March 29, 2011

It's My Birthday And I'll Write A Ghazal If I Want To

My other half

My other half is a picture, her painted eye like a rose,
Her body held in a soft flame of stillness, freed in a pose.

My other half is a dancer, unfastened hair like a tide,
Her fingers fly out of time's rut: and pluck my heart as it blows.

My other half is a priestess who trails her heaven scent
To hell and back round a navel the musk-deer* endlessly roves.

My other half is a goddess, whose neck is softer than sky,
She turns to me like a planet, and everything else explodes.

O h(e)art, this quest is your own end, you're lost and that's why you win,
You’re stripped of even your held breath and kiss what God alone knows.

*The Kasturi-mriga, a deer of the Himalayas whose navel yields musk.

Notes. This is a ghazal, an Indian love-lyric: it ought to be in Urdu but this is the best I can do in English. The form is said to have inspired the Renaissance Italian sonnet from its base in the nightingale and garden culture of Persia at a time when the Arabs were teaching us - among other things - chivalry towards women. The quest of the hart/ heart through the forest as an allegory of a lover's pursuit of the beloved is about as courtly French romance as you get though and this one is included in my Arthurian play for teenagers. I saw a deer at close quarters in the fields outside our cottage today: it should not have been there but I'm awfully glad it was.

March 20, 2011

March 19, 2011

The quest of the red hart

The robin flutters east to choir his team,
Through sunset’s rose and night-denying dream.

The Sunday School turns East to praise a word
That weeps in blood between the lines that seem.

The nun retreats to heart-denying cell
And turns to God her blushes and her beam.

The King St lover walks where lights are red
But will not stop him daring for his Queen.

The rhyming market trader sells his soul
And scarlet ribbons to a lonely teen.

The cat scales down the great sun’s glowing fire
To purring window’s perfect-bedded dream.

The hart pursues her navel’s heaven scent
To hell and back to where she’s always been.

Oh Bard, don’t preach the way to go to Sea
When home is where each hart is, by the stream.

Notes: On Monday I drove 45 Norfolk miles to Norwich to watch a football match (Bristol City - the Robins - lost 3-1, though that's not how I saw it.) For most people that would be it and it was certainly more than enough. Not me. I carry this poem around like a headache all week and finally locate the ache somewhere nearer the bottom - of my heart - and write the thing by the light of an amazing full moon in the early hours of Saturday morning. It's not easy being a poet you know. The form, for those who care about such things, is the Persian ghazal, a highly disciplined yet intoxicating Urdu love lyric much used by Hafiz and with pretensions - in Hafiz's case real aspirations - to the Divine. The 'message' is based on a Meher Baba discourse called The Deeper Aspects of Sadhana. This includes the tale of the Kasturi-mriga (the deer whose navel yields musk) fatally pursuing the divine scent thinking it was outside herself and whose realisation of its true location on dying brought 'inexpressible peace.' So Mr Calway's day/night out in Norwich as seen through the prism of the story of the Kasturi-mriga.

March 12, 2011


A moment in the life of Prince of Wales Road, Norwich, ( 7.05 pm, March 10 AD 2011.) Prince of Wales was the road taken by we two UEA alumni to meet Melanie's 'old' history teacher from the 1960s, appropriately a princely Welshman from Cardiff and - in defiance of all the other evidence here - still sporting a determined head of curly hair. History shall not pass.

March 06, 2011

Sick To The AA Gills of This Metropolitan Prejudice

I don’t have the advantage of The Sunday Times’ ‘Table Talk’ correspondent AA Gill’s sneering metropolitan ‘insight’ into Norfolk. I only live here. Nor of his gastronomic critique of The Rose and Crown, Snettisham. I only eat there once a week and pretty much every special occasion. (Lest this appear incestuous - a term he uses with rather more freedom than evidence- I also regularly eat in London and other major cities where restaurants offering half this range and quality charge three times as much for the privilege. ) I do not have the advantage of Mr Gill’s national platform from which to fire a Broadside against this beautiful rolling landscape. (Yes, rolling. The Fens like the Hereward the Wake he places here in North West Norfolk are actually much further south, in Ely, which is in Cambridgeshire and in any case have a unique 180 degrees skyline and sense of freedom that metropolitan city dwellers typically long for. ) But I hope an inhabitant of what he variously slanders as both Narnia and Hernia will be allowed to ‘do different ‘ (Norfolk’s motto) and challenge his narrative with an alternative one, a habit championed in the past by the various heretic voices he demonises. Julian of Norwich, pioneering proto-Protestant female prose writer and ageless mystic, Thomas Paine, proto-democrat and prophetic author of Common Sense – all of it now adopted common practice - whom he belittles – and Boudicca, whom he omits, possibly because after invasive deracinating outsiders (Romans) had insulted and robbed her of herself, she burned down the London they came from, a London that had sold its soul to bankers, tiled floors, square urbanity and monuments. Gill has some deep problem with Norfolk that appears to distort his perceptions so much that I simply do not recognise the one he describes. Perhaps he should have a psychiatric treatment – or maybe just an eye test? Or just a pint of the Rose and Crown’s excellent Broadside ale – a sure cure for the bile of his ‘London Pride.’ (The latter guest ale is as excellent as all six real ales and the twenty nine fine wines served by the Rose and Crown but I think Mr Gill needs something a little more rustic – and stronger). My problem with London is that instead of the homely combination of real pub and cosmopolitan menu that sets the Rose and Crown apart – ever changing, inexhaustibly first class, effortlessly continental but restlessly and excitingly world-cuisine – instead of its two restaurants, two log-fire bars, oak beam and stone thresholds worn down by half a millennium of folk and large modern family area (the only part Gill reports) that the 14th century Rose and Crown offers, you can spend a day trying to find a shop that sells a digital radio before your realise that they are all in Tottenham Court Road: a hundred and one versions of the same shop. And that Leicester Square in the ‘heart’ of London is basically ten giant cinemas and ten thousand tourists and that you will find more of ‘real’ London in Leytonstone – though you won’t find a Rose and Crown worth the name there – or Burnham Market, which up here in Norfolk is known as ‘Chelsea sur le Mer.’ ‘Real’ Burnham Market – the butchers, the unlocked flint Nelson- redolent churches, the playgroup, the school – is a community that really works. The ‘Chelsea’ influx that comes there to exclaim in very loud voices and very loud clothes HOW QUIET IT IS HERE over their overpriced Chablis is one that AA Gill would doubtless feel quite at home in. And one we locals merely enjoy watching with a tolerant smile.