Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Online Sample Poems

Few Never Envy

All I have: this shabby room
furnished grandma-style:
carpet muddy umber,
thin beige curtains pile
like luminous mosquito nets
over the draughty window-pane.
A lacquered table’s centre-piece
where I eat cold meals, scrimp an aim

inkling in a typewriter.
Plastic clatter of tone-deaf keys
scores each curtained, fiction-night:
a blind mind tinkling ivories.
Breaks spent on a spineless bed;
fingers brush the woodchip Braille,
step across the blue-tack path,
trip to creak of banister-rail.

I stare up at a blanched Van Gogh
by the toothpaste-spattered sink;
the ticking of the crippled clock
decides it isn't time to think;
I rise to wash: chalky water
chokes out to the rusty squeak
of the stiffer tap; over my shoulder
a back-to-front Thirty Bob A Week

reflects in the mirror that traps me.
Smoking soothes as doubts unroll.
My only other luxuries: tea
and sleeping pills when I get my dole
of hardship maintenance that feeds
my lapsed Protestant shame
(though I was born a Catholic
I'm English all the same).

Few never envy others' lives
with their ambitions in arrears;
only thoughts that telescope
help one cope – focused years
blur the edges of fogged progress.
Lungs fangled for spearmint fags
purse their pockets. Abstracts heap
like half-p’s in the money bags.

The Cottage

For all the breath-smoked winter nights
we shared some misty summers
drifting off to light tunes’ fall
like balsam on the garden
from my brother’s bedroom window
jarred with grandma’s Iliad;
sunbathed with mongrels at our feet;
plucked blushed apples from the tree beside
the cement-filled well, where we planted
hope for rescue from this rustic lull
false as our restless wishes were,
still yet to be weeded.

Father’s face hair-line cracked
as the crumbly stone of the cottage walls;
mother’s nerves fragile as
the shaky glass of the greenhouse grave –
I’m sure she’s shrunken in this shade
all these faded years;
given the choice she wouldn’t leave
this place for ties still tested like
the trembling washing-line.

This is where we dug-up doubt
fossilized in the outhouse stone
like stories of our mythical home;
where we first came to believe
in not believing, with the countryside,
that simply is. How could we leave.

The Ring

No wizard there as our guide –
Poverty’s spell casts all else to one side.
Father’s face grey as Gandalf’s gown.
He always told himself he’d let us down.

Love is its own darkness, slowly binding.

One day my mother had to pawn her ring,
But kept it secret till we’d finished eating;
Her finger as it was before their wedding.

excerpts from Keir Hardie Street
Allan Jackdaw (1891 – 1917)

i. Dick Whittington’s City

Gash of grubby red-brick buildings
Under bruise of urban sky –
In every doily-curtained window lives a life –
Motionless stout spectators crouch, watch the trains heave in,
Black bricks of Battersea do the steam proud,
Steeplejack chimneys tousle to attention,
Colobus clouds swing from chimney to chimney:
A tumbling audience stirring fresh from concrete beds,
First fags of the day
Chimney from drainpipe-brimmed trilbies.

Tock-o-clock in the morning, too early to tell the time;
Through lifting fogs peeling back like greying scabs
City pricks up higgledy-piggledy against Calvary skyline:
A pencil smudge of gaswork cloud bruising on the paper arm
Of the street urchin pale, pearly horizon,
Soon brushed away by the charlady sun.

Black-mouthed London, charred chimney sweep
Spluttering soot; dark tubercular blood;
Guttersnipe city – barely the room
For a thought to cough to a word,
Funnelled as smoggy zephyrs through
Gap-toothed stucco terraces,
Plaque-caked like the yellow screeching teeth
Of a Jack-stalked slattern, flapping down
Daisy, Daisy airless backstreets
With asthmatic, Lambeth Walk, music hall effort;
A lost, panting tramp in labyrinth pitch
Gin-soaked to the skin, barrelling out
Roll out the Barrels as he Rag-And-Bones by.

iii. Three True Obscuritans

– The Hermit of Hercules Buildings

Once heard tales of an unfashionable recluse
Hid like a fiend in Hercules Buildings,
Thirty years or more;
His curtains never twitched to spy
Inspiration in people-bustled streets:
His was in-growing; head-clouds parted daily
Gifting insights into all things: Visions
Of lost Albion, Jerusalem grass-green
Growing in the grimy, gin-fumed streets
And airless Daisy, Daisy alleyways;
Emerald wisteria climbing dirt-brick walls,
Seeking sunlight like a thinker seeks the truth –
A resurrecting Eden strangling black chimneys
With seething creepers, gloriously blemishing
Wren’s Capital of marble in forests of mouldering trees –

They say Mister Blake rarely left his digs
Except at night when nightingales warbled
On the chattering Heath, then to consult
With Angels and shoulder-perched fleas
As to details of limitless prophecies,
Nothing but tobacco and Eastern teas
To stimulate the Hampstead Shaman –
Thirty-odd years with the curtains drawn
So light from within could burst un-assuaged;
No noise but the squeak and creak of his press
Printing each word in indelible ink
Impressed on our minds ever since –
Why should one who strides with Angels care
Whether his works see daylight; spine-
Crack like brittle leaves in autumn air?

– The Turpentine Prophet

I’ve a dream-fired friend, struggling writer,
Pure spit and spirit, distemper, turpentine,
Can’t sell his novel ‘cause publishers won’t read it
Unless the manuscript is put in type –
He’s got Socialism thumping in his heart,
Rumbling like a thunder in his belly,
But for all his revolutionary fervour,
Still must bow his knees to earn his crust –
As he does for the unleavened on his Sundays –
Eighteen hour days painting walls of betters,
Plastering and filling up the cracks,
While like-ravines ravage his scamped hands
Chiselling his physsog with fatigue –
A messianic journeyman with cultured sensibilities
Reduced to scrimping from menial means
A second coat of matt Socialist vision –
A skidder on a class-transcending mission,
His workmates strip him down – they’ll not listen:
Prefer to scamp their makeshift lives
Shoddily coating bricks of a prison,
Slaking on stout, plastered as Paris;
Place depleting capital on deceptive bets,
Slave to keep themselves in bread and cigarettes –
No thoughts on fighting for the right of labour
To employ their souls and minds as well as bodies;
No burning desire in their turpentine hearts
To rent sublime swirls, twirling intricacies
Of flora on wallpaper they sloppily paste
To peel and blister: the patterns of waste.

– The Ghost of a Poet

Another friend, should say the ghost of one,
Suffered much, swallowed pride’s stale crust,
Him and his flint-and-roses missus,
Something borrowed bond, and something blue,
Doing without for scrimped months at a time
So’s he could turn his poverty to poetry –
Little in the two words after all –
Before his calloused hands blueberried up from graft
To grip something gentlemanly as a pen;
A tool, let’s not forget, more suited to
Pianist-like spatulas of better furnished men.
Was it worth it? Yes, each bitter, bleeding line;
But meagre recognition of tepid-inked reviews
Scarce enough to save him from his cancer fancies,
So he hurled himself from off a Cornish cliff,
A poet in his prime of death;
Leaving his flinty trouble-and-strife sixty bob in savings,
Double what they’d giftedly eke
On an average, tummy-grumbling week.

– Those Intractable Art Martyrs

Only hope of recognition for their paper labours
Posthumous, I’ll bet you, it’ll come
Decades down the Circle line of time,
Long past their unmarked paupers’ graves
Nameless as that unknown Tommy’s tomb
Who got it in the cork from a Dervish poking fork –
Leave ghosted legacies in inner-city cemeteries,
No towering memorials to soldiers of the pen and brush;
Only those receptive to clamouring cries
Of spiritual picket-lines – Bow Bells of the other side –
To witness their mute protests, blank placards,
Haunting the Abbey with spectral petitions
To be with the Remembered in that Corner –
A Purgatory of posthumous spectating
After grafting lifetimes scraping paper scraps
In slums and prisons of non-recognition:
Obscurity’s Scrubs; or no better,
A parchment-dry critic’s drub.

What foiled their immortality?
Did they word-smith in vain?
Their letters were the same that those
Better-placed bards used to soft-compose
Celebrated verses; their pens scraped paper
As noisily as those from whom we’ve heard –
How come they didn’t join them into print?
Because they craved a more selective press
Sympathetic with their garret struggles,
Woodchip poetry and Cockney lingo,
Not bucolic nuances typed by lily-white
Literati fingers of clattering classes.

How, short of shouting red sedition
Like Marx from the pulpit of Speakers’ Corner,
Could self-respecting hair-shirts scrimp crusts of consolation
From dead-ends of idealistic minds?
Nagging conviction: It IS possible!
John Lilburne proselytised so;
Winstanley set digging its foundations
And might have wrestled up the roots but for blight
Of spiked Putney debates dousing his light
Shining, a time, in Buckinghamshire;
The Chartists and Unions clamoured for its cause;
Keir Hardie fused its inspiration to exact
Literate leaps and bounds of a dauntless autodidact –
Might have made it had our burgeoning numbers
Taken up suffrage, not invitations
To pontificating parties’ teapot politics
Where Mr. Quintus Fabius did the pouring;
The intricate clatters of crockery on trays:
Idle silver singers of cake-stand days.

iv. The Sea-Green Line

I commuted along the City and South London;
Not retreat, digress, a mental pilgrimage
In electric-flickered carriage underground
To find new perspectives on the glum city above,
Alight at the ghost station of my conscience
In shadows of Progress’ echoing tomb…
Followed the stations on the curved roof carriage:

Hours clattered by, found myself dazed
On sepulchral platform whose designated name
Had yet been assigned – lost, stumbled blind
Through combing catacombs, labyrinthine tunnels
Circling tile-scaled walls, till I tripped
Onto another nameless platform, un-haunted –
Then out the char-black mouth of the howling tunnel,
The elephantine roar of an approaching monster
Screeching into view on the track trailing tongue
From the tunnel’s mouth – the metallic Leviathan
Heaved slowly to a halt, hissing, sniffing
Like a mighty, miffed Trojan bull;
I entered with trepidation sealing myself in –
Soon as seated the carriage gathered pace,
Whisking me into darkness undiscovered.

On the carriage wall the artery of this line
Bled from black to a sea-green shade,
So it appeared in the light’s moth-hovered glow –
To my dumbfounded sights I read the names
Of ghost stations not heard of before,
Not in all my days in this dreary city –
Were they building another City, underground?
The next stop tantalisingly called
I scanned along: ROBERT OWEN JUNCTION,
I’d discovered another London off the Sea-Green Line
Where black City and Metropolitan purple fused
Like two honing arteries at the cardio-junction
Of the beating heart of another city
Only accessed through the tube – alighted
To discover what alternative city waited over-ground
At the summit-light of the spiralling stairway.

v. The Secret City

First thing that struck my startled pies
Blinking in to sunlit vision,
The cleanness of the pavements and streets;
Tall stucco terraces towering high immaculate
Like mighty marble monuments,
Vast statues built to stand the test of time and tribulation,
Lived-in by levelled citizens, each
Of equal, immutable importance to their city;
A splinter of the city-Soul, vital shard
In the vibrant sparks of productive industry
Catering for all, furnishing lives
With mortal comforts plenty, to empower
The people on a level ground so they might strive for skies
Of spiritual nourishment, develop dormant faculties
Neglected long ago in dark Capital times
When Mister Bloggs pilfered his neighbour’s crust,
Cajoled profits, fattened his coffers
Not for great works’ public benefit
But for its own in-growing pleasure –

This new secret City built on compassion’s
Incorruptible foundations, indomitably shod –
On each terrace innumerable names
Etched in the stone, beatific tributes
To lives breathing within the slabs of brick:
Here lives Mr and Mrs Such-n-such
Who mortar bricks with happiness and laughter;
Here lives the Such-n-suches who share each day
Making cakes rise with optimistic conversations;
Here live some children who photograph their dreams
To inspire their sleeping parents;
Here dwells a family mesmerised
By swirling dreams wallpapering their days;
So bright inscriptions spread throughout singing streets
And billboards bore new slogans:

I, startled tourist, now panting breathless
In delight at stumbling on this lost Utopia –
What pleased me most, the absence of shops
Or haggling markets, crash of trading tills,
No more cons of cash for faulty objects
Or food past best, no wheeler-dealing
In dodgy goods past kosher quota,
No stealing or need for any thieving,
No tricks or cons on browsing customers,
Trusting or desperate – this city has no desperate –
Public services publicly run,
Never before had I seen so many trams!

An absence of pubs for people punch-drunk
On conversation: ‘course you know why they’ve never
Got round to a revolution in the other London, don’t you?
It’s tea, that’s what it is. Makes ‘em apathetic,
Complacent-like; summing in the brew –
It’s their Spiritual Gin ‘see, make no bones about it
– This is it…
Gin was never so in-si-di-ous as tea is,
Makes you feel all warm inside, content in your place
– This is it…
Without the educative need next day
For a hair of the dog – ‘Course havin’ said that
I miss it meself, ‘speshly in the mornins,
– Oh yes…
But getting’ up to a salmon-sky dawn, no false one,
Nippers singing in the streets, whole bleedin’ city
Greetin’ you as one big happy fam’ly – none of this
Flesh ‘n’ blood lark they string out back there,
No, here your neighbour’s as like your brother,
N’ we all muck in togever, for common good,
No nippers squealing with empty bellies, no poverty,
– This is it…
Nah. I can get by without tea.

This secret London: Society of intelligence
Prised long by pamphlet-thumbing Fabian firesides
And planted in coal miners’ torch-haloed heads,
Now a sharp reality, well-defined as sun,
A hovering pit-lamp in the white night sky:
By the time on my watch it was well past nine
At night, yet daylight poured its yolk on stucco turrets
Glistening with magic promise, urban Camelot
Captured in blazing daubs as if by Pre-Raphaelite
Brush on white-glossed canvas; shimmering
Ideality; poetry tangibly manifest
In this unlikeliest of cities – a Parousia
Of pillar boxes, pigeons and fairground laughter.

vi Keir Hardie Street

Then – well stone the crows! I scarce believed
My pies as I beheld the street’s bright sign:
KEIR HARDIE STREET in pristine white
Ivory lettering on glistening coal black;
For minutes the shining white letters dazzled me
Till I felt I’d topple from the kerb, tumble off
Like Whittington with his tags and baggage
Billeted with classless scraps and famished cat
Only to rise and prosper – a vision I had
Lit up before me in piercing mist on this street,
Of its gifted namesake, his pit-face rise
From Dark Satanic collieries, Caledonian obscurities,
Into light of politics, calloused hand campaigning,
Who strove to lift the people with winging words,
Help all prosper, not just his kith and kin
And own interests but emphatically the whole –
Humanity primo franca , descended
From the dust and ribs of Common-held Eden
Corrupted by tilted scales of serpentine greed
Hissing its syllables: Capitalism
Spouting from billboards on peeling city walls
Whilst Socialism mutters to itself in draughty halls!

In Whittington’s city, ‘mongst the Pillar’d Mansions
Of Wren’s grand vistas and esplanades,
Another fire catching the wind ignited
Not in Pudding Lane, but Lanarkshire,
Its touch paper smoking in the undernourished clutch
Of a baker’s cadaverous delivery boy
Waylaid amid errands by sudden lightning flash
Striking him down in well-trammelled tracks
As that streak did to Paul on his way to Damascus!

Down the line from Communist Christ,
‘Head Leveller’, as coined his cousin Baptist,
(Though one might trace right back to Solon’s
Shaking Off of Burdens, Seisaktheia)
A line of Social Soldiers, Outlaws, Prophets
Strove to oppose Rule of Profits,
Chivalrously crying Redistribution!
Thomas Beckett itching with idealisms in
His hair-shirt, sandling beggars’ feet;
Robin Goodfellow in Lincoln-green hood
Stilling the bow-hand; Thomas More
Dreaming castles in the air where citizens lived
According to their needs, not wants, a doctrine
Of dock-leaf and ditchwater practised by
Roger Crabb, the original Mad Hatter
Who gave his hat-profits to the poor;
The Black and Sea Greens’ proselytising;
The Buckinghamshire Diggers striving
To plough cloddish thoughts of Arden anew;
Robert Owen’s Chartists; Messianic miners;
Marx’s Synoptic Social Gospels
Long-pantomimed in low pews and high-brow bowers
Where the Rich man shared his hymns
With trembling soap-hands of Fabians;
Where ever the Parson went hand in hand
With the Mammon alms of the Owner of Land:
From this union of penny-pinching piety
Sprung the Molloch we term as Charity!

Time again for Commoners’ crop-head opposition
To titled Abusers of Privilege,
Not seen since old Roundhead times:
For a sullen and scowling class sitting apart
Is preferable to a besotted and unthinking class
Dragged hither and thither by unscrupulous guides.*

Turn the other cheek We may,
But after we’ve over-turned the rustling tables
And spilt the stinging metals to the floor,
Turned stone to bread, water into wine,
Sent camels packing back out through the needle’s eye
Along with class, property, tyrannies of Kings
Until the grind and clamour of industry is mute
And we hear Angels singing to the sound of dropping pins.


Blogger SelfDefinedKing said...

Thank you for that great, deep, and powerful poem. I really love your style... i wish that there is a chance for us to bounce poetic ideas off each other in the future. I want the opinion of a fellow poet so could you check out my poetry and tell me what you think:


10:23 PM  

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