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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