A Book of Odds


[Opening (a)]

Is that you, Proteus, or Mother Goose,
        or else the Dream Soul Self
who has come to a bourne,
that is The River Ocean, very very wide

whose eyes gaze out upon the waste of incarnations,
wet blasts in the blowing wind, as darkness falls.


Though in annotating A Book of Odds I follow my self-established convention of quoting openings and closes, in this case there is no connection between beginning and end. These are indeed disordered odds, misfits, each with some wobbly heart that I hadn’t the heart to part with. They get revised but not resolved. In The Bauble they tended to sport rather cynical tails (as an effulgence crashed), but these I’ve now lopped off. I’ll just traverse them seriatim, a-g. Starting with a).

Screened in the rain. Balloons are hopeless… and becomes as close to a pornographic poem as I can manage. I shan’t name the complicit lass but I can say that it’s set in a backstreet of Brierfield, near Burnley. My life has spanned the range from the sexual censorship that still obtained in the early 1960s, through the tidal wave of explicitness that followed after, and I’m not sure we’re any the wiser, though there’s no going back, unless Religions re-impose their stranglehold. It’s just possible that there was a case for the condemnation of such sodomitical practices as mutual masturbation. Postcoital depletion isn’t always marked by deep tristesse, and elsewhere I might celebrate satisfactions. Lust runs the risks of indignity. In this case no long-term harm was done. Now, as for c):

 To the hawthorn tree in the high rough field: This stands as the first intuition of The Re-effulgence. It was first published when Denise Riley had the editorship of an issue of The Critical Quarterly. For the Bauble it grew a cynical tail. Docked. As for d):

 A Kestrel falling on a slide… This is the latest arrangement of the poem, published as part of a letter to PNR that (as described somewhere in my Bibliography) precipitated the Carcanet Bauble adventure. Bauble-tail docked. Whereas e):

 We drank a potion of the magic pudding… This belongs with The Phantasmagoria, if anywhere, and with a). Or was this the CCCP-published one? I must research myself, to make these notes more exact. And f):

Violet spittle-juice, cursed through the teeth is merely another Phantasmagoric remnant, much-reduced. And, lastly g):

Viola catgut. Scarlet squeaks… Well, it was perhaps the example of how the often dissonant screeches of the free improvised jazz of the 60s and 70s became re-integrated in compositions more respectful of established harmonics that interested me in the incorporation of painful excruciations (and dopey awkwardnesses) into a poetry intended for pleasure. There’s a fine balance: get it wrong and I come to hate my work; get it right and I’ve done what I intended.

[Close (...g)]

The blackboard chalk squeaked
crying scribble, raked and wreaked
then snap. And that's viola catgut
lax, at last relapsed.

I just sink back and scratch
the slate with fingernails
in wet sand at the slack.
The sky stays overcast.
a dull slate grey.
A passing pain that in the memory
        for life remains.


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