Friday, 6 May 2022 at 11:19
Several longish fragments of my satire Hole have appeared in About Larkin - Journal of The Philip Larkin Society (No. 53. April 2022). The poem features Larkin as a Dante-figure leading the poet through a contemporary Hell. The fragments are accompanied by my paintings of Larkin, who famously hated what he called "the myth-kitty", guiding his bicycle through various mythic landcapes. These paintings feature elsewhere on the blog in the Larkinland section.
The full poem appeared on The Common website several years ago, around the time Hull was gearing up to be City of Culture. Unfortunately that on-line version didn't manage to preserve the formatting of the finale, and so I'm please to see the formatting restored to this print version. Here's a glimpse of the last page. The full poem (with different paintings) is accessible here: http://www.thecommononline.org/features/march-2016-poetry-feature
Friday, 6 May 2022 at 09:59
Another hiatus. I was back in hospital for an operation earlier in the year, and it's been a little difficult to get back into the swing of things. Time to kick-start the blog again, I think. Broken Sleep will be bringing out my narrative sequence about Rimbaud RE:VERB as a chapbook in in July and the editor Aaron Kent has been putting together the cover. The sequence is pretty well described by the blurbs from Carol Rumens and David Wheatley. I'll post more details and a fragment or two nearer the publication date.
These poems reflect the fiercely independent spirt which characterised Arthur Rimbaud in all the phases of his short, turbulent life. In tightly- structured verse and vigorous, earthy diction, Cliff Forshaw lets the poet tell his own story, but in counterpoint with other voices and characters who see him through the filter of his masks as a merchant, explorer and ethnographer. Drawing on documents and letters, but wearing his research lightly, Forshaw unravels the poet’s tangled adventures in Africa, Asia and elsewhere with welcome incisiveness. His colourful poems of place and mood also illuminate Rimbaud’s inner life, and leave us with some intriguing clues as to why the brilliant poète maudit gave up his vocation and “donned the grotesque finery of trade”. CAROL RUMENS
Part translation, part verse biography, but entirely a law unto itself, Cliff Forshaw’s RE:VERB is a freewheeling jeu d’esprit, a cocktail of bad blood, ‘gloomy lust and sanctimonious doom’. Rampaging from the beatific, foul-mouthed teenaged poet to the fulminations of Une saison en enfer and the crucible of Africa, RE:VERB is a chasse spirituelle of sortilege and thaumaturgy, delivered with exquisite verve and oomph. Could Rimbaud read it himself, he would surely be moved to the same outburst he reserved for reminders of his own work – ‘Absurd, ridiculous, disgusting’. DAVID WHEATLEY
Happy New Year
Tuesday, 4 January 2022 at 15:29
Happy New Year!
I'm easing myself into 2022 slowly by revisiting this painting. Not sure if I prefer this version to the original at the moment. I'll put up a bigger version, together with the earlier version in the Public Spaces painting portfolio for the moment.
Much still to tidy up from the last year - and the one before that - before committing to new projects. I'm back in hospital this week for another operation, cancer threatening to colonise colon this time. I'm still pretty weak from the last round of surgery, radio and chemo. I also still have a feeding tube, though I am eating a little most days, though I have very little saliva production and find a lot of things I used to love to eat really difficult now. Surgery will probably knock me back a little, but it is a salutary reminder to get on with stuff. My New Year's resolution is to go easy on the morphine this time. Anyway, the booze still works - though it's always a balance between wetting the whistle now and getting a much drier mouth. It's all pretty tiring: lymphodema seems to have made it difficult to breathe easily - and the dry mouth means frequently waking up through the night, but that said this is preferable to the alternative - and there really isn't any alternative.
I wouldn't quite say I was glad to see the back of 2021. A bugger of a year for us all, and a lot of hospital time for me, but it did put things in perspective and that helped get things done, or helped just enjoying not bothering with stuff I didn't really care about.
Much to do in 2022! Have a good one!
Poetry and painting
Monday, 29 November 2021 at 17:09
My article on some of the connections between my poetry and painting "Ut pictura poesis: as in painting so in poetry" has just appeared on the Showcase pages of the Royal Literary Fund website.
Click on the link below to read: https://www.rlf.org.uk/showcase/ut-pictura-poesis/
The article is illustrated by this older version of my painting of a cyclist on the campus at York University. Over the last few days I decided to return to this painting and I'll post the latest version in a day or two
Kiing's Cross: new painting
Monday, 15 November 2021 at 14:23
View from Concourse over King's Cross Station. Size: 102 x 127 cm. Medium: oil on canvas. Date: 2019-2021
Over the late summer, I revisited the large painting of King's Cross which I started a couple of years back. Lockdown and illness intervened, but I'm glad I went back to it. This time I decided I wanted to make more of individuals in the crowd, and putting together this composite crowd from scores of drawings and photographs was absorbing though time-consuming. The focus is less on the architecture now as the picture seems to have developed something of Brughel's busy scenes about it. I'm thinking now about further ways to depict crowds, though probably with fewer highly-delineated figures; maybe something that catches mass movement.
The Shoal Bay Death Spirit Dreaming
Monday, 27 September 2021 at 14:52
the Mid-Winter Leaving Hobart Snooze
and the Mad Rush Nervous Sweat
Getting to the Airport Nightmare,
I fetch up in a Melbourne Museum
in front of The Napperby Death Spirit Dreaming.
I’m Cliff Forshaw, not Clifford Possum,
and, being somewhere between,
I haven’t got a clue what this
(so far from surf, sea, shore)
or anything else, might mean.
But I’m thinking back, and I’m looking out,
if not exactly forward,
to the any other business
end of the itinerant’s agenda.
The Arts Council warns that whites
have no rights to blackfellas’ stories.
But what about a title? What about a name?
Don’t we really all end up
in one of Dreamtime Cemetery’s
seven basic plots?
Not even the Aborigines
have been here ab origine,
but came hunting in packs,
along with the sniff of man’s best friend.
Among the kookaburras,
the flash of rosellas,
these poems may contain images
of deceased whitefellas.
Ultimo in Arvo,
sounds like a Latin motto.
But it’s just a black and white photo
of a Sydney street, some spot near Darling Harbour,
on a sunstruck afternoon.
And it’s endless now, what’s burned in light:
sun, afternoon, the shadows
never quite making it to evening,
to the terminus and the cool rattle
of the last train home.
felled on the beach, each stripped right
down to tan, grin, teeth.
felled on the beach, each stripped right
down to tan, grin, teeth.
The sun has slipped dark coins
under so many skins,
left obols on a country’s tongue.
And now the state’s left wondering
if it’s enough to pay their way
to the other side of surf.
Out there, outlined against the crashing light,
a dark figure barely on that board
Its vegetable love will grow:
sprout right through
gonna take some rake
to sort your nitty-gritty,
dig up them bulbs,
their harsh night-glow
keep your humour,
say the word,
(it’s in the timing)
say it, say it: tumour.
Upon a man in black
with a cracked voice
I seemed to have stumbled.
“How’s it goin’, Lenny Cohen?”
I heard him mumble.
Mark pops pills — in a flash Max is back
devouring what they gave his daylight twin,
for when it all gets too much.
A little bit of R & R
at pharmacology’s cutting edge.
Hanging with the guys,
might as well blunt the day with a dry run,
as sun pours itself another,
the doctor lies down to his siesta,
and Mr Hyde foams up to beer o’clock.
Be time enough back in Sydney,
to steel the mind, clench the sphincter,
then do the only thing you can really do:
lie back, relax, let white stuff go soft,
fold innocent as butter, melt
around the knife of burning light.
To lessen the severity of (pain, disease etc)
without curing or removing;
to seem less serious by concealing evidence;
from pallium, Latin for ‘a cloak’,
which is also a word for the cerebral cortex
and contiguous white matter.
Out in the night, drunken nutters:
neighbours, all that contiguous white matter.
From Zenith to Wreck
(the way they name these beaches).
Blue moon. No, really.
And the sound of surf
sweeping grit along the bay.
The evening’s polarised
to blue and gold, or peeling away
between sky-scuds and sea-caps.
That day, we forded water to the spit,
rucksack above head,
trying not to get the camera wet.
Glad now to have those photographs,
the notebook which says we saw,
at the end of their season,
a pod of humpbacks heading north;
ate barramundi and kangaroo pies;
lost count of skydivers piling into blue;
heard you say:
“Every time I look up into the sky,
there’s someone falling out.”
Unignorable horn. Man
slumped over the steering wheel
of a beat-up van.
Raid on the inarticulate:
his shabby equipment
deteriorated far enough:
Please Clean Me!
wet-fingered in the dust.
Through painful sun,
near Carthage, years ago,
I saw a cellarful of sarcophagi,
names cut into stone in
(am I right in thinking) Greek?
(am I right in thinking Carthage?)
Sometimes the chiseller,
starting with too generous a space,
had not anticipated the stone’s edge
and, running out of tomb,
had to cramp or abbreviate forever,
docked the last recorded syllables
of a loved, hated or feared one’s name.
As much as I remember: long time ago
with a woman whose passport once bore,
next to next-of-kin, the curt formula
of my initials, surname, the country where I lived.
Heard your last trip was to the Outback.
Never made it myself to the Red Centre,
just flew over its dusty suburbs.
Hope that where you find yourself, there’s
no spider in the dunny, snake across your path.
Well, what’s the chance of something lethal now?
Or do we still forever need to do the maths?
Here is seven yards and more of Dreaming
and other Dreamings bracketed within
its slow pan across the Western Desert:
Old Man’s Dreaming, Yam Dreaming,
Sun and Moon Dreaming.
Here is acrylic psychogeography,
brain-pan soup, palimpsest of soul,
A field of dots may mask the sacred, keep it secret.
The point of pointillism’s what’s between:
something scanned and reconstituted
behind the eyes and in-between
the buzz of Hertz.
Students will read stories of the Dreaming
and discuss ownership of these stories.
They will view an Aboriginal artwork
and identify meaningful signs and symbols.
Students will also write a short story
about their own spiritual beliefs, land and family
and create a painting to describe this story.
The Buddhas of Bamiyan
Monday, 16 August 2021 at 15:05
The Taliban have just taken Kabul. Here's a poem I wrote two decades ago and which appeared in Trans (2005).
The Buddhas of Bamiyan
In March 2001, the Taliban authorities destroyed two huge ancient figures of the Buddha at Bamiyan, Afghanistan.
I met a traveller from an antique landWho said: ‘Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert..’ Shelley, "Ozymandias"
Here’s what remains: colossal holes in rock.
Not even legs. Each trunk’s just that: hollow,
an opened, empty, god-sized box.
Raided tombs, recesses shaped like Pharaohs’
coffins or their huge cast shadows.
At their absent ancient feet: boulders,
rubble, mortar casings, spent ammo shells,
Taliban on Toyota trucks - Allahu
Akbar! ...Meanwhile, back in Kabul,
it’s hush-hush Video Night - venue:
the old World-Wide language school. Banned,
but what the hell. Soldiers, perhaps ex-students,
scratch lengthening beards, bum smokes
or fiddle softpacks from black turbans.
Some place Kalashnikovs in stooks,
pass round a plastic lighter, trade contraband,
squat on the mat. Swarzenegger’s back.
Tonight his sneer of cold command’s
getting personal with a laser-sighted
45 slide; while the late-model terminator,
unperturbed, just mops up punishment,
absorbs whatever’s handed out. Boof!
And - here’s the groovy thing - from it he learns
to - how you say? - shape-shift, morph.
Once Buddha was just an empty throne.
Round here his face grew Greek or Persian,
half-way between Apollo and a king.
Xerxes, or Iskander perhaps, robes grown
stony with potency. Or Kanishka,
whose idea these statues were. - His own
headless statue stood back in Kabul:
enormous pantaloons, mighty kingly feet.
He got his last week. Full circle.
For centuries, huge mummies
wrapped in grubby bandages of rock
stood here, blind to passing armies.
Today, they blew away his legs and chin
- tank shells, rocket launchers - then
dynamited that big mutha up to heaven.
It took twenty-five explosions
to wipe the smile right off that face,
incarnate him as dust, air, an empty throne.
Bars of light across eyes, mouths that whisper
through the hatches of shapeless prisons:
women, in chador, burquas, watch the distance,
rebel gunfire where the mountains rise.