Commissions

To live at all is a miracle enough – Mervyn Peake

He wasn’t a signwriter by trade –
These dabblers have other uses
A wartime false commission
to inscribe – For Officers Only

on lavatory doors was sufficient
for Mr Peake to steal drawn hours
and cross-hatch his written lines –
to give rise to Lord Titus Groan –

to see an Earl born under Arundel –
for Mr Peake to guide Steerpike
to towering observation points
below matched scowled brows –

before our artist set his slow eye
among Belsen’s drawn atrocities –
before his mind was drained –
Mr Peake was a miracle enough

A Dead Lover In Marrakech

L. RIP

Let me push a pin
through your ignored Torah
and hear you read every
mounted page about your
butterfly death

You will not

Let us escape from shuls
with my love-foolish help –
you as another migrant –
you beautiful Jews are artists
too with guilty divisions

My choice

of this avenue with no shade
It is scooter-and-horn split
from Miaara’s left dead
Let me bury myself in you
instead

If you must

What Flies Above

Thank you, KP

We were sent down by a tipped sign
along a flint-chipped footpath
on Seaford Head’s composed arc

where we were done – smothered –
along with other unwary invitees –
by crowning flights of insects

which stuck to spitting tongues
and set knots in our tousled hair
Another small equalling by nature

We could only escape that plague
of on-the-wing silent irritants
by upping our uneasy walking pace

Then driven salvation from behind
And a car’s slammed-door
for our shutting out of flying ants

We were ferried down – in his Subaru –
by our grinning artist on his return
to a gentler swarm at that Cable Hut

Below Victoria

For J

A loosened thought
was unexpectedly set adrift

like a sea-wetted sandal
sucked into whisked white foam

off foolish seventh wave treaders –
those salt-splashed day trippers –

as my viewfinder caught you blown
and turning to me – iso-fixed

in my camera as it framed that
installation under which you stood

You as my suddenly important art
buffeted upright below an artist’s

weather-required turned response
My portrait of beauty in Brighton

Pinned

Her long-rooted shyness
stopped her donning angel ways
in Israel – on an Arab feast day –

but it nudged my shading
behaviour – so I took to flight
supplied by Yochai Matos –

to soar over Jaffa’s coast
and land after my exodus
from clippings in England –

ask Yochai if he offers his span
for touch-downs or for lift-offs
or just for Instagram groundings

Not stuff for my wandering mind
pinned by light and blue wings –
my weight blew away

seant mareis ovv safvhmptn

Mye eezal warz nawt
desynd
t b carid sholda hie
+
nawt espeshli throo v rare-d liat
distrikt ov bernin brite
bollbs een windas
+
Mii wiv vis
craws ovv jeesus uun mye
sarw sholda
+
sum propa arrrteests
splatz ov draied peynts
adid t mye sholdard wayt
+
mye myned wandard
wivv sudin urjjjees
fa company ov eh woomin
+
yehs ov cors
un arrrteest paezs
fa wimin t laye naykid
+
fa imm t luk kloze arp
baat
arrrt is mie urjjj
+
nort secks
wivv owt luvvv
wynck wynck

The Naval Architect

My eyes roll on a direct path
to my right hand – they always have –
ever since Dad primed my sight
to command made out lines

from a lightly held pen – or pencil –
across unforgiving drawing paper
for hours of inked-in absorption
and detailing – a hatched addiction

His small blue police notebooks
received judges’ commendations
for his architect’s uppercase script
and capture by diagrams of details

A ship’s profile was our introduction
with fore and aft guns and funnels
and his low voice-over was part
of my art class at our kitchen table

I make my living with that degree
passed by his mastery of capture
I am drawn from my father’s centre –
also without any qualification

An Exhibition in London

‘I paused feeling exhausted and leaned on the fence…
My friends walked on and I stood there trembling with anxiety’.
Edvard Munch

There is a new exhibition
We should go
but Edvard’s far away church
and distorted pier will be unreachable
in my time of heightened anxiety

She had me put my own hands
to my head to mute her yawps
as her tirades lined the air –
set parallel under nature’s law

A coil of white flesh rolled back –
all of an inch – as deep as the edge
of steel that had lifted my skin
My wrist did not bleed – not at first
There are my insides
said in my as-child voice
And then the bloom exploded

That scar is a faded masterpiece
from my repository of old times
of innocence by slowness –
before this acceleration of fear
coiled me up in her homely asylum

We will travel up to London Bridge
on another day
and move through huge galleries
and then find a coffee shop
where we can sit without speaking

Of the Future

They took a hammer to Marx
It’s just another monument
nothing to get excited about
unlike that time Churchill’s
striding high cast of bronze
was fitted a turf wig which
sullied a great Englishman
who meant so very much
to those of lost empires
Do not mention his passing
resemblance to Mussolini
Two men of equal significance
but one man left disfigured
by cowards’ repeated strikes
by tool and boot upon his face

The Ascension – St.Martin in the Bull Ring

Before that art-by-light –
a conceit of Burne-Jones
which is framed within lead –

before the builders’ thrums
from the other side of
that tall story of saints –

commissioned under strict
instruction that it should
bear no oxen –

it was possible to feel
the touch of his brushwork –
of his mixing of skin colours

to be lent them by dipped winter
backlight – as it was designed –
to feel dried paint on my face –

those pigments rear-projected
into a warm kiss of soft gobos –
then my own-ish ascension

into an understanding of being –
under that church’s vaulted height –
My creed warmed – half-confirmed

within that minute of grace –
of time’s fusion of experience
and of being there


 

Early Morning at Abbey Mills, c.1928

In memory of Elwin Hawthorne

It must be an early summer
recollection
with the sun so high
on tin roof contours –
before the gauze and filter
of veiled vapours –
settled by less-puddled
watercolours –

The torn foreshore
is a bared cross-section
of London’s tidal visits –
sunken Roman traits –
that wallow of empires’
drowning of ways –
which were then re-built
for the Industrial Age

Paid

Bend to the paid work in hand
and watch your hours fall away
as if they are pearls spilt off string –
those drops off your tilted head
under the fast-running shower –
in the hour before you commute –
until those sped beads are nothing –
And do not ever – ever – attempt
to be a true artist unless squared –
unless you are recompensed
for the selfish hours given to art’s
endeavour – it was Van Gogh’s failing –
not putting money first

Little Georgian Antiques

Arrows still fly at Battle – spiritual ones ..
against Anglo-Saxon self-satisfaction* –
as if The Bengal Colonel had then leapt
from the stretched canvas into Ninfield –
and prowled around the village green

set to devour their war-won remains –
that pyrrhic victory over downed fascists
who were set by the Sussex gravediggers
Look inside its mouth to find meaning
said Grace – to anyone who would listen

to her – and Richard – and Reuben – they drew
from the post-war rationals against hate
and conjoured up creatures and shapes –
As if Terry Gilliam had sucked the oily teat
of these artists’ bared brushes of surreal
extractions –

as if colour and lines were not rationed
and all of Picasso’s art was lost to Bexhill
And I see Scarfe and Steadman in the ink
of cross-hatch – etched so hard it scratches
the paper into furrows of staining –
the future will be saved from the past by art

(*Reuben Mednikoff)

Egon

Schiele’s quickened passing
at twenty-eight years of age –
just days after his wife’s death
and his pillow-propped sketch
of her looking back into him –

was more shocking to you
than his egregious
unfurling of women –
than his use of cadaver colours –
than his fists of cherry red knuckles
and brush-heightened nipples
in rude ochre brightness

His death scene was art –
like his eroticised life
where his place in it
was at the centre of sex
which he kept in twists of love –

of girls in their pulled-up stockings –
lifted tight – but not as high as
their dog-dark fleeces
on their ridged pubis regions –
which they pointed at – and into –
with their gnarled finger touches –

There above the not-quite contrite
cock-spaced curves – which he sculpted
in paint over yet another stretched canvas –
there in the air between their swayed thighs –

there lay those air-kissing sex-salted lips –
all his undressings pre-dating porn’s
artless forms –
there to feed others’ sexual pleasures –
those of the greedy male collectors

The Street Artist

Across the radiator-hot pavement
is his greatest work – ever
under the gawp of holiday kids
and the blind-sided motorists

They will not know how much
the snapping sticks of chalk
weighed in his eye-in-hand –
even on such days of sunlight

The pain in the painting is his
to hold – briefly – in his quick grip –
to get the artwork down and out
before it is worn away by use

Pablo

I wasn’t looking for Picasso
but I found him – seated –
whilst my Spanish was poor
his English was gilded

Please – Monsieur Picasso
Call me Pablo – he gestured
at the world and her wife –
Could I ask you one question?

He looked me up and down –
sized for a suit – or a kiss?
Maybe eyeing my fixed shape
for his oiled redress?

Was it – ‘Inspiration will come,
but it must find you working?’
Or – ‘Inspiration exists,
but it has to find us working?’

His eyes were hard marbles –
set polished and buffed –
I was stroked by his gaze –
those eyes were his touch

which re-set the truth
which now took me down –
Realmente importa?
A smile then a frown

He loosed a curled dove –
his brush was speaking –
‘Inspiration exists –
but it has to find you working’

A Place to Sit

His round carver’s mallet
rung out vibrations
and workbench chimes
as he forced his chisel
into the oak

Other redundant tools
hung
shelved
and sung with the whack and saw

We talked about art and ecology
and how they could combine
as he formed his perfect edges
against nature’s aged grain

He was crafting a bench
one commissioned to sit
in Alfriston’s book store

No plans or dimensions to hand
because this was true art

We compared the unwritten notes
of our marriage dissertations
and found that such study
provides no long term rewards