Discovered by listening to a BBC Radio 4 documentary by Jarvis Cocker on the album John Betjeman’s Banana Blush. The music by Jim Parker is remarkable, and Betjeman’s rhythm and intonation a joy.

//

Keep me from Thelma’s sister Pearl!
She puts my senses in a whirl,
Weakens my knees and keeps me waiting
Until my heart stops palpitating.

The debs may turn disdainful backs
On Pearl’s uncouth mechanic slacks,
And outraged see the fire that lies
And smoulders in her long-lashed eyes.

Have the such weather-freckled features,
The smooth sophisticated creatures?
Ah, not to them such limbs belong,
Such animal movements sure and strong.

Such arms to take a man and press
In agricultural caress
His head to hers, and hold him there
Deep buried in her chestnut hair.

God shrive me from this morning lust
For supple farm girls, if you must,
Send the cold daughter of an earl –
But spare me Thelma’s sister Pearl!

//

In searching for the words to the poem, I found them on a James May fan blog – truly a bizarre corner of the internet I never thought I would visit.

Marrying left your maiden name disused.
Its five light sounds no longer mean your face,
Your voice, and all your variants of grace;
For since you were so thankfully confused
By law with someone else, you cannot be
Semantically the same as that young beauty:
It was of her that these two words were used.

Now it’s a phrase applicable to no one,
Lying just where you left it, scattered through
Old lists, old programmes, a school prize or two,
Packets of letters tied with tartan ribbon –
Then is it scentless, weightless, strengthless, wholly
Untruthful? Try whispering it slowly.
No, it means you. Or, since you’re past and gone,

It means what we feel now about you then:
How beautiful you were, and near, and young,
So vivid, you might still be there among
Those first few days, unfingermarked again.
So your old name shelters our faithfulness,
Instead of losing shape and meaning less
With your depreciating luggage laden.

//

The inspiration for the poem is apparently Winifred Dawson, who died last year.

[Read in Collected Poems by Philip Larkin, published by Faber & Faber]

It was not a heart, beating,
That muted boom, that clangor
Far off, not blood in the ears
Drumming up and fever

To impose on the evening.
The noise came from outside:
A metal detonating
Native, evidently, to

These stilled suburbs: nobody
Startled at it, though the sound
Shook the ground with its pounding.
It took a root at my coming

Till the thudding source, exposed,
Counfounded in wept guesswork:
Framed in windows of Main Street’s
Silver factory, immense

Hammers hoisted, wheels turning,
Stalled, let fall their vertical
Tonnage of metal and wood;
Stunned in marrow. Men in white

Undershirts circled, tending
Without stop those greased machines,
Tending, without stop, the blunt
Indefatigable fact.

[Read in Collected Poems, published by Faber & Faber.]

Remember me when I am dead
and simplify me when I’m dead.

As the processes of earth
strip off the colour of the skin:
take the brown hair and blue eye

and leave me simpler than at birth,
when hairless I came howling in
as the moon entered the cold sky.

Of my skeleton perhaps,
so stripped, a learned man will say
“He was of such a type and intelligence,” no more.

Thus when in a year collapse
particular memories, you may
deduce, from the long pain I bore

the opinions I held, who was my foe
and what I left, even my appearance
but incidents will be no guide.

Time’s wrong-way telescope will show
a minute man ten years hence
and by distance simplified.

Through that lens see if I seem
substance or nothing: of the world
deserving mention or charitable oblivion,

not by momentary spleen
or love into decision hurled,
leisurely arrive at an opinion.

Remember me when I am dead
and simplify me when I’m dead.

[Read in The Complete Poems, published by Faber & Faber. Ripped from allpoetry.com]

Ask Me, by William Stafford

24 November 2014

Doing my ironing this evening I listened to a BBC Radio 4 documentary on William Stafford, a poet I had never previously heard of. He wrote a poem every day for over 50 years – over 20,000 in total. That’s a resolution that far outstrips the one at the genesis of this blog, to read a poem every day – which while keeping up much longer than its original year, is now also long lapsed.

This is one of his poems, featured in the documentary.

//

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

[Ripped from http://www.poemhunter.com/best-poems/william-stafford/ask-me/]

William Kherbek published a collection this autumn entirely on YouTube, called Ephemera. This is one of the 45 poems: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLWeOYWoin4

Before the age condemned such joint ablutions
you dip your hands in the tepid water
as the geese come in low across the lake
landing on their shadows, becoming their wake,
breaking apart the imago they seemed to chase.
So you break this tension, shattering your own reflections.
There is a complicity in getting clean together
who knows what distances you travelled in your sleep,
drawn back towards one another,
and the secrets that those distances will keep.
Each movement fluid and practised in the winter air,
you revel in this intimate act, not quite each other’s double.
You mime the mannerisms of others lives
like brother and sister; I mean, man and wife.

//

This is another poem from O’Riordan’s series ‘Home’ – see ‘Candle Moulds’ below. The subject is still a well-known item in Belgium, adding to the desirability of any property. This makes the first line stand out strangely to me – an interesting example of how every poem starts with its own preconceptions.

[Read in In the Flesh, published by Chatto Poetry.]