This probably isn’t what I meant, if I meant anything, but you never know

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:

1: India

2: U.S.A.

3: U.K., with India way ahead.

 

On to the poems.

 

THE ANTHROPOLOGIST

 

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

 

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:

 

SIX STRANDS

 

MOUNTAIN

 

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.

 

FOREST

 

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.

 

VALLEY

 

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.

 

CITY

 

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.

 

SHORE

 

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.

 

SEA

 

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?

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