1. The cover. Which is not to say I have anything against the bird, which I
think is a pelican and it’s quite beautiful. But as covers of books of poetry
go, the only one I can think of at the moment that begins to compare is that
one of Gillian Clarke’s where a pig stares out from behind a metal gate.
2. This is for spring and hail, that you may remember:
for a boy long ago, and a pony that could fly.
(from “Spring Hail”)3
3. My father, widowed, fifty-six years old,
sits washing his feet.4
(from “Evening Alone at Bunyah”)
4. AN ABSOLUTELY ORDINARY RAINBOW5
5. as, camped under tin like rabbiters in death’s gully,
they stemmed the endless weather of grey men and steel
and, first of all armies, stormed into great fields.
(from “Lament for the Country Soldiers”)6
6. I go into the earth near the feed shed for thousands of years.7
(from “Thinking About Aboriginal Land Rights,
I Visit the Farm I Will Not Inherit”)
7. Beanstalks, in any breeze, are a slack church parade8
(from “The Broad Bean Sermon”)
8. hens peck glimmerings and uptilt
their heads to shape the quickness down9
(from “Rainwater Tank”)
9. Nests of golden porridge10
10. Dense undergrowths that were always underbrush
expand in the light, beside bulldozers’
imprinted machine-gun belts of spoor.11
(from “The Forest Hit By Modern Use”)
11. THE QUALITY OF SPRAWL12
12. The neither state of Neverwhere
is hard to place as near or far
since all things that didn’t take place are there
and things that have lost the place they took:
Herr Hitler’s buildings, King James’ cigar,
the happiness of Armenia,
the Abelard children, the Manchus’ return
are there with the Pictish Grammar Book.
(from “The Chimes of Neverwhere”)13
13. It is time perhaps to cherish the culture of shorts,
to moderate grim vigour
with the knobble of bare knees14
(from “The Dream of Wearing Shorts Forever”)
14. Hearing loss? Yes, loss is what we hear
who are starting to go deaf. Loss
trails a lot of weird puns in its wake, viz.
Dad’s a real prism of the Left –
you’d like me to repeat that?
(“Hearing Impairment” complete)15
15. A poem, compared with an arrayed religion,
may be like a soldier’s one short marriage night
to die and live by. But that is small religion.
Full religion is the large poem in loving repetition;
like any poem, it must be inexhaustible and complete
with turns where we ask Now why did the poet do that?16
(from “Poetry and Religion”)
16. Whether other hands reached out to Marion, or didn’t,
at nineteen in her training ward she had a fatal accident
alone, at night, they said, with a lethal injection17
(from “Burning Want”)
17. Sleeping-bagged in a duplex wing18
(from “Bats’ Ultrasound”)
18. The knob found in his head19
was duck-egg size.
(from “The Last Hellos”)
19. I could not sit, or lie down,
or stand, in Casualty.
Stomach-calming clay caked my lips,
I turned yellow as the moon
and slid inside a CAT-scan wheel
in a hospital where I met no-one
so much was my liver now my dire
(from “Travels with John Hunter”)
(from the last page of poems in the book)
1. I would like to say at this point that I am naturally uneasy about saying so
bluntly that you
should not read this book. This didactic “not” is, of course, dangerous territory
for any reviewer.
But I’m not that uneasy.
2. Andy Brown’s “25 Reasons To Read Tom Raworth”, which recently appeared on the
Stride site, is
one of the best reviews I’ve read for ages. Seriously. Brilliant stuff. I’ve
unreservedly ripped off
his idea, but I called a halt to the proceedings at 20 instead of 25, because
I was getting fed
up. Let’s face it, pulling 25 quotes out of Tom Raworth is fun and invigorating.
I had Les
Murray! And I’ve appended these notes. I was kind of hoping the quotes would
themselves, but then I couldn’t resist adding my occasional two penn’orth.
3. From an imaginary “Rules of Poetry”: you were a kid. You had a pony. Don’t write
a poem about
4. These are the first lines of the poem. An old man is washing his feet. That’s
as far as I want to
5. By which I mean, the whole poem.
6. This is an antiwar poem, I think. And you can’t really disagree with the sentiments.
War is bad:
all those grey men storming into great fields.
7. If only.
8. No they’re not. But I don’t want you to think I am wholly against metaphor.
Metaphor can be
good. Really, it can.
9. Les Murray, man of the people, he turns up to read his poems in a cap with his
books in a
plastic bag, and he writes this shit.
10. T hese are the first four words of the poem. “Porridge” describes the entire poem.
11. There is a term for this kind of poetic language, where to use the image of
the machine gun
weighs so heavily and so obviously. I’m not sure what the term is. Probably
there are several.
But it’s the kind of poetry that is good for essays in school, for one thing.
And garners nods of
approval from those for whom, let’s face it, this is what poetry is.
12. I think people think this poem is very important in Les Murray’s poetry career.
He has a book of
essays of the same title, so they might be right. Whatever.
13. I hate this poem. I am beyond explaining.
14. Need I explain?
15. Need I?
16. If the poet really believes this, how come this book contains so many poems
that fail to meet
such high standards?
17. I’m sorry, but I laughed when I read this.
18. Another example provoking the question “Did you know that some people think
this is what
19. There’s an easy joke to be made here, but I’m resisting it.
20. I’m a reasonably intelligent man. Let me out of here!
21. This little number, the page number, sits lonely at the bottom of the last page
of poems. You
then get an index of first lines and an index of titles that takes it up to
576. The book is about
an inch and a half thick and in the right hands and wielded correctly it’s heavy
enough to stun
an ox. Or a poet.22
22. Coincidentally, the day after I finished (or thought I had finished) this (for
want of a better
word) review, I bumped into my friend Jez on the way home from work and, over
a glass of
wine, our conversation landed, as it often does, on poetry. And somehow or other,
I’m not sure
how, Les Murray’s name came up. I expect it was because he was fresh in my mind,
dragged him in to make some kind of point about something or other. Jez immediately
that he really liked Les Murray, and in particular the poem “Driving Through
which, it turns out, he more or less always has somewhere about his person,
among all the
other bits of paper he carries around. Jez said he thinks this is a cracking
poem, evoking as it
does quite brilliantly the world of, well, sawmill towns. Back woods. Edge of
the world life.
That kind of thing. I’m sort of paraphrasing him, because I can’t remember his
exact words. But
it’s roughly right. Anyway, I’d not read this particular poem, and said I would,
as soon as I got
home. Two days later, I did. In the 5th line of the poem, a “windscreen parts the forest”, and
from that point on I was lost. Later, near the end, you get this:
Sometimes a woman, sweeping her front step,
or a plain young wife at a tankstand fetching water
in a metal bucket will turn round and gaze
at the mountains in wonderment,
looking for a city.
and I realised, not for the first time, that I really hate poems that do this
kind of thing. It’s
like walking around Kwik-Save and looking at some girl with three kids in tow
Wow, she’s wishing she was footloose and fancy free and in Sainsbury’s. And
then going home
and putting her in a poem because you’re so wise and “a poet”.
© Martin Stannard 2003