Letter to a poet (on turning 70 and the radio dial)


 

for Geraldine Monk



 

The radio is searching for a station

(Test match special, desert island discs)

I was thinking that I cannot write

a poem to a poet (coals to Newcastle or Sheffield etc.)

and I can’t write anything else. A letter?

A rhythm catching memory and chance

in the inevitable kaleidoscopic mess.

It’s been centuries since the muse

decided to reside in aspects of a person’s life,

but when we write we still give up that self,

so that everything that is not us shines thru:

A wren, the radio, the traffic and the kettle

making tea or later a hot toddy, necessary

rituals that make our lives reasonably livable

played out between the ecstasies and agonies,

the flourishes of song and blossoming.

We sing because for us to be alive we teeter on

the nether edge of otherness, grateful, overawed,

responsible, momentarily, for song and what she sings.

 

It’s not enough that one shows fluency,

not quite—the song must be a part of history

not apart from it—a cry heard on the common,

a murmur that becomes true company

to hidden truths accessible by letting go

by turning on and tuning out the radio…

 

It can’t have been as long ago as that

when we met—both midgame mid-dance mid-glow

of living and allowing life. The dance continues

round the various rooms we end up in

where we sit and read, reflect and sometimes

share the ancient thrill of writing poems:

Yours as vivid as your heraldic colours,

burgundy and rose and mauve, a medieval chamber

come to life—and raucous laughter

like a magpie dancing on the lawn

or a jackdaw calling down the chimney

Nature’s clarion

because a festival is always just a tune away…

 

The Seelie and Unseelie courts unite

to cheer the Aztec Princess on her Cameleopard

riding with sambucas in each hand

Bess of Hardwick on the disco floor

dancing to Gladys and the Green Knight

(a weather forecast followed by the pips),

Brussel sprouts to celebrate the birth of the redeemer

Mother Mary intercede for us

(a sheela-na-gig astride the manger?)

a festival at once unruly and divinely gorgeous,

sister to Sitwell, Skelton and John Clare,

Dogger, Humber, Irish Sea,

Portishead, Moloko, Billie Holiday

Ghosts of the living, ghosts of the dead

Gothic & Modern like the Sheffield Marriott

or a car ride through the Derby Dales

Queen Boudicea on her chariot

(Alan-a-dale at the wheel)

a Northern ballad sung by Kathleen Ferrier

set to a galliard danced in hobnail-high-heels,

a rhythm as alive as breathing air

(the voice of Charlie Drake whispers in your ear)

 

In the static on the radio you hear an orchestra…

 

 


[Martin Corless-Smith is the author of a dozen or so books. He lives and teaches in Boise, Idaho.]

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