month; my first foreign holiday for years & my first ‘real’ traveling experience. I have visited five countries, sampl’d many cuisines & alcohols, got stoned more than a few times, created literature, jump’d trains with some proficiency, & ate like a king.
I awoke in the woodshed to a world still raining severely. I snuggl’d down in artistic defiance spent a few hours writing, reading & completing last night’s sleeping. The rain just kept on coming all day – never really stopping til 10PM. I knew a full day in as shed would not be very good for the muse, so at about 2PM – in a relatively brief lull in the weather – I braved the outside world.
I began to hop on & off busses, riding around for a bit & composing poetry on cardboard with a blunt pencil crayon, until I reach’d Sarzana. I look’d at the places the trains went to & saw that Luni was only a few minutes away. Apparently there was an ampitheatre there, which I’d read in a visitor’s guide I’fd pick’d up at La Spezia. So I got myself there, admiring my very fine – if a little patchy – new beard in the toilet.
On arriving at Luni it was still raining, but I trudged the half mile to the site, climb’d over the fence & chill’d out amid the impressive ampitheatre. It always amazes me how civilized the Romans were – but if their society can break down, so can ours!
On the way back to San Terezno I pinch’d some bratwurst from a supermarket, along with wine & bread which I bought, then prepared for a long wait at the stazione. It was one of those two trains a day, middle of nowhere places, but to my surprise a train duly arrived in just a couple of minutes, & a few minutes later was back in my shed! All my stuff was still there, & only a little damp!
I changed shows & headed straight back out – I had the muse – for La Spezia, arm’d with wine, a new pen I’d pinched from a lottery place,& some proper writing paper. I wander’d about the city for a bit, writing away by the palm-tree lined, boat-congested harbour, then in the peace of a park.
I was taking my poem to the height of imagination – Xanadu. Coleridge had had a glimpse of it once. In another of those trippy moments that occur in my life, just as I got to the stanza that describ’d a poet’s heaven, I arrived at a bus-stop & there on a poster was the word, XANDAU. Trippy, eh?
was soon back in my shed, where I ate a hearty feast of bread & a tin of tomatoes, which I’d laced with soy sauce & pepper. And so, reflections on April – there are too many & I am too drunk. Ciao April 1998, we had a good ‘un.
THE BIRTH OF A POET
A couple of Augusts ago, the same weekend that Burnley were playing Spurs away at Wembley Stadium would coincide with the Notting Hill Carnival. This was the perfect occasion to visit London with my newly acquired American wife for our first time together. After a deli-lunch on Primrose Hill, I thought we could plunge within the city’s sweatbox in the direction of Leicester Square, for I wanted to show her something cool. Unfortunately, the cool thing wasn’t there any more, or rather they weren’t there, those floor-embedded metal plates which showed you how far away & in which direction the capital of each of the British Empire’s former colonies & dependencies lay. For a moment my soul was pricked by sadness & regret for the end of the imperial adventure, a sentiment which is, according to a new book co-authored by Danny Dorling & Sally Tomlinson, one of the chief motivating forces behind Brexit.
University. A school, where all the arts and faculties are taught and studied, and where, in the view of some news-sheets and political hacks, there are seditious lectures against Brexit – Harry Eyres & George Myerson
Before the book arrived at my desk, I thought I’d check out some other reviews. To my astonishment, they were rather over-vitriolic, which I find an instant red flag to the reviewer’s nerves being twanged. Investigating further, I discovered one reviewer was a tweeter in support of Tommy Robinson & another – Patrick Maguire of the New Statesman – had obtained a “First class dissertation on the political significance of Enoch Powell’s classical scholarship.” For those who do not know, Enoch Powell was a right nob-head racist politician from the 1960s. After reading the book myself, I found the essence of these heavily politicized reviews was to find one point out of a 1000 accurate & insightful statements, & waste half their review-ink attacking the research in order to diminish the other 999.
Why would you allow a handful of billionaires to poison your national conversation with disinformation—either directly through the tabloids they own, or indirectly, by using those newspapers to intimidate the public broadcaster? Why would you allow them to use their papers to build up and co-opt politicians peddling those lies? Why would you let them get away with this stuff about “foreign judges” and the need to “take back control” when Britain’s own public opinion is routinely manipulated by five or six unaccountable rich white men, themselves either foreigners or foreign-domiciled? – Joris Luyendijk
So to the book itself, the crowning erudite cherry on the Brexit Book cake. Rule Britannia: Brexit & the End of Empire was published in November 2018, & is a yardstick zeitgeistograph still relevant 6 months later, when nothing much has actually happened in a Brexit process suffering delay after delay, & also eroding the traditional parties’ powers as seen in the recent local elections. Its authors are both Oxbridge connected scholars, but coming from a non-Etonian angle. This enables a refreshing honesty to talk about what they have observed in the leadership factories of Britain, which create situations where the present Tory cabinet has no representative from the working, & even middle, classes.
The chief seam of the authors’ investigations is that certain influential elements among the British were suffering a terrible hangover after losing the Empire. As the profits from imperial ‘tribute’ disappeared – i.e. those one-sided trade deals with the colonies – the country decided to bed down with the European Union for financial security. Roll on four decades, & with old colonial families hankering for the glory days, coupled with an imminent European Parliament cut-down on tax-avoidance by the super-rich, & bo-oom! you’ve got the self-interest dream-team that masterminded Brexit. Of course, the democratic rights of 17 million voters had to be fooled & manipulated, but luckily the old ‘blame the immigrants’ carpet was safely tucked in Enoch Powell’s cupboards, & was rolled out to great fanfare by the Leave-dominated press. In essence, all the crap the British are experiencing right now is to preserve a few family fortunes. Time will look back on this period & say what the Leave vote really meant was an abandoning of a sinking ship by intelligent & skilful immigrant workers, who chose to Leave a place of insults & scapegoating.
Eight years ago we were worried about the BNP. Four years ago we were worried about UKIP. Now it is the conservatives themselves who are the driving force behind division & fear – Concerned Parent
The British Empire had its nasty moments – its a century since Amritsar, two since Peterloo. It let the Irish starve & heavily compensated the slave-traders on the abolishment of that dreadful business. While plundering a quarter of the world for its own gain, the Empire also created a syllabus of eugenicized fictions for its children – the white race was superior, & among the white races the British was defiantly the best. This created natural condescensions in the British consciousness, when the domestic underclass & the imperial over-class united in a sense of patriotic superiority. ‘This rotten alliance,’ say the authors, ‘still exists in the twenty-first century and goes some way to explaining the xenophobia, racism and hostility that is such an obvious part of our British heritage.’
With the inevitable maturing of the Human psyche, British education will actually focus on the waves of immigration which created its rich DNA, from the Belgic tribes of Ceasar’s day, to the Polish influx in recent years. Unfortunately, jingoism still jangles in school texts, especially in the old classrooms of the nation’s elderly voters, the majority of whom opted for Leave in 2016. Another majority vote was an eye-opener. Coming from Burnley (the Spurs game was 1-1, by the way), I’ve had absolute bell-ends remark that my townsfolk were responsible for Brexit, & I kind of went along with it. Danny & Sally’s research quash the myth, explaining that the Brexitiers were basically slightly less well-off Tories from a relatively immigrant-free Middle England, wondering why they weren’t doing as well as other Tories across the land. Brilliant!
The UK sits on its own as a rich economy that experienced a strong economic performance while the real wages of its workers dropped – Valentina Romei
Rule Britannia is a real eye-opener of a book, a lucid text complemented by lots of lovely graphs, maps & diagrams. As I read it, I really enjoyed how many paragraphs finish with a punchline of divergent thought, like the final turn’d couplet in an Elizabethen sonnet. The tale we are told presents in a pretty unarguable fashion how the rich are getting richer via measures of draconian austerity, working the poor so hard – & into a state of weakness – that they will not be able to protest against acts of clear theft perpetrated by the increasingly wealthy. I mean, we’re never told this by the press, but how can a Britain of 2019 see a rise in death-rates, child poverty & infant mortality. We are also informed of British society’s being left behind by a more progressive mainland, leaving me with the conclusion ‘why on earth would we actually want to leave.‘ But the authors do retain optimism, explaining how Brexit might be the kick up the arse we all need, the great opening up of the British psyche when, ‘there is a great hope that we will learn from our mistakes & become better people.’ It is indeed high time we British discovered the scandalous truths behind the appropriation of wealth by the rich at the expense of the vast majority. The ‘Remainers’ – I personally believe we should be bringing down barriers not putting them up – should also take solace in the fact that 71 percent of under 25s – the country’s future – voted to remain in Europe.
When a country decides to invest in arms, rather than in education, housing, the environment & health services fort its people, it is depriving a whole generation of the right to prosperity & happiness Oscar Arias Sanchez
The only drawback of this book is that although the authors rightly paint Britain as a place of drudgery & misery for the masses, the evidence they present is only cool comment & cold statistic. There is no experiences of wandering around the estates of Hull, North Peckham, Paisley & Burnley Wood. A little more research into who these ‘kind’ of leave-voters were would have complemented their theory & presented a more kaleidoscopic & believable solution. But what they have focused on, one cannot deny is perfectly sound, informative & page-turningly entertaining, a brief sample of which I shall present in aphorismic fashion.
QUOTES FROM THE BOOK
- Delusions of grandeur are essential to rule over an empire. A people have to fool themselves, & to be fooled, into believing that they are special enough to rule over huge multitudes of others
- When you destroy the textile industry in one continent, after enslaving people from a second continent and forcing them to pick cotton in a third continent to be woven in Manchester, all to make a profit, you are receiving tribute
- When its people fail to adapt, an empire mentality remains a long time. Especially when it is it not clear to many people in the UK by whom or what the empire was defeated
- Many of the British elite came to believe that the British were personally the pinnacle of humanity, & particular families in Britain were at the very top of that pinnacle
- The last time pay fell as much as it has fallen recently was during the 1860s & 1870s… life expectancy in the UK has stalled in a way that, like pay falls, has not been seen since the 1860s. It is projected that an extra million years of life will be lost by 2058 if these trends are not altered.
- Some of those who consider themselves elite can often be rather dim. They talk of themselves as ‘privileged,’ to have been selectively educated, whereas the real privilege is to be educated among all your peers. How can you understand other people if you have never properly mixed with them?
- It is actually a privilege not to have been sent to a boarding school or taught old-fashioned arrogant ideas. It is a privilege to get to know your mum & dad as you grow up rather than seeing the nanny and house master as your substitute parents
- Just one of the many problems the British have is the amount of money they spend attempting to retain the advantage of a small elite whose children are seen to deserve their privilege. That requires their parents to prevent too many lower-class children joining their group, going to their schools, their universities, taking their jobs & buying similarly impressive homes
- What is the point in sending your children to a grammar or private school if later they have to compete with children from good comprehensives who know more about life than your children do? No wonder so many Conservatives hate comprehensives
- When India, & then most of the colonies in Africa, won their freedom, The British race found themselves suddenly becoming much poorer. They blamed the trade unions & socialists in the 1970s. To try to maintain their position, from 1979 onwards they cut the pay of the poorest in a myriad of ways & vilified immigrants in the newspapers they owned or influenced
- The British had been distracted from the rise in equality & the consequent poverty that grew with it by decades of innuendo & then outright propaganda suggesting that immigration was the main source of most of their woes.
- In Britain, as soon as economic recovery began, the rich pocketed all the proceeds – at the expense of the large majority. Such a scenario is only achievable with uncontrolled greed at the very top & a prevailing spirit of meanness
- The whole idea of being just one of 28 European states, & having to cooperate & compromise, rather than lording it over them, had never gone down well with the manufactured British psyche.
- Part of the reason Britain has been so happy to welcome in the super-rich from other countries is that extremely rich people currently bankroll political parties, especially when that is in their direct financial interest – if they can successfully lobby for lowered taxation & regulation, that’s money well spent
- The Leave campaign also had the uncosted support of Rupert Murdoch & most of British tabloid newspapers, as well as the Telegraph & Sunday Telegraph
- The key vote for leave came from the English home counties and the narrow band of counties that surround them
- In short, then, Tory England voted Britain out. These were areas that had often loyally voted Conservative for decades, but economically were not doing anything like as well as other Tory areas, which cannot have seemed right to many people living there
- Older, less well-off, less well-educated Tory Britain was where the most votes for Brexit were. It cannot be said often enough. It was not Sunderland or Stoke that swung it.
- They desperately wanted Britain to leave. But even they were shocked that Leave won on the first attempt. In a way it was a little too early for them. They were not prepared for their victory, & did not know what to do with it.
- Whatever kind of Brexit occurs – hard, soft, or even cancellation and staying in the European Union – Britain will be much diminished by the Brexit process
- Dublin is currently experiencing a building boom as firms quietly relocate to Europe’s only other English-speaking state
- The future of farming in Britain has been cast into great uncertainty, as the UK may well not be able to replicate the EU farming subsidies in future, & at the same time fund its National Health Service & keep its taxes low for the rich & its efficient industrial & service sectors as they currently are. Something is going to have to give
- Today we are all the detritus, the debris of empire, & we have to build a new raft from that
- As the immigrants are no longer arriving in enough numbers to be blamed, the attention will increasingly be focused on the rich & the greedy
- Partly as a result of Brexit, the next generation will soon have a far better idea of the sins, misconceptions & ignorance of their fathers, & hence will be relieved when the UK cease to be a significant military power. It is for the next generation to make Britain decent, to make Britain human & to consign the empire’s triumphant song to history.
Continuing a series of classic essays on literature. This month sees one of the Romantics reflect his work in assembling the famous collection – Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border
The invention of printing necessarily occasioned the downfall of the Order of Minstrels, already reduced to contempt by their own bad habits, by the disrepute attached to their profession, and by the laws calculated to repress their licence. When the Metrical Romances were very many of them in the hands of every one, the occupation of those who made their living by reciting them was in some degree abolished, and the minstrels either disappeared altogether, or sunk into mere musicians, whose utmost acquaintance with poetry was being able to sing a ballad.
But the taste for popular poetry did not decay with the class of men by whom it had been for some generations practised and preserved. Not only did the simple old ballads retain their ground, though circulated by the new art of printing, instead of being preserved by recitation; but in the Garlands, and similar collections for general sale, the authors aimed at a more ornamental and regular style of poetry than had been attempted by the old minstrels, whose composition, if not extemporaneous, was seldom committed to writing, and was not, therefore, susceptible of accurate revision. This was the more necessary, as even the popular poetry was now feeling the effects arising from the advance of knowledge, and the revival of the study of the learned languages, with all the elegance and refinement which it induced.
In short, the general progress of the country led to an improvement in the department of popular poetry, tending both to soften and melodise the language employed, and to ornament the diction beyond that of the rude minstrels, to whom such topics of composition had been originally abandoned. The monotony of the ancient recitals was, for the same causes, altered and improved upon. The eternal descriptions of battles, and of love dilemmas, which, to satiety, filled the old romances with trivial repetition, were retrenched. If any one wishes to compare the two eras of lyrical poetry, a few verses taken from one of the latest minstrel ballads, and one of the earliest that were written for the press, will afford him, in some degree, the power of doing so.
The facility of versification, and of poetical diction, is decidedly in favour of the moderns, as might reasonably be expected from the improved taste, and enlarged knowledge, of an age which abounded to such a degree in poetry, and of a character so imaginative as was the Elizabethan era. The poetry addressed to the populace, and enjoyed by them alone, was animated by the spirit that was breathed around. We may cite Shakespeare’s unquestionable and decisive evidence in this respect. In Twelfth Night he describes a popular ballad, with a beauty and precision which no one but himself could have affixed to its character; and the whole constitutes the strongest appeal in favour of that species of poetry which is written to suit the taste of the public in general, and is most naturally preserved by oral tradition.
The expressions of Sir Philip Sidney, an unquestionable judge of poetry, flourishing in Elizabeth’s golden reign, and drawing around him, like a magnet, the most distinguished poets of the age, amongst whom we need only name Shakespeare and Spenser, still show something to regret when he compared the highly wrought and richly ornamented poetry of his own time with the ruder but more energetic diction of ‘Chevy Chase.’ His words, often quoted, cannot yet be dispensed with on the present occasion. They are a chapter in the history of ancient poetry. ‘Certainly,’ says the brave knight, ‘I must confess my own barbarousness; I never heard the old song of Percy and Douglas, that I found not my heart more moved than with a trumpet. And yet it is sung by some blind crowder, with no rougher voice than rude style, which being so evil apparelled in the dust and cobwebs of that uncivil age, what would it work, trimmed in the gorgeous eloquence of Pindar?’
If we inquire more particularly what were the peculiar charms by which the old minstrel ballad produced an effect like a trumpet-sound upon the bosom of a real son of chivalry, we may not be wrong in ascribing it to the extreme simplicity with which the narrative moves forward, neglecting all the more minute ornaments of speech and diction, to the grand object of enforcing on the hearer a striking and affecting catastrophe. The author seems too serious in his wish to affect the audience, to allow himself to be drawn aside by anything which can, either by its tenor, or the manner in which it is spoken, have the perverse effect of distracting attention from the catastrophe.
Such grand and serious beauties, however, occurred but rarely to the old minstrels; and, in order to find them, it became necessary to struggle through long passages of monotony, languor, and inanity. Unfortunately it also happened, that those who, like Sidney, could ascertain, feel, and do full justice to the beauties of the heroic ballad, were few, compared to the numbers who could be sensible of the trite verbiage of a bald passage, or the ludicrous effect of an absurd rhyme. In England, accordingly, the popular ballad fell into contempt during the seventeenth century; and although in remote counties its inspiration was occasionally the source of a few verses, it seems to have become almost entirely obsolete in the capital. Even the Civil Wars, which gave so much occasion for poetry, produced rather song and satire, than the ballad or popular epic. The curious reader may satisfy himself on this point, should he wish to ascertain the truth of the allegation, by looking through D’Urfey’s large and curious collection, when he will be aware that the few ballads which it contains are the most ancient productions in the book, and very seldom take their date after the commencement of the seventeenth century.
In Scotland, on the contrary, the old minstrel ballad long continued to preserve its popularity. Even the last contests of Jacobitism were recited with great vigour in ballads of the time, the authors of some of which are known and remembered; nor is there a more spirited ballad preserved than that of Mr. Skirving (father of Skirving the artist), upon the battle of Prestonpans, so late as 1745. But this was owing to circumstances connected with the habits of the people in a remote and rude country, which could not exist in the richer and wealthier provinces of England.
The poet, perhaps, most capable, by verses, lines, even single words, to relieve and heighten the character of ancient poetry, was the Scottish bard Robert Burns. We are not here speaking of the avowed lyrical poems of his own composition, which he communicated to Mr. George Thomson, but of the manner in which he recomposed and repaired the old songs and fragments, for the collection of Johnson and others, when, if his memory supplied the theme, or general subject of the song, such as it existed in Scottish lore, his genius contributed that part which was to give life and immortality to the whole. If this praise should be thought extravagant, the reader may compare his splendid lyric, ‘My Heart’s in the Highlands,’ with the tame and scarcely half-intelligible remains of that song as preserved by Peter Buchan. Or, what is perhaps a still more magnificent example of what we mean: ‘Macpherson’s Farewell,’ with all its spirit and grandeur, as repaired by Burns, may be collated with the original poem called ‘Macpherson’s Lament,’ or sometimes the ‘Ruffian’s Rant.’ In Burns’s brilliant rifacimento, the same strain of wild ideas is expressed as we find in the original; but with an infusion of the savage and impassioned spirit of Highland chivalry, which gives a splendor to the composition, of which we find not a trace in the rudeness of the ancient ditty. I can bear witness to the older verses having been current while I was a child, but I never knew a line of the inspired edition of the Ayrshire bard until the appearance of Johnson’s Museum.
ABBOTSFORD, April 1830.
Edinburgh-based Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert possesses one of the most unique & lucid poetical voices in modern Britain. Here follows his self-penned monograph upon the art & his own place in the firmament
The teachers at school always said to my parents, ‘he could do it if he wanted to,’ but no-one ever asked me, what it was that I wanted to do or indeed why my thirst for academia was so absent. Or indeed why it was that I was so seldom there. I got moved up a group when I was in the first year at upper school. There was never a lesson ever that enthralled me enough to want to be there. Going to school was an abject lesson in confronting fear on a daily basis. I had a learning disability that I was too scared to discuss. Naturally, my inner world reflected my outer world. I was a slight kid and fighting was something I just didnae do. I was soft as fuck. However, it wasnae the threat of physical violence that scared me, it was the constant insinuation of Calvert ya puff, ya queer, ya Quentin. I once sat down and tried to explain it to my Dad just, how much it was getting to me. He didnae know what to do or what to say. So I never talked about it again.
I searched The Boundaries Of Life’s Curses.
The Misfortunes That Fell Around Me.
Relentless Forces Of Change.
That Grappled Me To The Ground.
Each Time I Hit The Ground
A New Gift Approached.
Reaching Out With My Heart To
To Heal The Conditioned Insanity
Knowing That Change
Would Release The Chains
Of Enforced Working Class Spiritual Poverty.
Through The Choice Of Reinvention.
I Welcomed My New Incarnation
Of Clairvoyant And Healing Medium.
The Light Began To Grow.
Understanding The Magician.
And Crystal Family.
One By One She Unfolded.
Petals Of Expansion
Prepared By The Battle
With The Force Of Darkness.
I Came Out The Wounded Healer.
Forgiving The Good Witch.
Then Questing The Grail.
Opened The Channel
Channelled To The Increasingly Conscious Soul.
Choosing To Throw Away Armour
Choosing To Let Love Grow.
Greeting The Banshees.
That Would Exorcise
The Burdon Of My Tortured Soul.
Letting My Pain Go .
Opening My Eyes To See Sweet Angels Grow.
Becoming The Empress
That I would Always Know
And The Ones That Are Still To come.
We Would Always Meet.
And Become Together.
I realised at 13. Whats the fucking point. I knew then that I had a tough time with spelling, and the constant visions of people being tortured and mutilated didnae help matters. I know now, that the vision thing was a direct result of a brain injury and a near death experience from being knocked over by a car on the way to school when I was 11. School never did me any favours, looking back its not hard to understand why I resented it so much. This is why I left School with poor grades. I was soft as fuck, thick and probably damaged beyond repair in world where repair seemed impossible. So like everything else, It was a case of carrying on regardless. I left School with GCSE Grade 4. I went back to night school when I was 18 to do O level English, and passed with a Grade 3. That was the last time I attempted an exam, and yes the teachers that told my parents that “he could do it if he wanted to” were right. I just had a few pressing issues that needed to be understood and worked out first. If Dance had have been on the curriculum, I would have been hooked. If consciousness and the basic understanding of self-healing had been an option I would have got an A grade. Because that is what I was needing.
The first time I ever spoke to anyone about the mental disability that I had been dealing with since adolescence, was when I had settled in Edinburgh. It was all Spiritually guided and its synchronicity most definitely was a Godsend. Before that time my only outlet I had was through poetry. I began writing my experience in 1992 after having my first Angel Visitation. The Angel told me to write and in doing so, I would find a release that was safer and more effective than cutting myself, using hard drugs or throwing the towel in completely. The Angelic instruction to start writing was the beginning of the path that would Heal me. So inspiring “ From Pain To Peace. The Poetic Journey Of A Working Class Shaman.”
The reason I resigned from a cushty 9-to-5 was to pursue a calling. that came through a Kundalini awakening in 1994. I heard the Earth scream. “Help Me!”
“How?” I Replied.
The reality of conscious healing frequency and the truth of coexisting dimensions. the many lifetimes I had lived and the reality of Clairvoyance. Whoooosh. The challenge had been set, to prove that this stuff was real and to answer the distress call from Mother Earth.
This is where my inner reality reflected Mother Earths reality. As much as the calling was to save the Planet That We Live On. It was also a calling for me to understand and Heal my unspoken trauma and the debilitating effects that I had been dealing with silently. This is when I coined the term, “Healing The World is easier than healing our selves” Instinctively I knew that the answer was to Heal oneself and quite naturally, the Earths Healing would happen as a result. Together We Could Heal The World. But it has to start with healing oneself. In doing so, The Earth Mother heals as a result.
I mean. What greater incentive could there be?
The Power Of The Pen.
Is Mightier Than That Of A Sword.
Facebook and Grammarly have been key in building confidence. Indeed it was through my documentation of festivals that I got invited to review for The Mumble, back in 2014. My first Fringe as a reviewer. Thrust in at the deep end and succeeding beyond my wildest expectation. I overcame my fear of not being able to spell. The Mumble has been one of the best teachers I have ever had and having an Editor certainly instilled confidence. Having really clever girlfriends has been important too, but then that’s another story.
Indeed it is the reason that I am a Spiritual Healer and teacher of Rei Ki now. Once the devastating effects of the brain injury had healed, which I achieved at 36, I could finally actually convey what it was that was stopping me from having the confidence to write anything other than poetry. I guess like everything else grammar, punctuation and spelling didn’t matter when writing a poem. Once I had healed my past and the effect it was having on me, I could heal my intellect. This is when the writer formed. I had a story to tell, because I had found the solution. to the learning disability, I had when I was kid. I just needed to find the vocabulary.
My First Memory Of David.
When Ahmed Voragee Bought Boys Keep Swinging.
We were about twelve years of age at the time.
He lived across the back Gunnel
Of the Yorkshire bricked Terrace House
That I was brought up in
We bonded over a love of Gary Numan.
Ahmed did a brilliant impersonation of Elvis Costello
Circa Olivers Army.
There was a soft porn midden down the back
That we visited after tea.
To read stories from ancient copies of Razzel and Parade.
Get Hard and not know what to do with it.
That all changed when Kathryn Worsley
Showed me what to do with it.
When listening to Changes Two by Bowie
On the prized record player I bought From Andrew
My Big Sisters Fella.
Adam Ant And Two Tone Ska
Had a part to play.
I was a confused kid with Two Tone Tonic Trousers.
An Harrington Jacket
With Adam And The Ants chalked on the back.
And my Dad not letting me go to Princeville Working Mens Club
With a red lipsticked stripe across my face.
Well if Adam Ant could do it.
Well, Why couldn’t I.
Only his was white.
Then Ashes To Ashes had me hooked.
And Ziggy Stardust saw everything.
He was looking from a poster on my wall
With Boy George and The Human league
Offering to support boys that looked great in make up.
And Marc Almond made it cool to be a puff
Celebrity was never far away
Although I was never Gay.
Everyone I went to school with
Told me I must be.
Apart from the girls who wanted to shag me.
Because I could Dance and shoplift my music
I had a currency without money
Untill I got rumbled and taken to court
that was the end of my criminal years
The ones that I had to abort.
But by that time I had the lot!!!!
Home taping on Jengas Mums Hifi
Bought the tickets for
and Culture Club.
The New Romantics They Had me hooked.
Toyah, Japan, Landscape, Hazel O Conner
And Gary Numan
Tick and Tock and Shock.
And then robotics became my game.
As David Bowie sang about Fame.
And Love became the drug
And Music my sanctuary.
7” !0” 12”
The smell of virgin fruity Vinyl
A bygone age
But David Bowie still remains vital.
And the make up I began wearing at 14.
I still adorn at 48
No longer new.
But still a Romantic.
And the music that informed me.
That style and substance
Got me through the working class Struggle
David Bowie Kept it real
And then music became free
At The Click of a Button
Now That was a Moonage Daydream
Because If at 14 I had it.
Shoplifting wouldnae have been an option.
I could have done it on line.
Without a Fine.
Lee Ann Roripaugh’s new collection effortlessly evokes the brutal powers of nature untrammelled & human emotions devastated by disaster
I thoroughly enjoy a themed collection of poetry, the Vishnu Upanishads, Ted Hughes’ Crow, even John Maserfield’s Salt-Water Poems & Ballads; so went into the reading of Lee Ann Roripaugh’s Tsunami vs. the Fukushima 50 with an appreciative bias. There is a certain nuance to the form which I enjoy when done well – it is not easy to make a themed collection hold a reader’s attention, for oftentimes a poet will get lost in the cul-de-sac housing schemes of their inspirations. However, ‘Tsunami’ actually transcends the form, a thought-splintered foray into the plosive destruction & pitiless aftermath of the March 2011 Tohoku earthquake & tsunami, which led to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.
pulverized cities flung back
to water like sprinkled furikake
her radio-waved wake
an awful flower blossoming
Roripaugh tells the story through a personified tsunami, its effect on nature, & the human fall-out of tragic events both water-slaughtery & wrought by the radioactive chaos after Fukushima. As a poet, her wordplay is practically phenomenal, combining mimesi in startling combinations, like a talented skald getting drunk in a European court, coining exciting new kennings from the play-stuff of their exotic surrounds. In her opening poem, for example, we see the ‘annihilatrix’ ‘Mechatsunami’ described as ‘shellacked wings unclung / from stacticky black elytra.‘ I mean that is just a stunning couplet.
I’ve seen many terrible things:
cages filled with withered songbirds,
horses left to starve in their stalls,
an abandoned puppy that grew
too big for the chain around its neck
As the collection unfolds we are treated to a delicate diaspora of delights; lovely lists explore subjects like the Goblin Market of Rossetti; a soul captivated by nature paints what it sees with a vivid serenity; the terrible aspects of human loss rip thro’ our mentalities with a single spin of a shuriken-phrase. The following passage is a perfect example of Rosipaugh’s ability to weave the epic waste of life & liberty into her visionary free verse;
at first, I concentrated very hard
on trying to see my feet, to know
if I was a ghost or not, but when
sneakers filled with foot bones
began to surface in the Pacific,
I stopped thinking these thoughts
My favourite poem in the collection was ‘Hulk Smash’ a cinematic & pathosean dirge thro’ a father’s pathetic quest to find his missing daughter in ‘a toxic garbage dump’ where he searched for her ‘every month / in the five-hour increments / allowed by radiation guidelines.‘ In the age of Netflix, this is what modern poetry should really be doing, making us all mind movies, & Roripaugh activates the mental mechanisms sublimely. When the collection is knitted together, the overall effect is rather like the Lusiads of Luís Vaz de Camões, an epyllionic journey full of constant stimuli, where at one point we may lament ‘the gwa gwa gaw of frogs / stopped from invisible ponds‘ & at another hear a young lassie called Hisako declare;
it’s not like I ever asked
to come here and live
in this drafty prefab box
of corrugated metal
with my silent old granny
By the end of the book, I felt I had just been the weightless passenger on Roripaugh’s precious back as she free-soloed one of the minor slopes of Parnassus. Will she attempt one of the trickier faces? I do hope so, because her talent is unique. I cannot think of a poet since that of the anonymous composer of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’s ‘Brunanburh’ entry for 937 that has been able to condense so much of the aforementioned kenning quality into their lines. Roripaugh is also a master of moods, whose multiple shades spiral with voluminous variety as the story & stories are told. This is a book of high innovation on a level that you’re not quite sure where, but you know its happening – an excellent, excellent piece.