In the run-up to Christmas I’m doing what the MSM does round about this time of year. We’ve got some brilliant guest poets to look forward, and also a new venue for the Puzzle Poets Live in Sowerby Bridge, and just so our guests don’t vanish among all the distractions of shopping and wrapping, I’m going to post poems from all this year’s guests. Think of it as a daily Christmas card. And have a very happy Christmas.
from January 2018
A year ago I drove over the M62 to Liverpool for the launch of Coast to coast to coast 2, at the Open Eye Gallery on the waterfront near the Pier head. It was a lovely cold night, and I’d forgotten how nice it is to walk, all wrapped up, through mainly deserted spaces like the Albert Dock, and to enjoy light on water. It was like being a student in the 60s again. The world bright, new-minted.
It was a splendid launch, with poets from all over, and one of those readings where I heard lots of poets for the first time. Charles Lauder Jr., Robin Houghton and a poem with opening lines that jumped out at me from the page..a poem by Ken Evans
“(where no DNA, prints or dental records exist, jewellery helps identification)
What survives is love, and jewellery –”
And here’s the poem that caught my eye and ear at that December book launch.
(where no DNA, prints or dental records exist, jewellery helps identification)
What survives is love, and jewellery –
a Deposit Box in a tower-basement,
hennaed by heat, gold and sapphire, ruby,
diamonds burnished to a glitter,
scorched from their settings to outshine
their blackened fixtures.
Limbs, so firm and clasped in life,
burn lightly as a willow-branch, browning
leaves, a wick of fat beneath.
Flames dance upon our face, eyes.
The ring on a finger is an emissary
from a thin wrist of skin and time,
shrunken to a flare of alchemy,
distilled to what remains, the opaque,
a flaming geometry.
Our fire-licked embrace cannot shake
the faithful sleep of a Pompeiian dog,
the Viking amethyst, sunk in taiga,
that heaven, crackling, thirty floors above
our heads, brought down upon
the precious, and our semi-precious
Two things struck me straight away. The first was the texture of the writing, the consonants, the near rhymes that tie it together. It sings out to be read aloud. The second was the unblinking way it opens by borrowing from Larkin, and then subverting my expectations by substituting ‘jewellery’ for ‘love’. And the odd juxtaposition of ‘tower’ and ‘basement’. It all jumped off the page at me. And then I was taken by the notion that gems may have as much provenance as DNA is establishing our identity. It’s an idea that bothers, like grit in a shoe.
The fourth stanza is unnerving in the way it sets up the body as fragile, pliant and flammable. I get an after image of an auto da fe. I have to say that I jumped to the conclusion that this was a Grenfell Tower poem. Ken told me that it predates Grenfell. But Grenfell becomes one more layer of meaning in a poem of layers and strata.