So I’ll go on disinterring old posted poems and suggesting some context and meaning. Soon I’ll go back to new postings.
By the way, I have a blog (http://sibathehat.blogspot.com) for everything non-literary, and the leading countries people are visiting the blog from are:
Joint 1: U.K. and U.S.A.
Vying for third place: France, Germany and Russia.
My poetry blog, on the other hand, works out like this:
3: U.K., with India way ahead.
On to the poems.
She travels to some jungle tribe
As an ordeal to prove her worth
And empathising with them, notes
Their rites of fishing, death and birth
Her passage into adulthood’s
Expressed by PhD, and then
Co-authorship of articles
Until the monster in its den
Grabs out and swallows her entire
To sit inside its belly and write
How mining can be reconciled
With local lore and day is night.
This is probably pretty obvious to people with academic connections. The career of the anthropologist is described as an anthropologist might describe the customs of some little-known tribe. A field study is “an ordeal”. She goes through a ritual acceptance into adulthood called getting a PhD. and then her membership of the tribe and status within it is reinforced not by hunting, fighting, cooking or storytelling, but by co-authoring learned articles. Finally she is used by some commercial interest and paid to demonstrate that their plans to open up an area for mining will not damage local indigenous communities.
This poem appealed to one person with an anthropology degree and one considering being an anthropologist.
Joe Keenan won’t be downing pints no more
The landlord of the George is looking out his Second World War revolver
Joe Keenan won’t be downing pints no more
The landlord of the Crown and Anchor (don’t think about a rhyme) they found him gibbering on the floor
Joe Keenan won’t be downing pints no more
The hearse is heading down the High Street
To the Cardinal and Ferret Brewery
Where we’ll chuck him in the mash tun
So old Joe will rise in glory
In Old Joe’s Remembrance Bitter
That’ll make them reconsider
Hazy-eyed with taste of Heaven
Turn around and come back from the door.
I wrote this in my mind on a walk in the country basically as a song, and it could be sung. It’s a humorous celebration of British real ale with its endless varieties, strange names of beers and breweries and band of enthusiasts (I am myself a Campaign for Real Ale member). The story is that Joe Keenan has died (making the pub managers who profited by him desperate) and has provided in his will that his body be added to the beer.
Now my longest poem so far:
Little grows here. A scratch of stunted grass
And one surprising flower almost hidden
Simple and small like man, one shrill small bird
Breaks from a tumble of rocks and disappears.
Everything starts from here. A drop of rain
Will find its way to a river, a grain of grit
Will join a field or a burial ground.
Standing alone here on a better day
You can see steeple, orchard, river, inn
A sharp blue lake with bare scree shores,
But touching nothing, all’s another land.
Now the false friend of cloud is sidling in
Whispering to forget the distant things
But if you do, you’ll lose the near things too
It’s time to go.
From a distance you can see the tracks, well beaten
Or largely abandoned, curving to the edge
And disappearing in the forest cover.
Outside, it’s possible to plan ahead
Plot an approach, but from within
As damp leaves slip along your face
Tracks subdivide and vanish, trees close in
Woodpeckers screech from this tree, maybe that,
Strategies dissolve. Acclimatise, accept,
And you will see the tracks made not by feet
But by a trail of scent, or snaking high
From bough to bough, or those continuing
Favoured by fabled beasts now long extinct.
To escape the forest take no guidebook in
Follow the tracks you find and think of light.
The curve and cleft of the land speaks of the river
Before you see it. Straggles of bush and tree
Mark out the living and the long-dead streams
That struggle towards the river. Rich men’s houses
And ruined forts overlook it. Roads patrol it
Alongside; where they turn and cross it
Like sudden strike of knife, men cluster
And buildings grow. From stately homes
Lawns slowly slope to quirky boathouses
Now often shabbily ruined; coils of brickwork
Show where squat barges took on coal or corn.
Fishermen are drawn here, dragging themselves away
At last to dinner or to death.
Everything in the valley, house or meadow, stands still
Then dies or changes, living by rebirth.
The river moves incessantly forever.
Something started here
For a reason: the river was fordable
The tracks of cattle drovers drew together
The lie of the land and the weather were right for spinning
A governor found the distance from his palace
Just right for horses. Growth has a beginning.
Those origins are hidden, bulldozed, built on
Reinterpreted in guide-book and in myth
Slums and fine houses grow and are destroyed
The stonework of the bridge lies underwater
The factory’s become a heritage centre
From crumpled streets the tanners and the whores
Have gone but left their memories for a while
In street-names till some government
Dedicated to the pure and nice renamed them after
Generals, or trees that once were said to grow there.
Old stinking alleys strangled for office blocks
Ghostly survive in sections of quiet close
Or shopping trolley dumps round parking lots.
The city forgets; flexes; reinterprets.
People are born and die, the language changes
Suburbs seep out. Some time the city will end
Inventiveness, sweat, tears, frescos swallowed up
Slipping into decline, houses left empty,
Grass in the streets, but here and there a core
Churning more slowly and uncertainly;
Or suddenly in a fire that by scorched shadows
Commemorates the impertinence of daily life.
Unpeopled, not quite dead, the city will still be seen
In humps and ditches against the flow of land
By rumour, legend and a blackened buckle.
What brought you to the meeting place of worlds
Will not take you away. The residue of waves
Vanishes in the tideline, packed sand dries.
Intricate shells settle and feet crunch on them
Starfish and bulbous salty seaweed stranded
Mix with resilient plastic bottles for all needs
Canister, shoe and anchor. When the waves come
As they will, some sea-gifts will be taken back
Along with flag and key brought from the land.
But many things the sea takes and returns
Come back smoothed, curved, transformed
Or crusted round with jewels
Studded with limpets, fronded over with barnacles;
While what the land takes and does not return
Crumbles and joins the melting-pot of soil.
We living on the shore, in port or hut, find swirling
Around us a confusion of languages
Uniforms, trades – together they
Mingle and change like rain.
The shore itself may shift: heavy engineering
May turn a sea-view to an expanse of green
Or battlements of holiday hotels; a silting river
Strangles a rich port slowly; while a night
Of sudden storm can wash away sea-walls,
Spinney lagoon and village, settling down
The shifting zone beyond their memories.
Still there’s a shore.
Sometimes there’s nothing left to say
But to listen, to learn the rhythm
Of wave and current, and the life unseen
Now seen. Featureless we call it
Really a mass of colours, feathery forms
Birth death and rebirth. At its border storms
Drive ships, a starlit night reflects off silent breakers
At dawn above them stands a distant mountain.
I wrote this bit by bit on a walking holiday (the Wye Valley long-distance trail) and finished it on the train coming back. I wanted to test if I could manage something sustained in related sections like Eliot’s “Four Quartets”. I think the imagery of open country, of a walker viewing the lie of the land, is evident in it.
What’s it about? Human life and the rise and fall of civilisations, I suppose. All the different stages or conditions are interrelated.
MOUNTAIN: There are two surprising bits here worth highlighting: we don’t often think of humanity as “simple and small”, but up the mountain, it’s not such a strange thought. We are often urged to concentrate on the immediate and things and people near us, but the poem suggests if we lose sight of the distant things, we lose the near things too.
FOREST: I suppose the mythical dark forest here is the unconscious or a dream-world or a world without rational thought or measurement. It’s a condition we should not deny, ignore or avoid, but should move through and come out.
VALLEY: This is fairly straightforward description of how a river valley shapes human settlement and activity. The human activity comes and goes while the river changes little. I think here you might guess the writer was interested in History (I have a History degree) and landscape/geology.
CITY: the city is both an actual city which began because it was a convenient resting-point on a trading-route or whatever (I run through several possibilities) and a symbol of human society or a civilisation. It’s always changing and reinterpreting its own past. Some of the changes described are not untypical of what has happened to London or Bristol, say, over a few hundred years. The city/society/civilisation will have an end – a gradual weakening or a sudden disaster (I had Hiroshima and Nagasaki in mind by the “scorched shadows”).
SHORE: The shore is a shifting meeting-place of two interrelating worlds, sea and land (but we are also a shifting meeting-place of two interrelating worlds).
SEA: The sea is “birth, death and rebirth”. The later poem “Underwater” is relevant. What more can I say?