Notes to Continual
Song

Part 2

29/56--56/29

 

29/56 Between Cornwall and Hebden Bridge, in the spring of 1978, I went to visit my old friend the poet Chris Torrance, deep in Glynmercher Isaf. I suspected that me and the lass, Chris Peel, were falling apart. That might have been on my mind as I approached the poet's hide-away, along the banks of the rushing River Neath.

30/55 So Chris Peel came back to Hebden Bridge, and fell for my friend Niven. Michael Hitchens had followed his wife from Cornwall to HB some years before, and they were now divorced. My son would have been about seven years old by now. Hitchens too had taken up the building trade (more professionally than I ever did). There was a property boom and, at that time, a dearth of proper local builders. He passed on some pointing work to me. I took it on, though with a bloody heavy broken heart.
        Chris's long-time friend Carol Holden had also had enough of her bloke Adrian Taylor. The 'Lunatic Window-Wall Proportions' appeared to me on a new estate that Ade and Carl Worrell (a black Barbadian saxophonist) and me, passed on our way, driving into Manchester to try out cacophonous free-form jazz, one open night at The Band on The Wall. I'd wanted to 'sing', but they forbad me, and gave me a drum, which I refused to play. Ade and Carl were terrible enough without me, and we were ejected in disgrace.
        Carl, our long-time saxophonic busker, died just the other week (September 2005). People used to scoff at his saxophone-playing, but he got a full-page obituary on The Halifax Courier, and then another in The Hebden Bridge Times. That would have amazed him. A pity he didn't live long enough to read it. 

31/54 There's no denying, now I look at it, that Continual Song does jump about, back and forth, quite incoherently. 31/54 is, to me, clearly set in the winter-let at Trevedran, St Buryan, Penwith. There'll be more to come about the breakdown of that relationship.

32/53 Niven's wife Mary had written a poem that started "One day's feeling....." When Niven took off with Chris, Mary thought it only fair that she should take me to bed. Once, years before, Margaret had turned up, unexpected, for sex with me----at the time, he was, supposedly 'reconciled' with her husband Mike----I felt something was wrong, and had to prove to her that I couldn't perform. Her Michael heard about her visit, and came up the hill to beat me up, and claim a night with Chris. She went with him, willingly, though looking pale.
        It didn't mesh with my ideas of either sexual freedom, or Women's Rights. I felt bewildered and tormented, sitting by the roadside through a cold night, watching for her white minivan's return. Never mind.
        The Green Spring I have in mind feeds the Old Town Reservoir, one of the places where some of us used to swim.

33/52 So I made a song and dance of my broken state.
        The 'man clothed with rags' is, of course, from 'Pilgrim's Progress'. Evangel asks the Pilgrim, "Why didn't you look for the steps?"----Why didn't I, indeed? Perhaps I did, poetically, look for the steps, at the despondent point.

34/51 The basic crisis is clear enough. Chris and Niven are fucking, and I'm trying not to fall out with either of them. But he makes that difficult because he so much wants to Crow his Triumph, and clearly enjoys my humiliation. Of course they make love in my attic and I hear them thumping away. I even take them morning cups of tea, I am so defeated.
        There are some dramatic scenes, involving knives and Arthurian legend.

35/50 The crisis continues. I don't know what a car crash is doing here, unless it's a premonition of Margaret's death, and that's more than a year ahead. I'm not sure whether James Callaghan or Margaret Thatcher is the Prime Minister now. Neither of them is mentioned in the poem.
        A 'blind spring' here is a dowsing/earth mysteries phenomenon.

36/49 In the winter of early 1979, Chris is at Foster Clough, but acheing for Niven, and Heights Road is totally blocked for three weeks with heavy, heavy snow. It didn't deter her, though; she'd set out walking on the walltops to meet her lover, and, now and then, return.
        There came a thaw, but it froze again. And on May Day Morning 1979, there was not only a covering of snow, but the ground was frozen, rock-hard solid.
        It was as bad for me as February 1947, the month of my birth. What could be worse than that? I tried to make poetry about how much I felt distraught.

37/48 But despite that freeze the month of May came on in an astonishing ruddy-green blush, with leafing trees, and hawthorn blossom incredibly cream. This added lushness to my torment.
        That I (foolishly?) disregarded my own self-advice, to "no longer give ornate or decorated shrift/ to genital affection" is evident in much of the poetry that ensues.

38/47 All the time I was trying to either distance myself from my poetry, or distance the poetry from myself. I clearly failed.
        38/47 may be just some sort of filler, invoking Paganism, Christianity, and Nature: I'm a randy wounded animal, ready to respond to any woman's wombic call.
        But any reader is entitled to feel that the change, to 39/48 is rather too abrupt. Perhaps I should have done more work on the narrative shape. My only excuse, and it's no excuse, is that I was trying to make an objective shape that had nothing to do with me. A clanger dropped; a danger disregarded.

39/46 For the summer 1979 Hebden Bridge Festival, I'd undertaken to organise the poetry. We had a reading at Niven's restaurant ('Strays') featuring Alan Jackson, Chris Torrance and Peter Riley. That was OK. Later on I put on another, with Douglas Oliver and Denise Riley. That was a disaster. John Sloper at the restaurant was obstructive, so we adjourned for an interval to The Albert Hotel. Lively discussion ensued, and most of the audience never returned for the second half.
        Months before the event a woman poet, Angela Lee, had contacted me about poetry. We ate together at that restaurant, and she caught her bus home. Then, a day or two later I went to call on her, on Broad Street, Todmorden. We couldn't wait to climb the stairs, but made love on the carpet in the living-room. With that fuck I was quickly in love. Angie Lee of Todmorden, Great Classic Cadences of English Poetry. O Little Town of. And her star-sign, Leo.

40/45 One day I set out to walk to Angie's house the long way round----over the moor to Crimsworth Dean, and up onto Shackleton Moor, in March, when the lapwings and curlews and larks were all abundantly loud. It must have been 1980, then.
        So many birds! I thought they were eternal. But lapwings and larks, and curlews too, are all since then quite drastically depleted.
        I called on Norman and Di Hurst, up at Field Head, Colden, and we talked about narcissuses and daffodils, and antique clocks. And then on by the Duke's Cut. to Whirlaw, and down to find Angie below.
        Clearly I enjoyed our sexual congresses tremendously. I'll never know the truth of these things, but when, eventually, she'd had enough of me, she did say the reason "wasn't to do with the sex". Better than being told that I'd been completely useless from the start, which has been the usual tale I've heard.

41/44 When typesetting Continual Song (on a pre-electronic IBM Composer) I decided that each page-poem should have the same page-depth. This meant that longer poems might have to be set as justified prose.
        1681 was the date of publication of Andrew Marvell's (posthumous) 'Miscellaneous Poems'.
        That I 'revealed the date above the door' (an internal doorway) is true. Years later, at a local history slide-show I saw a photo of it. No-one had noticed the scar of the chipped sliver.
        My reading was deep into the 17th Century for a while.
        I liked my word Gonganora. It sounds like folly to me now.

THE ANGEL LIFE (42/43) I was a soldier in the Seventeenth Century. Never. It's just an inner drama.
        Probably it harks back to the break-up with Chris.
        At some point in the chronology I had a brief thing with a woman called Claudine King. I set fire to her bed. That was, happen, less to do with phallic ardour than carelessness with a cigarette. 'Rhododendron flowers on the glass canal' for some reason reminds me of her.
        Post-equinox September, 2005. I've written notes to half the book.

NO BLOODY MATTER (43/42) refers back to the Cambridge Poetry Festival of Easter 1977.
        In the hot year of 1976, Chris went off to Warwick University to take a social-work qualification. I decided to do something similar. I'd get a proper teaching qualification. Fair enough. But, soberly and seriously, with deep (so I thought) consideration, I made one of the madder decisions of my life. There can be few as ill-suited as me for what I was aiming to do, which was to qualify to teach Infants. I squirm in awkwardness at the memory of that daft decision. I enrolled at the Manchester College of Education.
        Why did I do it? I believe it was because I had a five-year-old son, living with his mother down on Unity Street in Hebden Bridge. That I was the father was common knowledge among the network of folk I belonged with, but the mother hadn't declared my paternity officially and there was no CSA in those days. I became half-consciously, very interested in what the world might be like for a five- or six-year old.
        The course was interesting, though my first teaching-practice saw me collapse in tears before my Supervisor. I was told that the essays I wrote were the best the College had ever seen. I'd been systematically applying the thought of Gregory Bateson to matters of Education. Meanwhile, in poetry I was working on my 'Mabinogion' transformations, and had in prospect two books, to be published by Grosseteste Press and Ferry Press. I'd already written my version of 'Macsen Wledig' which made a big thing of the female figure of Helen. I'd done a reading at some small society in Cambridge, and had read from this. J H Prynne had asked me, "Who's Helen?" I shrugged and answered, "There is no Helen." Soon after that I got to know a Helen on the course, and soon we were screwing. I think I treated her badly. I'm sorry.
        I was invited to read at the Cambridge Festival. My final teaching-practice straddled the Easter Break. The Festival was phenomenal. My practice collapsed completely.
        I was already stressed and fraught, by the practical strains of the practice, as I hitch-hiked down. I got a lift from a water-board man in a water-board van. These were the halcyon days before privatisation, when the world made much more sense. He took me for a tour of Rutland Water. He was a water-enthusiast, and spoke eloquently of volumes and gallons, pipes and dams.
        I opened the Cambridge Festival. I once saw it claimed that I was honoured to do so, but the truth is that Barry MacSweeney was meant to go first, but he was too jittery and in need of a drink or two before he could go on. After that I aimed to sit through everything in the week-long event. And, as I sat, something strange began to happen. However 'good' or 'bad' the poetry might be, I could listen to it and see in it the psychic space it was coming from. This seeing was helped by the fact that, as each poet read, a colour-field aura would fill the Cambridge Union Building. I could rub my eyes, or refocus them, or shake my head, but the colour-fields, different for each poet, remained. From the first night there I found myself unable to sleep. By day, other peoples' poetry attained its ultimate intensity.
        As I tried to sleep, each night, I'd be jolted up, and a poet and an aura would come back to me and I'd write with mad intensity a kind of description of the poet in his aura.
        Poet on poet intensified the intensity. I began to see auras outside the readings. I could divide the good people from the bad, on sight. I could only drink Worthington's 'White Shield', and only eat the healthiest foods. But the intensity was becoming unbearable. There was talk of the previous Festival, 1975, and of the suicide of Veronica Forrest-Thompson, and the accidental death of Rolph Dieter Brinkmann. I became convinced that, if I didn't get this right, I would be bound to return to Rutland Water, and I should walk into the water until I should drown, just to quench my bodily electricity.
        There was a gracious moment when I was talking with Robert Duncan, not about poetry, but about washing clothes and launderettes, and college facilities.
        I thought a massage might sort me out, and I got a contact phone number, but the electrics crackled so threateningly on the phone, that I abandoned that avenue.
        By now I had a collection of dictated poems, written through sleepless nights, line by line with maybe hours between each line. I thought I had to type my poem/poems up. This would mean I'd have to miss the reading by Nick Totton, Ian Patterson and Martin Thom, but the thing had to be done.
        I called on John James, and Andrew Crozier opened the door. I said, "I think I'm going mad." He told me this wasn't so. I didn't ask him how he knew. They were----John, Andrew and Wendy Mulford----off to the readings, but before they left I was supplied with a typewriter and a wad of paper, and I typed up IMMEDIATE MUST BE A MIRACLE. The house was calm and quiet, though Fielding Dawson was fumbling about in the basement downstairs.
        When I'd done that, I still wasn't through, though I somehow knew what I had to do. By miraculous good luck I found that Denise Riley could offer a refuge in her house: a pure white room (with a cushion or two but no furniture). That is where I spent the next twenty-four hours. I had to miss Robert Duncan's reading, on the last night. I had to save my own skin. Those twenty-four hours, in that room, on my own, proved to be the fullest, most intense twenty-four hours in the history of the universe. I could try to describe it. Description would fail. And at some point, at last, I slept.
        The miracle continued. The hitch-hike home: three lifts and a total of about ten minutes waiting. One roundabout with six hitch-hikers ahead of me was cleared by six cars in succession, and the seventh took me away. It was as if the whole universe were looking after me. The air was clearer, the light more bright. Benevolence was everywhere.
        Where the universe didn't help me was in the remaining week of my teaching-practice. It just fell apart. I didn't care. I was sure of my own vocation now, and it wasn't infant-teaching.
        I published myself the pages I'd typed up as IMMEDIATE MUST BE A MIRACLE (DMH 1977). The perspicacious critic Jim Keery (when it appeared again in 'A Whole Bauble') took it to be light, frivolous, ironical. Intensity can't guarantee itself. You can feel an intensity, but to impress it you may have to, as if were, fake it.
        NO BLOODY MATTER is my homage to that event.

44/41 doesn't need a note, I reckon, nor does 45/40, 46/39, 47/38 or 48/37. Perhaps I'm getting somewhere when poems need no autobiography. There's an error in 49/36. I was working on the poem and had the line involving Figures/Fingers and Icons/Acorns and I stood looking out of my window when the 'swoop of crows' collapsed onto an oak tree in the clough below. Through binoculars I watched them pecking at small objects in the tree. But surely crows don't feed on acorns? They were probably oakapples. They were after the grubs.

50/35 Angie (my inspiration in sexual satisfaction) had a small daughter, Becky, a hole-in-the-heart child. Her motor reactions were slow and clumsy and awkward, and at school she was treated as 'backward'. Angie didn't' believe this was the case, and, watching Becky try to do a jig-saw, I had to agree. Hers was the 'bright mind' moving on ahead of clumsy fingers. Becky went on to take a maths degree at University, and had a career as an academic mathematician ahead of her, when she suddenly died.

51/34 The cat I drowned was Gollum, originally the cat at No. 8 Foster Clough. Bob Francis and his 'partner' Meryl had built a boat in a barn on the hillside, taken it to North Wales, and sailed off to live in Ireland, leaving their cat behind. Eventually I adopted her. As she grew old and sick she looked awful. Jake Prescott, just out of jail, paid a visit, and said I should hit her on the head with a shovel. I chose the drowning option.
        January is very early for a lapwing flock. It was a very early lapwing flock.
        Before quad-bikes, young farmers used to use trials bikes while working with sheep.

52/33 I had learned to see my poetical supernaturals all around me. I spotted one once, on the way down the hill, with Adrian, before the onset of his schizophrenia. It was there in the form of a small water-trough, the water spouting through a hole in its front. As I stared at it, Ade, passing by, said, casually but not in jest: "It's one of your water-hole spirits, isn't it?" So it was.
        Another day, walking along the cut bank (canal towpath) in a state of high nervous tension, I met a horse. I reached out and touched its nose. It shied, as the poem describes, but returned to be touched again. It seemed like a gauge and guide to my own electrical state. It calmed me down.

I don't think 53/32 needs a note. As for 54/31, yes, afanc is a Welsh water-dragon. Water-horses, water-spirits, water-snakes: my own sense of such things interacted with readings in folklore and mythology. I wanted to attribute consciousness itself to the water all around, but I had done with indulging supernatural 'belief', and was determined to accept the scientific disciplines as guides to truth. Yes and no. Yes, the water itself isn't 'conscious', but when I'm conscious of the water, my consciousness is not within me, but out in the without. I love water like some people love God.

55/30 Anne Thorne has been a local, Hebden Royd, councillor. She used to live at Foster Clough House. The 'quarter-days' occur at the beginnings of November, February, May and August. As one critic (Peter Larkin) noticed, there's a reference to Wordsworth in the last line.
    Note added 20/1/08.
    Being that second-rate thing, a poet with a poor memory, I can steal things and plead innocence. I was, last year, reading a book I thought I hadn't read before, Erich Heller's "The Disinherited Mind" I came across a couple of phrases, about the reconciliation of Despair, and the soul's work of transmutation. I must have stolen mine from there. I can't remember doing so, I swear.

A curiosity about 56/29 is that it's the only poem in CS to have been rewritten for inclusion in the Carcanet Collected, 'A Whole Bauble'. Now I don't know why I did that, and I don't think I improved it.
        There was a book by Alice A Bailey called "Glamour, A World Problem". It's an interesting book, but perhaps the title is all you need.

 

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