That Was Geoffrey Hill’s Poetry

HT

(With 3 of the best poets and best people I know: l-r Paul Fitchett, Lucy Ayrton, Andie Berryman, yours truly)

Last night’s Hammer and Tongue slam was always going to be criss-crossed with lightning from the emotional charge in the room. It was the first slam since the death of Davy Mac, the wonderful man and dear friend who graced the microphone there so often and so beautifully, winning the Oxford regional final in 2012 and finishing second in 2013. I’m still trying to put the right words together in the right order to compose my own tribute. Suffice to say there are very few people in the world I’d say I really love, and now there’s one fewer. And when Andie Berryman read his last poem, Conversation with a Rock, and walked away leaving a packed room applauding the empty, spotlit mic it was like that lovely impish grin lit up the room for one last time.

As the oldie I performed last night got a few updates both to tighten the structure (erm, to give it any structure at all) and to make it a little more current with the references, I thought I’d share it here. So this is the late 2014 version. I should probably introduce and contextualise it with the brief intro I gave last night:

“Oxford has a professor of Poetry called Geoffrey Hill.

Geoffrey Hill believes that contemporary spoken word like you’ve heard here tonight has nothing to say.

Geoffrey Hill is a cock.”

This Is Geoffrey Hill’s Poetry

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry stark bollock naked with its genitals stapled to the steps of the ashmolean

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry shredded into 95 pieces and pinned to the cathedral door

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry on so much acid timothy leary reassembled himself from spaceshit just so he could give himself an enema of it

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry and it’s got a gary glitter onesie with your name on it

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry meaning meaning layer layer meaning layer meaning meaning meaning meaning i don’t want to fucking rhyme because that has no MEANING

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry it’s been locked away so long its eyes have evolved themselves out of existence but that’s ok because every other sense has evolved to compensate and that’s why it’s so fucking perceptive

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry spread-eagled across the red tops for unspeakable crimes against, you know, that kid that went missing that no one can remember the name of but we all vaguely remember the photo and there were placards about how awful it was and we made memes of because the parents of dead children got some apostrophes wrong

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry as it would appear if they did a new domesday book and asked everyone how much geoffrey hill poetry they owned and what it looked like after the ground swallowed the bodies of  eric garner and michael brown and still gleamed white with the glorious corpus of geoffrey hill’s poetry

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry and quite possibly at the end of the universe in amongst all the black dwarves there’ll be professor brian cox still banging a beat from d-ream and saying entropy is what happens when everything breaks down into a billion billion ineluctable sub-particular soups of geoffrey hill’s poetry

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry stark bollock naked banging at the door and it’s raining and inside the homeless and the dispossessed dance deliriously round a gigantic metaphor of nigel farage breastfeeding the baby piss christ

this is geoffrey hill’s poetry cold and alone somewhere at the edge of a ghost-town watching the lights go out one by one

To Whom it May Concern

Inspired by an umpteenth watching of Adrian Mitchell’s extraordinary reading of To Whom It May Concern at the International Poetry Incarnation at the Albert Hall

I will be performing this poem for the very first time at the Alliance of Independent Authors’ fringe event at the London Book Fair, and then it will be part of The Age of Absinthe, my show with Claire Trevien at Chipping Norton Literary Festival. Do read more about the show here, and then book tickets here – they won’t last long!

Death slipped inside my skin one day
Ever since the kiss my dreams have all been grey
So wash my feet in concrete oubliettes
Scatter my words like maggots on the sand.

I threw my heart with yours to the bottom of the Thames
The waters threw it back so fast I got the bends
So anoint my lips with psalters of decay
Wash my feet in concrete oubliettes
Scatter my words like maggots on the sand.

I read sonnets to a dying queen
Don’t think she heard, she’d barely turned thirteen.
So wipe my tears with half-lives
Anoint my lips with psalters of decay
Wash my feet in concrete oubliettes
Scatter my words like maggots on the sand.

I took snapshots through the smog of your sons and daughters
Coughed out nostalgic halitosis on the rising waters
So braid my hair with PCBs
Wipe my tears with half-lives
Anoint my lips with psalters of decay
Wash my feet in concrete oubliettes
Scatter my words like maggots on the sand.

When they took your voice you left your shadow on the wall
When you were here, you never looked that tall
So knit my brow with promises
Braid my hair with PCBs
Wipe my tears with half-lives
Anoint my lips with psalters of decay
Wash my feet in concrete oubliettes
Scatter my words like maggots on the sand.

Across the green and broken land I heard a baby cry
Tried telling her to dream but couldn’t tell her lies
So embalm me with poets’ come
Knit my brow with promises
Braid my hair with PCBs
Wipe my tears with half-lives
Anoint my lips with psalters of decay
Wash my feet in concrete oubliettes
Scatter my words like maggots on the sand.

undreamt

undreamt

fifty frozen frames from fresher to forgotten
unspool without a sigh,

unwaxing statues into slack-jawed oubliettes where
drying walls unsee magic lanterns dampening the shadows,

oiling lamplit slabs with happinesses dripped from
demijohns laid down and lost to lips.

unset ambers unlock the briefest mayfly flare
that slips through sticky surfaced water to its sleep and

loose-lipped promises unpledge themselves while
silk-skulled spires rescarve themselves in beautiful indifference.

Jedward Make Me Happy

If you’ve come here because you love Jedward, you may also enjoy my novel Black Heart High. You can click here to download it for free, and read all about it here.

Find me on Facebook here.

It’s one of the things that many people don’t know about me, and would never guess, that I am endlessly fascinated and delighted by Jedward. So when they turned up filming in Oxford today and I dashed out of the office and actually got to see them in the flesh, it felt like I’d ticked something rather wonderful off my bucket list. And, in a bid to become the poet laureate of Jedward, I thought I’d write a poem.

Jedward Make Me Happy

Jedward make me happy.
Some friends thing I’m dappy
and others think I’m sappy
but I don’t care
if they stare or glare
or call me square
because Jedward make me happy.
Not it’s rather nice it’s sunny happy
nor fluffy bunny
nor down the sofa I found some money happy
and not I think that’s kind of funny happy
but heart lightened
darkness frightened
horizons brightened
with a hope that paints the sky from side to side.
There’s a place for introspection
retrospection, deep reflection.
There’s a place for troubles, trials, politics and guile,
but there’s also space for things that simply make you smile.
So if you find their words too rappy
or their music makes your toes too tappy
I don’t care
if you stare or glare
or fail to find the wonder in their hair
because Jedward make me happy.

Uncompleted Partwork

It’s National Poetry Day. I’m a poet. It would be churlish not to contribute a poem. This comes with all kinds of trigger warnings.

I’m doing lines because I’m guilty.
Pissed about in hall
And mouthed off on the wall.
Found out by chalk dust on a trouser leg
I begged to be allowed to talk,
To say the thing I had to say,
That bullies mustn’t have their way.
But “not today”, and “not this week”,
“This paper, this apology, is all you get to speak.”

I’m doing lines because I’m guilty.
Snuck out the back again
And closed my eyes to count to ten
But hollow footsteps followed me.
I’ve borrowed all the freedom from tomorrow’s me
Now I just cadge a memory
Overlaid in powder
On a faded photograph of me.

I’m doing lines because I’m guilty.
A single piece of artwork
In an uncompleted partwork.
There’s a metronome of accusation where my heart was
A darkness filled with undeparted voices,
Choices other people made,
Pleasures that weren’t mine,
Pleasures that weren’t even pleasures
Just to kill some time.
I’ve done my lines.
I’ve done my time.
I may be guilty but I’m free
And finally I hear my own lips say “I’m fine.”

together alone (together) ()

276.314 kilometres from the postbox on your street
is a room
where i imagine you
watching marina abramovic
folding and unfolding opalescent bodies
into the envelope of a fireplace.

as the crow flies.
by road
my endless iterations of attempted quantification
are thwarted like beginner’s gambits
by carefully positioned lay-bys
where i climb banks and piss in coke bottles dusted with cigarette ash and pace in bushes in silent circles
waiting for doggers who never show.

it consoles me
that marina has fuelled 47082 more seconds
of our combined fantasies
than the someone
whose shit-smeared picture pulled cubist through
a salesman’s ass
catches tears warmed by that thought.

beside open bacon
in your kitchen are two bowls of
powder paint

red and blue and tomorrow
after we masturbate on the vinyl floor
we will mix them separately with the fluids
and in the afternoon
we will chip pieces of quartz from neighbours’
driveways and talk about
how one day we might paint them purple.

Murder Begins

Murder does not begin with piles of glasses,
Gases, gates and railway tracks
Or the clack clack clack of a million boots in tune
Or the phosphorous perfume of the jagged ack ack ack
The weapons stash
Or lives mown down, the slash of knives, the twisted iron fence
Or gashes carved in innocence.
Murder begins with not wanting to cause offence,
Politely keeping up pretence,
Ignoring what they say for dulce and decorum’s sake,
Murder begins with the proffered hand you shake,
The gift you take,
The offering to heal the rift because the coffin’s beckoning
And the clink of coins in coffers
Making conscience-cleansing reckonings.
Murder begins with parental pacifist cajoling,
With smiles kept because the camera’s rolling,
The old man’s ignorance unmentioned for another year.
Murder begins with the lie that it was different then.
Murder begins with the lie that those who do nothing we can still call good.
Murder begins with the lie that anger’s worse than apathy and indifference,
That one voice cannot make a difference,
Murder begins with the lie that it’s a social crime to be pedantic,
That hatred’s just semantics,
That a joke is just a joke
And words are less than sticks and stones,
That peace is worth the price you pay
That nothing’s worth the fight today
And you should only speak if you’ve got something nice to say
Think twice today
The mercury is high today
The sun is bright today
There’s no clouds in the sky today
So bite your tongue before you give advice today
Just because there might one day
Be someone, perhaps, someone not yet born, in a war torn land you couldn’t point to on a map lying watching her dreams go out one by one like the stars disappearing behind the mortar smoke at night one day
Because you made this one small oversight today.
Murder begins with the neighbour who sees my curtains pulled and mutters scrounger.
Murder begins with words you file away as fact
And ends with acts you laid down years before as laziness and tact.
Murder begins with you, listening to this poem, as the first line blurs
And ends with piles of glasses,
Gases, gates, and railway tracks
And tomorrows you laugh off today because they’re simply too absurd.