PROFESSOR TOM LEONARD: POET AND SCHOLAR—GOOD STYLE

 

In Admiration of the Maître

 

The willingness   to listen for these words    in the now ;

Music   on a wee,    brass scaff .

 

 

: in May 2007 I joined Glasgow University as staff and my colleague Professor Tom Leonard took me under his tutelage as a poet. His pedagogy was exemplary—to be in the presence of the language, the story of another being with that other being; to participate in the sign that 'someone had heard the story, and the teller was no longer necessary'. Tom had a lidless gaze on language.

I invited him to lead postgraduate seminars in modern poetry. He would light a candle at the start in recognition of 'the universal human as inclusive and absolute'. The room was spell bound by his performance of 'My Name is Tom' and by his sound-setting of an extract from Either/Or by Soren Kierkegaard, weaving recordings of Tom's younger self with his live voice in the room: 'this pursuit itself is little more than a mood from which nothing results but a knowledge of it'. We were plunged into a virtuoso vortex of mood and language that no one present has ever forgotten. At the close of the seminar he would quietly snuff out the candle.

For the last six years or so I opened our flagship first year course, 1A: Poetry & Poetics, day one, lecture one, poem one with 'the pee as in pulchritude' of Tom's poem 'Poetry'. The course ended in week eleven with Tom himself reading his poems to the students in the lecture slot on elegy, and he always included his two great elegies on his mother – 'Placenta' and 'An Ayrshire Mother'. He brought the house down with his finest manifesto poem 'Being a Human Being'. He was in fact obliged to repeat the lecture immediately having finished it, since the class is so large we have to deliver every lecture twice. For a poet who was so fully present and alive to his words, and to the uniqueness of every context of utterance, this was quite a feat of stamina. And the second lecture was of course always a departure in some respects from the first, and truly moving to witness, especially latterly when Tom was travelling everywhere with an oxygen cylinder. No podcast or recording could ever do justice to the experience of being present in the room.

We are all here because each of us is 'someone who has heard his story', and we will continue to be present, fully present, to exist in the presence of Tom Leonard's language :

 

 

how your bone-white pips alice

 

fall douce soft on hard solstice
sting plunk from a ripe sky
i-i deep in some word caves
minding gaps for breath space
into a stillness of the small hours

seeking unique signs of universal play

i-i am listening for the sweet rasp

of a language that is free and honest

made by someone being free and honest

 

how even the year's shortest day

cannot hold off the last spasm

how a news announced at six
at ten at midnight still chimes

its bogus phatic communion
with big ben how a legal time
is still said by a man with a bbc accent

follows five short pips then a long one:

bip–bip–bip–bip–bip—beep

 

how your bone-white pips say:

my name is tom—is not dead

 

                                                                                                    (12 January 2019)

 

 

 

[IF GENOMIC SCIENTISTS WERE IMAGISTS...]

 

This Is Just To Say

 

I have taken

the eggs

that were in

your ovaries

 

and which
you were probably

saving
for spermfest

 

Forgive me
they were petri dished

so oocyte
and so cloned


 

BRIEFLY IN THE WOODS

 

comes infectious
uncertainty
everything
and its opposite
seems true
being indoors

 

gets sticky it appears career
psychopaths are in charge
replicating deadly
malfeasance surely

 

blind catastrophe
is at hand
blind catastrophe
is at the wheel

 

therefore
i-i propose
we test


under emergency powers
for the dark triadic traits

 

yes test and test
track and trace

 

all those in charge
in the workplace
everywhere test

 

with my hastily redeveloped
diagnostic kit the all new bio-
psychosocial model for work
incapability assessment based
on my very own policy based
evidence yes the all new bio-
psychosocial model for work
incapability assessment can
now be used to control out
breaks of even the most
malignant of self-serving
callous arrogant corporate
governmental psychopaths
in charge in any workplace

 

by helping
to isolate
these unfortunate
people who are
suffering
lethally incurable
narcissistic
personality
disorders

 

by helping them
from behind the wheel
of blind catastrophe

 

by helping them
out of the workplace
into welfare

 

proudly to stand by
harmless at last
in the comfort
of a permanent
universal credit
in total control

 

over their own
tiny world their
medieval
unknowing
only deepens

 

 


 

[Jane Goldman is Reader in English Literature at Glasgow University and likes anything a word
can do. Her poems have been published in Adjacent Pineapple, Gutter, Scree, Stand, Tender, Zarf,
and elsewhere. Her first slim volume was Border Thoughts (Leamington Books, 2014), and her new
collection SEKXPHRASTICS is forthcoming with Dostoyevsky Wannabe.
]


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