A poem from the dark-side

Some poems dip toes into little pools of darkness. Others just dive in, to rivers of shit. As Jung memorably said- we do not grow by turning always into the light but by making the darkness visible. Though this is one of the darkest poems I've ever written, I hope you enjoy it. The image of relationships ending in acrimony and hatred or betrayal, that always comes to my mind, is of bloody and cruel trench warfare. Of slaughter. As family mediation is one of the strings on my bow of being, I am witness to a lot of this. I suppose, to continue the analogy, I'm one of the stretcher bearers running round gathering up the bits. I once had a powerful dream of separated parents as medieval knights jousting, using their children as lances-'splintering against their shields of hate.' Of course it's not always like that. Many people, probably most, end their relationships with quiet dignity even heroism. But that doesn't make for the best dark poetry!
And yes...For a while I was a soldier there myself-bewildered and trench-footed.
This is an inverted sonnet-that is, with octet and sestet changed round and without punctuation of any kind, apart from the bracketed (to us), and the paltry comma after 'you, and me' to create a sense of separation, topsy-turviness and confining loss.
This is from my nearly completed collection 'The Book of Three Rings.' For which I am currently seeking a publisher!


Kindness is a language that is dead (to us)
A gag that swells within our strictured throats
We’ve laid the concrete over our green fields
And cut down all the trees and crucified
It all upon a cross of hate and pain
Hammered in with poisonous nails

Our insides spilled out in a bloody trench
Beneath the clouds of deadly gas-the stench
rises from the corpses of the family friends
Lying half-buried in the sodden mud
Beyond them by a blackly blasted tree
Lies something that once was you, and me
It lies now in a desecrated tomb
For we've been born again-as living wounds


From a 1994 Notebook

I felt a frozen thought fall from the book shelves. Morning light danced on the carpet as it crawled across the floor and wound its way upstairs and under the bedroom door.

Onions/Carrots/Potatoes/Celery/Cauliflower/Green-Red Pepper/1 small cooking apple/Tomatoes

...I am amazed that such an attractive woman should do such a job. We are in the lakes, somewhere, in some kind of park. She becomes cold and although I dearly want to fuck her, I go running round her. Run miles to find the car and bring it to her. Running like a little boy trying to please the headmistress when all I really want to do is come all over her. She is best described as willowy...reed-like...as if glimpsed through gauze.

Yet again of Sharon. She ends up sharing my bed with some other guy but I fuck her anyway. It's good.....................(water damage has removed words)...I am sure that she knows. In fact the radical fact is that she doesn't, but something profound had changed. Some atmosphere of trust has dissolved. But by God, it was good fucking her.

There was this awful time at the bedside. Holding that hand that the fucking demon arthritis had swollen then withered into a claw. I felt a surge of something deep in my body, something cold entered my heart and i knew with unshakeable certainty I was feeling death on me. I knew she was going to die. My head began to swim. A chair scraping on the floor sounded like a car crash. A toilet flushing sounded like a great river breaking its banks.
'Tell me' I demanded suddenly fiercely, urgently...'Do you love me?'

Flowers from her grave.

'Even the darkest night has an end. Even the brightest stars must ultimately be extinguished. Even the all-conquering mountains must collapse into their own bony entrails. There is no forever-that's just blind faith. There is only the knowledge of now and some unreasoning certainty about tomorrow.
More than that is too dreadful to contemplate. What the early Church did not realise is that one moment in hell is for all eternity. The experience of hell never leaves...never leaves.'
'You've put a foot in hell then?' smiled the newspaperman.
'I-have-been-there-yes...I should say that.' He spoke the words with such intensity that the smile drained from the newspaperman's face like air from a child's balloon.

Pancakes/Spinach/Ricotta1/4/ Gorgonzola 1/4/Parmesan1/4/Spring Onions/Mozzarella1/4/Double Cream/Butter/Milk

A contagious silence billowed and eddied around the house, peopling it with ghosts-stairs creaked, slithering hands rubbed wet windows in the rain. Floorboards groaned like restless sleepers and with the last ebb of the sun it became a dormitory of tiny noises.

TVP/Chunks and Mince/Turmeric/Mung beans



I wrote recently that I would unpack a poem from my impending collection to indicate a bit about how it emerges from the chrysalis of thought into the form, meter and rhyme of a whole, complete poem.

Here's the original poem in all its uncut glory. When I wrote it I thought it was a finished thing; when I returned to it, it seemed so unfinished as to be hardly started.


Contractions have ceased
for two weeks.
There has been silence.
No little kicks or movements.

But now I birth this
being back to life.
Push out this new sound.
It is a pub-delivery.

A message from the omnipotent stars?
Postcards from the Pleiades?
No-just these small words
Like tiny fists, opening and closing
in the gloaming.

Well,it's an experience just writing that out without interfering! The poem was about a fallow period in the middle of a creative frenzy of some nine months when most of 'The Book of Three Rings' was written. A period when I had given up work to concentrate on writing and other stuff-real work!

I experienced this period as some kind of pregnancy and that's what got me thinking about this metaphor. Poems were dropping like daily babies on the floor and the first word 'contractions' came in to my head.
But the rhythm in those first two lines is unhappy-making. A first line of four syllables and two stresses and a second line of three syllables with two stresses. Why not join the line up to make four clear stresses-tract/ceased/two/weeks?

Contractions have ceased for two whole weeks

It's certainly a lot clearer with a regular four beat line(tetrameter)though there's no getting away from the ugliness of 'contractions'-not a nice word! Maybe I should have put 'Contractions they have ceased for two whole weeks' but the 'they' seemed to contrive the line into pentameter in a very artificial way. It seemed to take away some truth, and all and everything,even the laws of prosody must bow their heads to truth. Non?

'There has been silence' seems a bit obvious and lacking the fear that went with the lack of creative juice-would it ever return? So it became:

An all pervading silence surrounds me.

This is much better with it's sense of that almost palpably oppressive type of silence and my comfort zone-the iambic pentameter. Ti-Tum Ti-Tum Ti-Tum Ti-Tum Ti-Tum.

No little kicks or movements with its terribly clumsy beat becomes:

No swimming in the limpid sac-no kicks

Of course I'm in danger of doing my metaphors to death here but really there's no going back so the author just dives in with a clear and colloquial declaration:

So now I'll birth this bugger back to life:

This starting to be a bit of a piss-take with the capitals signifying a shouted line. We must not take ourselves too seriously hence:

(medicated with the sacred hop)

I decide to keep the next couplet pretty much as it is but change 'stars' to 'gods'.

A message from the omnipotent gods?
A one-off postcard from the pleiades?

The poet is confronted with his own hyperbole and confesses his sins pentametrically:

No way! Just fucking words and words and words.

But like a good poetic sneak just can't resist returning to his clever metaphor and giving the ending a gloss as if the closing door has had a makeover. In poetry this showiness is generally a fault. The poet is seduced by his ever more outlandish metaphors and similes. Like a drug-addicted lover who we just can't leave. Ah, that old seducing mind!

So we have:

Like tiny fists on waving stalks.
Like dumb mouths opening/closing, in their sleep.

So the re-written poem is:


Contractions have ceased for two whole weeks.
An all-pervading silence surrounds me.
No swimming in the limpid sac-no kicks.
So now I'll birth this bugger back to life:
(medicated with the sacred hop.)
A message from the omnipotent gods?
A one-off postcard from the pleiades?
No way! Just fucking words and words and words.
Like tiny little fists on waving stalks;
like dumb mouths opening/closing,in their sleep.

I think it's lots better but I hate to see my hubris so nakedly displayed!

Success to your work!


Jen Hadfield wins 2009 T S Eliot Prize!

Jen Hadfield is the youngest poet ever to win the T S Eliot Prize. She is prodigiously gifted as a poet, and has a voice that melts the legs and caused a mild palpation in this elderly gentleman's chest! Hear her read on the magnificent Poetry Archive-(Very well done indeed Andrew Motion). 'Nigh-No-Place,' her second collection reeks of the harbour-smells of Scottish islands-those God-droppings set in sapphire. There is a lilting thread that gently weaves a skein through all the poems. Language used like brushes of gentle light to articulate the moods of weather, the blashy-wadder, the inner moods. Here sheep and cats and dogs are characters. There is a refreshing sincerity in Jen's poems (when I went back to my own work I was appalled by my poetry's gravitas, its metropolitan disdain or pehaps the frown it wears as it looks around for victims...Ahem.) Jen's poems have none of that-they are indeed fresh, open and young. I wish her well in what promises to be a very fruitful career.
Buy the book and read it slowly rolling the words inside your skull as you would a good wine in your mouth. There's iodine from the seaweed gathering in your nostrils as you read this verse. Sit with it and carry the poems around for a few days. There's a waft of Lagavulin here. These poems take you back to what really matters-they mind you what your poetry's for.