January 31, 2007

February Poem of the Month


the key you wear
around your neck
opens a door
cut from a tree
used to hang a man

i am still that man
a son of god
but love not
to be crossed so cruelly
for wanting to love thee


Something very weird happened last night. I was reading Susan Cooper's book "King of Shadows" for a review with some Schubert playing. On page 164 there is a reference to a girl wearing a key around her neck. Through a series of concentrated Proustian associations, I was back in 1974 and the above poem - which I wrote then but have long since lost and forgotten - popped verbatim and complete back into my head. Whatever you think of the poem - it's the poem of a nineteen year old I used to be in a relationship and a world long gone - this experience must have interest for how the mind works and/or how poetry is retained and written. I'll try to reassemble the clues at the scene of the crime. I was living alone in an illegally sub-let student bedsit room in Weymouth. (see "Gap Year, Weymouth" in "Exile In His Own Country" for another poem reclaimed from the same shipwreck). I had the key to that room on a string around my neck to avoid losing it. My girlfriend from the otehr side of town wore a cross in the same way. I used to spend most of my supplementary benfit on the rent, a classical music album and a book instead of food every week - a Romantic education. I was studying the Romantics and I had bought "Schubert's Greatest Hits" -an intro to another kind of music. I had heard my hippy uncle rehearsing a play of manners at the college in which a character says "I love not to be crossed". I remember being a bit complacently proud about stealing that clever satirical line of wit back for the Romantic agony. The poem came complete then just as it did again last night. Its emotional directness, ardent conflation of sexual and spiritual yearning, inferiority complex flirting with messiahanic complex, are embarrassingly naked to me now but the fifty year old writing this apologia is still proud of the simple lyrical blast I wrote then instead of all this fiddling about now. There are worse crimes than being eighteen/nioeteen, studying Romanticism, an being desperate to get laid by the last coy mistress of the 70s.
I suppose I was trying in my own way to preach the Everlasting Gospel with Blake, Leonard Cohen and other such heroes of my late teens.
I'm going to do a workshop in Weymouth early next month and will be having a look at the physical door in Abbotsbury Road that suggested the symbolic one of the poem. I really did believe Jesus would have been appalled by a religion in His name that was to do with locked doors rather than liberation. I really did believe that everyone had the potential to be a Son of God. I still do. It was a bit hard on the girl to blame her for crucifying the Jesus she worshipped, perhaps - she was much more Martha than Caiphas - but I still do believe that our modern Church/Chapel would be among the frontrunners to crucify the Messiah if he did return so I have to stand by that too.

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