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Death of a Poet

Friday, 17 August 2018 at 20:45

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I've added this, the last poem from A Ned Kelly Hymnal, to the Vandemonian pages.

It was odd: I'd seen this painting often in Liverpool. I think it was probably first when I was an art student there. Later, after coming back from Australia and writing my Ned Kelly sequence, I came across it again. Is Ned really an Orpheus figure? Or is this just some critic's misunderstanding?



Alternative Ending

Sidney Nolan’s “Death of a Poet”, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool.

Death of a Poet was what they called it:
head hung in a branch; roughed-up paint;
wristy little vortices where rag
scrubbed board, twisted bark
right through flat mid-blue.
Bush. Heat-struck head hung
against a cloudless dumb forever.
Archaic. Stark.
                          Not hard to see why
(a sniff of lemon leaves, a fierce Greek sky?)
the municipal Victorian neo-classical Walker
saw Orpheus. No lyre. Alternative ending:
his ripped silence after frenzied stalkers
had torn him limb from limb.
Forget downriver. There’s no water;
here’s what became of another him:
head tossed sky-high, caught in trees.

But what we’ve really got here’s dead Ned’s head.
So odd to find, in Liverpool,
his face for once — at last his naked skin.
Yet though he’s out his box, escaped his tin,
and all around the bush is blasted through
to ripolin blue enamel skies
the one thing you can’t see here is his eyes.

Tight shut. Not really him at all.
Death-mask or bust. Kicked the bucket.
Right now he’s just something in the trees,
round as a gourd, shiny on top,
bald as baked clay, a terracotta pot.

Or one that’s bloomed, blown, grown scratchy dry;
breeze-rustled beard ready to fall to scrub,
dead-headed by some passer-by.

Ned Kelly rides again!

Friday, 17 August 2018 at 19:32

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As I mentioned in the last post, I'll be adding material from earlier books to the portfolios over the next few weeks. I've just added the sequence on the death of Ned Kelly to the portfolio pages featuring Vandemonian (Arc Publications, 2013).

The sequence also appeared in A Ned Kelly Hymnal which was published by David Kennedy as an illustrated chapbook (A Paper Special Edition from The Paper / Cherry On the Top Press in 2008).

David Kennedy died last year. He was a colleague of mine at both Sheffield and Hull Universities and a friend. We collaborated on several Humber Writer anthologies.

David, as well as being an important poet and critic, was also good company, kind and thoughtful. A small example: he organised a launch in Sheffield for my collection Trans; when delays with the publication seemed likely, he quickly put together a sample pamphlet so I'd have something to show at the launch.

He is, and will be, much missed.

Looking Back Down the Road

Thursday, 16 August 2018 at 17:16

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Working on a long poem using material from my Kyrgizstan visit and putting together a collection of translations, versions and perversions from French has meant there's not been much time to add to the blog over the last few weeks. In order to keep up a fairly regular flow of posts, and add material to the website, I thought it might be a good idea to put up older poems. This variation on two Rimbaud sonnets seems an appropriate place to start glancing back. I'll be adding poems to the portfolio pages over the next couple of weeks, but I'll also post some of them on the blog. For more versions and variations, please see the Translations page, accessible via Poetry or Other Work.

Looking Back Down the Road

loosely after Rimbaud's "Ma Bohème" and "Au Cabaret-Vert".

1. Taking Off

Those days, I'd split without a second's thought. Hit the road.
Just take off. At seventeen, I'd tramp for miles, hitch a ride
no place special. Leather jacket like a scarred second hide.
Signposts for sonnets, truckers' long-load tales for odes.

Service stations, greasy spoons, thumbing cars, cars, cars.
Wind finding new holes in the knees and arse of my strides.
Blacktop, humming rubber, Autobahn-piste-strada.
Crashed out dead in graveyards, dossing under skidding stars.

Sat at the roadside, under creaking trees, the huge race
of clouds. September nights, dew sparkling my face.
Swigging lager from a stolen can: clean, cold, sharp,

conjuring up visions from shadows. Hidden in secret places,
I'd twist feet up close to my heart, pluck the laces
of my wounded boots, entire body tuned to (canned music) - Harp.

2. At The Green Café, 5p.m.

A full week on back roads, dusty mountain tracks.
Old Chinese canvas shoes were shagged-out shreds.
I hobbled into this one-camel-town, back
of beyond, saw the green sign, smelled fresh baked bread.

Splashed face at the pipe, dragged fingers through hair.
Inside, this girl looked up - big tits - cracked me a smile;
flicked a rag over the green oil cloth, dusted off a chair.
I stretched my legs out, took in the shiny painted tiles.

She looked good around the eyes, not shy at any rate.
Fetched me slabs of bread, butter, thick folds
of home-smoked ham on a brightly-coloured plate.

Pink and white, delicious, garlicky. For something cold,
she foamed up this huge mug. Getting too late
for the border, a quirky ray of sun turning beer to gold.

Welcome to my blog

Friday, 22 January 2010 at 11:26

When time permits I hope to be in a position to update my blog.
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