Poems by C. John
Poems of place seen through other eyes. Fifty locales of the United
Kingdom recreated by their particular geographies, associations and
history — the small and nondescript, the grand country houses, new
towns and old, unpeopled moorlands and industrial belts, the scenes of
past splendour and the small, homely scenes that retain our childhood
All are quiet, meditative
pieces, but range from the topographical through the surreal to the
purely imaginary as the poetry moves from description to the
significance that places hold in our lives.
Though traditional in form,
all use the techniques of Modernism to explore the larger settings that
the words evoke.
Their common thread is a
preoccupation with form, here the hexameter, developed with a freedom
needed to cope with the author's forthcoming translation of Virgil's
A SHORT SELECTION
An endlessly subverted dream: things falling
as though in slow motion to their own place, particularly
it may be in the tenements and small-windowed apartments,
beyond where the roads run round scratching a living
or the derelict factories give way to industrial parks.
Improbably, they are all hung upside down in
The buffers rise slowly into the small town terminus,
the rails rusting but incorrigibly present, the glittering
thread lost among sleepers or the scatter of weeds
carnivorously dark by viaducts or dank canals.
Scenes that are variously lit by the blaze of
and bars hoarsely incontinent with Irish voices,
the cash-till ringing up stories through the recollections
of drink-stacked happiness that time the home team won.
Throughout their years abroad, these called them
back — the good
- earth smell along the thick-mossed paths, the topiary
of leafy ways that led to croquet lawn, the haze
of midge above the green and lily-spangled pool
— and which they saw, in counting-house and fevered port,
with breath of evening lifting through the temple smoke:
the Leith Hills crumbling always to a loamy quiet,
the winds still warmly perfumed with their Wealden miles.
Old memory's contentment came with evening prayers
that fell profuse as candlelight on leaded glass.
From rooms that smelt of childhood ailments and
breath, the eye looked on through the rainy, green-soaked glass
to charcoaled roofs of cedars and to tea at five,
set down with chintz and silver on the sun-warm grass.
Along the nave the hooded candles wink and flare
as though their pinchbeck innocence could light up faith.
The small hypocrisies of Sunday dress or talk
enlarge to radiant mummeries of coloured glass.
The footfalls echo into dust, but quiet as nuns,
wimpled and unruffled, the pillared transepts soar
in grey processionals across this land of smoke
entangled alder woods and flats and marshy creeks.
Afar is Palestine, bright-templed, robed in blue,
and bounteous with olive, or the unfavoured fig,
but here is only Ely, doubt and what men do
who drudge for pearl and sustenance in oyster beds,
for all that storms that daylong batter the shore
the benefice of evening with a film of blood.
Some Other Person, Year or Street
Far out on branch-lines, past the usual termini
of London's ever restless, packed commuter trains
there may be occupations built quite differently
with prospects open like the morning paper, ads
that float unthreatened by the slowly-lifting clouds.
Indeed the out-of-season coastal towns like
Rhyl or Bridlington may just be that, produced
by conversations with a total stranger, stop
we suddenly alighted at for no good cause
which, like our memories of childhood books became
a part of Superman or Dare or Famous Five.
Careers would then have been quite otherwise but
presenting us with purpose, cash or clout in lives
complete, but in some other person, year or street.