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Saturday, November 19, 2016

Work in Progress, or Mr Smacky Paw (Slight Return)

Whereas it might be urged that our progress, findings and pronouncements followed neither sequence nor method, the truth is arguably, given the right combination of arguer and arguments, of arguer and arguments and audience – is arguably quite other. Travel fatiguing us (there being few things we found less to our taste than travel), we debated, my associate and I, with our feline advisors (then lying between us), whether our purposes might not be as easily accomplished by going, not here, there or there, but nowhere; with due allowance made for rolling now this way, now that, as our cramps, bed sores, or our feline advisors’ whims dictated. As we debated, a shadow continued on its way from the far edge of a wardrobe to the near edge of the door. I remember being struck by this, to the point of wishing to make a note, and remembering my pencil had unfortunately rolled from the bed and onto the floor, onto the floor and under the bed, where it lodged just out of reach. Arising from my recumbent position to retrieve it I placed one foot before the other – so – prior to kneeling down, only to find my progress checked by the actions of Mr Smacky Paw, otherwise Percy the cat. I passed the bed-corner, very slowly fleeing, and smack! went his paw against my trouser leg. I took a step backwards, out of shock and the better to register what had just happened, and smack! it went again: smack! Now forwards again I went, attention divided between the rewards of the window and the experiment on which I found myself embarked, and smack! went the paw a third time. Fart!, went Sam, another of our feline advisors, looking on from the other end of the bed, fart! though not in a manner of suggestive of any causal connection between my advancing and retreating, Mr Smacky Paw’s reaction to this, and the release of a small quantity of gas into the bedroom air. Then just as the fart, this modest fart, by no means pungent or exceptionable, just as this fart had supplanted the smack in my mind, roll! went Jessica the cat in her median position on the bed between the two other cats, from this side to that, and back again from that side to this. But such was my state of rapt attention to Jessica’s roll, coming on top of Sam’s fart, coming on top of Percy’s smack, that standing there as I was, like a great big gawm, I found myself smacked all over again, for no crime at all, neither of forward nor or rearward motion: smack!, went Mr Smacky Paw, with perhaps enough force to concuss an infant dung beetle or ladybird, but causing me, to speak of me, the recipient after all of this blow, something closer to bemusement than annoyance, but interruption and inconvenience too, since but for the smack I would long since have retrieved my pencil, enjoying a momentary view from the window preparatory to my kneeling down, that too, a view of the field, its line of woods in the distance with sometimes a buzzard or two overhead, sometimes not, but still, a view, a genuine view, not this hell of trouser-tugging molestation with attendant farting and rolling and, can you believe it, while I was thinking all this, pfft!, went another Sam fart, and left-right, right-left!, went another Jessica roll. I retrieved my pencil and returned to bed, confirmed in my earlier suspicion of the madness, madness I say, of venturing abroad under these or indeed any conditions.

Sunday, August 21, 2016


after Jean du Chas

We are exploded!
Hellish contraption en route to Haydn’s creation
bearing me along on the bier of her thoughtstream

she tore off a snowwhite cockade from her Bourbon unmentionables
the Bari Madonna shedding her gewgaws by clockwork

who but a Khan would not affect pyjamas
knucklebones cracking like hailstones on the skylight?

a most inept catechumen
doffing his cap to a shooting star
a null place, a spacious naught
an inside fob pocket voice

cover your goitre, my scarlet armed rusty haired bovine
the goodwill of this lousy old earth is venery against thee
the laurel of unknowing on my distempered head
insensible in a deathstupor

I have – glory be – a competency
that oft posed question
a ptyx of bitterness
garrotte me with her garter
turgent bubs
promulgated by a sowgelder
oh mine, my own sweet bowels!

(I hereby atone for myself
I willed and pronounce it
my blighted ipsissimosity
semel et simulacrum
an antidote to all content)

what is this life but an Irish sea
I stiffly asseverate
melancholy as a leveret
a laden head & a leaden behind
the eunuchs as usual in the thick of the shenanigans

coil my law round thy tarsals
punctilious buck of a young gallant
the undevirginated young ladies in Holland glide on the ice

Sweeney on Eigg

dark sky
darker sands       to circum-
ambulate       the island sets
the compass points spinning      catches
the Massacre Cave      the standing stone
off-guard      they scamper ahead of me
to their places

gewgaws of       island
kingdoms      a necklace with no chain
a god’s dowry scattered      the water-
colourist’s palette       greens purples
browns       upended veining
the burns       sprouting
a rainbow from the tap

millstone of the centuries
turning       improvident demons
of cloud draw blood       from the peaks
the edge of the candlelight too       is jagged
my bothy’s welcome shall be defenceless
only the      boarded-up house
locks its door

select aperture
select brightness       and contrast
each morning       the neighbouring island
presses its face      to the window
each afternoon      the ferry lowers
its tongue       to the pier
a cow at a salt-lick

arrowheads of gull-
prints       fallen in showers
have been       discovered since
the last tide      excavations
continue      the sands’ archive
of forgetting       remembers all
my forgetting

storm-felled trees
our shelter      capsized hulls
by the pier      my life-raft
a curse blows me here       and drives
us hence      my birthright island
roots me       in earth my feet
have yet to touch

my bothy
has no mirror       the curse
is incomplete so long as       I cannot
see my face      a few poor whimpers
escape us       lose themselves
in what       the sand sings and
singsand       singsand

Friday, August 19, 2016

Verlaine: Ars Poetica

Death to the white-guy heteronormative
bourgeois lyric. It sinks and I soar.
Untune your MFA-schooled tin-eared
competence and give us an auld tune.

So you’re the English language: want to make
something of it? This isn’t afternoon tea
at the Savoy. As for what it all means
I’ll leave that to you, soft lad translator.

Hymn with me the joys of unknowing: your eyes
behind a Touareg’s veil; summers in Goole;
a cat’s mucky footprints across a grant
application for a poem about autumn.

Because what we want’s head-fuck, nothing
but head-fuck, not the whole finding-his-voice,
one-of-our-most-trusted poets malarkey,
but moving to Yemen, orchids at the North Pole.

It’s no go your jokes at the reading, to limp
nervous giggles. End all your lines with ‘the’;
savage your friend’s new book; trace scar-lines
on the cheeks of your suburban epiphanies.

Away with a way with words: snap the neck
of eloquence like a wishbone and where
that headless chicken leads, follow. The blood-
jet of poetry spouts the purest free verse.

Rhyme, you canary courting a hippo,
stop telling me one thing chimes with another.
Nothing connects. Step out of line and it’s
a potshot to the wrist for you too, mate.

What we want’s ruckus and crash bang wallop,
a Pteranodon’s mating-call, or Mozart’s
Queen of the Night played on the Voyager probe:
anything out of this world – that or silence.

You up for it, philistines? Lick my spondees
and make sense who may. Have you even tried
being a genius? It sorts most problems out.
Anything else is The Norton Anthology.

Saturday, August 06, 2016

On the Nature of Landscape as Quotation

Though I might wish to dispute it, the statue of Robert the Bruce outside Marischal College is not holding up the Declaration of Arbroath for my personal benefit. He’s not really looking at me. Yet there he is on his horse, a herring gull posed on his head. Likewise, the statue of Gordon of Khartoum outside the gallery has no deep thoughts on its French Impressionist holdings. The statue of Victoria at Queen’s Cross has no demonstrable thoughts about anything. You may have seen one just like it, or close enough. She is there but not really there. All landscape is quotation. Further out from the city centre:

the Aberdeenshire canal
continues though dry, and where
should be bargefuls of granite
clearing the culverts and locks
are filled-in bridges over fields,
the trail coming and going.
Water remains available
but spurned yet

closer to where I live in the countryside, it elects to resurface in a short, anomalous stretch behind the Italian fish and chip shop in Port Elphinstone. It is August and the grass and nettles are overgrown, but a path has been trampled down to the water’s edge, where I find a duck on a log and not much else. I cannot see where the water begins or ends.

As an absence the canal repeats the paths that would have been there before it, now doubly lost, but snaking back from absence to presence it goes somewhere else again – not found, exactly, but diverted beyond municipal utility and marked deletion alike. Pushing the low branches of a beech tree aside I find algae, plastic bags, and clumpy growths of celandine. Rendering the canal obsolete, the age of steam will surely never die, I tell myself, before I turn back to:

where the waste
from the closed
paper mill gathers
the surface now
frothing now
placid and since
there must
be something
to look at
accept this duck
returning my gaze
from its nest
and a single egg
beneath it dead
but looking
ever so comfy

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Zone Out So Not

Occipital flange sublates pump-action
metonym, barking impasto left rib.
Utter vile cinnamon incidents’ throb
relaxed shale reserves into zinc trash-can.

The the of an an, bleats cryptographer
bare-cheeked to void slick colons as one:
spandrils adjusted to fuckwits’ paean,
kid yourself grave and the ghost flea graver.

Ooh but for ah be said non-responsive,
clitoris thermals rendered in marble paste.
Indigene tags identify Cheyenne,

splicing the axes of choice and combination.
Same again drainage by phoneme, once I’ve
finished with you; the premium yokels laid waste.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Author Recalls An Unfortunate Incident From the Days of His Youth

I am as correct as the next man as to my wardrobe, I like to think, and making my way to the bus-stop one day was distressed to find not just the tip of my necktie protruding from under my jumper but, how much worse again, the tip of my penis peeping over the top of my flies. Concerned to do a good job of rearranging my vest and trousers I found myself, for a brief second and a brief second only, exposing my entire wee willie winkie there on the street-corner, when to compound my woes I noticed a herring gull bearing down on me with some speed from the roof of an adjoining Methodist chapel. Thankfully I had to hand the text of a lecture I had delivered that same morning to the local Rotarian club on developments in the contemporary Irish lyric poem and the ‘post-Celtic Tiger generation’, and used this to discourage the malevolent scurrie; but to no avail. In no time at all, amid much wriggling, tugging, and other general shenanigans, his greedy yellow beak had connected with my puir wee winkie. Would he bite, suck, snap or yank? I hoped, naïvely, not to linger long enough in this undignified embrace to find out. But, woe is me!, even as I struggled with my laridian foe a packet of tofu wieners I had been carrying in my shoulder bag became dislodged, and, given the damage its packaging had suffered in the general mêlée, a 12-inch specimen shot free of the bag and into my mouth, causing me to gag; during which fresh indignity there was, alas!, no let-up from Mr Herring Gull, whose beak action I could now characterize without fear of contradiction as tugging, most definitely tugging. How indecorous and absurd a tableau I must have presented to passers-by, with the herring gull pulling on my puir wee winkie in a kind of seesaw rhythm with the motion of the tofu wiener, wedging itself Excalibur-like ever further down my throat; but not quite as indecorous or absurd as I would shortly look, when, in my disorientation, I fell backwards onto a small bollard, whose truncheon-like tip succeeded, can you believe it, in piercing the back of my trousers and jamming itself up my waiting rectum. Though I hesitate to impute spite to a mere herring gull, the close-quarters eye-contact I was by now enjoying with this pox-ridden specimen had acquired an unmistakable element of grudge and aggression. I nevertheless spared a thought for my surroundings, and the confusion I would inspire in any of my acquaintances, should they happen to be passing – my fellow congregationists, for instance, or a member of my bridge club – not to mention my inability, given the wiener in my mouth, to explain how I had come to find myself in this unfortunate position. On and on went my ordeal: wee winkie in herring-gull beak, wiener in mouth, bollard-tip in rectum, with me swaying now backwards now forwards, now up now down, from bollard to gull, from gull to wiener, from wiener to gull, from gull to bollard, from bollard to wiener, from wiener to bollard, nnngghumpfff, my choked cry of protest dying on my tongue. And though I have now, who knows how, extricated myself from this unseemly imbroglio, and gone on to lead an emotionally rich and fulfilling life, I did not escape without scars; and even today, I have only to read, hear, or think about the contemporary Irish lyric poem, with particular reference to the post-Celtic Tiger generation, to find myself back on that street corner, a herring gull yanking on my wee winkie, a tofu wiener molesting me per buccam, and an obstreperous bollard lodged in my rear passage; the only effective remedy for which, I have found, down the years, has been my painstaking translation (not intended for publication) into acatalectic hexameters of that masterpiece of Scottish Renaissance Latin humanism, George Buchanan’s three-volume Epigrammata.