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Sample Poems and Readings
with thanks to Heather Parnell, Pocket Remains
Beyond the softnesses of squirrel, sable, the more liquidly flickering kinds of weasel, there is mouse-whisker, down-feather of cloud-pheasant, newborn baby’s hair. Don’t credit the word ‘air brush’. There is nothing to be said with that in your calligraphy. But look into the fire. Pick one flame. Watch how it licks itself, its frayed point, to the finest definition. Try to read, then to write, what is sketched by that tip. * In the lost script of the silent people, thirty one characters seem to refer to shades of being absent – e.g. ‘the sense that someone has just left a room where they were never present’ or ‘the state of having left what is no longer there’. There is a possibility that you will understand them. You have been warned. Do you want to read on? * Among the rakings out of last night’s bonfire, this: a flicker book of stills, half way to negatives, each brief exposure of maybe an almost a face as it twisted away but not before its glance burned in as her or his face turned away might scorch the other to the heart. Here’s a snap of the heart, its heat print on the moment, here's its ash-print on the air. They’ll keep the albums, the two matching albums of each other, see each other's faces riffled by in all the windows of a passing train. * As if the most mundane and crumpled of us might reveal in the body one day what the mind hardly dared suppose: spontaneous combustion – every cell resolving, in a kind of Rapture, God's equation, e = mc2 * With a lighter-than-thinking brush-point, a less-than-a-finger-tip’s flick, in an eye’s-blink, a kiss to the page: a mark left without pigment or ink – the almost weightless imprint in the grass, the pad-scuff in sand where life brushed past us, so close: signs the old bush people knew. Ten thousand years they shared the land with wildfire in its season. Untended now, it stalks the gardens of the suburbs, leaving crude graffiti we can’t read beside our looted bins. * Where the angel of fire passed over and did not stop to knock: a darkening... Where it came low, slowed and let its wingtip brush between the streetlight and the blinds: its shadow, with us... Where it hesitated on the gable: soot-fall in the bricked-in chimney, its grit on the page... In the morning a scar, a charred hole burned clean through where it entered: as close as we'll come to beholding the face, to transcribing the one and unsayable name.
From A Part of the Main
old Gogmagog lies crumpled on the beach, like the buckle-kneed girders of the rusting pier. old gun-emplacements, rather — the sinking East coast of this skew-whiff island wears them jauntily until the final slither. ah well, let the old dog off the lead, watch him lolloping down to the tide line, barking at the crash, recoiling, and barking again. we hardly see that the horizon’s faded, sea mist rising, until a faint whickering chink of rigging says: look up — white sails in the mist, and voices, too close, small and flinty clear, the way mist does. this is another border. we are not quite anywhere.
Cormorants on the Taff
Mulfran: mule-crow: half-heraldic, mixmatched, mongrel, a sturdy first cross of cool-eyed snake and canny corvid — a bit too much neck quite to know what to do with at rest – four or five in a hunch midstream above their shuddering reflections on a hummingly high tension cable, un-scorched but as if pre-shrivelled by the shock of time (think archaeopteryx, think a fossil in flight) and what became of us : our sagging power lines, large-bore pipes, whole towns of thirst and wastage cross-lacing the course of the Taff, like a body rusting past retirement age, all its workings on show. Say crooked and you've got the mule-crow wrong. That one straight flight upstream or down (just cutting a meander here or there) is the measure of things, whatever water does the true meridian round which our dry fields our papery brick plains warp and flutter, sheets pegged in the wind. Blown away. Now the mulfran unfolds, is off up to the far bright water-bodies of the sheep-despoiled uplands or down to the high tide held in we would like to think forever by the bonny trumped-up buttress of the Bay.
Just a wish out of place — the first click starts a ticking backwards: one pop of a pod of balsam, like a caught breath, like a sigh in-sucked, and its blush-blooms, in popsicle-pink and all over us briefly, start acting their age now, retracting their flip asides; they shrink into something like shame. Go dark like a playhouse in Puritan times. The buddleia shrugs off its easy disconnected butterflies. But this will be nothing to the tearing up, the snap-crackling of roots. First that sad defeated carnival of rhododendrons (and who would defend them?) herded from the hills; then the other non-natives, one by one... The pears may try to merge in with the apples, yes, the crabbiest of them, until they're denounced and we'll wake to the rumble of the sycamores retreating; London planes stripped of the name, leaving squares bare and pitted. They make for the sea, hoping to unpick the trade routes, wind the tides back, all the accidents that brought them... Now the lights are going out all over Europe's gardens. Bird migrations locked out. Silence deep enough to catch the drift like smoke, like snow, of the murmur of gone approaching: wildfowl flowing south, the grunt and lowing of the ice sheet crumpling into place. Almost as if we'd wished it. As if it had never been away.
: a heart- shaped scorch- patch in the bracken. Today a spat of Valleys rain has stopped it there but each Easter makes tinder of this hillside, a swathe of crisp brown question-marks, fire in them itching to run where it will and how could you resist it, being fourteen and full of the slack of the day, of the nothing to go home to, with a lighter in your jeans, the others looking on? A fair wind, luck, and there'll be sirens this evening, smoke- signalling We were (are still) here where they'll already be too late, those flatfoots in vizors and fire suits, cartoon spacemen in the wrong film. Watch them chasing the last of the flame-snakes, wriggling here, there. Different greynesses into the night sky: smoke and steam. That's a good day, when everyone wakes to sodden rakings-over, world restored to black-and-white, shoots shrivelled to wisps, bared rocks and birch trunks scorched, a stink as alkaline as birdlime, valley like a morning-after ashtray (yes, you in the dinky estate by the station, we'll rub your noses in it), like a riddled grate of clinker, where coal was. Not far beneath the skin of new-turfed green, dug under but still smouldering, the heart. The scar.
A Love Song of Carbon
For six years, on a high shelf in an upstairs bedroom, she was the only one who did not change. Down here, in the oxygen economy, we came and went, our carbon still mixed with water, breathing, moistening, drying — yes, even our youngest, there, etching in breath on the glass, now a smiley or down-in-the-mouth-now moon-face dripping. He took time, the eldest, withering without her, needing ointments for his thinned and flaking skin — the sores on his shin did the weeping, the chemical bonds coming loose, letting parts of him go... As patient as she'd learned to be in life, she waited, dressed and contained — in leather-textured cardboard round a screw-top urn. Six years till the day they could meet in all simplicity, at last, entirely conversant with each other. Ash into ash lifts from my broadcast scatter, and into a wet wind for winnowing, chalkier flakes dropping free into wire-rooted ling, small gorse, bell heather, rabbit scuts; the finer grains fetched up (we flinch, then stay, yes, why not let them dust us) lifting towards Sheepstor, North Hessary Tor, Great Mis Tor and the deeper moor beyond whatever skyline he and she had ever reached. The rain clouds come up over Cornwall like the grey Atlantic. Generations. Wave on wave on wave. for JKG and MJAG, 10.06.12
Flying Down Wales
The wind bucks but it doesn't refuse us — does us no favours either, no more than it would a moderately successful bird. The land, though, gives little away from bird height. (Swans, calmly rowing, aren't unknown at 20,000 feet.) Not dark yet, but the edges of things begin to blur as age will loosen our grip first on names, nouns, days, then on all definition... We track down the knobble- back spine of a difficult country — surly wrinkles in the grey, the sun withheld, till all at once and suddenly every tarn, stream- capillary, oxbow and stippling reed-bed, each least bog-seep is gold- tooled script, is fire-spill from the smelting furnace. Or say: we see what the birds see with their thousand miles to fly and steering by the flicker-compass in the genes: the stateless state of water, on the frontier between day and night.
Vocable, part 19.
for John Ninety now, you're adrift on the vowel-stream, the crisp edge of all your five languages gone and we're back to the least of language. It's all one, your, his or my slight modulations of the bare vowel of animal need (though even there how they give us away, our vowel sounds: class, place, family secrets, the wrong school or side of the blanket or overstayed visa, let slip, between one consonant and the next. Erect a fence of plosives, dentals and fricatives as we will... in times of war and weather we can't stem the vowel-flood; it will swell, barely articulate. No border can contain it; it will seep, erode, find cracks; it will break through.
On the uniqueness of the individual
there is plenty said, so let us sing
Same — the perseveration of pylons
shuffling to likeness on their clod-bound feet
whatever the slope. Each quirk of a bolt
here, there an extra bracing, is a symptom,
scar or affectation — in short, personality.
Like the knee-doctor who makes conversation
(gravely smiling) with this lesion, that dwindling
bone density, or the therapist or the priest
nodding to the same old hungers, two or three
same shames, same bruises, we come to the wood
of common being through the trees of detail
case by case by case by case.
Low tide at the sea lock, a forty foot drop to muddy shallows... One boat's width of channel that the dredger grubs up daily... Silt to one side scored in circles where they dragged for don't ask what... The tall shut doors of the hall of the world at which the weight of water, of incipience, does not need to knock: feel it there like a shudder of difference, the engine of change. Now, almost soundless, hinges shift. With a gradual calibrated rip like a concord of lathes, with a crypt smell, two green-grey-brown stiffening blades of water fold in. They curve, feathering themselves in free fall: wings flexed, shuddering, not to soar but to pour themselves down, to earth the charge, liquid solid as rock and untouchable, trouncing itself to a froth, to exhaustion, till with a sigh the gates can open, and the world, our world, small craft, come through.
Fire Forms (1)
My father had a way with fire: the candle-flame cupped in his hands as if he'd given birth to it. It was a man thing, this familiarity. My mother winced away. He tamed it with a slow stroke of his finger through the flame which did him no harm; no, it curled to his touch; it rubbed itself against him till he licked his thumb and finger tip and pinched its life out, gently, at the root. This gift could be mine too, like a son's right... I just had to be sure — hesitate, and you're burned. It looked like a chance not worth taking and I didn't... until thirty years later with my son's eyes watching me. And it did hurt, and I didn't say.
The Abstract Garden
I come back more often these days, where I've never been: the Almohad garden. The idea of it — cool proportions in the formless heat, a reticence of arches, the pierce-patterning of shade like my great-aunt's pepper-shaker. Raised paths, sunken ground kept under leaves, a shared secret, and the pond bed dry... with glints, a surface, courtesy of last night's spiders. But the aqueducts are crumbling as we speak; the hordes of After have let it all go like an unsolved equation, the court of al-jibr, where the known and unknown terms converse, the guests of zero. Imagine it gone, as good a place to start as any, a ground plan at most in the lie of the parking bays out back of the new mall. Imagine yourself, arriving, tourist in another language, to be told you're years too late... turning away, exhausted by the flight, by missed connections, misdirections, too many faces, camera-flash, screens, windscreens and oh, the longing to peel off the film-thin veneer of your self from yourself and so it occurs; one moment, that sufficiency of light through screens, of unseen paths in combinations masterful as chess or Go, so simple you could spend a lifetime in them, ways we might walk, even at this late date, peaceably, alongside anyone, with not a common word between us. No, closer than that.
All The Weather You Can Think Of
No, I said, this wasn't what we ordered but it was delivered to our window: dawn came with a flash, then slow considered thunder, then a cresting wave of wind, hail chittering, some dark like night again, and all of a sudden the sun! Six impossible things before breakfast... where the TV weather girl was being sweet and bright and keen like a child with something for the Nature Table though we all know what she's in is a blue space, and she's gesturing in trust that everything needful to make sense of her is being digitally mastered in. This wasn't what we ordered. Don't you know what day it is? I asked her with the sound down, and her hands and eyes said Yes, said Yes to everything as if she would have married me and all of us, us and our weather, there and then. Which sent me out into silvery streets, with flashes of discarded sunlight everywhere: pavements, gutters, passing windscreens — here, blue sky, and there a black cloud propped against a near horizon, and a rainbow stump, just the base of one under construction, like more than a miracle (for God it's just too simple), like the work of human hands together, our joined hands, today. This wasn't what we ordered but we won't say no.
She spent winter and spring in her chrysalis, a strait world shrunk and puckered like a mis-stitched scar. Inside it held a breaking down of things like a drop of original swamp sea. Which is one way not to speak of unopening windows resigned to the view of the CAUTION PATIENTS CROSSING speedbumped drive; the coded sign NO CASUALTY DEPARTMENT here among so many casualties; the swabbed smells and the sounds off like that sobbing on legs down the corridor, and the dribbling overspill from the padlocked pool where a green beach ball scuds slow eccentric orbits to the pipe and back and round... * Hawk moth caterpillars dropped from the limes in our street, pointless manna she'd save like the good girl she was, on damp earth in a jamjar. They shrank to sealed flasks for the usual great experiment. We found a blood-brown drip in the husk where one vanished; another that, shrink- wrapped too tight in itself, couldn't ever split free. So seeing her now rise from the station subway with bags marked for home, to the lip of the crowd, and hesitate, not a child now, and not any image I could make to hold her, I can't call her name, I can't find words for her, I wouldn't dare.
Finding Philip Gross's poetry online
The Poetry Archive is a splendid library of readings by our best contemporary poets. Click on the Full Tracklist to hear extracts from a wide selection of Philip's poems, and cheaply download the ones you'd like to keep, link here.
Philip Gross is one of a small number of poets who have separate collections in the Archive for their adult and their children's poetry. Click through for his young people's work.