Notes to Continual
57/28 No note needed.
58/27 I was involved with Angie, in fact I was staying with her, at her house on Broad Street, Todmorden (fixing her roof) when Margaret died in the car-crash. My Angie love-songs are interrupted by that death.
59/26 Angie. 60/25 Angie was a poet (the last time I saw her she said she'd stopped writing) with a somewhat dark and tragic cast of mind. For all my joy in loving her, I could share that vision with her. 61/24 too. And 62/23; 63/22 ('zum zum' may involve a reference to the activities of the poet Neil Oram); 64/21 (I seem to be rushing through these now); 65/20 (though the 'telephone call in a box/ in a time-swept city square'----Piccadilly, Manchester----seems to refer me back to the early days when Margaret had just left her husband, Michael). 66/19 and 67/18----These last three were first published, in an earlier version, as a single poem in Grosseteste Review. Their inescapable forward motion presented problems when I wanted to be able to read CS back to front.
68/17 In May 1980 a Morris Traveller, descending Wadsworth
Lane from the Heights Road, driven by Peter Miles, and containing Jem
Williams, Margaret Williams (ex-Hitchens) and her son (by an
irresponsible poet) Merlin (then) Hitchens (later Haslam), overturned
and crashed opposite the (then) Council Estate of Dodnaze. Margaret was
flung out of the car, struck her head on a lamp-post, and was killed
The poet was not to be found (he was staying with his girlfriend in Todmorden). The decisive response came from Mick Piggott and his wife Jean (Jem's first wife), then of Club Houses, Old Town. They took Merlin in and set about making arrangements. Margaret's first husband, Michael, had remarried by then, and gone to live in Hove, in Sussex. Two of Margaret's children had already moved down to Hove, and a third was living with her parents, his grand-parents, in Lytham, Lancashire. Only Merlin had stayed with her. He had had no such options. On her death, no-one consulted the poet, and he made no move to claim or take responsibility, beyond acting as a pall-bearer at the funeral. Mr Hitchens came up from Hove and took Merlin back to live with his family. After a year he approached the poet, saying that, it wasn't Merlin himself, but they had "one too many people in the family" (his new wife had two of her own). By then, the poet was ready to accept his responsibility. His own family (parents and sisters) were supportive, and in 68/17, we are all on holiday in North Wales.
69/16 My reading, in the early 1980's had drifted into an area involving Renaissance Neoplatonism and Astrology. My notions of the planets, and colours, such as 'green and blue and gold' drew on this reading.
70/15 My affair with the woman I was to marry (Hilary Dyter,
1986) began in the summer of 1982. I should have known from the start
how far I was in error, and to blame.
The affair with Angie had been in decline, without a trace of rancour, for at least a year. At one point I'd asked her to marry me, and she'd seemed to agree. But the very next day, as she told me, she brought another man home to her bed. I took this as her No. There was another lover, too, that she took, though we continued to meet and make love. It was all more awkward, now that I had my son with me. And there was a basic life-style incompatibility. She liked nothing better than to sit by her gas-fire, with her children, watching television. I've been known to launch into bitter diatribes against television. Let me just claim, instead, I'm allergic to it. I can't watch TV without restlessness, irritation, annoyance. I'd want to be out of the room, outdoors, anywhere, in the pub or whatever. In fact, I'd bought a (clapped-out) TV for Merlin to watch, since he'd grown up with the medium. I didn't get it for myself (and when he left home I gave it, or a better one, acquired in the married state, away). I couldn't have lived with Angie, not with television.
When I took us with Hilary there was no more sex with Angie. Hilary didn't believe this. She'd asked me, "Are you still seeing Angie?" Well, a couple of times we'd chanced to meet in Tod, and talked about things in a coffee-shop, so I said, "Yes". I mistook what she meant by 'seeing'. But perhaps she did have cause for jealousy. Only this week do I realise how much of Continual Song is a Love Poem to Angie.
Later on, my newly-wed wife (1986) asked me, "Where are the poems about me?" I referred her to 84/01, and she threw an angry fit, and a dozen newly-printed books at me. She might have murdered me if I'd mentioned 70/15. If I could have understood my own writing, I should have broken with her, at least before she'd sold her house and moved in with me. She claimed that I'd invited her to do that. I do not remember doing that. To me she acted just as Margaret had done before. And these two relationships shared a similar flaw.
The flaw is all too obvious in the last verse: "The cow's mouth crops the thistle flower down.....swallowed.....slips into the oral gloom.....groans fallacious love". A clear confession of obsessive Lewinskyism. I shouldn't have accepted her mouth's insistent offer, but I feel helpless and go weak at the knees. It's like a drug. You can get addicted, and hate your addiction. If the marriage wrecked me, perhaps I deserved what I got.
71/14 I'm not quite sure what this particular poem is doing here. It's a typical version of some of my images, themes and concerns. And why 72/13 just here? It's set at the funeral reception, at Margaret's house, after her death.
73/12 resumes some themes from the secret-history,
romantic-thriller interests. Moss troopers. Religious wars. Walter
Scott territory. The true story of Fletcher Christian's return (you
don't have to believe me). And a vision of The Phoenix, which was to loom larger in later works.
The 'chalice in Orion' refers back to an unfinished project I'd conceived under the clear Cornish nightsky in the winter of 1976/7. I'd rename the constellations. Part of Orion became (what shape is a chalice?) a wineglass or a goblet, as I remember, and I'd written, "stemming to Bellatrix, and involving his belt". The truth is I wasn't familiar enough with the stars to complete the project.
74/11 testifies to my abiding love of the mumming Pace-Egg
Play (Midgley Version) performed each Good Friday, in these parts. My
proudest moment as a parent came about (after CS was published) when
Merlin, a sixthformer at Calder High, played The Fool.
The Princess Pulchrissima is no actual woman, but harks back to an adolescent youth's perfect ideal. There are no actual women in the Pace-Egg Play.
75/10 Another resumption of themes.
76/09 involves memories of a couple of visits to Liverpool.
77/08 From The Labyrinth of The Heart to The Paradise of The Soul
is the title of a book by Comenius, or Komensky, that has a lot in
common with John Bunyan's 'Pilgrim's Progress'. The man with a
fox-brush and the woman with the lapwing hat are found there. But there
used to be a Halifax eccentric who might be seen around town, many
days, carrying a tall lamp-stand, and wearing the shade on his head.
In April 1969 I reckon I must have been hitching from Cambridge to Colchester, to visit Ed Emery. And the weather was just as described. There's a glitter residue of lysergic acid in the air. And a white van of the water-board did pick me up, just as, eight years later, to the month, a white van of the water-board took me to view the Rutland Water.
78/07 Perhaps I might have noted, in the case of 21/64, the word 'nationalised' which dates it to a previous era. Daytime traffic on quiet country roads used to be 'vans of largely nationalised concerns'. But the times are changing, though Thatcher has not been in power for very long. There seems to be another slippage in chronology here. I'd given up building work when Merlin came to live with me, and signed up as a single-parent family, not (then) obliged to be available for work. Nonetheless I might take on a job or two 'on the side', in the 'black economy'. I met a bloke in the Mount Skip Inn (now closed) who wanted some pointing done. It was a break from working on the total conception of '84: Continual Song'. Things were beginning to get privatised.
79/06 seems even more out of chronology. I think it harks back to the rows with Chris and Niven. Again, justified 'prose' only means that I otherwise couldn't fit the poem on a single page.
80/05 For many years I suffered or enjoyed a recurrent dream
with many variations. It was clearly based on London experience, say,
1968-71. There was always a house with dark steep stairs and many rooms
off. Parties in many places can be like that. There's something
different going on in every room. What makes it London is that there's
also a railway system, partly based on The Tube, but it can also
involve all British Railways (remember that?). There are connections,
and missed connections.
I've not had that dream now for many years. If I go to London, I like to walk. 80/05 seems to be, like, a farewell to that dream.
81/04 I met the poet Neil Oram first when the 24-hour play-cycle 'The Warp' came to Hebden Bridge in 1978. In fact, I'd had his address in 1972, from the poet David Stringer of Leeds, and I'd meant to call when I was up in The Highlands with Chris. We'd come from Applecross and she wanted to visit Findhorn. It was raining and we drove on up by the side of Loch Ness, without stopping. In 1982 I was determined to visit, when I fell into sex with Hilary, so I included her in my plans. I could not forgo the pleasure she was giving me. His place was, is, up above Lewiston, near Drumnadrochit, Inverness-shire. It's a fine spot. A Caledonian Arcadia.
82/03 Hilary's assets included a small white caravan (now
green, and defunct), which she parked up on land belonging to the poet
Gordon Hoyles. Gordon owned a farmhouse and land, Bell House, of Cragg
Vale Coiners fame. He had no money, and the farmhouse was utterly
derelict. We were up there for some rag-tag Cultural Event. David
Stringer was there----just to show how, albeit inconsequentially, the
community (locals called us 'hippies') can interconnect.
As darkness fell we had a fire in the farmyard. I may have read some poetry ("I loquate"). At one point Gordon cut down an elder bush and threw it on the fire. That made something in me screech.
83/02 is poetry, again, pretending to be prose. I know the book is nearly finished. I gather together my Soul and my Guardian Angels.
I had no God or Saviour to believe in, but still the poetry had these characters: my soul and these 'guardian angels'. Believe it or not, the writing would not let them go.
Later on, when I tried to drop the word 'soul', the word 'spirit' became animated. I didn't know what else to make of it, but poetry.
84/01 I'm here, and standing in my doorway, maybe watching souls go by in the air. It's only ordinary life, and yet I make, for myself, a great dramatic song-and-dance of it. I only have one life. The Great Tragedy of my life is contained in the lines "the couple of our sexual scufflings/ in the natural dark", and I shan't expatiate, more, upon that theme here. I mean to try to write about my marriage-catastrophe elsewhere, in a chapter of an ongoing project I'm calling "The False Novel". A chapter called "The Seventeen Days", on the theme of 'The Miasma'. It's a fine doorstep. I stand there again, in September drizzle, 2005. And still I wish the day.
00/00 It amuses me now, how enamoured I became of the number 84, while composing Continual Song.
Two by forty-two. Three by twenty-eight. Four by twenty-one. Six by fourteen. Seven by twelve. That's enough to go on. The maths is simple enough. I just had to pretend that I'd made The Poem conform to the patterns I saw, and, for a while I succeeded in that pretence. I was proud of it.
Here's a dreadful thought: perhaps I married a woman who was selling her house to live with me just so I could publish, myself, this book of mine.
I was scarred for life, emotionally, but so far, I haven't died. Perhaps I got off lightly.
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