Issue 15: Todd Swift
Donald Davie, Collected Poems 1971-1983
A poem after reading a Donald Davie Carcanet collection
Severity to such things: 1971-1983
by way of tact
So 2015 - July 1.
HOTTEST DAY EVER RECORDED. HEATHROW
now what is moral, what
merely excess in language
has a place in this garden,
this garden in Dial M for Maida Vale.
Hot days crush roses. Here
we have examples of this.
Count four crushed, bruised, defeated
pink rose bushes, beaten as
This being time
and history being in time
just as this heat is in this garden;
so we must note Greece
defaulting. Broken by creditors.
IMF LACKIES. BERLIN EUROCRATS.
Pound would have a livid field day.
A famous Attic Light.
Reason, drama, art.
We were shaped by a Greece
we now break like ice.
The way we enmesh
ourselves in difficulties,
by custom, by design.
Language, financial controls, thought.
Shaped, and shaping, murkily
as if divers in blooded waters
collided; SHARK ATTACKS ON THE RISE.
In years, this will mean very little.
The bloom come off the resonance.
A serious book, the Davie,
but the purple cover image
is of cyclists on amusement rides.
An air of seaside provincialism
poems that ‘continue to address
the British readers’. Addresses
don't always reach persons
no longer residing there.
Lost property ensues. Broken
messages. I think of 1971-1983
as a quaint period now
of TV we rarely remember,
or do so with rising panic
finally recognising the illicit behaviour
at the core of British broadcasting culture
paid for by the British viewer.
SEX. DRUGS. ROCK N ROLL.
Time seems a trough between waves.
They batter some port; some beach;
indefinite because unclear the need
to specify that which has no import,
recedes as any rumour, or disproved lie.
It’s unclear the past has much value
if it needs protection from being lost;
what no longer adheres or pertains
remains limitless, like air, unloved
too, though, in its blithe evanescence;
the lyric protrudes like a riding accident;
one could record the exact
topographies, where once present;
where clouds gathered; precipitation
came and went, occurrence.
Topographies, values, levels of seabed
to hillside. The light that alters
the day and then again nothing,
as no day has precedence over any other
except for the visitor to that place.
Compare hawk to pigeon
in your outdated guidebook to
THE SHIRES. So many lives still
and quiet at this hour (five to seven
in the evening). Battles, museums
celebrating what barely happened
in retrospect; it all shimmers; is vague;
is a rumour, a whisper, a ghostly trace,
a closure and a moment of rain.
England, has been, going, for
awhile; the rose bush
tempered by the heat. Heat rising
mid-summer like a killing bird
among the quietude. A rustling
never ends, the styles or forms
of tree in leaf; money continues
to go about its vast estates.
In my English words, an I, a lord
no less, or more, of conquest.
A Greek tonight at Piraeus,
feels the disdain of elemental forces;
a combination of crushing power and distant
disdain. At times, Roman, or Chinese,
American, Russian, French, German
even British - out from central command
it rolls, a thunder that is heard
before the violence of the sky is created
to be seen and made sublime.
Politics as natural disaster -
no human nature can alter
or decide. Fate, empire, under the sea
in a tangle of monstrous properties;
red blooms from the wounds
of war, rolling to the shore.
The rose bush withers, regardless,
remotely spoken for,
or to, or by, power, a poetry
of reference, of studied indifference.
Baseless continuation of what will harm
or sow; the gardener’s tantrum
or sleep forgotten; the shears in sun
on the lawn, attractive.
REFERENDUM. To decide delays
only the moment, not the full sea's breakage.
Dive, with constraint, lucid
or chaotic and afraid; how one speaks
makes only the words different;
beneath the waves of heat or cold
the petals ruin equally. Force being true.
manned the abandoned forts
of the farthest plains
upon which the Emperor
had affixed his indifference
by swinging a dead pig
and blooding the map elsewhere.
So Egghart was alone
isolated in his prayer adventures
left to wander
crumbling parapets. Below, jackals
prepared to feast
on a priest. In his head,
heart and soul, Meister
Egghart sensed the beauty
of an entire other world
superimposed just to the right
of our world. In this bright
the jackals were golden retrievers
the Emperor a naked Venus
and these endless wastes
miles and miles of rain forest;
the fire in his groin
never ached; and the ass brayed
the purposeful catechisms of true love
each morning at cock-crow.
For my grandfather Stanley
He comes late in the day to the town
near the ancient bare hills,
Blue Bird Café, Christian bookshop,
Elgar statue, and estate agents.
No we cannot drive you to the viewings
because once a woman was killed
that way, meet us at the houses.
You must drive yourself. He doesn’t drive.
So he goes without any viewings
about no business there, in the darkening
air of January at four, because
he has no business among these people;
dawdles like a schoolboy in another
shop selling old books sold by the old.
Malvern is dying almost as the sun will,
in stages, first decline then later return.
To discover yourself wander among strangers,
or so he says when in doubt.
It’s all sad in a lonely widower way –
his walk back down the long hill
to the station branches endlessly; once
he stopped at a high stone wall, for
a Girl’s School, and felt great pressure
on his coat, as if a gale sought to throw
the man he appears to be up among
the silver birches, like a lost exotic bird.
Up in a room of books and music, none
of it of any interest to anyone living now,
he had found himself in a pew, praying
for the dead, as if they could ever know
his needs, which are few, but feel legion.
His needs, really, are sustainable,
and resolve down to an idea of love
formed in that endless long ago
where half the ones he loves are gone,
as if life was a ship always turning over
and letting the old people drown.
His need now was only for a driver to link
Malvern’s scattered houses hid among firs;
homes like strangers dispersing after a pause
to hover by the victim on the pooling corner.
No sea or violence here, in this Priory, this shadowed
village under a high bare hill, burnt cold yellow
in the disadvantaged light, lowering into a bath
of darkness, as if it held onto added railings for safety.
The old grow older, the high trees grow stranger,
the absence of any names he recognises
in the whole region make the wells and wildflowers
almost familiar in comparison, the walking trails,
as if he was only a visitor come for the waters
when Shaw might be holding forth with Waugh;
though his grandfather, he was reliably informed,
was born somewhere among these closed doors,
the locked embers of the sun turning off, away.
The sun is the ageing relation who dies one day,
but you remember them again in how you awake
to revisage yourself in a mirror they bequeathed
you in their contested will; but proven
finally to be valid. So it all comes across to you,
the last one of the line, the bare Swift in the bald
tree, broken by a fist of wind, a thrown stone,
small now and flapping with fading ingenuity,
stiffening under the combing fingers of last lights.
No one visits dying birds to offer them last rites,
they wither in anonymity, as icicles pass on
their tendencies to go to another state, ungrieved.
Most of nature swells and spasms uncalled for,
unproclaimed, these hills and their spawn
throb with a kingdom unbannered. It all praises
itself instead, has to look inwards, reclaims
a sense of being birthplace and grave in one
returning circuit, a walk you could do in an hour,
on foot, following the waymarkers, faces
that do not flash with appreciation or recognition –
you are him, and he is entirely abandoned here,
might as well be from another county, or year;
almost that century before the last one, go on
back into the musty folds of half-eaten mothy trim.
It’s just being on your own, widowed at eventide,
when the lightship flounders on night rocks.
English has been Germanic in structure
for more than a thousand years, comforting,
though the glaciers that melted on this plain
were tens of thousands older; the water has nothing
in it. This is what makes it good said the doctor
who sold the town to the world; absence,
he discovers, losing his way many more times
slowly, is a reminder of goodness. How peace
and silence try to speak our tongue, and fail
nobly. The evening hums with a thought it has
no mode to express, as if locked behind the windows
of the second-hand clothing shops for charities –
for the starving, the prisoners, the cancerous –
we give used things away to what we don’t want
to ever be. We lock up what we offer when night
reminds us we are sleeping creatures, at last.
Malvern shuffles to other lighted spaces inside
and the wandering without neighbours,
homeless if only because unhomed, unaddressed,
has no locksmith to open up the evening,
the facades become facades after all. Open
places close, even the Christians lock up
their chocolate cake, which was stale.
At the station the London train sits for hours
and no one comes to board. It is like a play
that failed. Not a dream only, but also a dream,
this unstaged tableau has the momentous
incidents of a less important fantasy, ages
even as it sinks into being a schedule forgotten
to occur; a book without pages; the printer
out of ink and all the settings smashed by a king
who hates to be spoken to by words.
It has a false truce feel to it, a true false truce,
holding a lost love gone back to being found,
in the way that flowers are in and out
of the ground, the way our names carry us
out of our homelands and townships, up
across seas, to places with other names,
and suddenly being called once, by mother,
father, brother, sister, would add range
to the solar fling, silver the paling edges of light;
but no one calls out your name now, not allowed
in case someone might die in the risk
of stepping out to a lost self, identity
has slipped here into the wells and shadows.
No beauty is greater than going about
without purpose, locating a new rental
in the broken down fields, stones where Swifts
once fled and hid among the waterless stars,
in which, not being water, everything is,
our names, our new needs, and the dead,
who will give us a call, and whistle to train
the conductor to send the engines rolling
down gale-force tracks all the way to London.
What We Knew and When
Ah though we saw the world’s fastest man
we shall not be fast
though we read so many books we felt
like paper and thoughts
we are not paper and won’t be thought
when we run slowly
over the line that is not book
or track; and when we shared a rose
to compare the scent you had
to the one I had, we knew
neither of us would have such perfume
when we slowly ran into the ground
of brooks and lime and black inky soil.
And when we rooted out
our old photographs of being wed,
you all in white, I in magician’s black
we counted the guests who were already
dead, not for any lack
on their part, of trying to be otherwise
but just because, as we knew
it did not matter one jot or iota or pin drop
at all at all whatsoever
what we had done or drawn or sang or sewn
or dashed or browned or blued or blown
or ripped or bruised or danced or tongued
or ranged or banged or singed or soiled;
all our toils and when you bothered me
by cleaning my ears out with a pen,
as if my skull was a dirty poem
you wanted to harvest for something
with a nib; we knew, all along, darling
didn’t we, as we drew lots
and made lists and paid off debts
(for what, for who, like an owl)
it was all more than vain, it was weak;
it was flimsy, it was a few
seconds of running faster than fast
then eons lying fast in a pine box
where no one talks
about what we never couldn’t do
which is go elsewhere better above
such pinions and disappointing news;
we had wanted to park our horses
in a higher, sunnier Mews.
Todd Swift is British-Canadian. He is the Director of Eyewear Publishing. His PhD is from UEA and focuses on style in modern British poetry of the 1940s. His latest collection is The Ministry of Emergency Situations: Selected Poems from Marick Press, USA (2014). His poems have appeared in Poetry (Chicago), Poetry London, Poetry Review, The Moth and Blackbox Manifold, among others. He is married and lives in London.