Five more chosen poems, this time chosen by Alan
My first poem is Leisure by Welsh poet W. H. Davies (1911). This was anthologized often, and it was regularly quoted to me as a schoolchild. (That annoyed me in the 1960s, when I was a swot.)
The very popular poet, Davies, lived as a tramp, here and in the USA, and in prisons.
My next choice: BLUE: film by Derek Jarman (1942-1994) Derek Jarman’s final feature-length film BLUE (1993), is a single-shot, saturated flooding of the screen in blue – Yves Klein’s patented International Klein Blue.
My third choice: George Herbert (1593-1633) – EASTER. Herbert was presented with the Prebendary of Leighton Bromswold (Cambridgeshire) in 1626. He paid for the restoration of the Church (St Mary’s) in a unique style that represented his churchmanship.
Imminent schism was about to happen and he was a bridge for Anglicanism. He must have visited his nearby friend, Nicholas Ferrar, the founder of a semi-monastic Anglican religious community at Little Gidding. Herbert’s piety is that of a dedicated country priest, and at times, an expression of “awful” insecurity. He died, at 39, of consumption. I am so grateful to the villagers of Leighton Bromswold for their friendship. St Mary’s is an inspirational church in which to worship.
Poem number four: Tony Harrison (1937-), is England’s best living poet, translator and playwright. Born in Leeds, lives in Newcastle and London. Famed for controversial works such as the poem ‘v.’. And for his brilliant stage translations of classics – The Oresteia, Lysistrata, Molière’s The Misanthrope, and the English medieval The Mysteries. Outspoken about the UK élite and, for example, the Iraq War. He and his actress partner were friends of mine in London and it was unforgettable to have him read his poems for me, in his study.
This poem is about grief.
Long Distance II
Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.
You couldn’t just drop in. You had to phone.
He’d put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.
He couldn’t risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he’d hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she’d just popped out to get the tea.
I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven’t both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there’s your name
and the disconnected number I still call.
My fifth poem is by Noël Coward (1899-1973). He wrote this mildly satirical “Epitaph for an Elderly Actress“ in 1961. For some actresses “of a certain age”, it was the perception of age that brought down the final curtain. Coward praised such later-in-the-day appearances of Anna Pavlova, and Gertrude Lawrence (in “Private Lives”).