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The word dissolves

This talk was originally commissioned, but never delivered as a prologue to the Human Greed performance in Gdansk in the winter of 2008…

I was a child of Lorca…

El mundo es chicquita, y el Corazon es inmenso

The world, to my younger eyes was small, and the heart immense.

I removed myself from consideration and approached the heart as a third party. I spoke of “the heart” more often than I would “my heart”.

This, I realise, was to do with a weak and watery sentimentality that still allows me to weep in front of the television, in front of my sleeping children, walking through graveyards, gazing from train windows. Every waking moment carries a whisper of death. But you learn to live with that.

My way of living with it was to raise this idea of the heart well above my own head and praise it like a deity. I pulled my own heart out – this filthy beating thing that weakened me – and sought to have it treat me with a little more respect by dressing my self as the penitent pilgrim, come to pay homage with my little lines…

The Heart

Sparrow pulse, leaning pylon, industry of the heart

My life is cut
On telephones
And training of the heart

The wires that rub
Along the length
Of journeys of the heart

The voice is lost
In distances
With static of the heart

I lost my mind
And money
Following my heart

My mother pleads
For me to turn
My back upon the heart

She hates the pain
That enters me
With movements of the heart

I am a slave
to memory
And those who move the heart

I only feed
On energy
To gorge this hungry heart

I don’t regret
The years I killed
Quarrying the heart

Never am I
In surrendering the heart

Within a thousand
I give to you this heart

And though I’m poor
And ruined
I still hold up this heart

However long
I live here
I will empty out my heart

The carpet soaked
And bloody
With the debris of the heart

It was easy to maintain this distant grace as a lonely teenager raised on the moon and the smell of sheep. I think if I ever had the semblance of a self it dissolved further when I first moved into the city.

The city, like the heart, was something beyond my control. Something that I sought to tame by working it into the myth of my own existence. The heart and the city became one;


There is a Heart
There is a heart in the city
-Lie Forever
There is a heart under the city
-Lie forever breathing
There is a heart that beats underfoot, in your steps,
Matching your pace with a pulse in the city
-Lie forever breathing
-At the mercy of stone
-Dreaming of home
-Waiting for snow
-Aching to turn
-And open your days
-In the heart of this city

(heartbeat and snowfall)

This dissolving of self features in the great Sufi tradition of love poetry. They couldn’t figure out whether they were talking about God, or more earthly love and seemed happy to leave the distinguishing details vague and pretty and perfumed.

But the singular impact of love was to dissolve the individual. The self had to die.  A process known as Fana


I am feeling somewhat dead in your room
You step around me like clothes
Waiting to be folded
And closed into drawers.
I would welcome the dark drawer air
And the smell of your underwear

I am feeling somewhat dead in your arms
You lift me like the dolls
You always meant to put away
In boxes, in attics
I would welcome steep walls
And a hole in the floor

I am feeling somewhat obscene in this death
I remain still for days
Devising ways to rise before you
And affirm that my heart is alive
And in need of all in your name

But too happy the man is I
To be lost in you.
I sit in your clothes
In the dark, under the roof
And wait to cross your mind again

I maintained a growing cannon of one line events that never made it to the end of the page, never made it into a greater form.

There is still snow on the borders of April, There are still friends on the tightrope of comfort… that was 1984

Other fragments survived as single and half verses. I was never gripped with the need to have the work finished, complete, whole. Not with words.

… I fall with the untouched
Who grow damp on the ghost of my hand
As I move those accidental fingers
In the crack of my old false memories…

… There is something grander than sleep here. There is the glow of a two bar fire in winter. There is the steam on her breasts as the machinery tightens…

Little porno snippets from a hungry boy who thought that pretty poems would eventually open up the legs of every girl in town. There was always a motive for writing that sat outside the verse itself, sat outside the words. The words were tags and triggers. They had a small job to do. Much, much later I came to appreciate the significance of spells, of magic, of invocations – no small job.

What needst thou more covering than a man

That’s John Donne. The line sits amidst pages of verse, fragrant and rotten as forgotten fruit.

Let us take the dissolving of the written work further. Beyond half remembered fragments and napkin notes. Single words can become peculiarly charged with significance in the myth that our lives become. What words act as keystones in your own myth?

Snow, pylon, stone, winter, headlamp.

As much as a photographic portrait, it is possible to know who a person is by their keywords;

Naked, sparrow, war, thigh – who else but Leonard Cohen?

Moon, ant, guitar, gypsy – who else but Lorca?

Virus, hard-on, space – who else but William Burroughs?

Death. Meticulous. Orient. Malevolent – it has to be Paul Bolwes

With so much portentous information in single words, why construct the full package? Why go on with the novel, the poem, the play, the project. The word is nothing more than a suggestion, and the meaning is open – necessarily open – unavoidably open – to interpretation. Our delicate selves, our malleable identities that drift like silt on the deeper, darker pools of the id, the archetype, are too susceptible to suggestion.

Those who seek to work with words alone, are those who seek to move you. I mean move you from your place and put you somewhere else. Somewhere where they want you to be. They want to control you. Every time the troubadour opens his mouth he is trying to position another being on the bed. Nothing more.

The written word solicits a change of opinion. A word can never be exact. Not in English at least. But where words become the most persuasive is when they weave and swim and release multple triggers, each meaningless in itself, but part of a persuasive whole. Here is the lie of the poets. Here is the alignment of form and texture to present a controlling influence.

I had and have no interest in influencing the opinion of any living thing. Not even here. I grew up as a witness. I removed anything that sought to melt me, and I worshipped it in the third person. The heart. The soul. The woman. The black hill. The kneeling battalions of distant city lights as the plane begins its descent. I sit apart from it all and I try to make as few ripples as possible.

The Fisherman and the Blacksmith

There is no truth that the soul can sing
The truth of the soul is the pain of hooks
And iron furnace barbarism.

Here is the hammer,
Here are the nails,
Break me, little one.

Hunt for me in dark oceans
And draw me in on hooks.
Open me like an oyster cunt

Draw from me a broken song
With hammers and your fire
Bend me when I am beaten

Lift me from red ribbons
And nail me to your foot
I am yours, nail me down

Walk on me,
Your steps will raise
This broken song

The soul is not engaged
In slow and easy love
The heart is not embraced by peace

The soul is a beast that lives on raw hearts
It wants to eat your family
And torture you with longing

The soul swims
In deep water
Sounding for a mate

Wearing down
It’s teeth
On the bodies drifting down

The soul is just a beast that cannot understand
The beauty of the mind
Or the passing of morning

The soul is lost in the Dark Age
And only knows the hurt
It can bear and wage.

Its mediaeval patience
Burning with the candles,
At home amidst the furnace as the black deep of the sea

It lives on hearts
And wets its teeth
When it can feel us moving

It will not rise for music
It settles on the pen
Its only contribution here…


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Recipe, Alarm and the Weight of Leaked Time

For Christmas I received a big fat volume of Norman MacCaig’s poems. I asked especially for this as I had been recently haunted (this happens once in a while) by his poem, Recipe. On the occasions when I am so haunted I begin to see MacCaig’s skeletal form – his piercing gaze, his thin knowing lips – in various corners of the city.

It has been some time – years – since I turned to poetry. It used to be the first place I would look for grace and balance, and a certain stillness of mind. It felt strangely like Mother’s Milk.

A couple of nights ago I came to bed late and saw that S. had used the big fat volume to weigh down the digital clock in an effort to still the electric hum that disturbs us right through the night.

It has been years since I turned to poetry. It also occurs that it is now a decade since I thought to lift my own pen and write the stuff.

I scolded S. for daring to use the book in this way and returned it to the shelf. Then I killed the light and listened to the hum of leaking time thinking any poet would make something of this moment.

Recipe, Norman MacCaig

You have to be stubborn.
You have to turn away
from meditation, from ideologies,
from the tombstone face
of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

You have to keep stubbornly saying
This is bread, though it’s in a sunset,
this is a sunset with bread in it.
This is a woman, she doesn’t live
In a book or an imagination.
Hello, water, you must say, Hello
Good water.

You have to touch wood, but not for luck.
You have to listen to that matter of pitches and crescendos
without thinking Beethoven is speaking
only for you
And you must learn there are words
with no meaning, words like consolation
words like goodbye.

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Make the grass grow in the mouths of the dead

The nostaglia surge continues… I am infected by my past, by the reveries I would once upon a time fall prey to, by the staggering cocktail of mixing location with poetry, history with experience, the written words of the dead and the smell of the stones which they personally addressed.

The Chrysler Building in NYC has always floored me (much like the rest of that incomparable city) and a significant contributor to the effect that the building and the city have on me is Lorca’s Poet In New York collection. Here was a fellow of deep, deep insight who could only speak like a child. Here was a fellow whose Poem of the Deep Song killed me as a child and left an impression that I have yet to recover from – a scar that will never heal, thank God! A scar that shames the prosaic reality that marks much of my journey into middle age. “Brave Guitar, heart gravely wounded by five arrows” “She thinks the world is tiny and the heart immense” So here, in its entirety is Cry To Rome, (From the Tower of the Chrysler Building) by Federico Garcia Lorca.

Be aware, of course, that his obsession with death foretold clearly the morning that the soldiers took him to the Fountain of Tears, shot him in the testicles and humiliated him further until finally extinguishing his life and burying him in an unmarked grave, by the side of the dusty road, at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.

Apples barely grazed
by slender, silver rapiers,
clouds torn apart by a coral hand
that carries a firey almond on its back,
arsenic fish like sharks,
sharks like wailing drops that blind the masses,
roses that wound
and needles that lace the blood’s plumbing,
enemy worlds and loves covered with worms
will fall on you. Will fall on the great dome
that anoints the military tongues with oil,
where a man pisses on a dazzling dove
and spits pulverized coal
surrounded by thousands of hand bells.

Because there is no one to bestow the bread or the wine,
or make the grass grow in the mouths of the dead,
or spread the linen of rest and peace,
or weep for the wounded elepants.
There are only a million blacksmiths
who forge chains for tomorrow’s children.
Only a million carpenters
who make coffins with no cross.
Only a crowd of laments
unbuttoning their clothes, waiting for the bullets.
The man who scorns the dove should have spoken,
screamed naked between the columns,
and injected himself with leprosy
and shed tears terrible enough
to dissolve his rings and diamond telephones.
But the man dressed in white
knows nothing of the mystery of the wheat ear,
or the moans of a woman giving birth,
or the fact that Christ can still give water,
or the money that burns the prodigy’s kiss
and gives the blood of the lamb to the pheasant’s idiot beak.

The schoolteachers show the children
a marvelous light coming from the mountain;
but what arrives is a junction of sewers
where cholera’s nymphs scream in the shadows.
The teachers point devoutly to the enormous domes filled with
burning incense;
but beneath the statues there is no love,
no love beneath the final crystal eyes.
Love is in the flesh shredded by thirst,
in the tiny thatched hut struggling against the flood;
love is in the pits where the serpents of famine writhe,
in the sad sea where the dead gulls drift
and in the obscurest kiss bristling beneath the pillows.

But the old man with translucent hands
will say: Love, love, love,
acclaimed by millions of the dying;
he will say: Love, love, love,
amidst the gold lame that trembles with tenderness;
he will say: Peace, peace, peace,
among the shivering of knives and melons of dynamite;
he will say: Love, love, love,
until his lips have turned to silver.

Meanwhile, yes, meanwhile
the blacks who empty the spittoons,
the boys who tremble beneath the pallid terror of executives,
the women who drown in mineral oil,
the multitudes with their hammers, violins, or clouds—
they’ll scream even if they bash their heads against the wall,
scream in front of the domes,
scream driven crazy by fire,
scream driven crazy by snow,
scream with their heads full of excrement,
scream as if all the nights converged,
scream with such a heartrending voice
until the cities tremble like little girls
and knock down the prisons of oil and music.
Because we demand our daily bread,
alder in bloom and perennially harvested tenderness,
because we demand that Earth’s will be done,
that its fruits be offered to everyone.