Monday, 22 February 2021 at 10:38
Apologies, I've not posted since New Year. I was diagnosed with head and neck cancer just before Christmas, and after various procedures I've been having chemo / radiotherapy five days a week, plus various other tratments and explorations. The cancer in my neck was fairly advanced and it will soon get difficult for me to eat for a while. This means I've had a feeding tube fitted into my stomach. Hope I don't need it, but it's better than starving, and I should finish this treatment around Easter, with the chemo and radio wearing off in the following weeks. Then I'll have another operation, as it seems I have another site to be excised in my colon. I am trying to get as much done in terms of poetry before I get too tired and have managed to finished a long narrative poem about Rimbaud's later life in Africa. I hope I can also get some new painting done and have ideas for something of a departure from my recent cityscapes. Let's see.
So, this does put a new perspective on things, but it's not terrible.The main drag at the moment is that radiotherapy is temporarily (I hope!) wiping out my taste buds: I have little appetite and can't taste what I try to force down. The feeding tube is uncomfortable and it ain't pretty. But this is all much better than the alternative. I am very lucky as the Covid epidemic has meant that in some areas of the country cancer treatment is being delayed. Here I am provided with excellent support from NHS and everyone is very helpful. As Nick Cave sings "I don't beieve in an interventionist God"... but the NHS comes as near to divine intervention as I need. Let me say just how fantastic the NHS has been. Much gratitude to this most civilised of organisations. My partner Mary has also been great. My immune systen is pretty low, so I'm shielding and M has been a rock. We have both managed to get the Covid vaccine. Excellent!
As I say: new perspective. In an odd way, this is welcome. A wake-up call? Maybe, but certainly a strange opportunity to take advantage of. More than ever need to Seize that Day (and then have a good afternnon snooze...). I feel pretty good mentally and emotionally. Though my treatment is very much a full-time job at the moment, I have a renewed zest for getting projects finished. I gave up my RLF Fellowship in the New Year, but hope to return in the autumn, all being well. Until then it's getting whatever I can do. And there's still lots to get on with.
Spring around the corner and I'm waiting for the frogs to start their noisy mating in my pond. Meanwhile, here's an poem from Trans (2005) though written, I think a couple of years before.
Red plastic, leaf-spattered,
salvaged from the pond months after the big wind.
Tipping out tannin stew, weed-slobber, twigs,
at the bottom of the bucket something moved -
a slimy twitch. Felt it shift against the gravid ooze,
saw it quicken, scramble back up on the lip,
kick out against a gob of falling green.
Bloat King in his winter palace:
Nureyev thighs, chest barrelling out
a brocade doublet nubbed with muddied emeralds,
gloved fingers medievally slabbered with rings, cuffed with filthy lace.
Out of last year's dark sloth, its crusty deeps,
eyes bulge, blink off silt,
the slow growth of crystals clicking into place.
That saurian grin slits a throat grown big
with the thyroid's retarded tick.
Cortisone Czar drunk with swollen glands, the seep
of time: a bomb which can explode the world in slo-mo.
The snot-blown leap
as vigour becomes the feasible miracle,
gone giddy, outstretched on the air's tremble.
He crashes through leaf-fug, chlorophyll,
drags his belly through rustle, bramble,
beats about the bush,
animates it with his transplanted throb.
.... All a falling dream: still torpid, alarm set for snooze.
In the dark,
he'll find his patch of dank.
Squat it out
until it's time to crawl to his stony throne,
match the moon's cold eye in his own.
In the crackly night,
he'll crank it up,
the creaking machine,
the old old song.
A frog in the dark's throat,
fields choppy with froglets,
sargassos of oiled princelings,
distant seas, dynasties of his kind.
He'll call and call new frog-queens to his kingdom.
Time out of mind. Out of mind.
Friday, 1 January 2021 at 08:23
Happy New Year!
It will be good to leave 2020 behind, but Covid and Brexit remain with us, and one way or another will for a very long time. Let's hope there's something good waiting for us in the wings.
"Janus" seems an appropriate emblem. It's the third and last from my little Snowdonia sequence. All three poems appeared in Trans (2015)
Whichever way you look right now it’s dark.
You stumble into clouds, the fallen sky.
It skins its knees, it drags its arse
down thorn-raked paths, through gorse.
Mist shades to rain where last week’s gales
have splintered lanes with birch and ash.
A year ago, this two-faced month
was lower-ceilinged still - and dank - a cell.
Dark cottage: stone-walled, slabs harvesting damp.
And, as if a North Wales winter
wasn’t penance enough, tiny windows
dimmed the day right down to 20 watts.
Next door, Victoria was alive, if hardly well;
unamused and living on dry biscuits, beans,
a few weak lux of candle power.
Doorways into gloom, damp rooms,
black-beamed lintels hanging low and hard
to crack your skull against the dark.
And no TV. Under the mountain’s armpit,
incoming snow in Welsh was all a set would get.
Nights on all fours. Climbing up the ladder,
crawling into the crog-loft drunk
- broken headboard, duvet steaming when she stayed -
to crack the frost on a washed sheet’s crease.
Some hippie kid had stuck up stars,
glowing on the ceiling’s slope in dark.
Something to steer close by to sleep;
or puzzle over, on cold clear nights when Moon
looked in and licked a glisten over walls
where, at dawn, damp stood in for dew.
2. Fast Forward
Moody skies and muddy paths;
the other end of this road now but still
these same old horses in the rain, and sheep
- always the same eternal wet Welsh sheep.
Put tongue to fork and choose your road
then lick the miles of blacktop up.
Stick to this way, you’ll pick up speed
attain a virtual invisibility, moving with the light.
Or, cocked and double-bollocked,
reflect on feet, your own, rising from the bath, hinged
on steaming light like stubby wings
or ten-toed crabs, a foot-faced jack?
Check the two-headed joker in your pack.
The footpath’s swivelled signpost lies;
stay here and disappear up your own annus horribilis
or put some backbone into this month:
January finally spined with cold resolution,
this time, it might, just might, slip you a double-headed coin.
Pause at the crossroads, wind at your back
and smirking like coyote, calmly sniff the wind.
This is it. Who dares wins.
Take the coin and throw.
It spins. - And you with it.
This time you’ll really split
- get off your face or head off fortune at the pass -
You take both ways at once.
More from Snowdonia
Tuesday, 29 December 2020 at 11:32
As promised, another poem from the Snowdonia period.
It was a pretty bleak time in an odd, isolared place. Mountains, sheep, abandoned houses.
The RAF practised low-level flying over the area, and my house seemed to be a landmark for jets to aim for, or bank away from.
Old sheds, abandoned cars, the penned-in ram;
barbwire, some wind-puffed clouds - their speed mocked by
hillsides of placid ewes and fattened lambs:
kapok-y flocks of scattered cumuli.
Out painting: the squint of low but welcome sun,
next door’s washing on the line, blue sky.
Spatter red for berries; scratch out for thorns.
Smudge huge cow’s arses, brindled creamy-white.
Outline in black, a bull, moon-horned,
head rising in parentheses of light.
Dilemmas hinted at in chiaroscuro;
darknesses sketched, though paint’s still wet and bright.
Sun-spoked clouds. Swift time-lapse shadows:
a film condensing lifetimes on the hill.
Above, a hawk’s seen off by squawking crows.
This stuff you just can’t catch. It won’t stay still.
The sudden rumble... then whoosh from here to Snowden.
Harriers skip dry-stone walls. The sky’s ripped silk.
Cross-wires lock on something beyond the horizon’s
spirit-level. South, mountains; lights where east darkens;
north-west, sea curves like a slivered moon.
Down here it’s just spooked sheep, gro-bags, tin cans;
chipped slate, spilled paint, sawdust, a barking dog;
sump oil, engine blocks and rusting iron;
the ferret sleeping in his stinking cage.
Down by the sea, Bangor’s closed off - some joker
left a package in the public bogs.
The chickens are kicking up a fuss, the cock’s
beady, claws paused from scratching in the junk.
The drain is blocked by leaves. Sunday, the clocks
go (Spring forward, Fall back) ... back.
Shift the concrete lump, inch lid to check
how much coal’s still left in the bunker.
Looks like I’m staying on again, I guess.
See another winter out, shut in
by the tv’s fire, or listening to the rolling news
against the rain drumming on the extension’s
plastic roof, staring at the blanks
of these big canvasses I’ve stretched.
Or, the radio fading late into the night,
waiting for the first sniff of snow in the air,
- fresh primer in a bucket, floor spattered white -
the promise of a studio drenched in light.
Friday, 25 December 2020 at 09:06
It's been an odd year. The pandemic almost made us forget the impending national social-isolation of Brexit working its mournful way towards us. Here's something I wrote one quite different socially-isolated winter when I lived in North Wales. I'd come to teach at Bangor University. After the contract ended I stayed on, first living in an old miner's cottage in Bethesda, near the slate works, and then further up in the foothills of Snowdonia. It was cold, wet and often snowing. Trying to survive as a freelance writer, I had very little money. Once or twice a week I'd cycle down to Bangor to sign on, load up with provisions, go to Welsh lessons, or just find a warm pub. It was always a hard slog to climb the mountains home. I never really did master Welsh.
I'll post a couple of further poems from this period as this dark year slowly slides away.
This little sequence appeared in Trans (The Collective Press, Wales,) 2005
Three Views from Snowdonia
Wind busy in the kitchen,
ice curling under slate.
Moss, rug-thick up to the hearth,
nettles burning in the grate.
Snow scraps or dirtied linen.
A blouse, a wind-rolled underskirt
- washing fallen from the line -
thorn-frayed sheets, a rock-snagged shirt.
A henge of weathered slabs:
a doorway opens to the sky.
A lintel, neolithic, that can’t quite
frame the mountain; support
its freight of cold and light.
It shoulders past, barges by.
The five-bar gate
creaks an eight-bar blues
as its hinges whinge
and the bottleneck wind
skids along barbed wire.
It takes the beat of your boots
sodding clay from a field
to stamp another song
along the lonesome lane.
punked under the mohican’s flick;
rough sleepers’ dusty quiffs;
stringy tails, matty dreads,
newly flecked, dandruffed
with the first few flakes.
- Incoming snow.
Shaggy, stocky, sturdy
- running just shy of wild.
Something in their eyes
that keeps them in loose herds:
a nervy philosophy
of wind and moor and hoof.
And, hair-triggered, one hind leg
always cocked to go.
Mooning between outcrops, silhouettes
where the skyline disappears
in rain or mist or snow.
Or pounding down
to that dip of moss,
churning boggy ground
- away from sheep-bleat, slate walls, lambs,
the wind-crack of polythene, abandoned drums.
And the river, ever busy, letting everyone know
it’s wanted elsewhere, can’t hang about,
just getting on with it, pushing past those drums
marked in bright orange BIOPRO.
Welcome to my blog
Friday, 22 January 2010 at 11:26