Portrait of My Father

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

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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)

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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

Kisses on a Blue Settee

One of the interesting things, for me, about the recent Poetry & Jazz evening in Enfield was being asked to include two or three poems I’d never read to music before. And one of these – a poem that, although it’s included in the New & Selected, I tend to overlook, is “Blue Settee”.

Here it is …

BLUE SETTEE

This kiss is made of remembering,
of not quite remembering enough;
this lies kiss deep in her pocket,
amongst the cinema tickets and small change;
the movement of his mouth that rarely
seems to mesh with hers – strangely, she likes this –
the way they use their tongues.
This kiss starts at the nape of the neck
and makes a new map of the world;
moves them from the clumsy darkness
of the hall into failing sunlight
where they practise compass movements
on the bed, their way lit by candles
and Chardonnay, his tongue crossing hers
mid-ocean as she turns beneath him
and floats free; their breath sounding
an itinerary of Irish Sea, Atlantic Ocean,
and on down the coast of Maine.
Timetables. Taxis. A blue settee.
The sweep and blur of skin.
She could tell him anything.

 

Sidewinder Strikes Again!

Okay, I said I’d return to this coming Friday’s Jazz & Poetry gig at Enfield’s Dugdale Centre and here it is: hosted by Allen Ashley & Sarah Doyle, and with live jazz from four excellent musicians – Louis Cennamo, Graham Pike, Barry Parfitt and Tim Stephens – the redoubtable Nancy Mattson and myself will be taking it in turns to step up and read with the band, something we’re both looking forward to a great deal.

Having mainly read with same guys over the past years – and very much enjoyed doing so – it’s been interesting in recent months to work with different groups of musicians, John Lake’s band on the South Coast, John Lucas’ band recently in Nottingham, and now the quartet led by Louis Cennamo. Allen and Sarah, who put these Enfield sessions together, were keen for me to try some different material, setting up a four-hour rehearsal with the band to make this possible. So it is that on Friday, along with some of the more usual pieces about Art Pepper, Lester Young and Thelonious Monk, I’ll be delving into the collected poems in Out of Silence for “Blue Settee”, “Saturday” and “Temps Greatest Hits, Vol II”- the latter closing the set accompanied by what promises to be a blistering version of Lee Morgan’s “Sidewinder”.

If this sounds tempting – and if you’re reading this, it should – the venue’s just a half-hour train journey from Liverpool Street or Highbury & Islington.

See you there!

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