Birth of a Poet 4: Invoking the Muse

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Continuing Damian Beeson Bullen’s retrospective adventure through the journey that made him a poet…


THURSDAY 16TH APRIL 1998

OK! My willpower didn’t last long (see later), but today was quite the day! We were woken by an Italian policeman at 9.30 AM, & we began to wander weary-bleary-eyed thro’ a sea of tourists to one of the many identical bars to get some, might I say, very fine cappuccino.

After this we found a very nice spot by a mad bridge to chill & eat a fine breakfast. I then turned the Englishman gentleman & gave Eva a pair of my dry socks as hers were soaked through. She was happy & proceeded to lay out loads of gypsy beads & necklaces in an effort to make some money – none sold unfortunately, but we did have a few reefers & got nicely stoned. It was a splendid feeling, actually, for marijuana is an excellent can-opener for the creativity tinned up in one’s soul.

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Being in such a stony haze led me to realize that I was meant to be writing a poem, a moment which broke our spell & compelled us all towards the stazione. My train was due to leave at any moment, so the farewells were swift & away I went, with a certain sadness of soul so beautiful was our time together.

The train journey to Pisa was uneventful, except for the fact that I got caught again! I was far too slack, & my punishment was 1750 lira! But I had arrived at my ultimate destination extremely cheaply, lets be honest.

Once in Pisa I realised the first thing I had to do was to check out the tower – as did the two dizzy Americans at the stazione asking, ‘hey, is this the place where the tower is?‘ I thus turn’d into the cheezy tourist & began to walk through the old city; not as pretty as Venice or Florence, but extremely Italian, & rather noble. On the way I passed a troupe of rough looking buskers, then finally reached the tower.

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How romantic it is to be abroad,
Free from the chains of a workin mans day,’
Think I whilst walkin the main Pisan road
Passin a troupe of buskers on the way
& with guitar, pens & notebook my load
I’ve arrived & all my dreams seem OK
Then see the leanin tower – am I drunk?
On further inspection one side has sunk.

It was fenced off & looked very unstable. When I first saw it, I thought I was quite drunk! I fished out my fish & sausage & reclined on some level grass, composed a little poetry, & dined within sight of that most iconic of buildings.

It was time to go, & I was heading for Livorno – where Shelley’s feet last touched soil – when my crazy life took a typically random turn. Stopping to chill with the buskers a moment, they offer’d me wine, & I pull’d out my weed. Before you know it I was too fuck’d to move from the streets of Pisa, & decided to spend the night in the environs.

Lucky for me I was with the right crew. My new buddies were excellent. There was a Somalian acoustic guitarist called Licenzo, who had a cool guitar & amp. He just went on jamming all day while his two ‘hatboys’ collected money from passers-by. Kapitano was a half-Chilean 46-year old who’d been on the road for 20 years, & basically went up to everyone asking for money & cigarettes – they smoke about a hundred fags a day between them – & usually getting it. He was very well-manner’d & quite elegant, with his baseball cap & long, Indian hair. The other guy was so funny, I just couldn’t stop laughing at him – a completely crazy dread-lock’d Brazilian call’d Jesse!

Later we moved to a new busking spot – I was now a part of the gang! We were soon joined by a guy call’d Aeriel – a smooth Italian sax-player. His music was so gutsy, very avant-garde street jazz, & I even join’d in by playing some psychedelic patterns on bass.

As the night drew to a close, & I accepted the fact that Pisa is really cool. The people are sound – I’ve begun studying them from the side of the road, & the place is full of students. With the busking over, we hit a couple of bars, ate & drank well off the day’s proceeds. We even strumm’d a little more in one of the café bars, which led to me finally breaking one of my guitar tuning pegs- ouch!

Returnin’ from the tower I do meet
The buskers troupe in musical mid-flow
There is an old black bluesman with bare feet,
A dark Chilean named Kapitano
And cool saxman who sultrifies the street.
They offer me wine, I add mine oestro,
You’ve never heard a more raunchier noise –
And just like that! I am one of the boys.

A football match was playing in the background, & after a while I realised it was Chelsea v Vicenza. It was the European Cup Winners Cup semi-final, second leg, & at one point Chelsea were 2-0 down on aggregate, including an away goal. Eventually, after a Mark Hughes wonder goal, Chelsea won 3-1 & the Italians around me weren’t happy at all. I kept my mouth shut just to be safe. They were pissed off & I was proper pissed off all the wine.

Leaving the bar, we traips’d about a bit in the rain, then found a shelter’d spot & settl’d down to sleep. Life on the streets, eh? My holiday has definitively shifted from hostels to pavements, but its good for the soul & you do get used it – its fun!


FRIDAY 17TH APRIL 1998

Last night I was so drunk, I’d forgotten I’d given my bag to Jesse to carry, & he’d completely dissapear’d. Bu lo & behold. he found us in the morning & woke us up – apparently he’d gone off dancing.

Going to chill out in a nearby park, I was fuck’d within 5 minutes, off the beer Jesse gave me & the spliff given us by a couple of passing Italian smack-heads. I was then taken to the equivalent of a seamen’s mission call’d a Mensa. Now, I’m not unfamiliar with free church food – I used to avail of the service in Portsmouth during my poetical studies – but OMG, here was pasta, fruit, veg & meat, an extremely clean place to eat it in & on the whole a far better class of beggar.

We all ate together, even drinking wine, & I found that Byron was correct when he noticed how the Italian language flowed like a river. I also realised that how struck dumb I’d become travelling in a foreign land. I’m quite a smart cookie, really, but none of these guys knew it. Perhaps one day I’ll invent an international language for moments such as these.

We spent the afternoon just bumbling about, getting wasted & making money. Jesse was the best, he could actually sing a few songs, some of which were love songs which he’d sing to passing girls, right in their faces.

There was more of the same in the evening, until it was time to go the ‘makinera.’ All day Jesse had been saying, ‘makinera,’ ‘drink,’ ‘smoke’ – the latter two words about all his English stretch’d to, expecting of course, ‘hey man, & ‘no speakee de Inglees!’

Inbetween the two ‘concerts’ was a free feed outside the stazione; including pasta from a food van, from which I slipp’d a load of apples for later. After this me & Kapitano had a nice wine drinking session by the river, which wasn’t as nice a spot, actually, loads of smack needles!

So off to the party we went; me, Jesse & a cool guy call’d Megadeth (according to his jacket). We had no money, but set off anyway, arriving twenty minutes later at a big, old building with an inner-city garden & caravans. Like a London squat, & the party vibe was very similar. It was wall’d off, & we couldn’t afford the 5000 lira, nor did my Enlish charm work.

However, eventually they stopp’d manning the gate & moved to the building, allowing us to stroll into the garden, where we sat with some punks & got pretty stoned. There was no conversation on my part, but it was just so cool to be there, so different, so street.

The sounds of a not that good a band stream’d out into the clear Italian night, most pleasant & mild. I was just about to make a bed for the night (I can sleep anywhere now, I reckon), when Jesse comes back with a couple of beers & said he’d blagg’d us in. The place wasn’t too pack’d, but you could see it had potential; quite dark, daub’d with psychedelic decor, florescent wall art, old chairs, beer cans on the floor & a rather well used toilet. In total contrast, the women were well hot.

The band grew on me in the end. Thirty-something rockers from Sardinia, whose songs were – I was told – sung in the Sardinian dialect. Jesse never stops begging for a second & kept turning up with beers, God bless him, & we were soon boogieing away to some impressively funky tunes.

Eventually the party stopp’d – at 4AM, like every night – & the place emptied & we were kick’d out. So we made our beds on a slab in the garden, play’d a bit of guitar & drifted off to a happy sleep. En route to slumberland, all I could hear was Jesse mumbling to himself – very funny, & not scary at all.

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SATURDAY 18TH APRIL 1998

index.gifIMG_20190306_074753923.jpgindex.gifWoke up a bit rough & walk’d to the Mensa again for another delicious lunch. The rest of the day was spent kinda meandering, drinking & eating & not really making any money. Jesse play’d all day, however, & found the most amazing instrument… a fuckin’ tyre inflator! It was so cool hearing him play it like a wah-wah & squeaking to the beat.

Two incidents of note happen’d during the day. The smackheads from a couple of mornings ago stole the purse of the newspaper stand lady near where we were – I got accused by the way! There was also the not so minor fact that I started to compose The Death of Shelley at last. I got two stanzas, which both roll’d so fluidly I almost had to weep. The line ‘Tween the mellow, rippling fire-fields as they unfold,‘ is one of the best I’ve ever written, etch’d in literary stone forever by the River Arno.

I’m amazed, really, to have found time during the day’s crazy, lazy madness to get the energy together to write. Even so, it was a very special moment when, after traversing half the continent, I invoked. the muse in an ornate piazza neath a glorious sun.

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O muse! arise from slumber, forsake sleep,
Awake on the winds with the wings of song,
Sing blissful waves which lap as they weep
‘Gainst a cluster of embraces, graceful throng,
An eternal island amongst the vasty deep
Imperial sea of the English tongue –
Come fly! bring Apollo’s crown girdled in leaf,
Unshielded mine eyes, this sword I unsheath!

Whether the muse exists or not is open to discussion, but I believe that if the poet feels heady enough to acknowledge her existence & summon her to his psyche with the prayer-like incantations of an invocation, then she exists at least in the imagination, & as poetry springs from this recess of the mind, the surely she must be real.

Whether the muse exists or not is open to discussion, but I believe that if the poet feels heady enough to acknowledge her existence & summon her to his psyche with the prayer-like incantations of an invocation, then she exists at least in the imagination, & as poetry springs from this recess of the mind, the surely she must be real.

Night came, & we began tapping tourists & locals of loads of money. Kapitano says its all for tomorrow so we don’t have to work, a beach-rest apparently. A sudden change came over us a& we used some busker magic to take over the street. My voice ran raw with cigarettes, wine & singing; a few from my set plus some mad jams with Megadeth on harmonica & Jesse on his inflator. It was really, really cool, & I got to know a mad Italian bird & a few of the locals.

Return’d to our sleeping place with a guy call’d Vincent, where someone had left an extra sleeping bag. Being from the northern climes I claim’d it & had a really good sleep!

I settle with this best of holidays;
Each one begins with pasta from a nun,
Then idle hours spent musin neath the rays
Of an English Summer-like Spring Time sun
Then in the warm evenin I do amaze
The Pisan public with song-craft sweet spun,
& blitzed on six bottles of Tuscan red
Outside a church we make our cardboard bed.

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SUNDAY 19TH APRIL 1998

Today was a day off! We ate at Mensa, where religious folk seem to walk about in a trance, then set off for the beach. All of a sudden Megadeth appears in a classy Italian car. It was quite a surprise & i’m not sure where he get it from – hey, even the bums are stylish in Italy, right!

We drove to the beach – Terraza del Tirrenia – pass’d an American army base. Now I understand the source of all the ‘Yankees Go Home’ graffiti scrawl’d about Pisa. It wasn’t too far to the beach, where I got my first taste of the long sought after – Mediterranean. It was windy as fuck! I thought Italy was meant to be a sunny paradise – its been pretty poor so far, but I suppose its only April. So we stroll about for a bit, taking it in turns to blast away on Megadeth’s cool bongo. Unfortunately a legion of metal poles had emerged from the sands, spraying water everywhere.

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Megadeth also gave me a cool lesson in Italian, which is improving at the rate of about one word a day. I’ve never had a large capacity for anything other than English, unfortunately. But I am enjoying the vibe of learning & speaking street Italian.

We eventually stumbl’d on an abandon’d holiday complex of beach huts & heavy rowing boats. Its not far until Summer at all, but the place is in a state of quasi-disrepair. Id its ready for June I’ll be very much surprised. I began to explore anyway, & soon found a cool spot & loads of paraphenilia to make a shelter – proper Robinson Crueso fun. I must find solitude, I feel, to cleanse my spirit & compose. This abandoned stretch of coast definitely has potential.

We then headed back to a spot near the car, which slowly fill’d with tourists. We kick’d a ball around, ate & play’d a little music. Well, not all of us, Jesse was asleep all the time in a sleeping bag. We definitely had a beachy time, but it was cold & the wind kept blowing the water from the sprayers hard into our faces.

Composed another stanza today – very happy with it! I think the Muse is coming with a vengeance. There is an arcane power deep in the underlying belly of versemaking, & I hope to be able to tap it to the fullest.

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We set off back at about 6, by which time I was feeling ill. Perhaps its all the food I’m eating (I’m actually putting on weight on the road) or lack of cleanliness (I’m getting grubbier), or maybe it was just Megadeth’s driving! Whatever it was, as soon as the wine came out I began to feel a lot better – I do hope I’m not becoming an alcoholic!

Our evening meal came via the religious folks outside the stazione. Afterwards I had reefers & a reasonable conversation in English with one of the helpers, telling me the names of the outlying places about Pisa I can use in my poem. This was a rare moment of naturality for me, & I think the lack of English stimuli will actually help my poem – when only Shelley’s poems &Y my own internal dialogue being the source of words & & phrases & thoughts.

Return’d to our ‘home sweet home’ & stay’d up writing for a while, then hit this glorious, wonderful snoozeland… zzzzzzzzzzzz


THE BIRTH OF A POET

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Chapter 1: The Orient Express

Chapter 2: The Grand Canal

Chapter 3: Florence Nightingales

Chapter 4: Invoking the Muse

Chapter 5: Working Livorno

Chapter 6: San Guilliano

Chapter 7: Gulf of Poets

Chapter 8: Rome, then Home

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