Voyage for Solo Trumpet
Monday, 15 May 2017 at 19:52
Some poems from our performance of Voyage for Solo Trumpet with composer Deborah Pritchard and trumpeter Simon Desbruslais.
The sequence starts with Hull and its maritime history and uses some of the poems in Pilgrim Tongues to complement "Neap", the poem I originally wrote to celebrate the Voyage statue. The composer Deborah Pritchard wanted the piece to end with the twin Voyage statue in Vik, Iceland. I added a poem from Trans "From the Anglo-Saxon" to give a sense of northern seafaring, and then wrote "Vik Triptych" to conclude.
From the Anglo-Saxon
The ceaseless seas.
Now, truth to tell, that old long song’s a solo
competing with the shriek of gulls, the curlew’s cry.
It tongues those primal etymologies
which discover travail in travel, destiny in stone.
It polishes the lapidary eye
to the challenge of a ring banded by horizon,
reckons ceaseless seas to put woman on the moon.
Word-beat and sea-slap.
Well, there’s always one grizzling at the prow’s rib,
wretched, retching, outwearing wood,
as the back-beat of it all slaps ankles and planking.
That that’s just word-salt, sea-slop,
heart’s bilge is well understood
– but is there another, whose watch is endless, uneasy,
whose nest lurches through the dark high heavens?
Mast-creak and sail-crack.
One whose eyes are worn blue,
sharpened thin on the horizon’s whetstone?
Ignore the forlorn bittern, the stormy petrel broken in the rigging.
Take in your stride the rolls and groans
and juddering whale-backed blackness.
Slip reefs around your weird of knotty fate,
beware sea-chests shifting across the deck’s salt-licked slate.
God-fear in exile.
One thing must break or rip or blunt another,
untangle in wind or be cut through.
This game of life is paper, scissors, stone.
The glint of surf betrays the reef,
iron caroms through woodrot, leaves canvas and skin unsewn.
When he has weathered much, grown wise in winters,
a man must fathom his own life, its weirdness;
reckon keel space; know the whale’s cold road,
ocean-paths, the glittering magnetic shoal,
the drag of his barnacled soul.
Too tedious to recount all this at length,
too late to sing the long song now, simply say:
God Gave man a soul because He trusts in his strength
…because he trusts in His strength.
With salt in their sea-cloaks, nosed out, west
into the sun’s sinking, whet of wind in the shrouds,
led by lodestone, dead reckoning, or those wild
constellations ghosting shoals in the cold high dark.
Past sea-pig, islands ever sea-girt with sadness,
the heart’s reefs where some shipwrecked to mermaids, their Circes,
heard seaweed voices twine round thole pins, minds
seafogged, brilliant and blind. Shortwave: the charts’ braille
bouncing off the sky. A smokestack’s distant belch;
foghorn saxophony jazzing the engine-room’s huge rhythm-section.
All thrumming back-beat in a big wounded bellow of steel,
sonar pinging high beyond Beaufort’s twelve-note scale.
Still the hawser’s anguish, the squeal of rubber, judder:
the joy as we step down wet ribbed wood
and our seaboots trap this harbour’s spinning ball.
What washes up along the strand:
nets, pots, crab-claws, plastic, tin, glass, wood,
things long lost, salt-bleached and found
by fulmar, stormy petrel; sea-wrack and wreckage
from ships that broke on rocks, or ran aground,
little funerary mounds rising from the sand.
And now, above black basalt, jetsam, this tall bronze.
Is there some hard shadow to this weathered skipper?
Sister perhaps, herself a waiting bride
who daily scanned that hazy band where sea and sky
may hide her returning man, deckhand, her true first mate,
or leave her still, virgin widow, unmanned help-meet
hanging on to the idea of one wholesome hull,
faithful and stubborn as limpet, barnacle?
It stands worn thin by wind:
strong as hunger, angled to get the hang
of coming calm or brewing storm.
By weird and wind, cuts like a prow
into what will befall us all.
Leave all in your wake; then rudder, tack.
Lord save our souls when waves
drop deep beneath us, fast as a running grave.
Forever peering out, through all the bells, alone,
all is worn down to green bronze bone;
on watch, for further and further land,
for what’s still beyond all that sea,
beyond the breakers on the other side,
that mirror image of shifting black volcanic sand.
Voyage for Solo Trumpet, premiere 1 May 2017
Tuesday, 2 May 2017 at 20:31
The premiere of Voyage: the collaboration with the composer Deborah Pritchard and the trumpeter Simon Desbruslais went really well yesterday. Luckily the weather held, and it was sunny, if a litttle fresh as the breeze came up the Humber and played aound the Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir statue.
There was a good audience as it linked into John Grant's North Icelandic Flux music festival, with bands from Iceland. The performance was streamed lived on the Hull City of Culture website.
Here's a Facebook clip with Simon playing and Mary Aherne and me reading poems from my sequence:
Voyage for Solo Trumpet. Musical Collaboration with Deborah Pritchard and Simon Desbruslais
Sunday, 30 April 2017 at 09:49
Nine of Cliff's poems form part of a collaborative work with composer Deborah Pritchard in response to the Voyage statue created by Icelandic sculptor Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir. Trumpeter Simon Desbruslais will give the world premiere of Voyage for Solo Trumpet accompanied by Cliff and Deborah reciting the poems.
The performance takes place at 12.30 on 1 May 2017 at the Voyage statue, Victoria Pier, Nelson Street Hull HU1 3XE.
Cliff's poems connect the Voyage statue overlooking the Humber at Victoria Pier with its sister statue in Vik, Iceland. Cliff was one of the poets originally commissioned to write a poem when the statue was erected in Hull in 2006. Cliff has now developed the original piece into a sequence which includes some of the Hull poems from Pilgrim Tongues together with new pieces about the Vik statue.
An exhibition of life-sized scupltures by Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir form Cairns, a new sculpture trail, at Hull University. The exhibition continues until 8 October 2017.
The picture shows the Vik sculpture against the Northern Lights.
Tuesday, 11 April 2017 at 19:15
My new book Satyr, a sequence of satirical poems illustrated by paintings and drawings confronts the world in a week or two at the University of Hull.
There's a double book launch with Sarah Stutt, whose Winter Born has recently come out from Poetry Salzburg Press.
Sarah has been a PhD student of mine for the last couple of years; she's been mixing creative writing, translation from German poets, and a critical approach to the notion of Heimat. She's an excellent poet and has contributed fine work to our Humber Writers' collaborations.
Do come to the launch if you can:
Middleton Arts Cafe, University of Hull, 6pm Tuesday 25 April, Free. All Welcome.
There are some poems from Satyr in a previous post. I'll add another one or two over the next few days and some illustrations.
Here's the cover: a painting of mine you could think of as "Satyrday Night".
Versions from Rimbaud and Baudelaire
Friday, 27 January 2017 at 19:15
Click below for a link to The Literateur online journal which has some of Cliff's versions from Rimbaud and Baudelaire
The poems are part of Cliff's ongoing translation project French Leave, which also includes versions, perversions, and variations on themes by Gautier, de Nerval, Corbière, Laforgue, Apollinaire, Queneau and Houellebecq.
Some of the Apollinaire versions are on other pages on this webside, together with the Raoul Dufy woodcuts which accompanied the original publication. Other poems by Baudelaire and Corbière appear on The Common online:
Larkin in Poets' Corner
Thursday, 1 December 2016 at 18:55
Philip Larkin gets his place in Poets' Corner today.
Any poet associated with Hull naturally has to deal with him one way or another. I was amused by a review of Wake, which described my work as having "the spirit of Larkin, perhaps, re-emerging, muscular and revitalised". Nice to be more muscular than Larkin.
Anyway, my most recent collection Pilgrim Tongues plays around with some of Larkin's themes, and includes two sequences about him. Here are some fragments from those sequences:
You’d hardly recognise some parts,
though other streets would take you back
between the bombers and the planners.
We needed then, of course, a brand new start;
those times would soon be history, we thought.
The shining future was already overdue
the day you lugged your case of shirts, socks, suits,
books, LPs, spare specs, those Soho mags;
that struggling with umbrella, flapping mac
− all the impedimenta of being you.
We may have lacked the phrase, but, boy, we knew,
before your train stopped shy of our docile buffers,
we were already ready. It was time to move on,
the day you hailed that cab at Paragon.
In the shed, the bike, upright
with honest crossbar awaits: bolts tight,
chain oiled beneath the trouser guard;
wheels ready to slice
off-days into dull glitterings: life,
like sun, somewhere between the spokes.
Geoff the Leveller
A February Sunday brings the snow;
crash-landed, sky means soft debris,
tiny mountains, your head at thirty
thousand feet. All that was high brought low.
Forget extinction’s alp, Western Cemetery’s dead flat.
− Not quite: the hallowed ground is riddled, holed;
headstones so intent on touching base they further fall
where earth is truant, plays hide and seek with the ground
of our being, shrinks into the voids between drained clay.
Think absences, the waves that drop, the shoreless days.
This is Hull. (Nor are we out of it in Cottingham.)
Acquainted with this great suburban spirit-leveller, did you,
chatting to the grave, yet matey overseer,
finally find your level too?
Sunday, 16 October 2016 at 18:41
“Let Custards quake, my rage must freely runne”
W.Kinsayder (a.k.a. John Marston) The Scourge of Villainie (1598)
(illust. Bacchanal with Silenus - Dürer)
In the Renaissance, an etymological confusion connected satire with classical satyrs as certain writers adopted the persona of a savage malcontent.
“[Satire] is very railing, onely ordained to rebuke vice… The Satires had their names of uplandysshe Goddes, that were rude, lascivious and wanton of behaviour.” Thomas Langley (1570)
I'm just returning to Satyr, a project I've been involved in, on and off, for many years. At Oxford I researched Elizabethan verse satire, and how it attempted to imitate the Juvenalian savagery of classical satire. My main focus was the persona of the Malcontent and psychopathic Barking Satyrist as exemplified by the playwright John Marston's alter ego Kinsayder. I published a chapter or two from my thesis as academic papers, but was more interested in seeing how I could use the material for my own satires, and over the years various fragments and versions have fleetingly appeared. I'm very pleased that John Lucas has agreed to bring a new version of Satyr out as a Shoestring chapbook in the spring - together with illustrations (perhaps some accompanying pen and ink drawings?). There's a great history of satirical art: from Rowlandson and Gillray to Ralph Steadman. Something new for me to think about.
In Satyr, Marston's Kinsayder returns to appraise the modern world. I've tried to replicate some of the oddness of Kinsayder's spiky style with its changing registers slipping from slang to bombast. Kinsayder revels in his anger, while his prurient descriptions of the sexual misdeeds of others hint at the sort of hypocrisy once familiar from the pages of the News of the World. Unlike gutter journalists, however, he seldom makes his exuses and leaves.
Satyr is a sort of companion piece to my Dantean satire Hole http://www.thecommononline.org/features/march-2016-poetry-feature
Here are two brief sections from near the beginning of Satyr. Kinsayder arrives during a seance courtesy of the renowned psychepomp Dr Quodlibet:
Coming in. Coming in...
See them in their bold effrontery,
these Meteors, Gloworms, Rats of Nilus,
with their lingos, winks and elbow nudgery:
slinking through this city without a skin,
jiving greasy guns. O the blatant cockery
of these Nightshades, Chameleons, and Apparitions.
Hoodie-boyos, chaveris, adipose hussies with their open purses,
the Scally jazzing with Blunt and Redtop
till beer o’clock and time to slop
stilton tattoos along brass-top or naugahyde;
his proud shout drilling the barkeep’s dischuffed dial,
unenrapt without pourboire or promises thereof;
then on, with Latvio-Lithuo-Sengali-Ivorian cab-driver
(PhD in Astronomy, Agronomy, Homiletics or Dark Matter).
Drop him the change from one lonely deepsea diver,
then on, always on,
to badly-packed kebabs or bacon banjos.
Takeaway. Takeaway. Graze on the hoof.
Another blunt, a toot, another blow on the bugle:
hoovering the kermit for the last of the Devil’s dandruff
− confuzzled in the karzy, gone completely hatstand.
Carking it on the big white telephone to God,
in technicolour prayer. Thou art translated
to some new Beast. Behold the Bog Ostrich!
O Shapes transform’d to Bodies straunge!
O godly Creatures! O brave new World!
My new-found Land! My Ingerland!
An Aside in which the Satyr Discourses upon his Ancient Art
Both incense and the human reek
Are best described in Attic Greek.
Autre temps, autre moeurs,
Those ancients knew just how to curse.
But way back then in Classic Times,
They thought it vulgar to use rhymes.
However, this barbaric Tongue
Has dealt us Spades for shovelling Dung.
With Rasp & Scratch it hardly sings,
But bang it hard and Iron rings.
As much as any metric choice,
“Iambic” meant a tone of voice:
An ancient and sarcastic focus
(Since Hipponax and Archilochus).
From IAPTO: “to assail”,
Iambicists lampooned and railed.
Between their tragedies, the Greeks
(When Oedipus seemed to last for weeks)
Liked a little vulgar farce:
Carry On Tits, a farting Arse.
We Satyrs mocked the tragic Fates:
Silenus, myself, a dozen mates.
Priapus did a magic trick
And comic stand-up with his dick.
The audience, easily amused,
Kept our goat-skins filled with booze.
No one dared to get their coat,
They knew that would get our goat.
Uz Satyrs can be really snide
– oh yes, we have our nasty side.
You see that when we’ve had a skinful
We take delight in being sinful.
Likewise Man, when he gets pissed,
becomes a snarling Satyrist.