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

Gorky Spat

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.” Dostoyevsky

Under my suburban childhood –
then my laesie apprenticeships –
and away at my vacant universities
I openly embraced an older man –
Maxim Gorky – that Soviet rouser –
within a series of bent secondhand
Penguin Modern Classics – they said –
not knowing – not then – how Alexei’s
rabid hatred of all homosexuality
reduced him to another party fool –
whining of despair (re: Dostoyevsky)
He lived a rich man’s lie in old books

The Chair

My fumbled-for decision of whether
to sit in my reading chair with my back
to my slow-to-rotting bay windows
took rare time to work out –
to atone

Do you face out –
sit there on show?
Or settle –
reversed to that view
with a low sun on any held book

But then not ideal for bright screens

So besort my riposte in that still-hunt

Only read off unpowered paper –
take bright retreats –
stay offline –
turn your chair from poking eyes –
write unplugged from all devices –
and leave biscuit crumbs
on well-thumbed pages

My chair can swivel

Two Masterclasses

A.A. rebuked me –
Do not use ‘I’ –
that first person singularity
it’s not yours to rhyme –

It’s of the oppressed –
their turned-to-word –
for taking control of
that which is owed –

And – A.A. then said –
There’s too much ‘the’ – too –
‘The’ is a word
which only dead poets
should use

But J.G. had reproved me –
a short while back –
The ‘the’
is missing –
it makes your poetry slack


Professor Seagull

Joe Gould’s swag bags of pearls
were only bags of bags of bags –
they were his carried-out emptiness
of the never-written writer’s words –

but he could speak seagull fluently –
having learnt the dockside language
of New York’s scavenging finest –
taking their shrill wind-scatterings –
setting them to his Cherokee stomps

His claim to have written such a vastness –
ten times longer than the Bible
and then to carry around such a thing –
was this vagrant’s bagged possession

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

This Builder

I am a too-quick builder –
one without the weight
of an elbowing canvas bag
of inherited tools –

Mine are not recognisable
as such – no textured grips
of moulded plastic
over cold-formed steel –

My way with these agencies
is by an ill-lightness
of slightest finger touches
on the tablet’s screen –

I chisel and cut without blows
until I slip – step back –
to see – and read – some
over-engineered words –

The curtain rail in our bedroom
dips unattended –
It no longer serves
any purpose

Workshop Lines

These words are also chiselled
but it is still an easier art
than his hammer and tilt

His eye is in the oak’s own grain
at cuts and gouges to open –
as my vowel sounds now close

This floor is a drift of cuttings –
those slimmed timber edits
out of which his art unfolds

My on-screen deletions
do not pile high in corners
but are only known to me