When I was ten
Mum fell in love with Uncle Phil.
She always said to me it didn't mean
she loved Dad less,
only this time Dad found out
and rammed Mum's pink plastic hairbrush
down his best mate's throat.
The day they let Dad out of jail
he ran down the street in his socks,
shoes flung over some hedge;
knowing of nowhere else to go
he came home.
He'd kept his key and used it now.
It's as well we'd not moved
or he'd have gone straight back.
He boiled the kettle for coffee,
used the loo and looked around
at what was our life still.
He told me later how he needed shoes
but the only ones he could find to wear
were mine and Mum's. She'd binned
all his stuff – hoping, he supposed,
he'd not come back to know.
So there he was in pink stilettos,
heels hanging off the back,
walking like it was something new,
holding onto furniture that used to be his.
He gave up on the shoes, left our house
in his socks, picking his way down the road
Mum came home from work
and without stopping to wonder why
she scooped up her shoes,
like stray children's toys.
She saw the lid left off the coffee jar.
Your dad's out then, was all she said.
You'll have him back, I accused her,
too old to believe in fairy tales.
I'll not, she replied,
eyes fixed on nothing,
smiling in spite of herself,
not if he doesn't ask.
• Juliet Humphreys say “About me: I would like to be a poet who teaches but too often it is the other way around.”
In the first our book reviews postings Jo Kjaer reviews Robert Creely's last collection and our new book reviews editor Matt Howard reviews Swithering by Robin Robertson.
On Earth by Robert Creeley
University of California Press (2006)
Robert White Creeley, May 21st 1926 Arlington, Massachusetts – March 30th 2005 Odessa, Texas.
Creeley’s last collection On Earth was being written when he died in March 2005, and contains over thirty new poems, many touching on the twin themes of memory and presence. These were written understanding death was imminent, (he had emphysema). The poems have fragility and his particular brand of prosody born out of the Black Mountain school of Projective speech achieves this as if it had been invented for his leaving:
In the sky
stars flash by.
head for heaven.
(from 'The Puzzle')
His sparseness on the page is in direct contrast to his reputation for conversation; he spoke, communicated, and discoursed with a huge audience and shared himself and his poems with an ease and openness rarely found in literary creators. If he talked to explore the meaning of life before achieving economy in his poems it was done without artifice – nowhere is artifice evident in Creeley.
His last poems recall friendships and intimacy as he gives death a side-ways look – aware but still in charge. Writing about a fellow poet, junkie and overlooked hero of the Beat underground, John Wieners, Creeley minces words finely, without sentiment but with wry humour and rare imagist lyricism:
There is music in pain but not because of it, love in each
His was the Light of the World, a lit match or the whole
(From 'For John Wieners')
Creeley was always writing about a character called Robert Creeley. Using a limited vocabulary of ordinary words – 'here', 'there', 'the', 'you', 'one', he retells his experience in a variety of closed yet aligned ways. He knows the inevitable shortfall between desire and fulfillment and views these voids as productive elements so that the absence in his form or rhythm becomes an interval of all our experiences, as if you hear him thinking as you read:
If that has to go, it was never here.
If I know still you’re here, then I’m here too
and love you, and love you.
(From 'Old Song')
Creeley was attentive to the mind’s processes which meant, to him, an existential confidence in uncertainty, and it is for this above else I love his works. Uncertainty is a challenging subject to focus on for most of one's 78 years, without producing a voice of negative portent. His work rarely appears in prominent anthologies; this maybe due to a prodigious output but without any one defining poem or the sparse presence created by his minimalist approach.
'The Puzzle', 'When I think', 'After School', 'Sad Walk' and 'Caves' show him calling on his life to show itself one last time as if to check in that library of his mind for anything he still needs to respond to with amazement or regret. And it is almost impossible, even if you've never met Robert Creeley, to read from 'Caves', 'Try lying in the dark/ ask someone to turn off the light./ Then stay there till someone else comes.' without hearing his voice, rough and warm with its signature end stops finally asking us:
Which way to go
(From 'The Puzzle')
I wish I had meet him but I’m glad to have found him – his understated lines come over to me as a huge lesson in less is more.
• Jo Kjaer has been awarded the 2007 Cafe Writers Commission to write a pamphlet of poetry on Norfolk
Swithering by Robin Robertson
The book’s blurb clarifies the two meanings of the Scots verb swither ‘to be doubtful, to waver, to be in two minds; and to appear in shifting forms.’ This protean impulse energises Robertson’s third collection through meditations on loss, relationships and an easily worn eco-spiritualism.
Actaeon from Ovid’s Metamorphoses looms over the collection and is present in two central longer poems. Actaeon is turned into a stag after unintentionally seeing the goddess Artemis bathing, he is then killed by his own hounds. ‘The Death of Actaeon’, one of many ‘afters’ in the collection, is wonderfully treated by Robertson’s assured voice. In the moment of his realisation, Actaeon is drawn ‘torn between shame and fear’; this sense of masculine guilt and loss broods through all of the poems.
Robertson shifts gear with his theme in beautiful poems addressed to his daughters, refreshingly moving the writing from simple explorations of the split of masculine and feminine and away from traditional goddess poetry. In ‘Leavings’ and ‘Donegal’ Robertson explores the inevitability of letting his growing daughters go in moving lyrical lines; in the latter poem he draws himself on a beach watching one daughter swimming ‘his hands full of clothes, full of / all the years, / and the daughter going / where he knew he could not follow.’
The poems dealing with adult relationships are less even. True, there are examples of the tender lyric that we have come to expect from Robertson such as ‘Net’ and ‘Bow’. However, pieces such as ‘Crossing the Archipelago’ and ‘The Custom-House’ that deal with the end of a relationship seem less successful.
Robertson has previously explored sex and sexuality in his earlier collections, most memorably in ‘Wedding the Locksmith’s Daughter’ from Slow Air. Poems on this theme in Swithering such as ‘The Glair’, ‘Asparagus’ and ‘Rainmaker’ appear out of place, indeed it is hard to see how they made the grade for such a strong collection.
There is less risk taking with form in this collection than in A Painted Field and Slow Air. Aside from the Actaeon poems the majority of the pieces are shorter and in the main Robertson seems to find his voice most comfortable in shorter, sparer lines. Notwithstanding this the collection as a whole presents a good deal of formal variation that rewards sustained readings.
Robertson has always presented an economical and muscular voice, one that is particularly adept at capturing the natural world. This is present in abundance in Swithering in poems such as ‘The Park Drunk’, ‘The Lake at Dusk’ and ‘Entry’. The drunk who wakes to ‘the morning’s soft amnesia of snow’ sees:
like a candied fruit, its yellow
picked out and lit
by the low pulse
riding in the eastern trees.
Writing of such physical exactness, allied to the human – here it is the tramp’s drinking ‘to close the biggest door of all’, is where Robertson’s voice excels; even if the vision is bleak.
Overall Swithering is a brooding collection that has only the briefest of positive glimmers. Mostly these appear through versions of Neruda and Montale.
Swithering must surely represent further evidence of Robertson’s place in the first-rank of poets writing in Britain today. Overall Swithering is a pointed work with a clear trajectory. There are poems here that will unsettle but engage, some too have every chance to endure along with the weight of their burden which Robertson captures poignantly in these lines from ‘Trumpeter Swan’:
…you can’t hold on
to the height you find,
you can never be taught how to fall.
• Matt Howard has just completed the Advanced Poetry Diploma at UEA and is about to start an MA in creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Its been years since we went out drinking
And months since we playing pool
Hey there my best man, was my wife so cruel
I am sure he is well
Although time must tell
I haven't seen him is ages
Through sandscrip books and pages
Yes I know this is so true
And I am telling you
That my old bud Harry Katz
Did never and shall not eat no rats Harry Katz
I am still caring
About the school
About the team
and about you
One of my first
Ladies to love
And talk to with fun
and not even spoiled
In those days of roil
• G. David Schwartz is the former president of Seedhouse, the online interfaith committee and author of A Jewish Appraisal of Dialogue. Currently a volunteer at Drake Hospital in Cincinnati, Schwartz continues to write. His new book Midrash and Working Out Of The Book is out now and can be ordered via Amazon.
The first of these haiga is probably a bit of a sore point for people in the UK who have had to put up with a long, wet summer!
• Jeffrey Woodward has also contributed some haibun to IS&T.Read More
Dumped in Pizza Hut
And it took me Four Seasons
To get over it.
One four seven one
You’ve no new calls to return
And no friends, either.
• Juliet England is a regular contributor to IS&T
PEOPLE WITH NO HEADS
he was an artist
although he no longer painted
she was a poet
although she no longer wrote
she was also his model
and the mother of his six children
whom they raised together
for a while we were quite close
but then our paths
took different directions
although whenever I saw
one or both of them
occasionally over the years
we would always stop and talk
then one night I saw him
on his own in a pub
and he told me
she had left him
and was now nursing in London
“people with no heads” he added
I assumed he meant
she had become a nurse
to the mentally ill
for surely the decapitated
were beyond nursing
• Colin Cross lives in Norwich (England) and has numerous poems published in small press zines throughout the UK, Europe and USA. He has also had work broadcast on radio stations in Holland and California and recently recorded the CD Welcome To The Real World Big Hugo. For more check out www.myspace.com/colincrosspoet
revenge of the hollow men
here we lean our headpiece against sweet oblivion
and worship this dreamless kingdom
where our eyes are closed against night's
and morning's boringly dawning sun
mourning the columns love erected
against our traced days
the meanings engraved on night's dainty lace
and all our wasted embraces
facing our warm and brave enclosure here
my spacious saviour within reach
with your fingertips that list
love bright on my unbowed back
your anguish's twisted rack
and we save days in our coffin's
for man is but a lack
and this is his dead land
this is his dead land
his dead land indeed
and we are a mirror-play of reasons
the trough in which we feed
we wait our final twilight meeting
the skeletons handshake
and kind Cadaver's meetly greeting
our rat-skin coat
Ra's midnight boat
and nothing within
that final finishing
where bodies embody the beetles' relish
and nothing within
but nothingness and missing sin
• David McLean says “I was born in Wales though I have lived in Sweden since 1987. I have been published in numerous magazines and e-zines. In September 2007 I shall be “poet in residence” at www.poetsletter.com and in August 2008 “centre stage poet” in Decanto. More information is online at www.myspace.com/david_mclean and www.hecale.com/words.htm It's pretty obvious who is the inspiration for all of these.”