Gloomy. Obscure. Negative. Vague. This sounds good…

I’m carrying on commenting on some poems I’ve already posted. They aren’t necessarily the best in my opinion, as some poems seem to me to be fairly obvious in their meaning and technique, and they could just possibly be good. The first one here, though, seems to me to be one of my best.

UNDERWATER

When you slip under

The long lying line of waves

Strange shapes will come

Silently propelled by waft of flipper

Or sinuous pulsing of a streamlined torso

And some maybe you knew and had forgotten

Dirt shovelled over the well has been removed

Remember the time before you broke the surface

Gasped, fumbled, burrowed

And survived by stratagem?

Now you return to them

Learning to be like a fish

Wander and linger

Here where the pearly nautilus waves unchanging

Here with the ammonite and plesiosaur

And where squat fish that never see the sunlight

Thread through great feathery banks of frond

Of hidden sting and jaw

Do you rise up towards the scattered sunlight

The crushing waves, the inconsistent wind,

The seabird that will fly to a rocky island

Drawing life from the depths, their crowded night?

When you are playing with the waves

Will you remember

Here on the fine-grained shore (maybe imagine)

Beneath the corals and the painted fish

Down with the vents, the eyeless creatures

Some heavy hidden box

That had an answer,

Where you will return?

Will you return?

The obvious meaning of the poem is a description of diving deep in a sea full of life. Some things here fit in with a literal interpretation – for example, at the deep sea bed they may indeed be vents and eyeless creatures, and seabirds do indeed draw sustenance from the teeming life in the sea. But the tone is dreamlike and it may not be a big surprise to encounter long-extinct ammonites and plesiosaurs, creatures a human would have to time travel to meet. This sea is not only full of life and variety – it’s timeless.

The sea can be a metaphor and activating image for death, eternity and the unconscious. This sea has something of all these.

What about lines 6-10? We seem to have come out of the sea. But the image of dirt shovelled over a well being removed is one of rediscovering something deliberately hidden – and the well can convey the past, the unconscious or a dissolution of familiar identity.  Lines 8-10 refer to sea-life first adapting to survive on land – something in our deep past. So here as elsewhere in the poem we’re travelling back in time, as if before the eyes of a dying person flashed not only their life, but their line’s life.

In the third verse we return from the Underworld, knowing that our life outside it is fed by it. We’re like the seabird that lives on cliffs or an island (a projection of land) but could not live without the depths.

In the last verse we’re on the shore. We may return to the depths for something valuable.

This is a poem where the sound of the words matters a lot and where I use alliteration frequently.

THREE

Three sisters dancing hand in hand

They turn and whirl each in her world

At different speeds disturb the leaves

Which dancing from the forest floor

Reject the empire of the wind

Three sisters dancing hands apart

They look at nothing but the leaves

If one begins to glow with fire

If one begins to freeze with ice

They will not know, they will not meet

Three sisters dancing on the heath

Long after forest decayed and died

The one is like a flaming torch

The other cold and deadly dry

The third alive and stepping high.

The number three seems to touch something deep in us. It appears over and over again in myth, in ballad and in religion (the Trinity). Three sisters could be Shakespeare’s “three weird sisters” (“weird” meaning of pre-Christian religion), in other words, witches. My inspiration for this, though, was reading about the early history, as we now understand it, of Earth, Mars and Venus, which may once have been quite similar, but Mars went one way (lost its atmosphere and froze) and Venus the other (was smothered by its atmosphere and became far too hot for life) while Earth became suitable for life.

FOUNDER

I have set my foot in the wet sand

And seen the alien trees, the dangerous berries

Of a new land

It cannot speak before I name it

It is asleep before I claim it

I give a name to this unwary bird

Before I kill it and I tread a track

So as to become a road that traders travel;

Where I have hacked a space inside the thicket

Will be a city, I can hear the talk

Like pebbles clashing in the shifting stream

Not song nor scream

What I have not named, in the lurking forests

Will die until its bones are resurrected

Leaving its shadow over fruitful fields

Rotting the yields.

This is a rather dark adaptation of the Australian Aborigine naming myth. The first humans come to virgin land. They exploit it for their survival and begin a process which will leave to profound changes. They believe by finding and naming things they’re bringing them to life – but some things are not discovered and named, but die as a result of the human arrival. Later people will discover their remains and reconstruct their lives, but the destruction hangs over us.

Enough for now…

copyright Simon Banks 2012

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The Last Problem

Sherlock Holmes is a figure who has developed mythic force and a life outside the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. When Conan Doyle, wanting to move on, killed him off, he came back. He appears in countless cartoons, stories, film and TV adaptations. The struggle of Holmes against arch-villain and intellect of equal power Professor Moriarty has something archetypal about it.

 

Some revisions of the story of that struggle have made Holmes the villain. What if Moriarty was framed? Consider also Holmes’ character – a brilliant intellect and athlete much more than a machine (emotionally close to his loyal friend Watson and a lover of music) but oddly incomplete emotionally, in relationships and spiritually. It’s easy to see Holmes, or a similar great detective, in a struggle with suppressed elements of himself or with aspects of humanity that may not be entirely negative.

 

The Last Problem

 

The great detective, pantherlike,

Prowls round the web of traps and mirrors

Constructed by the lord of crime

The lord waits sentient inside

He does not need to move to strike.

 

The great detective makes his maps

His diagrams and brilliant plans

Each trap is tested by the lord

And nothing’s what it first appears

Even the great detective’s word.

 

The great constructor sits inside

The marvellous complexity

Of art and thought and warm routine,

Watches the prowling of the wolf

And studies the compelling lie.

 

The wolf has broken through the web

The city of light alarms and screams

The great detective meets the lord

And who should live and who should die

Lies in your hands, and lies in mine.

 

“The Last Problem” title echoes the title “The Final Problem” in which Holmes outwitted Moriarty but both men died (apparently). In this poem the detective appears at first as a force for good facing the den of the well-resourced criminal mastermind, but before the end, the focus has shifted and the detective is seen as a destructive force while the lord of crime is simply a lord with a “city of light” to protect.

 

In the real world we often face choices where we must act, but are confused by similar ambiguity. Who really was at fault and whom can we trust? But inaction may not be an option.

 

copyright Simon Banks 2012

Instead of poetry, I thought I’d talk about wheelchairs, and quarries, and Halloween masks, and ponds, and knights in armour, and wheelbarrows and rainstorms…

While poetry can be a subject, as in the academic study of poetry, it’s really a mode of communication that can be about anything. In the 18th century the opinion grew in Western Europe that there were subjects and words unsuitable for poetry, which should be genteel and uplifting. Uplifting maybe – via the depths – but poetry need not be genteel. Its immediate or apparent subkect-matter can be anything, even wheelchairs, quarries, Halloween masks, knights in armour, wheelbarrows or rainstorms.

TIME AND MOTION

The wheel of the wheelchair, slewed a little sideways

Looks like a spinning wheel, a wheel of fortune

A union of things, a reconciling;

But it has moved, the scene is shifting.

“A wheelchair user” – could be to bring home shopping

Or charge at inconsiderate cyclists yelling

The wheel is latticed by strong light and by shadows.

The aircraft rests, the wing is a fine sculpture

Voluptuous, a curve and line creation

The aircraft flies, at height in the blue sky the wing, though glittering

Vanishes in the implacable mark of movement.

The sharp white rose has grown to these red berries

That look like spots of blood or scattered jewels

Though they will fall and rot, the rule of briars

Spreads over the abandoned ironwork of the quarry.

This is one of those poems where I’d struggle to give a coherent, rational account of what it said. A spark for it was sitting in a Quaker meeting, opening my eyes and finding them fixed on the wheel of the wheelchair opposite me, which had been struck by rays of light. It seemed beautiful – but it might seem very different to the man using it or those close to him. That led me on to an aircraft that also looks beautiful in a way that seems to have little to do with its function, to carry people long distances. The aircraft at rest is an object, but high in flight our eyes are caught by a movement rather than by the object moving: the aircraft seems to lose its identity. The once ugly quarry becomes wild rose-bushes whose fruit becomes mush becomes more rose-bushes and the quarry is transformed.

So I suppose it’s about things seeming different from different anges, about change and about beauty and perception.

The poem contains rhymes and half-rhymes as well as alliteration, but not in any fixed pattern. It’s a good example of what I think can be achieved by long lines which invite you to speak them and not just look at them.

HOME VISIT

The thing has great cold staring eyes

Teeth small, sharp, regular, too regular;

Garish in burning red, shut cupboard black,

Rowing-boat green, it holds your eyes

Like headlights looming down the road

Just for a moment – it’s a mask.

It’s Halloween.

If those small hands took off the cold-eyed face

A child’s eyes would be behind,

I think, and our experience shows.

But if as an unusual trick

The easy shedding of the mask

Revealed another staring mask

What streams would then begin to run?

The body with the broken belt

Dug up with a few strands of hair

Still clinging to the skull will watch,

With that same cold expression, swirls

In the dark water of the pond

Where something old begins to stir;

The broken house with marks of flame

Through the square windows holds their eyes

Who clamber to the town they knew.

We have made all things fresh, and now

Through the unmasking of the dark

Nothing will be the same.

Halloween is an ancient pagan institution, seen as a time when the parallel spirit world could invade the familiar human world. The idea survived alongside Christianity into the 17th century in Britain, whence it spread to America; but modern Americans have made a big thing of Halloween in a way foreign to Britain. Recent growth of “trick or treat” in mild forms in Britain is an American import and already seems to be dropping off.

I refer to a child in a scary Halloween mask. Science Fiction programmes like Doctor Who make full use of the real scariness of a mask, which is that we don’t know what is behind it. What if behind the mask were not a child’s face? What if the fear and horror were real? I then move to a scenario influenced by events in the Balkans, particularly Bosnia – communities torn apart by the sudden revival of ancient hatreds, mass murder and the destruction of towns. Evil has been unmasked – but the fact that the executed man’s body is being exhumed and that people who knew the destroyed town are visiting it with compassion suggests that we can fight the evil.

“THE STRANGER IS A FRIEND YOU HAVE NOT MET”

The armoured knights of 15th-century war

Were pretty well protected against arrows

Swords, pikes and lances, slingshots, dangerous dogs

Heavy hailstones and wandering wheelbarrows.

Unhorsed, they could be in a spot of bother

Being unable to get up again; moreover

While in their specialist gear, unlike the rank

And file, if moved, they could not get a legover,

Preserving thus the chastity of the knight.

This specialisation seemed extremely wise

Until the musket and the cannon came.

Today we’re trained to think of clear blue skies;

Sometimes the distant skies are yellow-brown

Or purplish-black: on blue we shouldn’t bet;

While welcoming the strange, remember this:

The strangler is a fiend you have not met.

This is a wry commentary on the slogan (added by a work colleague to her e-mails) of “the stranger is a friend you have not met”, which so easily becomes the entirely rational and sensible observation “the strangler is a fiend you have not met” (or you’d be dead). The excellent armour of the late medieval knight would stop anything likely to be projected at him, but if he fell off his horse or the horse fell, he was in big trouble – and when projectiles arrived with a bigger punch, the best armour was a death-trap. Business consultants, motivational speakers and jargon-drunk managers talk of “blue sky thinking”, which is necessary, but so is envisaging the worst things possible (storm skies).

copyright Simon Banks 2012

What is Poetry?

I’ve seen it recently said on LinkedIn that it’s wrong to limit poetry through any kind of definition, wrong to say that anything isn’t poetry.

 

I understand the thinking behind this – and maybe at times I’ve been too willing to make absolute statements about poetry. But if anything can be poetry, why can’t anything be a telescope or a burp or an ideology? In which case, what’s the use of words?

 

Can a boiled egg be poetry? Yes, we might say a boiled egg was poetry if we particularly liked boiled egs, or were exceptionally hungry, or if the egg had been boiled to perfection (no easy task). But that would be a figure of speech, like saying it was a jewel or an angel. I submit that a boiled egg cannot be poetry, though it could have poetry written on it. Poetry is an art of words. For something to be a poem it needs words in it. In other words, it’s literature.

 

Two discussions I’ve seen have made a great deal of a poem by William Carlos Williams about a wheelbarrow, which was seen as revolutionary in America and perhaps had rather less impact in Britain. It’s a straightforward description of a wheelbarrow set out in poetic form. I’ll agree that’s a poem, though not one of my favourites, but what about this?

 

PROMOTING YOURSELF

 

Effective self-promotion tells

The market who you are and what

Service you offer. A first step

Should be to create

An individual portfolio

Of images tailored

To appeal to the target

Market.

 

(“Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, 2012”: The Freelance Photographer, Ian Thraves)

 

Now why am I inclined to think this is not a poem? It’s set out like one. It starts with perceptible rhythm and ends with a half-rhyme. But it lacks intensity. It’s an ordinary wodge of prose text set out in short lines (in case the penny hasn’t dropped – I set it out like that). I’d suggest that any poem should be capable of making us stop and pay attention – should have an impact beyond the normal. I’d suggest also that the poem should at the very least be capable of being effective when read aloud. The roots of poetry are in songs and rhythmic chants, both of which can for example be heard at a football match. I personally believe poetry which loses this connection with sound, with meaning conveyed through sound, has lost a large part of what makes poetry special. The poem can be – I just hold back from saying should be – conveying a message both through the meaning of the words and through their sound.

 

What about Williams and the wheelbarrow? It seems to me what he was doing was fixing our attention on something apparently unimportant, just as a visual artist might put a pile of bricks or an unmade bed in an art gallery and in effect say, “Stop and look at this. It’s worth it.” And so it might be, though the effect on our life may be small, as we can’t react to everything we see in this intense and reverent way or we’d never get from one end of the street to the other. I’ll not question that this is art, though I’ll spend more time with Turner and Kandinsky, with Yeats and Hopkins, who are connecting the immediate to something profound and hidden.

 

Oh, and there is a word which includes something set out as poetry but lacking intensity or depth. It’s called verse.

Nightingale Remembered

 

“Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird,

No hungry generations tread thee down”

But nightingales are begotten, born and die

Living a lifespan lesser than a dog.

 

I sing back not to the immortal song

But to the bird that might not last the summer.

 

Though fumbling in the enveloping folds of time

I hear what Spartans at Thermopylae

Recalled and what some thornscratched hunter heard

When humans first had wandered across sands

Into a colder, richer, trap-strewn land;

And when I smell salt water or top the ridge

Where treeless, manless, sweeps the unmarked waste

I am not the first, and clustering, unseen eyes

Share, and another mouth remembers taste

And lone and many, the nightingale’s notes rise.

 

The quote, of course, is John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale”. I remind myself that actual nightingales are birds, beings with individualities and short lives – but join Keats in fining the nightingale’s song a link to other humans who heard it.

If we deconstruct these poems, we can put all the letters in a different order!

OK, I know “deconstruct” doesn’t quite mean that, but it has a chilling, dehumanising sound. I don’t want to dehumanise my poems, though maybe throughhumanise them. Here’s some more with comment.

DIGGING DOWN

I have found an old guilt:

By scrabbling in the dirt with callused hands

Brushing away the low lying deposits

Stories of murderous giant and cackling troll

Caressing away the grime I find the skull

It grins at me as if to say: what I lost

You lost, my killer friend.

This could relate to a number of things and I wouldn’t want to close off those avenues for people reading it. However, what I had in mind was Neanderthals. These close relatives of “homo sapiens” were specialised to survive cold and hostile conditions and lived in Europe and South-west Asia through a period of ice ages and interglacials. After Homo sapiens, having spread out of Africa into the Arabian peninsula, reached the main mass of Asia and Europe, Neanderthals disappeared, though hanging on for some time in Spain and Portugal.

When Neanderthals remains were first identified, they were characterised as brutish “cavemen”. Bit by bit the stereotypes were knocked down. They were not unable to stand straight – that was a careless conclusion from the skeleton of an old man with arthritis! Their hunting methods showed a high level of ingenuity, planning and co-ordination. Their brains were on average slightly larger than ours (but their body mass was somewhat greater, and some think the brain/ body mass ratio is what counts). They had the physical equipment needed for speech, and given the evidence of rapid development of co-ordinated hunting, it is very likely they had speech. About twelve years ago I remember a TV programme confidently asserting that they had no art – but since then two examples have been discovered, of an apparent flute and a worked stone with bone inserted to make a face, that are hard to explain otherwise than as art. Their extinction in the face of competition from sapiens was attributed to a limited diet short on fish and seafood – but for some Neanderthal colonies, even that no longer stands.

What happened between the two species is largely a mystery. They were so close ecologically that they would certainly have competed for limited food and shelter resources. Drastic climate change in Europe around the time they disappeared will have worked against them as they were best at hunting in forest and much of the forest vanished. The two species may have fought: we just don’t know, but it seems likely over scarce resources. It was long disputed whether they might have interbred and it is only in the last few years that DNA analysis has proved they did – but very early in sapiens’ spreading out from Africa, so all humans today except pure Africans carry some small Neanderthal genetic heritage. Maybe some day we’ll find out what it is.

This poem is written on the assumption that our species did play a part in the extinction of our close siblings. The skull is a Neanderthal one. The deposits removed are of low-lying soil but are also low, lying sapiens stories about neanderthalis. I suspect some mythical beastly and threatening human-like creatures may contain representation of other humanoids, in particular neanderthalis, and trolls seem quite a good fit.

We have lost from the loss of an allied species. “No man is an island…therefore do not ask for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” (John Donne).

EVOLUTION

In random clash of chemicals

Hot flow over new rocks

There are no palisades or names

Tall fires burn

A thinning smoke is lingering;

In the anonymous wash

Something has happened.

Something begins to pulse, divide,

Feed, organise,

Ally.

 

Water is life: the oceans, the one body

Teem with a writhing dissonance of life

Creatures are born and die

In this world are no boundaries or strongholds

No sharp hard barriers but always danger

But here and there dead hardness meaning death

To anything washed up there: barren land.

 

In the half-dead, half-living place

Something survives and changes.

Life finds land.

 

Among the crumbling bones of the giants

That fire struck down in sea and marsh and forest

Under the dark and smothering, strangling sky

Small creatures scurry: one line is broken, but

Another rises for a while.

The giants’ cities hang with tumbling flowers.

Some titles don’t tell you much, being more a first line of the poem than a description of the subject. This is a straightforward title: the poem is about evolution. It starts with chaos before life. Life organises to perpetuate life. Multi-celled organisms are organisations of cells which still resemble unicellular creatures. At first life is only in the seas – a fertile source of food and of predators, living and barrierless. Land means death. But then living organisms find ways of adapting to live on land.

We then jump to a disaster that has destroyed “the giants” but left small creatures as successors. It’s natural to think the giants were the dinosaurs  and the successors were mammals, our ancestors – but did dinosaurs have cities?

The poem is deliberately rough-edged and irregular to help convey that early chaos.

IN THE VALLEY OF THE STONES

This valley is thick with time

It seems to coagulate in my hands

Only to slip through them

The sarson stones lie randomly round an axis

Or clustered in small groups like some

Ambushed patrol. The hillside terracing no longer

Cares for the crops, only sheep manoeuvre

Round the stubborn lines

Who came here when the glacier withdrew

Who farmed here, that is in the time

That laps round these soft hills and asks for questions.

What will be here, I’m deaf, I cannot tell

Is it there somewhere in the swirling

And slowly settling time, or on the wind

There to be caught or dropped and in the balance?

The Valley of the Stones (that’s its name) is in Dorset. I may be wrong in suggesting a glacier reached that far south in England. It’s a remarkable place because big oblong stones called sarsons are scattered across rough grassland. It would be natural to assume that they were man-made and abandoned there, but they’re not. Standing there, I felt a strong sense of time and past, almost palpable. I try to convey that here. So if somehow I can sense the past, what about the future?

all text copyright Simon Banks 2012

By the Gate

BY THE GATE

The cloaked man waiting by the gate

Shivers in the warming day

The planned arrival’s running late

West wind drives the clouds away

 

The cloaked man taps his booted feet

Fumbles out a stained small case,

Stares at a photo; fingers beat

On holster; silence in his face

 

A movement down the uneven road

Pulls him to a straighter stance

The guards decant the expected load

Through the gate the groups advance

 

The gate is shut. He has to wait,

Hears a skylark in the sky.

The man’s gone through another gate

And like the load, begins to die.

 

My primary thought about this is that this is a German soldier standing guard when a group of civilians (Jews? Partisans? Villagers dying because a soldier was shot nearby?) are taken to their deaths. However, he could be a soldier or policeman of many other nationalities and causes, and only a few relatively inconsequential details (photo, holster, the implication that the “load” has been “decanted” from a lorry) prevent it being a picture of something happening in some ancient empire. It could be happening in Syria now.

The soldier, like many, cherishes reminders of family, home and loved ones. He has walled off his mind from the suffering of the condemned people. The poem suggests that this means a kind of progressive death – of mind and spirit.

Copyright Simon Banks 2012

Selected Poems of Simon Banks

(Well, about half my poems don’t make it on to the word file. They may survive in a handwritten notebook, or they may have been scrawled on a piece of paper and then I don’t rate them. From the word file a selection gets posted here – and from that, some which most seem to need explanation, background or discussion, get reposted here.)

So now for the next batch.

THE KEMP OWAIN SEQUENCE

METAMORPHOSIS

Seeking a great prize not identified

The lost prince pads wet-footed from the sea

Having heard rumours of a weird thing

A ravenous monster with a hint of speech

An evil dragon crying for a mate:

Circling of gulls shows him the way to climb

They take the scraps of bloodied flesh around

The female devil growing from the tree.

The warrior has a sword well-blessed and forged

A gap in sliding clouds can now unleash

Light from the imprisoned sun to make the sword

Glint like a fire in Prince Owain’s hand.

A sign of Gods to trust the sword and strike

But though a warrior he does not strike

But stands before the long-haired nightmare thing

And hears it speak: come here, kiss me and win

The prize you cannot even know exists.

He kisses her through tangling hair and stink

Of death or sickness and the sun goes in

As if a shadow is falling. As he stares,

“Kiss me again,” she says. He is still human,

His hands not wizened or hairy, even the scar

From that old fight still itches on his chin,

But for the thing he kissed, cavernous eyes

Have filled and narrowed and the maddening breath

Smells not of death but only dangerous night.

He kisses her. The withered breasts grow young

The claws recede. “Again,” she beckons him,

But the dull day has turned to starless night.

He hesitates, gropes for his darkened sword,

Then throws it down and kisses her again.

She feels soft, the smell is sweet. “Turn round,

Pick up your sword and throw it in the sea.”

He turns and throws the holy sword away

Night becomes day, the lady’s live and lithe

Twining her hair with his beneath blue skies.

SALMON

I will be good to you for half the year

For half the year I’ll need you: we will love

For half the year, but for the rest I’m gone

You cannot send a message or a gift

I will not speak, I’ll have forgotten you

Till I return in spring.

I range the seas and have no sense of land

I jump the rapids with a single aim

If I escape the bears and fishermen

I will remember land and feet and thought

And come to you again.

CANDIDATE

So Owen Kemp arrived at the Reception

Where they conducted him to a conference room

Milling with others aiming to achieve

The same great prize. Then from the highest place

A woman’s voice spoke soft and rich and clear:

“Welcome. We’re glad you could attend today.

We have devised a battery of tests,

We hope you’ll find them fun as well as right.

So Owen answered all the riddles set

Like whether he felt nervous in a crowd,

He linked the dots to make a cockatrice

Devised a way to escape the universe

After a coffee break, beat all the rest

At memory games and four-dimensional chess

He tricked the lion from its hoped-for kills

And then the wise ones called him in alone:

“Thankyou, but we were really looking for

A team-player with good networking skills.”

DIVISION

The man talks on his mobile phone

(A rodent hanging from his face)

He has a message to receive

An awkward meeting’s going well

But needs his word to clinch the deal

A momentary annoying thing

Speaks of the hidden and unreal

But what concern is salmon or seal?

The sea is calm, more like a lake,

And never broken by a dive

Of wandering man, has never held

A salmon that had breathed and run

All time’s cut up in hours and dates

The sea and land each know their place

Sandcastles are the only gates

The long-haired woman wails and waits.

Kemp Owain(e) is a mythical hero featured in some ballads and early poems. The name itself is very interesting because while Kemp is Germanic (kampfen, to fight – hence Kemp, a warrior). Owain is Celtic Owen, native to Wales, Ireland and parts of Scotland. It may also be the same as Gawain in the Arthurian legends. So Kemp Owain appears to be a figure emerging from the “Dark Ages” when a Celtic British identity, having been abandoned by (old version) or having thrown off (new version) Roman authority was overlain by a Germanic, Saxon culture coming across the North Sea. While the extent to which the creation of a Saxon English identity was violent ethnic cleansing, and the extent to which it was a kind of cultural imperialism (you lot are all going to speak English now) is still uncertain, interpretations have shifted somewhat from the former to the latter. A mythical figure with Celtic roots taken up very early by Saxons would fit this.

The first part of the poem is a rewriting of a real surviving fragment, in which Kemp Owain meets a repulsive being who turns bit by bit into a beautiful woman.Is it too melodramatic? I have some reservations.

The myth of a sea-creature which turned into human form, made love to a human woman and left, appears in several songs, though it’s usually a seal not a salmon. The focus is often on the fate of the offspring. The salmon appeals to me because it’s seasonal and it inhabits two worlds (sea and river) depending on the season. I suppose this section expresses the way we may always just know part of some people.

The third section is a satirical account of a modern appointment process. Kemp Owain has turned into a candidate being put through hoops, but the hoops still suggest a weird and supernatural element. Perhaps that disqualifies him?

The last part shows the messages of myth and unconscious being ignored. The busy businessman has a momentary strange perception but dismisses it. Why are sandcastles the only gates? I’m not sure, but it seems right. Perhaps the sense of something beyond ourselves, which we have lost, is recoverable through childhood and the two-world nature of the shore.

I think the last two lines are as good as anything I’ve written. The vision of the first part is still waiting.

WESTERN

Wild Bill Hickok with failing sight

Grips the cards held in his hand

Ghostly faces gather round

The door behind him opens wide.

 

Panicking cavalrymen, unhorsed,

Scramble towards a grassy ditch

The condemned Indians make the kill.

 

A straight hard highway stems the land

Flat fields of wheat that wave and brush

The memories down to subsoil worms.

This poem describes two famous moments in the history of the American Wild West. Wild Bill Hickok, brave and maverick lawman, is shot dead while playing cards with his back to the door, something he always avoided and tried to on that occasion. His sight was failing fast at the time.

General Custer’s detachment is wiped out by Sioux Indians/ Native Americans whom he had attacked believing their number to be small. Recent archaeological study has confirmed an Indian account that at the end the surviving soldiers broke and ran down a slight gully where they were killed. But in the long run the outcome was irrelevant: the Indians were in turn slaughtered and lost their land.

I suggest in the last verse that the blandness of the modern Mid-west hides something important in the memories. By the way – I haven’t been to the Mid-west, but I suggest that sort of thing about many different societies!

BUNKER

The murderer sits down in his chair

A job is neatly done, the splintered steel

And brains are out of sight

Signs of power round the walls

Remind him of name and cause

But he is not there

He is cast off in flow of light

Sound of a language lost and found

Touch of a cool calm lake

Scent of the forest pines, footfall

A violin, a gentle drum

 

He killed the drummer long ago

But the drumming sound goes on.

Usually I resist identifying unidentified figures in my poems with any specific real person, but this poem is mainly about Hitler, who loved classical music (not just Wagner) and whose extensive collection of records, fortunately looted by a Red Army Jewish captain and brought to the public by his son, included works featuring Jewish composers and performers. The signs of power are Nazi insignia. The Russian captain apparently could not understand the contrast between the mass murderer and approver of the “Final Solution” and the music lover who could appreciate the work of Jewish musicians.

Wall

 

When the grey seas beat down on this low wall

Remember us who built it high and died

We knew the fish of the sea, we knew the soaring falcon,

We tasted bread and wine and love and loss.

 

This isn’t any one particular wall, but I’ve encountered many places that would fit.

 

I think this is a record – the shortest poem I’ve posted here and coming just after the second longest.

 

Well, among the multitude of possible interpretations of these obscure poems, these will do as well as any

and gain a modicum of credibility from originating with the writer.

 

So here goes with some more old poems.

 

TOMORROW

 

After a month of night, a reddish moon

Illuminates a new world, smoothes

The slivers of metal, softens the swathes

Of jagged concrete to

A pebble beach. The clumps of bodies become

A silvered sleeping army of dancing elves.

Nothing human moves,

But deep rats scrabble towards the surface

In the wounded rivers

Dragonfly larvae wait, and where the great trees stood

Fern spores survive. There will be

Another turn.

Tomorrow the relentless sun will rise.

 

This is a science fiction sort of poem. It imagines the world just after a great disaster, probably human-made, has wiped out humanity and most other life forms – but not all.  It has been dark for a month because of vapours and debris but now a degree of light is returning and we (whoever we are) can see what has happened. The surviving living things are stirring. “Tomorrow the relentless sun will rise” – evolution will continue and perhaps there will be another intelligent species to take our place (and bring disaster?). The rising of the sun is relentless – and whether that is a statement of hope or of despair, the poem does not say.

 

TOLLESBURY PIER

 

Through tussocked field, in winter waterlogged

Scrawled over with briar, the bank, like broken road

Between two towns now dead, reaches the shore.

 

Then as a gravelled hump, a fossil arm, breaks mud

Struggling with tide and frost; and then a scatter

Of blackened spars point out across the channel.

 

This thing was an ambition, a conversation

Of land with sea, England maybe with Holland,

A pier for fishing smack and pleasure party

Somewhere for a tired man to walk

The bank, to carry excited trains or vacant

 

Falling into a gradual decline

Hardly noticed thirty miles away

Then broken in war by men who knew it well

To stop an enemy blown up, and on the stump

Strong lights and anti-aircraft guns conducted

A different conversation of the worlds.

 

The waft-winged harrier now suddenly

Swivels for urgent pipits, a vagrant bunting

Flushed by a rushing dog whose reddening master

Stumbles angrily calling

 

The salt sea

Still laps the land

Lulls its lost senses, shifts the empty shells.

 

Tollesbury is a coastal village in Essex on the East coast of England. Today there are only a few clues which tell of the railway and pier. Now Tollesbury village is no longer on a railway, but then it was and the line extended out from the village over marshland to the pier. The original ideas was for the pier to be used by large ships from across the North Sea, but that never happened. Instead it was used by pleasure boats and fishing boats and by pedestrians on a day out. By the time of the Second World War the line had closed. The pier was then blown up to stop it being used by German raiders or invaders and on what was left anti-aircraft guns were positioned (“a different conversation of the worlds”). A few wooden stumps still indicate where the pier was and the raised bank used by the railway (“the bank, like broken road”) is still evident.

 

A harrier is a type of bird of prey sometimes found in such marshy coastal places (two species might occur here). Pipits and buntings are smaller birds which might be hunted by a harrier.

 

I used to write a lot of poems about particular places, but now I generally see this as too forced and wait for the places to work on me unconsciously. This is an exception. I’m attracted by the sense of history about the place and by it being a meeting-place of sea and land.

 

Copyright Simon Banks 2012