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 |
(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!
More great poems below...
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 |
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
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 |
Empty chocolate boxes, a pillowcase with an orange at the bottom,
Nuts and tinsel with its idiosyncratic rustle and brilliant sheen
And the reflection in it of paper-chains hand-made and stuck with
Flour-paste stretching from the light-bowl to every corner of the room.
Father Christmas himself was plastic and his vast stomach painted red
With a bulging sack behind his back and he was stuck in the middle
Of a very large cake.
The icing was royal and you could see the
Whites of many eggs in the glister of its surface and on the
Upright piano the music of Jingle Bells lay open.
With aching hands I wrote thank you notes for socks to sainted aunts
And played on Nutwood Common with Rupert until Tiger Lily’s father,
The Great Conjuror, waved his wand and brought me home to the last
Coal fire in Leeds, suddenly dying.
I got through a whole packet of sweet cigarettes with pink tips
Dipped in cochineal and a whole quarter of sherbet lemons at a sitting
And there was a full bottle of Portello to go at, the colour
Of violet ink and tasting of night air and threepenny bits
Which lasted until the last gas-lamp in Leeds went out.
I had collected enough cardboard milk-tops to make a set of
Matchstick spinners and with my box of Rainbow Chalks drew circles
On my top, red, white and Festival of Britain blue and made it spin
All the way to the last bin-yard in Leeds while they pulled it down.
I was a very small teddy-bear crouched on a huge and broken chair
Ready to be put out into the wide world and my mother was there
To see me off.
The light in her eyes was out, there was no fire
In her heart and the binyard where I played was empty space.
Barry Tebb |
It is time after thirty years
We had our Poetry Renaissance
Rise, Children of Albion, rise!
It is time after nightmares of sleep
When we walked the streets of inner cities
Our poems among the burnt-out houses
And cars, whispering compassion
To the addicts shaking and the homeless
Waking and those who have come apart
In the nowhere of today
Begging in stations
Sleeping in boxes.
It is time to find
Our lost, those children
I taught three decades ago
To paint on ceilings
With sticks of incense
Rainbows of silence
For John Cage
To write on walls
In luminous paint
For Allen Ginsberg.
It is time to awaken and emblazon the sky
With symphonies of sorrow,
To draft the articles of war.
Poets of the Underground
The doors have opened
The ghost of Walt Whitman
Grey-bearded, in lonely anguish
Walks with us.
Barry Tebb |
For Jeremy Reed
Rejection doesn’t lead me to dejection
But to inspiration via irritation
Or at least to a bit of naughty new year wit-
Oh isn’t it a shame my poetry’s not tame
Like Rupert’s or Jay’s - I never could
Get into their STRIDE just to much pride
To lick the arses of the poetry-of-earthers
Or the sad lady who runs KATABASIS from the back
Of a bike, gets shouted at by rude parkies
And writing huffy poems to prove it.
Oh to be acceptable and
IN THE POETRY REVIEW
Like Lavinia or Jo
With double spreads
And a glossy colour photo
Instead I’m stuck in a bus queue at Morden
London’s meridian point of zero imagination
Actually it’s a bit like ACUMEN with the Oxleys
Boasting about their 150,000 annual submissions-
If what they print’s the best God help the rest.
At least my Christmas post had - instead of a card
From Jeremy Reed - his ELEGY FOR DAVID GASCOYNE -
The best poem I’ve had by post in forty years
And Jeremy’s best to date in my estimate -
The English APOLLINAIRE - your ZONE, your SONG
OF THE BADLY LOVED - sitting in a cafe in South End Green
I send you this poem, Jeremy, sight unseen,
A new year’s gift to you, pushing through
To star galaxies still unmapped and to you, BW,
Sonneteer of silence, huddled in the fourth month
Of your outdoor vigil, measuring in blood, tears and rain
Your syllable count in hour-glass of pain.
Barry Tebb |
I never did fit in – at six or sixty one –
I stand out in a crowd, too young or old
And gather pity like a shroud.
"Is that real silk?"
A teenager inquired.
"As real as Oxfam ever is
For one pound fifty.
" The vast ballroom was growing misty
And blurred with alcohol I’ve never had the taste for.
"Fuck off" a forty-plus dyed blonde said half in jest.
So I chose the only Asian girl in Squares with hair like jet
And danced with her five minutes centre stage –
I’ve lost all inhibitions in old age.
A Malaysian architecture
Student invited me to sit and get my breath back
"Le Corbusier described a house as a machine for living in,"
I quipped; she slipped a smile and sipped her drink and said
"I love Leeds and its people; in seven years I’ve never
Heard a single racist comment, whatever the papers say"
Malaysian girls are rightly known for their sensual beauty
But I made my pitiful excuses and slipped away.
I knew I couldn’t make it, couldn’t even fake it
With all this damned depression in the way.
Leeds boys are always friendlier than the girls,
They see themselves grown older in my years
And push the girls towards me with a glance
"Go and give the poor old man a dance!"
And dance I do and show my poems around
Like calling cards and jot lines on my palms.
Reading Lacan into the night I thought things through
But somehow none of them was half as good as you.
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.
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 |
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 |
Too much gone wrong –
No Muse, no song.
Barry Tebb |
What ghosts haunt
These streets of perpetual night?
Riverbanks fractured with splinters of glass condominiums
For nouveam riche merchant bankers
Black-tied bouncers man clubland glitz casinos
Novotel, Valley Park Motel, the Hilton:
Hot tubs, saunas, swim spas, en suite
Satellite TV, conference rooms, disco dinners.
I knew Len, the tubby taxi man
With his retirement dreams of visiting
The world’s great galleries:
‘Titian, Leonardo, Goya,
I’ve lived all my life in the house I was born in
All my life I’ve saved for this trip’
The same house he was done to death in
Tortured by three fourteen year olds,
Made headlines for one night, another
Murder to add to Beeston’s five this year.
Yorkshire Forward advertises nation-wide
The north’s attractions for business expansion
Nothing fits together any more
Addicts in doorways trying to score
The new Porsches and the new poor
Air-conditioned thirty-foot limos, fibre-optic lit,
Uniformed chauffeurs fully trained in close protection
And anti-hijack techniques, simply the best –
See for yourself in mirrored ceilings.
See for yourself the screaming youth
Soaring psychotic one Sunday afternoon
Staggering round the new coach station
"I’ll beat him to death the day I see him next"
Fifty yards away Millgarth police station’s
Fifty foot banner proclaims ‘Let’s fight crime together’
I am no poet for this age
I cannot drain nostalgia from my blood