This poem by Brian Patten from his collection ‘Armada’ resonates with me.
These Boys Have Never Really Grown into Men
These boys have never really grown into men,
despite their disguises, despite their adult ways,
their sophistication, the camouflage of their kindly smiles.
They are up to their old tricks,
still at the wing-plucking stage. Only now
their prey answers to women’s names.
And the girls, likewise, despite their disguises,
despite their adult ways, their camouflage of need,
still twist love till its failure seems not of their making;
something grotesque migrates hourly
between our different needs,
and is in us all like poison.
How strange I’ve not understood so clearly before
how liars and misers, the cruel and the arrogant
lie down and make love like all others,
how nothing is ever as expected, nothing is ever as stated.
Behind doors and windows nothing is ever as wanted.
The good have no monopoly on love.
All drink from it. All wear its absence like a shroud.
The poetry collection I would save from the metaphorical burning house would be ‘Armada’ by Brian Patten. Each poem is a gem. This one, perhaps, the most moving of all.
You never went to a ball, ever.
In all your years sweeping kitchens
No fairy godmother appeared, never.
Poor, poor sweetheart,
This rough white cloth, fresh from the hospital laundry,
Is the only theatre- gown you’ve ever worn.
No make-up. Hair matted with sweat.
The drip beside your bed discontinued.
Life was never a fairy-tale.
The 50th anniversary of the ‘The Mersey Sound’ collection sent me back to my copy and to this poem of Adrian Henri’s which I particularly like.
Love is feeling cold in the back of vans
Love is a fanclub with only two fans
Love is walking holding paintstained hands
Love is fish and chips on winter nights
Love is blankets full of strange delights
Love is when you don’t put out the light
Love is the presents in Christmas shops
Love is when you’re feeling Top of the Pops
Love is what happens when the music stops
Love is white panties lying all forlorn
Love is pink nightdresses still slightly warm
Love is when you have to leave at dawn
Love is you and love is me
Love is prison and love is free
Love’s what’s there when you are away from me
The Penguin poetry collection called ‘The Mersey Sound’ was published 50 years ago this year. That is staggering news since the poetry of all three is alive and relevant right now. Although it first appeared in 1967, I became aware of it in the 70s when I reached my teens and turned away from the poetry of school and towards poetry I found for myself. Obviously, I thought I was something of a pioneer when I discovered this volume and was nonplussed when an English teacher knew more about it than I did! He didn’t bring these poems to class.
I first heard Roger McGough live and in person in Oxford when I was a student and I have heard him in several other places since. It may be true that poetry is like rock n roll since I have found myself in the audience just hoping he will read my favourites. He has packed many venues. When I last heard him, the audience in Bath was terrific. But that first time, back in Oxford, there were only a few of us. I know tickets have to be sold, but this was the reading I remember most fondly.
I heard Brian Patten many years later in Bath at the literature festival. He, too, was fantastic and I would love to hear him again.
I also have a story about Adrian Henri! He gave a reading at the festival in Bath and I had a ticket. But I was ill! I decided to give the evening a miss with the thought that I could always hear him some other time. Oh, the ifs of history.
‘The Mersey Sound’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?
This poem by Brian Patten back in the 60s is just one reason why I hold him in high esteem. His poem was a response to the awful, racist election in Smethwick in 1964 and the mood of certain sections in the population about immigration. The fact that this was a white man writing shows that allies are to be found everywhere. I like the poem but I love the fact that Brian Patten wrote it.
I’m Dreaming of a White Smethwick
(An old, never-to-be-forgotten song)
I’m Dreaming of a White Smethwick,
One I didn’t want to know,
Where they’ll have allwhite, allright children
And the White and White Minstrel Show.
I’m Dreaming of a White Smethwick
Where they’ll have a brandnew dance;
Teach their kids to close their eyes
And forget that once
Strange men came to Smethwick
With slogans whitewashed on their minds,
They campaigned about a while
And left their shit behind.
I saw black father christmasses
Burning in the snow,
Protesting to the Opposition
About what happened a while ago.
The last blackbird’s been shot in Smethwick
And the council’s doing allright,
The M.P.’s in the Commons
Making sure his words are white.
Chorus: May all your days be merry and bright
And may all your citizens be white.
Note: As in numerous folk songs, the words may be improvised on to suit the present.
When I had to read Kipling as a child, I had no idea I would grow up to be a fan!
The Thousandth Man
One man in a thousand, Solomon says.
Will stick more close than a brother.
And it’s worthwhile seeking him half your days
If you find him before the other.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine depend
On what the world sees in you,
But the Thousandth Man will stand your friend
With the whole round world agin you.
‘Tis neither promise nor prayer nor show
Will settle the finding for ‘ee.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine of ’em go
By your looks, or your acts, or your glory.
But if he finds you and you find him,
The rest of the world don’t matter;
For the Thousandth Man will sink or swim
With you in any water.
You can use his purse with no more talk
Than he uses yours for his spendings,
And laugh and meet in your daily walk
As though there had been no lendings.
Nine hundred and ninety-nine of ’em call
For silver and gold in their dealings;
But the Thousandth Man he’s worth ’em all
Because you can show him your feelings.
His wrong’s your wrong, and his right’s your right,
In season or out of season.
Stand up and back it in all men’s sight
With that for your only reason!
Nine hundred and ninety-nine can’t bide
The shame or mocking or laughter,
But the Thousandth Man will stand by your side
To the gallows-foot – and after!
I was fortunate enough to hear Brian Patten at a poetry reading some years ago. I hear his voice (or what I recall of it) when I read this poem. I love it!
What do cats remember of days?
They remember the ways in from the cold,
The warmest spot, the place of food.
They remember the places of pain, their enemies,
the irritation of birds, the warm fumes of the soil,
the usefulness of dust.
They remember the creak of a bed, the sound
of their owner’s footsteps,
the taste of fish, the loveliness of cream.
Cats remember what is essential of days.
Letting all other memories go as of no worth
they sleep sounder than we,
whose hearts break remembering so many