Tuesday, March 15, 2016

crossing paths with Penguin Modern Poets 15

Penguin Modern Poets 15: Bold, Braithwaite, Morgan

I got this book a few years ago from a cardboard box beside the canal in Bath. It was a sunny June day, and we were on a breathless walk down Widcombe Hill into Smallcombe Vale then back onto the shoulder of Bathwick Hill, and so down again, traversing Sydney Buildings and the canal (buying book at this point), and finally past some allotments to emerge suddenly through a narrow slit in the massive foot of a railway bridge and to discover ourselves just over the road from the cricket ground in central Bath.

I can't honestly claim to have read this book in any meaningful sense, but I've carried it about in backpacks, with damaging impact on a jacket that for some reason is now extremely friable. It's a first edition (1969) and it was bought, apparently, in the bookshop at Sussex University, perhaps by the "Squires" whose name appears on the flyleaf.

Of the three poets in Penguin Poets 15:

The socialist poet Alan Bold's career proved to be short. He pretty much stopped publishing poetry in the early 1970s, possibly a consequence of his heavy drinking. He died in 1998.

This is the beginning of "That's Life?" (Naturally, I was drawn to the Walter Scott reference...)

Far from the scent of the crocus
And the pavanne of Scottish daffodils
A loud crash was heard in Princes Street.
Safe from the steady gaze
Of the grey carrara marble Scott
A jabbering unknown tramp had died.
One could certainly doubt it
But the blood was fresh
Enough to say he lived
Once. A peering crowd of blanket faces
Did not ponder if he loved,
Or had been loved, instead
They wondered at how far ahead
In life they were. Were they more
Than one rung up the ladder of life?

[*Not sure why Bold particularly calls them "Scottish" daffodils. Eastern Scotland is, however, one of the main producers of cut daffodils, along with Lincolnshire and Cornwall. The idea is that the flowering seasons of the three areas should be spread out, allowing specialist pickers to move up the island. Sometimes this goes wrong, as in 2012 when cold weather in Cornwall and exceptionally warm weather in Scotland meant that all three crops ripened at the same time.]

Edward (subsquently Kamau) Braithwaite, born in Barbados, is an internationally known and much admired poet, now aged 85.

Many of his poems in PEP 15 are set in Africa, where he lived for several years. The following extract comes from "The Forest", an exciting venture into a mysterious dark different world contrasted with the open-air world of desert, Ra and Sphinx, kings and gods.

Time to forget

these gods.
The jewelled sun

has splintered
on these leaves.

The moon-
light rusts.

Only the frogs wear jewels
here; the cricket's chirp is

emerald; the praying mantis'
topaz pleases; and termites'

tunnel eyes illuminate the dark.
No sphinx eyes close and dream

us of our destiny; the desert
drifting certainties outside us.

Here leaf eyes shift, twigs
creak, buds flutter, the stick

becomes a snake: uncertainties adrift
within us.

Edwin Morgan died in 2010, aged 90, and is commonly regarded as one of the finest Scottish poets of recent times. This is most of the beautiful love-poem "Phoning":

and I dialled Montreux
a sudden impulse
we had to laugh
at that chain of numbers
Grand Hôtel des Alpes
and we spoke to your sister
Glasgow to the snows
and the sunny funiculars
and meetings by a lake
so far from Law and
the pits and cones
of worked Lanarkshire
my arm on your shoulder
held you as you spoke
your voice vibrating
as you leaned against me
remembering this
and your finger tapping
my bare knee
to emphasize a point
but most of all
in that dusky room
the back of your head
as you bent to catch
the distant words
caught my heart
as the love
with which I make
this sunset chain

rear jacket, showing more of the magnificent Japanese lacquer work

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