Friday, 28 June 2013

To An Acquaintance Gone Into The Country

"Piccadilly and its halls" - Piccadilly underground station was notorious at this time as a meeting place for homosexuals; "County Hall" - the headquarters of the Greater London Council, subsequently abolished by Mrs Thatcher after it developed tendencies to regard itself as an independent socialist republic.


The moral life, who cares for it one jot?
The folk of this benighted town do not!
From fops dissolved in giggles that they be
A part of Islington society
Where politics and fashion daily mix
And make acceptable the Dance of Dicks,
And beefy women crammed inside their jeans
Discuss what “Deconstruction” really means,
To sharks and youthful spivs who hang about
And play the coward or, when safe, the lout,
Lifting a wallet, swilling cans of Coke,
Daring the knife-edge between Threat and Joke –
All, all agree that someone is to blame
For that Dissatisfaction with no name
Which, on their shoulders, urges them to act
By throttling Reason and destroying Fact.
The rich and handsome, bopping in the street,
Fling down a vicious gauntlet at your feet,
The gays in Piccadilly and its halls
Descend to darkness and the grope for balls,
The wasted winos, loose in Leicester Square,
Demand your charity with half a glare,
The politicians, mad at County Hall,
Make one decision and begin to brawl,
And lo! the clergy in a final cod
Embrace The Issues and denounce their God!

A change of scene – what finer remedy
For stark disgust with man and accidie –
Takes you to purlieus where the skies are blue,
Where life is different and decisions few.
But what is this beside a bubbling beck?
A trailer park and gaudy discothèque!
And squatting loathsomely beyond your arm
Battery units have engulfed the farm.
Out in the fields a tractor roars its way
Across a monoculture all the day,
Grubbing up hedges, charging at the wood
Where fifty of the finest oak once stood.
A countryman, by wisdom deeply scored,
Allows you access to his hidden hoard
And taps his nose across the public bar
To let you know he knows just what you are.
He leers and shows his teeth and pulls an ear
And taps his nose again and drinks his beer,
And with an air mysteriously-wise
Makes up false maxims and then tells you lies;
And later, all goodnights devoutly bidden,
Strolls off to wisely contemplate his midden.     

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Dr Swift Considers an Arts Council Grant

This poem is redolent of a different age, one of arts funding largesse. The poem's argument is jejune in places but just about holds together. In 1980 the then Arts Council of Great Britain had sumptuous headquarters in Piccadilly. Havergal Brian was subsequently remembered for producing over thirty symphonies in almost complete critical neglect. The Faber poetry list was, of course, in its heyday - although not to my eyes; the Northern Ireland Troubles were in full swing and the Soviet Union had invaded Afghanistan.


Suggested by a sentence in Ifor Evans’ book Portrait of English Literature.

A cloud of dust is in the Strand
Where students march and raise a hand;
They stop the traffic, block the road
And roar with all the might of God.
Their banners and their shouts declare
The apotheosis of hot air,
And uncouth dress and surly ways
Are loci where the state decays.
They treat the people in the streets
As little more than bourgeois cheats,
Though in the respite of a pause
They claim they share a common cause.
Policemen herd them to the kerb
Where someone flings a basic verb,
And ushered on in disarray
They curse the night and damn the day.
(A lonely creature in his sleep
Hobbes turns and shudders all the deep:
The pages of Leviathan
Tremble for the fate of man.)
I came my way through the East End
Where the right price will sell a friend,
Where those who use coherent words
Are suspect like exotic birds,
And the local style is populist –
Which means that people use their fists.
Quarrels spike the muggy air
And someone rages, “I don’t care”;
A reasonable request is turned
Into an order duly spurned,
And deference, the social key,
Becomes a thing of history.
Unhappiness and pointlessness
Drape Aldgate High Street like a dress,
And the old woman in her room
Fears a sudden, bloody doom
While outside like a metaphor
The ceaseless lorries roar and roar.

Monday, 3 June 2013

A Remnant

No, not a sonnet,
Flush with fervour
Like a Victorian hymn;

Not an ode, nor an elegy,
Sweating like faces
With the tears of truth;

But a bone
Sprung from the furrow,
Crazed with the runes

Of the inarticulate earth –
Such, such is my love.
Dear, will you risk a finger

On these splintered pieces,
Bathing them once more
In the balm of your hand?

© September 1984