Archive for the ‘poetry’ Category


seventies heartthrob
David Soul — look at him now
barely able to
walk — so old, so old — more like
a wizened tree than a man

I don’t really have much to add to this by way of explanation. Dreaming of the name Soul must certainly have been suggested by the chapter of the book I’m reading by Charles Nicholl called The Chemical Theatre. It’s about the influence of 16th century contemporary alchemical publications upon the imaginations and writings of Shakespeare, Jonson and Donne. I was reading about Donne yesterday, with examples from his poetry. There was much talk of souls.

The theme of old age — or at any rate late middle age — i.e. the age I am now — cropped up yesterday in the course of my delivering a testimony of lived experience of paranoia as part of my job. I succeeded quite well, better than usual when I do these talks, in getting across the general shape of my life (as it appears to me), as being largely a story of homelessness and mental illness with just a little coda of the most recent ten years spent being ‘normal’ with a job and a relationship. My audience, during questions, kindly asked me how difficult must it have been to adjust to the ways of society at such a late age.

Arising out of my blog two days ago about Stendhal, I was reflecting that he died aged 59, the age I am now. Shakespeare and Beethoven both died in their late fifties too (actually Shakespeare was 52). In that sense, I am an old man.


Correctives by Don Paterson


The shudder in my son’s left hand
he cures with one touch from his right,
two fingertips laid feather-light
to still his pen. He understands

the whole man must be his own brother
for no man is himself alone;
though some of us have never known
the one hand’s kindness to the other.


Don Paterson (I gather) comes high on the scale of poets revered by other poets. For some reason I never quite warm to him completely, but nevertheless time and again find myself stunned by how good he is. As with this poem which I came across by accident this morning. It seems relevant to my prayer, as well as the one last week about self-kindness.

‘Moonrise’ by D.H. Lawrence

I subscribe to a daily email from the Academy of American Poets. Weekdays I get a contemporary poem; weekends, a poem from someone dead. This one by D.H.Lawrence was completely new to me, and reminded me what a special fluency for down-to-earth mysticism this man had. Please click here to view the poem, which is called Moonrise. Also below.


And who has seen the moon, who has not seen
Her rise from out the chamber of the deep,
Flushed and grand and naked, as from the chamber
Of finished bridegroom, seen her rise and throw
Confession of delight upon the wave,
Littering the waves with her own superscription
Of bliss, till all her lambent beauty shakes towards us
Spread out and known at last, and we are sure
That beauty is a thing beyond the grave,
That perfect, bright experience never falls
To nothingness, and time will dim the moon
Sooner than our full consummation here
In this odd life will tarnish or pass away.


Jung’s psychology,
like a Rembrandt self-portrait
presents one man as
the world — who am I? — and why?
— answers on a postcard, please

This morning I remembered a couple of fragments of dream. Quibbling about which of two psychoanalysts was older: one was 90 and the other was 100. Recapturing the exact sensation of wonderment, thrill and poignancy associated with William Walton’s music for Henry V, written for the Laurence Olivier film in 1944, which I saw in the cinema when I was very young and didn’t understand much of it. But later in childhood, I discovered my father’s 78rpm records of the music, and managed to transfer it onto tape. I am very fond indeed of Howard Jacobson’s column for the Independent and Saturday morning usually finds me reading his weekly article online. Given the fervent patriotism of Henry V, I discovered a synchronicity in his latest offering this morning: a topical issue connected with the St George’s flag. So patriotism and group psychology (same thing?) was the starting point for my poem. But, thinking about the phrase ‘group psychology’ I lapsed into an old rut of thought about the phrase ‘Jung’s psychology’. My first ever introduction to Jung’s psychology at the age of fifteen was a book called funnily enough An Introduction to Jung’s Psychology. The picture of Jung on the cover had an enormous impact. After a few years, I noticed the potential for a play on words. ‘Jung’s psychology’ could mean something more along the lines of ‘rat psychology’ or ‘group psychology’. Not so much the study of the mind by Jung, as the study of Jung by the mind. Same thing of course, but I often used to wonder if the ambiguity was intentional. τετέλεσται is the original New Testament Greek for ‘It is finished’.

questions for the microcosm

why do we matter?
— and what if we don’t? — am I
the source of my own
caring? — how to fathom my
infinite unfeelingness?

Dream images included that of a school bully — a figure from real life in 1970 who had been a close friend, but who became slightly power drunk when he began developing muscles aged thirteen. Yesterday I chanced to bump into two different friends independently, from previous eras of my life. I’ve bumped into both of them before, but with both it was more difficult on this occasion. I have done better for myself than either of them, in terms of having a job and having a life partner whom I love. I guess I might appear to them a little like the school bully, as there is an element of denying the previous close friendship which went before.


she resented me —
for treating her like some kind
of “project”, she said
— if I were African I’d
feel that way about Geldof

This was something said to me in 2000 by someone who was a kind of platonic girlfriend for a few months. Her name was Sabita. The poem also refers to a TV debate I saw on the BBC ten days ago, where a Liberian lady called Robtel Neajai Pailey was arguing with Esther Ranzen about Bob Geldof’s latest effort to raise money for Africa. She was very convincing I thought. Began by acknowledging that Geldof’s motives were pure, but proceeeded to demolish the whole notion of Africa as needing charity when what Africa needs is for the WTO to cease certain policies designed to enrich the West at the expense of the poorer nations. Titus Alexander‘s book Unravelling Global Apartheid dealt with this kind of thing, back fifteen years ago. I’ve always found the word patronise to be very elusive as to its meaning. And have sometimes worried that this must mean I am patronising, myself, since it seems to be a blind spot. Looking for a title for this poem, I landed upon patron and thought I would look online for a definition. Turns out to derive from pater the Latin for father. And finally it all fell into place. In my dream last night I was acting very strangely. Falling in love on the spot, apparently for no other reason than because the girl in question had cancer and her hair had fallen out.


childhood is recent
— the womb a million years
ago — death is soon —
and it’s because I love you
that the present moment sings

I dreamed of some kind of concert organised by my sister who in real life is a singer. I was quite rude about her singing, and then felt guilty. The audience was congregating on a raised bank of earth, and I knew that my childhood model train set lay buried superficially just under our feet. Recovering it was complicated by major engineering works on this very spot involving the sinking of a shaft, miles deep. I ventured a glimpse down the shaft and was overcome with vertigo. The dream ended with myself and my mother walking uphill through some pleasant woods, with arms linked like a pair of lovers. The shaft in the earth, miles deep, had to be the womb. The pair of lovers being myself and my mother is of course difficult to deal with, awake. And online. But I’m quite pleased with the way this translates into a completely non-specific ‘I love you’ in the poem. The exact phrase Because I love you is also a throwback to a dream I had in the eighties, where I believed the Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya was accessing certain personal memories of my sex life, telepathically. That dream (I believed at the time) was a telepathic vehicle of compassion from her to me.