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sisters & sparrows

Poetry. Photography. Life.

Jonathan Bate (a legend) gave our John Clare lecture today.  Clare was a peasant poet, very little educated, but with a brilliant talent.  He loved his small patch of countryside in Northamptonshire and rarely ventured outside it, so his poetry has a sense of being strongly rooted in place.  He was really experimental with traditional forms, a lot of his work is really structurally interesting.  He kept publishing until he went mad in the 1890s at which point he was clapped up in an asylum by his publisher and his wife, until his death.  He had some bizarre delusions.  He thought he was Byron.  He thought he had two wives.  He thought he was Nelson as well.

Still, he was a really great poet.

I have finished (maybe) my City poem.

It’s called London.  Not very original.

The city churns into the skyline

Scattering starlings

With its raging towers, its black glass.

Its dark foundations

In the shivering underground

Are unstable,

Stretched tangled under the floodplain

Buried dank and hot under miles of rock.

But —In places the city spools

Coolly into glimpses of silence

Where white buildings harbour philosophies

Against flood and fire.

There, aching bodies snatch

Moments of rest.

Still the roads everywhere

The circuses, gardens, strands and streets

Encircling, throttling, hurtling out and beyond

Lined with roaring traffic

And a great human groan of desperation.

A billion souls litter this place.

Money money money. Some buildings

Scream it, their blank glass pulsing with money

The business men pouring

Into their devouring mouths –

The clicking of their shoes says money.

And some places destitute screaming

A different kind of money – a plea this time

Or new kind of holy,

Sanctified by smoke and crack cocaine.

In crumbling doorways

The righteous young women with five babies.

It is a place of wonder.  This city.

Back to back the howling cabs.

The druggies yowling hunched on benches

And ambitious women sobbing in public bathrooms

The hunched black backs of the commuters

Forming a moving mass, a Roman

Defence against poverty and the elements,

The glittering street performers,

The hippies, punks and peace protesters,

The tattoo parlours

The million types of food

And the dark spires and the river.


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