Barry Tebb |
At ten she came to me, three years ago,
There was ‘something between us’ even then;
Watching her write like Eliot every day,
Turn prose into haiku in ten minutes flat,
Write a poem in Greek three weeks from learning the alphabet;
Then translate it as ‘Sun on a tomb, gold place, small sacred horse’.
I never got over having her in the room, though
Every day she was impossible in a new way,
Stamping her foot like a naughty Enid Blyton child,
Shouting "Poets don’t do arithmetic!"
Or drawing caricatures of me in her book.
Then there were the ‘moments of vision’, her eyes
Dissolving the blank walls and made-up faces,
Genius painfully going through her paces,
The skull she drew, the withered chrysanthemum
And scarlet rose, ‘Descensus averno’, like Virgil,
Now three years later, in nylons and tight skirt,
She returns from grammar school to make a chaos of my room;
Plaiting a rose in her hair, I remember the words of her poem -
‘For love is wrong/in word, in deed/But you will be mine’
And now her promise to come the last two days of term,
"But not tell them", the diamond bomb exploding
In her eyes, the key left ‘Accidentally’ on my desk
And the faint surprise.
Barry Tebb |
Quarter to three: I wake again at the hour of his birth
Thirty years ago and now he paces corridors of dark
In nightmares of self-condemnation where random thoughts
Besiege his fevered imagination – England’s
Imminent destruction, his own, the world’s…
Sixty to eighty cigarettes a day, unavailing depot injections,
Failed abscondings, failed everything: Eton and Balliol
Hold no sway on ward one, nor even being
‘A six language master,’ on PICU madness is the only qualification.
There was the ‘shaving incident’ at school, which
Made him ready to walk out at fifteen, the alcohol
Defences at Oxford which shut us out then petered out
During the six years in India, studying Bengali at Shantiniketan.
He tottered from the plane, penniless and unshaven,
To hide away in the seediest bedsit Beeston could boast
Where night turned to day and vaguely he applied
For jobs as clerk and court usher and drank in pubs with yobs.
When the crisis came – "I feel my head coming off my body’ –
I was ready and unready, making the necessary calls
To get a bed, to keep him on the ward, to visit and reassure
Us both that some way out could be found.
The ‘Care Home’ was the next disaster, trying to cure
Schizophrenia with sticking plaster: "We don’t want
Carers’ input, we call patients ‘residents’ and insist on chores
Not medication", then the letters of terrible abuse, the finding of a flat,
‘The discharge into the community.
His ‘keyworker’ was the keyworker from hell: the more
Isaiah’s care fell apart the more she encouraged
Him to blame us and ‘Make his life his own’, vital signs
Of decline ignored or consigned to files, ‘confidentiality’ reigned supreme.
Insidiously the way back to the ward unveiled
Over painful months, the self-neglect, the inappropriate remarks
In pubs, the neglected perforated eardrum, keeping
Company with his feckless cousins between their bouts in prison.
The pointless team meetings he was patted through,
My abrupt dismissal as carer at the keyworker’s instigation,
The admission we knew nothing of, the abscondings we were told of
And had to sort out, then the phone call from the ASW.
"We are about to section your son for six months, have you
Any comment?" Then the final absconding to London
From a fifteen minute break on PICU, to face his brother’s
Drunken abuse, the police were kindness itself as they drove him to the secure unit.
Two nurses came by taxi from Leeds the next day to collect him
The Newsam Centre’s like a hotel – Informality and first class treatment
Behind the locked doors he freezes before and whispers
"Daddy, I was damned in hell but now I am God’s friend.
Note: PICU- Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit
Beeston- An inner city area of Leeds
ASW- Approved Social Worker
Barry Tebb |
Sorry, Neil Oram (with an orange in my pocket)
I can’t make ,your loch-side commune by bonny Drummadrochit.
Sorry Brenda Williams, I can’t share your park bench protest near the Royal Free
At sixty I need a fire and slippers, -4 outside just isn’t me.
Sorry, Chris Torrance, I can’t make your Welsh eyrie
Just spelling Gymmercher Isaf Pontneathvaughan quite fazes me.
Sorry, Seamus Famous, your hide away in Dublin Bay
No doubt is bloody grand but I can’t face the journey to a far off foreign land.
Sorry James Kirkup, your Andorran niche
Is just too complicated for me to ever reach.
Apologies especially to Emily Bronte’s ghost -
You are the mostest hostess that I could ever boast
Your heather moor and cobbled street’s allure
Are something I’ve put off until the braw New Year.
More great poems below...
Barry Tebb |
(or ‘Huddersfield the Second Poetry Capital of England Re-visited’)
What was it Janice Simmons said to me as James lay dying in Ireland?
“Phone Peter Pegnall in Leeds, an ex-pupil of Jimmy’s.
A benefit reading, he’d love to hear from you and have your help.
‘Like hell he would’ I thought but I phoned him all the same
At his converted farmhouse at Barswill, a Lecturer in Creative Writing
At the uni.
But what’s he written, I wondered, apart from his CV?
“Well I am organising a reading but only for the big people, you understand,
Hardman, Harrison, Doughty, Duhig, Basher O’Brien, you know the kind,
The ones that count, the ones I owe my job to.
We nattered on and on until by way of adieu I read the final couplet
Of my Goodbye poem, the lines about ‘One Leeds Jimmy who could fix the world’s.
Duhigs once and for all/Write them into the ground and still have a hundred
Lyrics in his quiver.
Pete Stifled a cough which dipped into a gurgle and sank into a mire
Of strangulated affect which almost became a convulsion until finally
He shrieked, “I have to go, the cat’s under the Christmas tree, ripping
Open all the presents, the central heating boiler’s on the blink,
The house is on fucking fire!”
So I was left with the offer of being raffle-ticket tout as a special favour,
Some recompense for giving over two entire newsletters to Jimmy’s work:
The words of the letter before his stroke still burned.
“I don’t know why
They omitted me, Armitage and Harrison were my best mates once.
You and I
A whole year’s silence until the card with its cryptic message
‘Jimmy’s recovering slowly but better than expected’.
I never heard from Pegnall about the reading, the pamphlets he asked for
Whalebone, the fellow-tutor he commended, also stayed silent.
Had the event been cancelled? Happening to be in Huddersfield on Good Friday
I staggered up three flights of stone steps in the Byram Arcade to the Poetry Business
Where, next to the ‘closed’ sign an out-of-date poster announced the reading in Leeds
At a date long gone.
I peered through the slats at empty desks, at brimming racks of books,
At overflowing bin-bags and the yellowing poster.
Desperately I tried to remember
What Janice had said.
“We were sat up in bed, planning to take the children
For a walk when Jimmy stopped looking at me, the pupils of his eyes rolled sideways,
His head lolled and he keeled over.
The title of the reading was from Jimmy’s best collection
‘With Energy To Burn’
with energy to burn.
Barry Tebb |
I was never a film buff, give me Widmark and Wayne any day
Saturday matin?es with Margaret Gardener still hold sway
As my memory veers backwards this temperate Boxing Day-
Westerns and war films and a blurred Maigret,
Coupled with a worn-out sixties Penguin Mallarm?-
How about that mix for a character trait?
Try as I may I can’t get my head round the manifold virtues
Of Geraldine Monk or either Riley
Poetry has to have a meaning, not just patterns on a page,
Vertical words and snips of scores just make me rage.
Is Thom Gunn really the age-old sleaze-weasel Andrew Duncan says?
Is Tim Allen right to give Geraldine Monk an eleven page review?
At least they care for poetry to give their lives to it
As we do, too.
My syntax far from perfect, my writing illegible
But somehow I’ll get through, Bloodaxe and Carcourt
May jeer but an Indian printer’s busy with my ‘Collected’
And, Calcutta typesetters permitting, it will be out this year
With the red gold script of sari cloth on the spine
And fuck those dusty grey contemporary voices
Those verses will be mine.
Haslam’s a whole lot better but touchy as a prima donna
And couldn’t take it when I said he’d be a whole lot better
If he’d unloose his affects and let them scatter
I’m envious of his habitat, The Haworth Moors
Living there should be the inspiration of my old age
But being monophobic I can’t face the isolation
Or persuade my passionate friend to join me.
What urban experiences can improve
Upon a cottage life with my own muse!
Barry Tebb |
The Poetry School, The Poetry Book Society, The Poetry Business:
So much poetry about you’d think I’d want to shout, “Hurray, hurray,
Every day’s Poetry Day!” but I don’t and you don’t either-
You know its flim-flam on the ether, grants for Jack-the-lads
Of both sexes, poets who’ve never been seen in a little magazine
Then gone on to win the Oopla Prize and made baroque architecture
The subject of an O.
Seventy five pounds for a seminar on sensitivity in verse;
A hundred and fifty for an infinitely worse whole weekend of
‘Steps towards a personal fiction in post-modern diction’;
And the inevitable course anthology, eight pounds for eleven
Nameless poets Pascale Petit and Mimi Kahlvati carefully selected
From, well honestly! Who cares? God only knows how banal they’re
Bound to be.
Budding Roddy Lumsdens, (Has anyone read a Roddy
Poem?) “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” his first collection short-listed here and
The sheer hype’s enough to put me off for life.
I still write at bus-stops and avoid competitions like the plague.
I’m not lucky that way, I’ve still to win a single literary prize.
Is there one for every day of the year? And as for James Kirkup,
My mentor of forty-odd years, his name evokes blank stares; but
Look him up in ‘Who’s Who’, countless OUP collections, the best-
Version of Val?ry’s ‘Cimeti?re Marin’, translations from eleven
Is there nothing Jamie can do to please?
I help one poet to write and one to stay alive;
Please God help poor poets thrive.
Barry Tebb |
As soon as we crossed into Yorkshire
Hughes’ voice assailed me, unmistakable
Gravel and honey, a raw celebration of rain
Like a tattered lacework window;
Black glisten on roof slates,
Tarmac turned to shining ice,
Blusters of naked wind whipping
The wavelets of shifting water
To imaginary floating islets
On the turbulent river
Glumly he asked, "Where are the mills?"
Knowing their goneness in his lonely heart.
"Where are the mines with their turning spokes,
Lurking slag heaps, bolts of coal split with
Shimmering fools’ gold tumbling into waiting wagons?
Mostly what I came for was a last glimpse
Of the rock hanging over my cot, that towering
Sheerness fifty fathoms high screed with ferns
And failing tree roots, crumbling footholds
And dour smile.
A monument needs to be known
For what it is, not a tourist slot or geological stratum
But the dark mentor loosing wolf’s bane
At my sleeping head.
When the coach lurches over the county boundary,
If not Hughes’ voice then Heaney’s or Hill’s
Ringing like miners’ boots flinging sparks
From the flagstones, piercing the lens of winter,
Jutting like tongues of crooked rock
Lapping a mossed slab, an altar outgrown,
Dumped when the trumpeting hosannas
Had finally riven the air of the valley.
And I, myself, what did I make of it?
The voices coming into my head
Welcoming kin, alive or dead, my eyes
Jerking to the roadside magpie,
Its white tail-bar doing a hop, skip and jump.
Barry Tebb |
There was a hope for poetry in the sixties
And for education and society, teachers free
To do as they wanted: I could and did teach
Poetry and art all day and little else -
That was my way.
I threw rainbows against the classroom walls,
Gold and silver dragons in the corridors and
Halls; the children’s eyes were full of stars;
I taught the alphabet in Greek and spoke of
Peace and war in Vietnam, of birth and sex and
Death and immortality - the essences of lyric poetry;
Richards and Ogden on ‘The Meaning of Meaning’,
Schopenhauer on sadness, Nietzsche and Lawrence on
Civilisation and Plato on the Theory of Forms;
I read aloud ‘The Rainbow’ and the children drew
The waterfall with Gudrun bathing, I showed
Them Gauguin and Fra Angelico in gold and a film
On painting from life, and the nude girls
It was the Sixties -
Art was life and life was art and in the
Staff-room we talked of poetry and politics
And passionately I argued with John.
Psychologist, on Freud and Jung; Anne, at forty
One, wanted to be sterilised and amazingly asked
My advice but that was how it was then: Dianne
Went off to join weekly rep at Brighton, Dave
Clark had given up law to teach a ‘D’ stream in the
I was more lucky and had the brightest
Children - Sheila Pritchard my genius child-poet with
Her roguish eye and high bright voice, drawing skulls
In Avernus and burning white chrysanthemums, teasing me
With her long legs and gold salmon-flecked eyes.
It was a surprise when I made it into Penguin Books;
Michael Horovitz busy then as now and madly idealistic
As me; getting ready for the Albert Hall jamboree,
The rainbow bomb of peace and poetry.
Barry Tebb |
The years become you as Oxford becomes you,
As you became Oxford through the protest years;
From Magdalen’s grey gargoyles to its bridge in May,
From the cement buttresses of Wellington Square
To Balliol, Balliol in the rain.
The years become you as the Abbey Road becomes you,
As you became that road through silent years,
From the famous crossing to the stunted bridge
Caparisoned with carnivals of children,
Cohorts of coloured clowns and Father Christmases.
The years become you as the Clothworkers’ Hall in gold
Became you, and you became it through the protest years,
When the Brotherton’s Portland stone, its white stone
Of innocence was snow in the School of English garden,
‘A living sculpture’, a Grene Knicht awaiting spring.
The years become you, Oxford, Leeds and London,
As you became them through the years of poems,
Through passing, silent crowds, through the cherry blossom
You sat under, plucked and ploughed, ‘a dissenting voice’,
And Balliol, Balliol in the rain.
Barry Tebb |
I was a good father to my people,
Their houses among the terraced hills
Adored God every day, grape-clusters on the vines
Made Christ’s blood richer in the goblet
My father gave me: the chased silver had vines
Round the stem and Cellini made it,
‘Let him take it to Rome’, he had said,
‘The Pope will adore it.
’ The backs of my people
Bent as I held it aloft with the Host,
The silver blazed in our eyes like the sun,
Their lips were cracked as they sipped
The delicate wine, the crook of my finger already
Held the ring of a Bishop but I would not go;
‘When the harvest is over’, I said, let me bless
The gathered grapes, I love to watch the purple juice
Flowing from under their feet and the feast after.
But my father called, I left my people
With a sot who embarrassed the Bishop.
I was not long in my see, two Popes died quickly
And my father’s whispers never ceased, Rome called
And I was Cardinal at last.
It is hot, fever-ridden,
No-one dare speak for the ears of spies;
I toss at night in my high room through my window
The villa’d hills, my private chapel has the goblet,
I hear my people starved in a famine,
Their harvest blighted for three years.
Barry Tebb |
You always disrupt me;
When I ring you for comfort
You wing me, send my
Pudding of a mind
A-splatter on the wall.
You chase me to bed even,
You bawl your lewd reminders
Down aching avenues of dreams
To shudder me awake.
And then at last you’ll fake
Your promises and take
Some simpler way, battening
On the eggs you’ll hatch
Warmly some tea-cosy day.
All this, you’ll say, was
Merely adolescence, not
The real unpoked you,
Tittupping in high heels
And cellophaned to view.
Barry Tebb |
We were three weeks
Into term, Sheila,
When you came
Through the classroom door;
Bent over books,
‘The Lost Son’.
You wrote your
First poem on the ‘Moses’
Words cut like stone.
I taught you Greek
But your painting of
‘The Essence of the Rose’
Was pure Platonic form.
You drew the masks
Of Comedy and Tragedy
In perfect harmony.
Having seen neither;
So Socrates was right.
Those who have the Spirit’s gift
Will one day find the light.
Barry Tebb |
“Remember, you loved me, when we were young, one day”
The words of the song in Tauber’s mellifluous tenor
Haunt my nights and days, make me tremble when I hear
Your voice on the phone, sadden me when I can’t make into your smile
The pucker of your lips, the gleam in your eye.
The day we met is with me still, you asked directions
And on the way we chatted.
You told me how you’d left
Lancashire for Leeds, went to the same TC as me, even liked poetry
Both were looking for an ‘interesting evening class’
Instead we found each other.
You took me back for tea to the flat in Headingley
You shared with two other girls.
The class in Moortown
Was a disaster.
Walking home in the rain I put my arm
Around you and you did not resist, we shared your umbrella
Then we kissed.
I liked the taste of your lips, the tingle of your fingertips,
Your mild perfume.
When a sudden gust blew your umbrella inside out
We sheltered underneath a cobbled arch, a rainy arch, a rainbow arch.
“I’m sorry”, you said about nothing in particular, perhaps the class
Gone wrong, the weather, I’ll never know but there were tears in your eyes
But perhaps it was just the rain.
We kissed again and I felt
Your soft breasts and smelt the hair on your neck and I was lost to you
And you to me perhaps, I’ll never know.
We went to plays, I read my poems aloud in quiet places,
I met your mother and you met mine.
We quarrelled over stupid things.
When my best friend seduced you I blamed him and envied him
And tried to console you when you cried a whole day through.
The next weekend I had the flu and insisted you came to look after me
In my newly-rented bungalow.
Out of the blue I said, “What you did for him
You can do for me”.
It was not the way our first and only love-making
Should have been, you guilty and regretful, me resentful and not tender.
When I woke I saw you in the half-light naked, curled and innocent
I truly loved you If I’d proposed you might have agreed, I’ll never know.
A month later you were pregnant and I was not the father.
I wanted to help you with the baby, wanted you to stay with me
So I could look after you and be there for the birth but your mind
Was set elsewhere end I was too immature to understand or care.
When I saw you again you had Sarah and I had Brenda, my wife-to-be;
Three decades of nightmare ahead with neither of our ‘adult children’
Quite right, both drink to excess and have been on wards.
Nor has your life been a total success, full-time teaching till you retired
Then Victim Support: where’s that sharp mind, that laughter and that passion?
And what have I to show?
A few pamphlets, a small ‘Selected’, a single good review.
Sat in South Kensington on the way to the Institut I wrote this,
Too frightened even to phone you.
Barry Tebb |
Too much gone wrong –
No Muse, no song.
Barry Tebb |
You buy my freedom with your love.
With every book you catalogue or stamp
My imagination hacks a strand from the hawser
That for three years has held it
In the grubbing estuary of mud and time.
Your early waking with tired eyes
And late return at evening, all
Contribute to the store of images
I love you for: the irony being
Your job is worse than mine
Your talent more.
I do not understand myself, the time, or you.
I cannot comprehend our love, shot through
Like flying silk with flashes of gold light
And the tattered backcloth of suffering.
Each night I remember our meeting;
My hair ‘like iron wire’, the grey dust
In the air of my house, the exact place
On the carpet where I kissed you
And how we talked on and on,
Too much in love for love,
Until the night was gone.
We acted out our love
By nearly going mad,
Gave up the jobs we had
To take a cottage on the moors
At less than garage rent.
For food we learned to pledge our dreams
And found, too late, the world redeems
What it had lent.
By night the world unpicked
The dream we wove by day,
Each dawn we woke to find
The stitching come away.
Two creatures from a bestiary
Besieged our dream:
A neighbour’s one-eyed cat
That prowled outside to bring
Its witch-like owner
With her tapping stick.
Was the Bach we played too loud for her deaf ears,
Or was it our love that howled her silence home?
We have re-built that house
We have sculptured that dream