Notes to Continual
Song

Part 1

00/00--28/57

 

The task I set myself in the composition of Continual Song was the blending of two quite different sorts of Romance: The one, fictional, literary, fanciful, linguistic, delusional, traditional; the other biographical, personal, sexual, quasi-confessional. These to be planed to appear as if from the same trunk, or, rather to let the biographical provide tone, emotion, structure; a chord sequence, for the right hand of fiction to make imaginary melodic improvisations upon. I wouldn't want one form of Romance to be reducible to the other.
        In 2005, as I succumbed to a desire to indulge in the blether of 'Loose Talk', I saw no harm in laying bare the biographical chord-base. Margaret. Chris. Angie. Hilary.
        There's other information herein, such as the confession of shameful errors of fact in the text, for example, regarding Sparrowhawks & Angels (03/82), Crows & Acorns (49/36), Swallows (or Sparrows) & Druids (18/67). And (43/42) tells a tale of The Cambridge Poetry Festival, 1977. But if you feel that sexual entanglement among a small bunch of 20-odd year-olds in the Hebden Bridge of the 1970s is something about which you really do not need to know, you should follow the advice the grouse gave to Sydney Graham, up at Loch Thom many years ago, and Go Back.

September 2006.

00/00 Mine is a fine house-door, door-step, not in intrinsic grandeur, but in visual prospect. It's here, over the years, I've composed my dyfal gyfangen, carmen perpetuum, continuale songe. I can read out my poetry to anyone. Don't ask me to actually sing.

01/84 There was a white room at 11, Cambridge Gardens, London W10. A gramophone was playing Wagner. There was no falcon falling onto the back garden. The Western Avenue Extension was being built. The tenants here were Chris Gray, an expelled English Situationist, and Alan Green (last heard of letting the TGWU truckdrivers through at Dover during the Miners' Strike). The year was 1969.
        There was another white room in the house of Denise Riley, poet, Cambridge 1977.
        'The White Room' was the title of a book of poems by Lee Harwood.

02/83 Scenes of decay and dereliction are always with us, like the poor. They cleared the Halifax Woolshops slums and dumped the people up in Mixenden. For twenty years the Ordnance Survey neglected to map the new estate. I wondered why.
        There is a drama somewhere, a private, fictional thriller: the adventured of the wandering female soul, but I never discovered the plot.

03/82 It would appear to me that I'm coming down the Crimsworth Valley (aka Horsebridge Clough) one early Sunday Summer morning, coming down from an all-night party. The wild rose that springs out from the arch of a bridge above the waterfall is certainly at Lumb Falls. I've never been to such a party there, though I remember one, up Upper Colden, at the house of the trendy local solicitor, Campbell Malone.
        The figure with the key-ring (who is he?) just comes and goes.
        Jim Keery pointed out to me that, if it was 'outlined like an angel', then the bird of prey must have been, not a sparrowhawk, but a kestrel. I saw the truth of his assertion straight away (and anyone familiar with angels must agree). I felt mortified, ashamed. Too late. What had happened was that by rewritings, transformations, a sparrowhawk on Cornish cliffs had migrated to the West Riding (as it still then was).
        We do get sparrowhawks hereabouts. They have the outline of a hawk.

04/81 Trying to write a book that read all ways I buggered my chronology. Some details here are as late as the 1980's.
        'Aquila' is another avian predator, of course: The Eagle. There was an Aquila Harwood, unsuccessful whitesmith, (his mind was on other things), lived at Foster Clough in the 19th Century. Aquila was a biblical tentmaker. But also: for a spell (twenty minutes, or a year, or longer) I actually believed I had a pair of Guardian Angels called Aquila and Alanna (or Alauna). Even when I'd dispelled belief, they continued to haunt my poems. Alauna is the name of several Roman Forts, and other things.
        The figure with the keys is here again. So is the wandering female soul, wrapped in the private thriller whose plot I never grasped.

05/80 It might be some work of classic fiction, but it was an historical children's' thriller on Children's Hour in the 1950's that featured the passwords:
        "The wine is red."/ "Aye, red as blood."
I think it was set during the Monmouth Rebellion, in South-West England, but the moss-troopers are on the Scottish Borders. And the beach is in North Wales.

06/79 I spent much of the 1970's, self-employed, out of the system, doing enjoyably mindless work such a pointing. "Keeping my mind free for poetry" was my formula. To be a real builder I'd need to think and take the problem home with me. Sometimes I'd take on work beyond my knowledge and capability, and then I'd have to bodge. No wonder I ended up labouring in the factories.
        But now almost all of the factories have gone, and there's a new breed of skilled local builders.
        Mark has horse's ears (Cornwall). Midas of Greece has ass's ears, I think. I was very nearly named, not Douglas Michael but Stephen Mark.

07/78 I'll claim to have invented the word and imaginary divinatory art of neuromancy: taking an oracle from your nerves, with an obvious pun on New Romantic. But I've read the word since, and I don't suppose its users have read Continual Song. In fact the concept's so obvious that independent origination is very likely.
        All my poetic life I've traded on an imagistic magic mysticism based on The Irish Sea. If I could understand it, I'd explain it here.

08/77 I've lived as a Lancashireman in Yorkshire, but any sense of allegiance to the House of Lancaster in the "Wars of The Roses" would be ignorant sentimentality. But here Lancaster marks the first intuition of a poetic image obsession with Henry VI and The Forest of Bowland. I can't justify or assert anything as regards the historical truth of this thing. It creeps in and won't let me alone.
        If you want to know about my Henry the Soft, study the statues of the English Kings in York Minster. There are alternating types of grotesque, and one perfect angel. That's him. He was a political disaster, but so would I be, if I were king.

09/76 I once thought, through what we might call 'New-Ageish' friends, that I knew something about Kabbalah. A little proper study, and I recognised myself for an ignorant intruder, but I liked the idea of the Shekinah as the beautiful female face of the physical world.
        Crows (inc. Rooks, Jackdaws, Carrion Crows, not excluding Magpies and Jays) are the dominant birds of the Upper Calder Valley. You could read Ted Hughes. My images are independent of his, but the realities are linked.

11/74 This is not, immediately, a limestone area. So where was the 'limestone rubble dry-wall'? North Lancashire maybe. But the 'Dark Wood Aboriginal' was hard by Bryn Celli Ddu, in Arfon. And the 'Standard Tyre and Exhaust Centre' was out through the window of a flat in Liverpool, where Neil Oram was staying. The Everyman Theatre, Ken Campbell & co. were putting on an appendage to the great Oram/Campbell cycle The Warp.

12/73 I'd have been doing the pointing at Delf End, and walking back by Weather House and Bog Eggs Edge, under Tom Tittiman. In time I come to feel my soul had sort of melded-in with local place-names.
        If you've ever been round here I won't need to describe the landmark, Stoodley Pike.

13/72 This is not the place, I think, to tell the tale about my peripheral involvement with a Lunacy known as The Angry Brigade, and the Phantasmagoric Unreality of LSD. That something like 'a single cell of six' can create national mayhem by violence was well-proved in July of this year (2005), but in the name of God Knows What.
        Politically, when I calmed from Manic Madness, I reverted to a kind of lax and sentimental liberalism----my 'default position', as we might say today. But I'm not entirely soft, and what angered me was the patronising assumption that people like me were ignorant of the fact that if you provoke The State, The State will reveal the brute force that it's based on. I know that the basic template of any State is The Protection Racket. Gangsterism is our State of Nature. We just have to cut a few deals to allow ourselves a little welfare, a little privacy, a little poetry.
        Still, if the political atmosphere hadn't darkened so, around 1970, I would not have headed out for the hills and found happiness.
        The gang passed through Foster Clough once or twice, including John Barker, whom I once did glimpse on the London Underground, looking very sinister. I liked Jake Prescott. He says he once woke up and looked out of my window and realised the folly of what he was up to. But it was too late to turn back.

14/71 Other AB-scene peripherals used to visit 14 FC in '71. There were the acid-freaks, Doug (Allanson) and Vikki, and a mad American Viet-vet, Victor. They dropped their tabs and went rolling on the moor in cold October. I took one too, but concentrated on fire, soup and blankets.
        The axe in the wood echoes from 'Sir Gawayne and The Green Knight'.

15/70 It's a relief to return to the private imaginary thrillers, and odd images of mystical humanism.
        The old back-yard belongs to Dormer House, between Newnham and Dormer Streets, in Astley Bridge, Bolton, by church and school. Under the cotton mills.
        The 'ravenous preacher' tells me that, out of chronology, my love Chris Peel has already fallen for Niven Charvet.

16/69 As I say, I've mishmashed the date-sequence, and, anyway, trying to relate Continual Song to personal history is complexified by what has been to me a convincing, undeniable streak of premonition, clairvoyance in the writing. I've never been able to interpret it well enough to know the future. But it's there, though, in the scheme of important things, it means next to nothing. It seems to belong with haunting images in histories and novels. The boat seeking water along a remote island coast. The figure at a jetty on an island, waiting for the tide.
        The car-crash would seem to refer to the death of Margaret Williams, ex-Hitchens, nee Porter, but for that I know it was written before the accident. There are echoes of the morning of my expulsion from her family-home, by her husband Michael Hitchens, upon his discovery of her adultery. 1970.
        I was reading Freud in those days, and expecting to find my own 'Unconscious' in the writing process.

17/68 My! How the years are passing! The Hidden Church of The Holy Grail is a book by A E Waite, of Tarot and Golden Dawn fame. What I liked about Waite was his insistence that the verb 'to depend' take the preposition 'from': this depends from that. I try to use this form myself, but find I have to argue it each time.
        There are those haunting images in novels, as I mentioned (supra). Once it was wrought-iron gates by the gate-house lodge of a great house. I'd enter a second-hand bookshop, open a book at random, and there they'd be, the wrought-iron gates. I bought some awful novels that way. I found the old woman at the parapet on London Bridge in George Borrow, and elsewhere. There's a link with Downham Market in the Fenlands, but I've never been there, and I don't know what it means. And a path of lace curls up the wooded scarp. And an owl hoots out of the dwarf void.

18/67 The 'stuffy' hayloft was first the laithe at City Farm on Raw Lane, Wadsworth, with Chris, but it seems to prefigure the 'lightless loft' of 84/01, with Hilary.
        There's a shameful error in the poem. It was my sister Jill Allen who pointed it out to me (though I should have known, or did know, but wouldn't face it): it wasn't 'the Druid' (Celtic) who compared our lives to the flight of a sparrow, or swallow, or whatever, through the feast-hall, in Bede's famous tale, but some pagan Anglo-Saxon wise man. I'm sorry. Perhaps I should correct it. I let it stand as evidence of my tendency to error.
        The blindfold soul pursued by dogs passes in and out of all my poetry.

19/66 No reference to 1966. It's 1970 all over again, and I'm back in the house in Redruth, Cornwall. I'd been visiting my friend Michael, a history teacher. One night he'd gone to bed, and I was left, sitting on the carpet with his wife Margaret, when she looked at me and said, "I lust after you." And then, what was I to do? I let her take my trousers off.
        It was perhaps part of the experimental nature of sex in those days, or perhaps it has always been somewhat this way, but soon after that, a night or two, we, me and her, conspired to be three-in-a-bed with Michael. As if it had been his idea. But somehow it came out that we'd already done it, behind his back, as it were. There followed a sleepless night of angers, tears and recriminations, and I was off, hitch-hiking out of Cornwall at first light in June, having made foolish speeches about "Women's Rights".
        Ah! Three-in-a-beds! What's the tally? There was me and Ed Emery and Jenny, in Colchester, earlier that year, or maybe the year before; me and Peter Fuller and Colette, in Cambridge, at Tom Sharpe's flat, 1969 (though nobody touched); me and Chris P and Margaret (again) on Foster Lane, Hebden Bridge, some years later. I think that's the lot. This isn't confession so much as heedless chatter.
        We believed we could overcome jealousy. We couldn't.

20/65 Talking of Ed----he'd lived at Grosvenor Avenue, North London (an AB affiliated house), with a 1250 Multilith in the basement before he moved to Colchester. He was putting out 'Revolutionary' literature: Vaneigem's 'Treatise on How to Live', some Gramsci, I think, and other stuff. And he was going to do my first book of poems, 'The Island Gleams in the Sea'----not political at all, but romantic, sentimental, about my love affair with Brigitte Parmentier in the summer of 1967.
        I'd be hitching down to London, either from Birmingham, or from Bolton, or from Hebden Bridge, overnight. I was young, and however dark the night or times, I couldn't but feel the joy of life.
        Grosvenor Avenue was riddled with Psychic Acid. I believe I only took one trip there----and fled to find refuge with Peter and Colette, somewhere near Regent's Park. But you didn't need to take the stuff: it was trippy enough just to be in the company of trippers. Stairs with rooms off. Tube-train connections. These were my dreams. A record of Charlie Parker and you could feel all the pain, the sadnesses surrounding heroin. You could see the dramatic desolation of London Town.

21/64 It's a relief, Friday September 23rd 2005, on this fast scribble through notes to Continual Song, to arrive at 21/64, a quarter way through, and yesterday, Thursday was such a sunny day, but today it rained, to come to when "it rains/ the quietest Thursday morning/ in the story of the world". Foster Clough. Peace. That's about three cats ago. "It is the day that sleeps/ which has no needs at all."

22/65 Some poems are written integrally, around some unified impulse. Others are 'faked'----bringing together, almost randomly, vaguely connected stuff. And after, it can be hard to recall which was which. A 'fake' may prove a better poem than one fully and singly felt.
        22/65 reads well, to me, but I know it's a 'fake', for that's what I was confessing in the lines "All wrought as one/ with rotting windowframes and falling rain".
        Continual Song was favourably reviewed by Peter Riley in 'Reality Studios', in the later 1980's. Of course he had to find something to question: perhaps it was over-wrought as one. He also questioned my assertion (above, 17/68), "I think there is a secret order hidden/ in the passage of the world". Do I really think that? Once (for 20 minutes?) perhaps I did. In the poem I do. I think there's a secret order hidden in the passage of the imagination. The patriarchal phallus might assert the order in the Lacanian Imaginary. But for me the order is secret, hidden, because I can't find it out. It's to do with the fugitive soul, the old woman on the bridge, 'the wrought-iron squealing gate', etc.

23/62 Sound rises clearer, up the valley-sides, in the winter. Winter is the hunting season. The school-yard is that of Calder High School, directly below Foster Clough.
        I was a temporary part-time teacher there, for a term, in 1971. Then they found someone else to replace me. I wasn't a very good teacher, but it didn't help that the terrace was taken for a 'hippy commune' (not inaccurately), and my neighbour was living with a sixth-form girl, and the drug-squad had come down on us, and put us in the regional TV news.
        Margaret had left her husband in Cornwall and come to live with me, in my semi-derelict shell, first alone, and then with her three children (all uninvited! as I'd later protest in pathetic indignation, wanting to escape the implications of her fourth pregnancy). She'd watch me set off in my boots, down the hill, through the snow, to the school.
        Then the cries from the school-yard, and the passing trains haunted the present I was living through.

24/61 Up the hill, behind Foster Clough, in an intake-field, stood the fallen ruin of Nelmires. It's since been built up as a large drystone animal-shelter. The local tale held that it had once been a 'whisht-shop', an illegal, unlicensed beer shop and distillery. 19th Century Census returns show it occupied by Jonas Crabtree, Corn Miller. Well, you couldn't grow corn up there, but you might process it.
        Come September the Nelmires fields can be thrang with little pixie psilocybin mushrooms. Now, I leave them alone, but once I found them useful for the intuition of the 'feel' of local history, and as a letter of introduction to the local supernatural fauna---boggarts and the like.
        There was no real "Ellen May" that I know of. When I was with my lover Chris I sometimes felt that I'd like us to have a daughter, and we'd call her Ellen May, but it never happened, and an impulse to paternity was never strong in me.
        I saw her shaking breadcrumbs from her apron, up at Nelmires, over a hundred years ago.
        I used to declare that when I die I want my body hung up in one of the two Nelmires sycamores, to feed the crows.

25/60 It's a relief, again, at 25/60 to break from the world of moorland ghosts, and be back near some Celtic Sea. Throughout the 1970's my poetical world had been oriented towards 'Celtic' landscapes and legends, despite my Yorkshire home. In 1977 my 'partner' (that usage hadn't yet come in) Chris took a job as a Social Worker in Penzance, and for abode she selected a combination of winter-let farmhouse and summer farmyard caravan, near St Buryan.
        I went down to join her. I built someone a fireplace, but otherwise I just lived off her. There were already signs that our relationship was coming to an end. I returned to Foster Clough in spring of 1978, though I went back and forth a bit. Before Christmas she left Cornwall and returned to take a Social Work job in Halifax. On her return she promptly fell in love with my own newly-discovered best friend Niven Charvet.
        It was all a bit fraught, but the pink granite cliffs and the blue Atlantic sea had made a distinct impression.
        I'd been reading the Welsh Triads, and about the Celtic Christian Saints. Also a book on the Bounty Mutiny that confirmed my grandmother's tale. Did you know that Fletcher Christian came back from Pitcairn and started a new family in the Isle of Man? Fact.

26/59 Another scan round the scope. Who knows which of such endeavours is going to turn out best? The 'fulmar plashing' must have been North Wales. The 'Piping on the pass' must have been Scotland. The 'plumbing of an angel' could have been domestic anywhere.

27/58 The 'terminal post-war estate' brings us back to Mixenden. And from there to 'Brigantia'?
        With all respect to the venerable Welsh, I had to disengage myself from a love affair with Celticity.
        Just as I was withdrawing from the Celtic drug, and concentrating on where I actually am, the magnificent poet Ted Hughes chimed in with his profoundly ignorant idea of 'The Remains of Elmet'. Nowt o'th' sort, someone should have told him.
        And we've heard more than enough o'th' bloody Vikings, and all.

28/57 The phrase yr hen anghofus fr comes from a poem by W J Gruffydd (1881-1954), Y Tlawd Hwn (This Poor Man) and translates as "the old unmindful sea".

 

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