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 |
Give me life at its most garish
Friday night in the Square, pink sequins dazzle
And dance on clubbers bare to the midriff
Young men in crisp shirts and pressed pants
‘Dress code smart’ gyrate to ‘Sex Bomb, Sex Bomb’
And sing along its lyrics to the throng of which I’m one
My shorts, shoulder bag and white beard
Making me stand out in the teeming swarm
Of teens and twenties this foetid Friday night
On my way from the ward where our son paces
And fulminates I throw myself into the drowning
Tide of Friday to be rescued by sheer normality.
The mill girl with her mates asks anxiously
"Are you on your own? Come and join us
What’s your name?" Age has driven my shyness away
As I join the crowd beneath the turning purple screens
Bannered ‘****** lasts for ever’ and sip unending
Halves of bitter, as I circulate among the crowd,
Being complete in itself and out for a good night out,
A relief from factory, shop floor and market stall
Running from the reality of the ward where my son
Pounds the ledge with his fist and seems out to blast
My very existence with words like bullets.
The need to anaesthetise the pain resurfaces
Again and again.
In Leeds City Square where
Pugin’s church, the Black Prince and the Central Post Office
In its Edwardian grandeur are startled by the arching spumes
Or white water fountains and the steel barricades of Novotel
Rise from the ruins of a sixties office block.
I hurry past and join Boar Lane’s Friday crew
From Keighley and Dewsbury’s mills, hesitating
At the thought of being told I’m past my
Sell-by-date and turned away by the West Indian
Bouncers, black-suited and city-council badged
Who checked my bag but smiled at ‘The Lights of
Leeds’ and ‘Poets of Our Time’ tucked away as carefully as condoms-
Was it guns or drugs they were after
I wondered as I crossed the bare boards to the bar.
I stayed near the fruit machine which no-one played,
Where the crowd was thickest, the noise drowned out the pain
‘Sex Bomb, Sex Bomb’ the chorus rang
The girls joined in but the young men knew
The words no more than me.
Dancing as we knew it
In the sixties has gone, you do your own thing
And follow the beat, hampered by my bag
I just kept going, letting the music and the crowd
Hold me, my camera eye moving in search, in search…
What I’m searching for I don’t know
Searching’s a way of life that has to grow
"All of us who are patients here are searchers after truth"
My son kept saying, his legs shaking from the side effects
Of God-knows- what, pacing the tiny ward kitchen cum smoking room,
Denouncing his ‘illegal section’ and ‘poisonous medication’
To an audience of one.
The prospect of TV, Seroxat and Diazepan fazed me:
I was beyond unravelling Meltzer on differentiation
Of self and object or Rosine Josef Perelberg on ‘Dreaming and Thinking’
Or even the simpler ‘Rise and Crisis of Psychoanalysis in the United States’
So I went out with West Yorkshire on a Friday night.
Nothing dramatic happened; perhaps I’m a little too used
To acute wards or worse where chairs fly across rooms,
Windows disintegrate and double doors are triple locked
And every nurse carries a white panic button and black pager
To pinpoint the moment’s crisis.
Normality was a bit of adrenaline,
A wild therapy that drew me in, sanity had won the night.
"Are you on your own, love? Come and join us"
People kept asking if I was alright and why
I had that damned great shoulder bag.
I was introduced
To three young men about to tie the knot, a handsome lothario
In his midforties winked at me constantly,
Dancing with practised ease with sixteen year olds
Who all seemed to know him and determined to show him.
Three hours passed in as many minutes and then the crowds
Disappeared to catch the last bus home.
The young aren’t
As black as they are painted, one I danced with reminded me
Of how Margaret would have been at sixteen
With straw gold hair Yeats would have immortalised.
People seemed to guess I was haunted by an inner demon
I’d tried to leave in the raftered lofts of City Square
But failed to.
Girls from sixteen to twenty six kept grabbing me
And making me dance and I found my teenage inhibitions
Gone at sixty-one and wildly gyrated to ‘Sex Bomb, Sex Bomb’
Egged on by the throng by the fruit machine and continuous
Thumbs-up signs from passing men.
I had to forgo
A cheerful group of Aussies were intent on taking me clubbing
"I’d get killed or turned into a pumpkin
If I get home after midnight" I quipped to their delight
But being there had somehow put things right.
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 |
For Brenda Williams
La lune diminue; divin septembre.
Divine September the moon wanes.
Pierre Jean Jouve
Themes for poems and the detritus of dreams coalesce:
This is one September I shall not forget.
The grammar-school caretaker always had the boards re-blacked
And the floors waxed, but I never shone.
The stripes of the red and black blazer
You could never see things that way:
Your home had broken windows to the street.
You had the mortification of lice in your hair
While I had the choice of Brylcreem or orange pomade.
Four children, an alcoholic father and
An Irish immigrant mother.
I did not make it like Alan Bennett,
Who still sends funny postcards
About our Leeds childhood.
Of your’s, you could never speak
And found my nostalgia
Forgetting your glasses for the eleven plus,
No money for the uniform for the pass at thirteen.
It wasn’t - as I imagined - shame that kept you from telling
But fear of the consequences for your mother
Had you sobbed the night’s terrors
Of your father’s drunken homecomings,
Your mother sat with the door open
In all weathers while you, the oldest,
Waited with her, perhaps
Something might have been done.
He never missed a day’s work digging graves,
Boasting he could do a six-footer
Single-handed in two hours flat.
That hackneyed phrase
‘He drank all his wages’
Doesn’t convey his nightly rages
The flow of obscenities about menstruation
While the three younger ones were in bed
And you waited with your mother
To walk the streets of Seacroft.
“Your father murdered your mother”
As Auntie Margaret said,
Should a witness
Your mother’s growing cancer went diagnosed, but unremarked
Until the final days
She was too busy auxiliary nursing
Or working in the Lakeside Caf?.
It was her wages that put bread and jam
And baked beans into your stomachs.
Her final hospitalisation
Was the arena for your father’s last rage
Her fare interfering with the night’s drinking;
He fought in the Burma Campaign but won no medals.
Some kind of psychiatric discharge- ‘paranoia’
Lurked in his papers.
The madness went undiagnosed
Until his sixtieth birthday.
You never let me meet him
Even after our divorce.
In the end you took me on a visit with the children.
A neat flat with photographs of grandchildren,
Stacks of wood for the stove, washing hung precisely
In the kitchen, a Sunday suit in the wardrobe.
An unwrinkling of smiles, the hard handshake
Of work-roughened hands.
One night he smashed up the tidy flat.
The TV screen was powder
The clock ticked on the neat lawn
‘Murder in Seacroft Hospital’
Emblazoned on the kitchen wall.
I went with you and your sister in her car to Roundhay Wing.
Your sister had to leave for work or sleep
You had to back to meet the children from school.
For Ward 42 it wasn’t an especially difficult admission.
My first lesson: I shut one set of firedoors while the charge nurse
Bolted the other but after five minutes his revolt
Was over and he signed the paper.
The nurse on nights had a sociology degree
And an interest in borderline schizophrenia.
After lightsout we chatted about Kohut and Kernberg
And Melanie Klein.
Your father was occasionally truculent,
Barricading himself in on one home leave.
Nothing out of the way
For a case of that kind.
The old ladies on the estate sighed,
Single men were very scarce.
Always a gentleman, tipping
His cap to the ladies.
There seems to be objections in the family to poetry
Or at least to the kind that actually speaks
And fails to lie down quietly on command.
Yours seems to have set mine alight-
I must get something right.
Barry Tebb |
Dear Eddie we’ve not met
Except upon the written page
And at your age the wonder
Is that you write at all
When so many have gone under
Or been split asunder by narcissistic humours
Blunder following blunder
Barker and Graham, godfathering my verse
Bearing me cloud-handed to Haworth moor
From my chained metropolitan moorings,
O hyaline March morning with Leeds
At its thrusting best, the thirsty beasts
Of night quenched as the furnaces
Of Hunslet where Hudswell Clarke’s locos
Rust in their skeletal sheds, rails skewed
To graveyards platforms and now instead
Skyscrapers circle the city, cranes, aeroplanes,
Electric trains but even they cannot hinder
Branches bursting with semen
Seraphic cloud sanctuaries shunting
Us homeward to the beckoning moors.
Leeds voices soothe the turbulence
‘Ey’ ‘sithee’ and ‘love’, lastingly lilt
From cradle to grave, from backstreet
On the social, our son, beat his way
To Eton, Balliol, to Calcatta’s Shantiniketan
And all the way back to a locked ward.
While I in the meantime fondly fiddled
With rhyme and unreason, publishing pamphlets
And Leeds Poetry Weekly while under the bane
Of his tragic illness, poet and mother,
You were driven from pillar to post
By the taunting yobbery of your family
And the crass insensitivity of wild therapy
To the smoking dark of despair,
Locked in your flat in the Abbey Road
With seven cats and poetry.
O stop and strop your bladed darkness
On the rock of ages while plangent tollings
Mock your cradled rockings, knock by knock.
In these doom-laden days
You are steady as a pilot nursing tired ships homeward
Through churning seas
Where grey gulls scream
Forlornly and for ever.
I am the red-neck,
Shifting sheer rock
To rape the ore of poetry’s plunder
Or bulldozing trees to glean mines of silver
While you sail serenely onward
Ever the diplomat’s daughter
Toujours de la politesse.
Daisy, dearest of all, safest
And kindest, watcher and warner
Of chaotic corners looming
Round poetry’s boomerang bends
I owe you most a letter
While you are here beside me
Patient as a miller waiting on wind
To drive the great sails
When the muse takes over
I am snatched from order and duty
Blowing routine into a riot of going
And coming, blind, backwards, tip
Over ****, sea waves crashing in suburbia,
Saturnalia in Sutton, headlines of mad poet
Striding naked over moors, roaring
"I am here I am waiting".
Niagaras of letters on pink sheets
In sheaths of silver envelopes
I open your missives
Like undressing a girl in my teens
Undoing the flap like a recalcitrant
Bra strap, the letters stiff as nipples
While I stroke the creviced folds
Of amber and mauve and lick
As I stick stamps like the ********
Of a reluctant virgin, urgent for
Defloration and the pulse of ******.
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.
"**** 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 |
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 |
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