FOR JAMES SIMMONS
Sitting in outpatients
With my own minor ills
Dawn’s depression lifts
To the lilt of amitryptilene,
A double dose for a day’s journey
To a distant ward.
The word was out that Simmons
Had died eighteen months after
An aneurism at sixty seven.
The meeting he proposed in his second letter
Could never happen: a few days later
A Christmas card in Gaelic - Nollaig Shona -
Then silence, an unbearable chasm
Of wondering if I’d inadvertently offended.
A year later a second card explained the silence:
I joined the queue of mourners:
It was August when I saw the Guardian obituary
Behind glass in the Poetry Library.
How astonishing the colour photo,
The mane of white hair,
The proud mien, the wry smile,
Perfect for a bust by Epstein
Or Gaudier Brjeska a century earlier.
I stood by the shelves
Leafing through your books
With their worn covers,
Remarking the paucity
Of recent borrowings
And the ommisions
From the anthologies.
“I’m a bit out of fashion
But still bringing out books
Armitage didn’t put me in at all
The egregarious Silkin
Tried to get off with my wife -
May he rest in peace.
I can’t remember what angered me
About Geoffrey Hill, quite funny
In a nervous, melancholic way,
A mask you wouldn’t get behind.
Harrison and I were close for years
But it sort of faded when he wrote
He wanted to hear no more
Of my personal life.
I went to his reading in Galway
Where he walked in his cosy regalia
Crossed the length of the bar
To embrace me, manic about the necessity
Of doing big shows in the Balkans.
I taught him all he knows, says aging poet!
And he’s forgotten the best bits,
He knows my work, how quickly
vanity will undo a man.
Tom Blackburn was Gregory Fellow
In my day, a bit mad
But a good and kind poet.
I read your last book
The Company of Children,
You sent me to review -
Your best by so far
It seemed an angel
Had stolen your pen -
The solitary aging singer
Whispering his last song.