Remembering Hopper

Just a day late to celebrate the birth of Edward Hopper, July 22nd, 1882.

hopper4.3

Edward Hopper: Excursion into Philosophy , 1959

COUPLES

2. Excursion into Philosophy

He has been reading the Tractatus, Wittgenstein.
the footnotes made him laugh; the book open
in the bed, the blue divan. How to explain
the duality  of grief and joy, relief
and guilt. The way her breathing, as she lies
behind him, legs drawn up, exposed,
her back not quite touching his, touches his heart.
They’ve been together fifteen years
and he would like to leave it at that.
The sun burns low along the ripening wheat
that looks like the wheat in the painting by Van Gogh,
the  postcard she bought him that day in Portland, Maine,
and told him if he ever left her she would truly die.
He picks up his book and begins to read,
but sets it back, drawn to the window by the sun,
the sound of a meadow lark in the field.
The only signs in the morning they were there
will be her red hair, snagged at the corner
of the pillow; the slight impression, fading,
on the mattress where they lay.

From Out of Silence: New & Selected Poems (Smith/Doorstop, 2014)

Still Being Frank …

Running a theme here, and with a one day symposium on O’Hara’s life, work and friends at the ICA on Sunday, 24th July, there may be even more. But for now, following up on the previous post’s recent poem from Out of Silence, here are a couple more that somehow didn’t make it into the New & Selected. (Wonder why?) The first comes from Bluer Than This (Smith/Doorstop, 1998), the second from Taking The Long Road Home (Slow Dancer, 1988)

Seven Year Ache

“There’s nothing so spiritual about being happy
but you can’t miss a day of it, because it doesn’t last”
Frank O’Hara. “Poem”(“And tomorrow morning at 8 o’clock”)

Listening to the radio this afternoon,
thumbing through my well-worm life
of Frank O’Hara, its pink and purple annotations,
I notice Top Hat is on TV in time to see
Fred and Ginger shelter in that convenient bandstand
and marvel at the way she mimics so perfectly his routine.
And I think of the young O’Hara watching them for the first time
from those red velvet seats of the Worcester Warner’s.
How he loved them!  Ginger’s ‘pageboy bob’, Fred’s
‘peach melba voice’. Watching them now,
I hate Astair’s dinner-suited smugness,
the certainty he’ll get the girl at the end.

Last night, and then again today, I’m taunted
by the bizarre easiness of dying. O’Hara at forty
knocked over by an errant jeep on the beach,
his mother, frail from hospital and drying out,
tumbling yellow roses into his grave. Such waste!
Each day that’s lived is lived in hope and in regret.
We die each day and not from love but lack of it:
the pull of your hand away from mine, the turn
of your face aside. Whatever flowers you throw
on that fresh-turned earth will carry with them,
bright and unremarkable, the stench of what was missed.

 

This & Then That

the day is full of possibilities

we can climb the hill into the city
& pass the girl with blue eyes
coming back down
camel coat like a bathrobe
on her shoulders
sleep and love in her eyes

our bags packed with spiced sausage
& cheeses & strong with the smell
of fresh coffee
we sit and eat a slow, late breakfast
you read one of the folded papers
while I wait a little breathlessly
for the waitress to dip low
skirt peeling back from her legs
like fine blue paint

you stop me with a smile

Dave gets up from piano practice
tousle-haired kids draw men like stars
we talk of Rothko, Frank O’Hara, the blues:
Gill out, getting on with life

later we take the cat for a walk
around the park
check out the evening movies
I can tell from the look in your eyes
we’ll be in bed soon
sunset back of the trees

Resnick & All That Jazz

 

Jazz Radio

Not so long ago, my daughter and I spent a fascinating hour listening to a programme on the Danish internet radio station, Radio Jazz, enjoying the music but otherwise barely understanding a word, save for the occasional name in English – Chet Baker, Charlie Parker, Charlie Resnick, John Harvey. The broadcast was based around an article by Age Hedley Petersen, Jazz i crime literature – Resnick, and All That Jazz, which was published in the April/May/June issue of the Danish magazine, Jazz Special. In the article, Petersen, a retired music librarian from Fredensborg Bibliotek, traces in some detail the influence and importance of jazz in the Resnick novels and on Resnick’s character, drawing links also with other crime writers, such as Michael Connelly and Bill Moody, for whom jazz is important, even vital.

What follows is a slightly shortened version of the original article in a translation largely by Petersen himself.

Jazz in Crime Literature – Resnick and All That Jazz.

It is always exciting when more than one of your interests are treated simultaneously in what you are reading! I am an incarnate crime reader – not so much of “who-done-its”, but more the ramifications of the American school, Chandler, McBain and others. The authors should also have some opinions on society; and personal portrayal must outweigh the normal stereotypes. Such persons could also often be interested in music, which immediately gives reading a new dimension.

Colin Dexter’s Morse worships opera – and that does not interest me so much. Ian Rankin’s John Rebus listens to a wide variety of rock – and that sounds a lot better to my ears; but when the protagonists wholeheartedly worship jazz and even use themes from the history of jazz in the intrigues, it becomes really exciting.

Six months ago I started to read Michael Connelly’s The Drop from 2014 in which Harry Bosch is investigating the death of a man who has fallen (jumped? pushed?) from a high balcony. This made me think of the late Chet Baker and his tragic death in Amsterdam in 1988. And indeed, home from a long day at the job Bosch is greeted by his daughter who asks him about a poem that sits, framed, in the hallway of his apartment. The poem, titled Chet Baker, was written, he tells her, by the English poet, John Harvey, whom he heard read it in a restaurant in Venice Beach.

Chet Baker

looks out from his hotel room
across the Amstel to the girl
cycling by the canal who lifts
her hand and waves and when
she smiles he is back in times
when every Hollywood producer
wanted to turn his life
into that bitter-sweet story
where he falls badly, but only
in love with Pier Angeli,
Carol Lynley, Natalie Wood;
that day he strolled into the studio,
fall of fifty-two, and played
those perfect lines across
the chords of My Funny Valentine,
and now, when he looks up from
his window and her passing smile
into the blue of a perfect sky,
he knows this is one of those
rare days when he can truly fly.

John Harvey! I was startled at Connelly using one of my other favorite authors, John Harvey, as a person in a novel; was it the same John Harvey, whose protagonist through 12 novels, Charlie Resnick, is an out-and-out jazz aficionado? I decided to email Harvey to satisfy my curiosity, and less than an hour later I received the following response:

Hello! And thanks for getting in touch with your query. The incident in the book is based on an actual occasion; Mike came to hear me reading at a bookshop on Venice Beach, LA – oh, it must be a good 15 years ago now – heard me read the poem, which at that time had not been published, asked how / where he could get a copy, and I happily gave him the sheet of paper I’d been reading from. I doubt if he actually kept the paper, though, or has it framed on his wall!

Of course, Mike contacted me before the book went to press and asked my permission, which I was only too happy to give.

Incidentally, the poem appears in another crime novel by Bill Moody, Looking for Chet Baker, where it is used as a forward to the story. You might like to track down the novel, as it does provide a fictional answer to the riddle surrounding Baker’s death.

The Chet Baker poem is published in Out of Silence, my New & Selected Poems, published by Smith / Doorstop last year. [ Poems also on Roland Kirk, Art Pepper, Thelonious Monk Parker and Lester Young!]”

 I immediately wrote back that I was pretty interested in acquiring the collection, and a few days later I received the following message:

—Book, signed, on its way in the next couple of days. For payment, would you be happy to send a donation the equivalent of £10 sterling to Médecins Sans Frontières? It’s easily done via their web site.

Best wishes, John

This story gave me the urge to reread the novels about the jazz-loving cop Charlie Resnick from Nottingham, and I have “borrowed” a few quotes to prove my points:

The first time the jazz theme is used is in Lonely Hearts (p. 17, Arrow), when Resnick is inspecting a crime scene and …

There were several posters on the walls, clip-framed; from one Monroe looked out, slump-backed on a stool, black clothes, white face. Resnick glanced into her empty eyes and turned away. Words from a song of Billie Holiday nudged away at his mind, images of winter through the slight distortion of glass.

Then, at the beginning of the next chapter (p. 24, Arrow) Resnick is sitting with one of the cats on his lap and listening to music while he eats … (After his wife left him, Resnick acquired four cats and gave them the names Bud, Miles, Pepper and Dizzy; the cats appear in all volumes, except the last where there is only Dizzy)

Billie Holiday and Lester Young were doing it through the headphones, making love to music without ever holding hands.

A short but striking interpretation of what it is all about between those two. In a later book, Cold Light (p. 60, Arrow) it’s again about Billie:

For Christmas, Resnick bought himself [whoever buy Christmas presents for themselves !?] The Complete Billie Holiday on Verve, a new edition of Dizzy Gillespie’s autobiography and The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, LP and Cassette. What he still had to acquire was a CD player.

It takes a while before he purchases the player! Not until two volumes later in Easy Meat (p. 59, Arrow) do we read:

As he ate it he stared across the room at his new acquisition, a brand-new CD player to complement his stereo; his nightly project, working through the tracks of the ten-disc Billie Holiday set he bought himself the Christmas before last.

All through the 12 volumes, jazz is deliberately used to describe the mood Resnick is in. For example, in Cold Light (p. 118, Arrow) …

 There were times, Resnick knew, what you didn’t do was play Billie Holiday singing “Our Love is Here to Stay”; when it was self-pitying, not to say foolish, to listen to her jaunty meander through “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” because it felt as if they already had. What was okay was listening to Ben Webster wailing through “Cottontail”, the version with Oscar Peterson kicking out on the piano; Jimmy Witherspoon reassuring the audience at the Monterey Jazz Festival “Tain’t Nobody’s Business What I Do”. Or what he set to play now, Barney Kessell’s “to swing or not to swing’ with its lower case title and definitions on the cover. The tracks he liked best were uptempo, carefree, Georgie Auld sitting in on tenor, “Moten Swing”, “Indiana”.

 By the way, Resnick is already listening to Webster’s solo on Cottontail – this time from Ellington album Jack the Bear – in Cutting Edge (p. 59, Arrow):

 Ben Webster was just beginning his solo on “Cottontail”, rolling that phrase over the rhythm section, springy and strong from Blanton’s bass, round and round and rich, like rolling it round a barrel of treacle. Just when it seemed to have become stuck, sharp little phrases from the brass digging it out, and then the saxophone lifting itself with more and more urgency, up, up and into the next chorus.

Lester Young is obviously one of his great heroes. In Still Water (p.136, Arrow) Resnick has returned home again after a long day “at the office” and…

 … the room was overlarge, heavy, almost unwelcoming. When he sat, his eyes were drawn to the Herman Leonard photograph of Lester Young framed on the wall; Lester looking tired, older than his forty-something years, either he had grown out of his suit, or his suit had grown out of him.

When, not so very much later, Resnick went up to bed, he left the stereo playing, Lester in his youth and glory, the sound of his saxophone , light and sinuously rhythmic, tracing him up the stairs” “I Never Knew”, “If Dreams Came True”, “I’ve Found a New Baby”, “The World is Mad” parts one and two.

 In the first books, with a few exceptions, it is thus mostly the big swing names Resnick listens to; but later he expands the repertoire with bebop and Thelonious Monk becomes the big favorite: Easy Meat (p. 124, Arrow) …

It was a bad sign, Resnick knew, when he played Monk last thing at night, the pianist’s fractured attempts at melody obeying no logic but their own. A big man, as Resnick was big, Monk’s fingers stabbed down at single notes, crushed chords into the beauty of an abstract painting, twisted scaffolding seen in a certain light.

It is so precise a description of Monk’s playing, that it is enough to listen with one’s inner ear to understand!

In the “swan song”, Darkness, Darkness – according to the author the final novel about Charlie Resnick and unfortunately not yet translated into Danish – Resnick comes home deeply affected by a personal tragedy that should not be divulged here (p. 77, Heinemann):

—Inside, he shrugged off his coat, walked the house from room to room. Made coffee and left it untouched. Finally, in the living room, he burrowed through the shelves of albums and CDs, searching, not for something calming, consoling, nothing that might trigger a memory, happy or sad, but this: the Eric Dolphy / Booker Little Quintet: Live at the Five Spot, New York, 16. July 1961. Track three: “Aggression”. 16 minutes and 40 seconds.

Resnick even attends concerts on rare occasions. In Darkness, Darkness, for instance, he mentions a trip he made in his youth, in 1969, from Nottingham to Manchester’s Free Trade Hall to listen to Duke Ellington’s orchestra, and he can still accurately remember the orchestra’s personnel. And the novel Still Water (pp.1 & 2, Arrow) begins with the following:

It was the night Milt Jackson came to town: Milt Jackson, who for more than twenty years had been a member of one of the most famous jazz groups in the world, the Modern Jazz Quartet; who had gone into the studio, Christmas Eve, 1954, and along with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, recorded one of Resnick’s all-time favourite pieces, “Bag’s Groove”.

Milt Jackson had formed a new quartet and Resnick has cleared his calendar. But unfortunately Resnick’s pager starts bleeping as soon as Milt Jackson raises his felt mallet to start playing:

And there is a moment, Resnick bulkily rising from his seat near the centre of rwo four and fumbling inside his coat as he excuses himself, embrarrassed, past people’s knees, in which Jackson, expression shifting between annoyance and amusement, catches Resnick’s eye and grins.

In Living Proof (pp. 270-271, Arrow) Resnick plans to go to the Old Vic in Nottingham to listen to the new Stan Tracey Duo, but after dinner decides he does not want to go anywhere. Later in the evening he regrets his decision, however, and changes his mind.

He arrived at the pub in time for the last two numbers, Stan Tracey, hunched over the keyboard, angularly manoeuvring his way through “Sophisticated Lady”, taking the tune into seemingly impossible blind alleys ad then escaping through a mixture of finesse and sheer power. Finally, Tracey and an absurdly young-looking Gerard Presencer on trumpet had elided their way along a John Coltrane blues, the audacity of Presencer’s imagination more than matched by his technique.

Yes, “our” Gerard Presencer, who at that time would have been about 20 years old and a star in the making. The two numbers Resnick was in time for – Coltrane’s “Some Other Blues” with piano and trumpet, and Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady” for solo piano, can be heard on the truly breathtaking CD: Stan Tracey: Live at the QEH (EMI, 1994)

In Still Water (p. 97, Arrow) Resnick visits London in connection with a case of art fraud; and one evening he visits the jazz club, The Rhythmic, that has a guest from the US – Coltrane-inspired pianist Jessica Williams.

 Tall, red-haired, and wearing a long, loose flowing dress, she sat at the piano and for a moment fidgeted with the height of the stool. Even before she began playing, fingers hesitating above the keys, Resnick had noticed the size of her hands. Then, without introduction, she launched into “I Should Care”. Almost deferentially at first, brushing the tune around the edges, feeling her way freshly into a melody she must have played – and Resnick heard – a hundred times. Ten minutes later, when she had exhausted every variation, left hand rocking through a stride pattern that would have made James P. Johnson or Fats Waller beam with pleasure, she finished to a roar of disbelieving applause.

By the time he walked back out into the London night some hours later, he knew he had been in the presence of something – someone – special.

Finally, to return to Bill Moody, whom Harvey mentioned in his original answer to my inquiry, and who is mentioned in Harvey’s 2006 novel, Cold in Hand (p. 70, Arrow).

Resnick listened to some more music, reading for the second time a book by Bill Moody about Chet Baker, while Lynn took a bath.

Later, in the same novel, when a colleague visits Resnick’s house and studies his bookshelves, she finds Moody’s novel there in the company of another Moody novel, The Sound of the Trumpet, Art Pepper’s autobiography, co-written with his wife, Laurie, Straight Life, and a biography of Thelonious Monk.

Bill Moody is a writer and jazz drummer residing in California, who has played with, among others, Maynard Ferguson and Lou Rawls. His novel Looking for Chet Baker, released in 2002, is the fifth of six novels about jazz pianist and amateur detective Evan Horne (none of them, sadly, translated into Danish). In the novel, Horne goes to Amsterdam to play a concert with tenor saxophonist Fletcher Paige and while he is there he is asked by a friend to do some research into Chet Baker’s death. The novel is definitely worth reading. Here in Moody’s novels, jazz is actually the main theme!

Thus, we see that the mystery surrounding Chet Baker’s death traces through the works of at least three authors – Connelly, Harvey and Moody; and the comparison with the Danish poet Michael Strunge’s death two years earlier is obvious. At the memorial plaque at the entrance to Webersgade 17 in Copenhagen his last words are inculcated: “Now I can fly”.

Bibliographical notes:

At the end of the 10th volume in the Resnick series, Last Rites (p.355, Arrow) , which, at the time, was thought to be the last Resnick novel, there is a coda in which Harvey clarifies his sources of inspiration, and it ends with:

The odd sandwich aside, I think it was jazz that kept Charlie sane, that provided him with both release and inspiration. Me, too. In the writing of these books I have relied, again and again, on the music of Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Thelonious Monk, Spike Robinson, Ben Webster with Art Tatum, and Lester Young. Let it live on.

In 2009 Harvey published the collection Minor Key (Five Leaves Press, Nottingham) – in 500 copies, numbered and signed, the royalties going to charity. The book opens with the essay, Resnick, Nottingham, and All That Jazz, a greatly extended coda in which Harvey sets out his approach to jazz, which began with a schoolmate’s uncle’s collection of 78’s by names like Ellington, Earl Bostic, Louis Jordan and Billie Holiday.It also contains five short stories including four with Resnick as the protagonist, and six poems-among others, “Chet Baker” and “Art Pepper”.

Harvey’s and Connelly’s novels in Danish are best found at the website: bibliografi.dk and can be borrowed via the danish public libraries. This also applies to the non-translated 12th volume of the Resnick series: Darkness, Darkness (London, Heinemann, 2014). John Harvey can be followed on the website http://www.mellotone.co.uk and his blog “Some days you do …” which has a link to his “Ten records for a Desert Island”, number one of which is Thelonious Monk Plays Duke Ellington.

John Harvey: Minor Key, Nottingham, Five Leaves, 2009.
John Harvey: Out of Silence, New & Selected Poems, Sheffield, Smith / Doorstop Books, 2014.
Bill Moody: Looking for Chet Baker, New York, Walker & Company, 2002.

Jazz Colour p2

Needless to say, I’m extremely grateful to Age Hedley Petersen for all of the research and enthusiasm that went into his essay, just as I am to Jazz Special for publishing it so beautifully, with wonderful illustrations by Agnete Morell, and to Radio Jazz for affording Charlie an hour of air time.

Thank you, Denmark! I can’t see – or hear – it happening here.

Tom Raworth & Others

Foolish it might have been to take my rucksack along to the recent Poetry Book Fair at Conway Hall, but how else was I going to take my trusty and, by now, well marked up copy of Out of Silence needed for my 11.00am reading, not to mention a bottle of water, box of Strepsils, sports pages of The Guardian, et cetera? As soon as I saw the number of stalls packed into the room, each of them packed with tempting publications, I made a quick promise to myself that, rucksack or no rucksack, I would buy three books and no more.

The first was easy. Across the aisle from my own publisher, Smith/Doorstop, was (were?)Nottingham’s own Mother’s Milk Books [aim: to celebrate femininity and empathy through images and words, with a view to normalising breastfeeding], one of whose authors, Ana Salote, I met earlier this year at Lowdham Book Festival and shared a pleasant train journey with on the way home, so her book, Oy Yew, was my number one.

Soon after that, I spied poet/publisher Tamar Yoseloff at the table consigned to Hercules Editions, the small press she runs with designer Vici MacDonald. Their books are beautifully designed limited editions, perfectly marrying images and words, and the only one I didn’t already have a copy of was right there in front of me – Ormonde, by Hannah Lowe, which documents the story of the ship which, in 1947, and thus pre-Windrush, brought her father and other Jamaican immigrants to this country.

Tammy, of course, I had first met with my publisher’s hat on, when Slow Dancer Press published her 1994 chapbook, Fun House, and then, in 1998, her collection, Sweetheart. [Love that Jamie Keenan designed cover!] Her New & Selected Poems, A Formula for Night, will be published by Seren Books later this month.

COV_sweetheart

But on to number three. And yet again it was remarkably easy. The minute I drew level with the Carcanet Press table, my eyes were drawn to the nicely quirky cover of Tom Raworth’s As When, a fat and judicious selection ranging from his first collection, The Relation Ship, published by Cape Goliard in 1966 to Structure from Motion, published by Edge Books earlier this year. 139 poems, 248 pages, £14.99 – do the maths. A bargain, right. A bargain and a delight.

51gchhgNbPL._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_

 

When I got home, I looked for my original copy of The Relation Ship and there it was. Creased and battered, read and reread. Favourites asterisked or underlined. I imagine I bought it in Nottingham in 1975, either there or at the much-lamented Compendium in Camden, round about the same time that I bought Lee Harwood’s The White Room.

It was at a reading for Lee Harwood, held at the Redroaster Coffee House in Brighton last month, that I met Tom Raworth for perhaps the second or third time. I’d heard he’d not been all that well, and, in truth, he approached the stage with care, but once behind the microphone he roared like a mighty lion. The Raworth roar, once heard not easily forgotten. Like the poems.

rsz_pighog_harwood_150924_210229_a

Photo of Tom Raworth: Andrew King andrewkingphotography.co.uk

 

National Poetry Day

images-1

Out of nowhere just the other day I started thinking about this movie in which a bearded Alan Bates plays an abstract painter, enjoying a painterly affair with Jill Clayburgh; I remember liking it at the time, even though part of me said perhaps it was a load of old technicolour tosh. Admitting to having not just enjoyed it, but seen it twice, certainly marked me down in the estimation of the one of my American Studies lecturers I most wanted to impress.

But back then I was more than a little in love with New York, with big, bold abstract canvasses, and, yes, of course, with Ms Clayburgh herself.

images-2

 

 

So here’s an old poem for National Poetry Day.

REMEMBER ?

It was snowing in New York but that was Easter;
we walked past the rink where Clayburgh skated
in An Unmarried Woman, ate hot pretzels
and stood in line for pasta and clam sauce.

(can you still taste that?)

I can’t recall what I wanted for dessert
except the waiter said, “That’s disgusting!”
and refused to take my order.

Later we cruised the Village, hands
punched down into our pockets,
Kevin and I browsing the schedules
at the Bleecker Street Cinema
while you went next door into
the Magic Shoe Store and bought
a pair of bright scarlet boots

with wings

remember?

yes (you say) oh, yes

– from Out of Silence: New & Selected Poems (Smith/Doorstop) 2014

Birthday Poem for Howard Hodgkin

 

Unknown

After Corot

 ‘After Corot’ 1979-1982 by Howard Hodgkin

the train turning into the bay
enough to bring tears to your eyes

sleeping, your skin ivory
reach & fall of your breathing

your hand

in the painting everything is
at a distance: cliff, harbour,
sea, sky

tight within a frame
within a frame

only wait
and the light breaks white
on the horizon, mastheads etch
contours green beyond the wall’s bulk
and as a small boat painted red hoves into view
the land slips another foot into the sea

you throw up your arm

untrammelled
blue seeps under the edges of the frame
refusing to be bound

the rocking of the train
as it rounds the slow curve

your waking breath

the sea

This poem appeared in Bluer Than This (smith/doorstop, 1998) and, perhaps oddly [I imagine it didn’t tickle the editors’ fancy] failed to find a place in Out of Silence,  last year’s New & Selected (smith/doorstop, 2014). Shame, really.

But Happy Birthday, Sir Howard, 6th August 2015! Great work, sir! 83 years young.

COV_bluer

 

Jazz Journal Poetry Review

Jazz Journal – until recently the best-selling magazine at Foyles flagship shop (try saying that when you’ve had a few) in Charing Cross Road – has, for some time now, been generous towards my fiction, the Resnick series especially, in its review pages, and now said generosity has extended to poetry. Here’s Mark Gardner’s recent review of Out of Silence.

Known primarily for his series of 20 jazz-tinged novels, John Harvey is also an accomplished poet. This latest collection of verse draws from two previous collections, Ghosts of a Chance and Bluer Than This, besides including half a dozen new poems. More than a few of the contents have a strong jazz flavour, not least Blue Monk, Charlie Parker in Green Shoes, Chet Baker, Ghosts of a Chance and You Did It! You Did it!. The Chet Baker piece centres on the trumpeter’s last night. Was it suicide or accident when he fell to his death from a hotel window? Harvey gives a more imaginative explanation” “He knows this is one of those/rare days when he can truly fly.” Oklahoma Territory provides a picture of the tough life on the road. The new poems are about love, life and death: the capturing of lost moments which is what all poetry strives to do. Harvey never uses one word too many or one too few in his vista of insights.

Portrait of My Father

My father, Thomas Harvey – Tom – Togger to his friends – died 31 years ago today, aged 78.

Scan

 

SUNSETS

“Grandad looks like John Wayne,”
my daughter said, pirouetting away.

In the westerns I wrote he filled in corners –
the stage coach driver, the friendly sheriff
with spreading paunch and bowed back,
his holstered gun never drawn in anger,
yet stubborn as a mule when the chips were down.

In photographs he holds me high above
his head like a talisman: pride bright
in his blue eyes I could never fulfil.

Writing, he stands between my sentences:
bits of a life that catch like grit in the mouth.
Once I ran, sobbing, after him until, reaching
down, he swung me, safe, in his arms.

He stands in all the doorways of my childhood.
Stands for my meanness, my grudging thanks,
those shifts of direction which push him
further and further behind.

Driving home to visit ‘d passed him
on the road before I realised, stooped
and suddenly slow, one leg turned sideways,
an old man I’d failed to recognise.

Laughter and meaning clogged thick in his lungs:
they moved him to a private room and fitted
a green mask fast over his face; each breath
rattled dry stones along the bed of his throat,
his mouth peeled back and back
until it disappeared.

Yet a week or so before he died,
the old smile alive for a moment in his eyes,
he beckoned the prettiest nurse and as
she bent to catch his words,
nuzzled the hard plastic of his mask
against her face to steal a kiss:
an act of imagination great
as any John Wayne ever made.

from OUT OF SILENCE New & Selected Poems (2014)

Poetry Reading: Ware Poets

Some twenty five years after my first appearance, I’ve been invited back to Ware Poets as guest reader – this Friday at Ware Arts Centre, Kibbes Lane, Herts, starting at 8.00pm. Don’t miss out – another 25th years will be too late.

This is what the organisers have to say about it …

John Harvey
poet, novelist, jazz musician, writer for TV and radio, and former publisher (his Slow Dancer Press, is sadly now no more), John is probably best known for his crime-fiction series, recently concluded, featuring D.I. Charlie Resnick and the mean streets of Nottingham, though they comprise only a small proportion of his prolific output over the last 40 years.

Those who know his poetry will treasure Out of Silence, his new and selected which was published recently and includes many of the poems which take jazz and its musicians as their subject matter. He can include Simon Armitage – who described his poems as “tender” – amongst his many fans.

If you’re anywhere within range, come along and see if they’re right. [Oh, and Happy 52nd birthday, Simon, while I’m about it.]

Out of Silence

OUT OF SILENCE, my book of New & Selected Poems, published last year by Smith/Doorstop, is now available as an ebook for £5.95.

I wouldn’t be mentioning this, except it’s a book I’m especially proud of, and although only six of the poems are actually new, I like to think they’re pretty good – one in fact, “Winter Notebook”, just might be the best I’ve written so far.

There are reviews by Rosie Johnston & Norbert Hirschhorn on London Grip here …

There is also a review by John Lucas in PN Review No. 22, which is only available on line to subscribers, but which I can give you a taste of here …

“Harvey’s voice is very much his own, rueful, comic, engagingly informal … how good a poet he is of the passing moment, its unexpected pleasures …”

So, if you’ve been meaning to get hold of a copy but have never quite got around to it (or want a second copy for your Kindle!), you can buy the ebook from Amazon … or from the publisher …

The print version, of course, is still available, and I notice Foyles have it on sale for £7.76 if you order on line from Foyles …

Alternatively, if you’d like a signed copy, with or without dedication, at the cover price of £9.95, send me an email at john@mellotone.co.uk

Harvey-Out of Silence