Friday, September 25, 2009

Peter Pan

Peter Pan

There’s a picture of him,
moustache at half mast
like Neville Chamberlain’s,
tiny man in a flasher’s coat
with a St Bernard’s, Nana
you presume, waist high.
He’s half turned as though he knew
the camera, like life, was unkind
and found only gravity in his face
now, the jowls, the joyless lips,
the eyes dead as space.
He said to clap if you believe,
but this was after Flanders
and Neverland had taken
all the pure and heartless.
What was left was Jim.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Ghost Story

Ghost Story

Down an alley telling tales
to 12 year olds. They gasp,
scan the shadows for body parts,
and horses come from hell

(of course it’s lies,
no children were murdered here
and made into pies).

“Later when you go past,
you might feel a hand
plucking at your sleeve” and
see in the smudge of glass

a small child, moon eyed,
the image of yourself,
that year, that night,
so rapt and so alive

(it’s sad but true,
the only haunting here’s
by you).

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Second in the new strange series

Not the Usual Gypsy

She came from behind
a group of shoppers
like a left arm bowler,
took my hand in the kind

of grip you expect,
prior to being conned.
You’re going on holiday
in the next few days,

without your wife,
but your mother will be there.
Aha, I am about to say,
with a rueful smile,

but she shakes her head,
I know she’s dead.
And long since.
You’re tired of work, she says.

I am fishing
for a fiver to swop
for a piece of wishful thinking
but she tells me I won’t

ever have much money.
In that alley beside TJ Hughes,
I wonder: surely then, love.
In her grey eyes nothing

but people passing, as if tipped
off the end of the world.

Feed Ma Lamz

Feed Ma Lamz

Amyir gaffirrz Gaffir. Hark.

nay fornirz ur communists
nay langwij
nay lip
nay laffin ina sunday
nay g.b.h. (septina wawr)
nay nooky huntn
nay tea-leaven
nay chanty rasslin
nay nooky huntn nix doar
nur kuvitn their ox

Oaky doaky. Stick way it.
- rahl burn thi lohta yiz.

Tom Leonard

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Roy Campbell

Next up in McMillan’s occasional series of favourite maverick poets is Roy Campbell.

Born in South Africa in 1901 from Scottish parents, Campbell was one of the most brilliant of a generation of poets in the 1940s and 50s that included Louis MacNeice, Cecil Day Lewis, Stephen Spender, Dylan Thomas and WH Auden. His poetry contains brilliant and vivid evocations of landscape and pictures of exotic detail and clarity. His poetic eye was lit by Mediterranean and African sunlight: he spent much of his life in Spain and Portugal and served his war years in Kenya.

Mass at Dawn

I dropped my sail and dried my dripping seines
Where the white quay is chequered by cool planes
In whose great branches, always out of sight,
The nightingales are singing day and night.
Though all was grey beneath the moon’s grey beam,
My boat in her new paint shone like a bride,
And silver in my baskets shone the bream:
My arms were tired and I was heavy-eyed,
But when with food and drink, at morning-light,
The children met me at the water-side,
Never was wine so red or bread so white.

It was in London, however, that he met Dylan Thomas and became a firm friend, even helping him eat a bowl of daffodils to celebrate St David’s Day. Campbell worked as a producer for the BBC and was able to punt a lot of work to his impecunious friend, as well as help in the shape of hand-outs. Why do we not remember Campbell as well as his contemporaries? Apart from the fact he was a heavy drinker, his political views were wildly unfashionable. He was fiercely right-wing and contemptuous of the liberal intellectual coteries of the day. He tried to strangle Stephen Spender live on stage (Spender forgave him on account of Campbell’s “greatness” as a poet) and claimed to have been the one who shot George Orwell in the trenches during the Spanish Civil War, though the fact he said he'd done this with a longbow, and wasn’t actually anywhere near the front line at the time, casts doubt on the story. He served in the British army during World war 2 and was invalided out. He died tragically in a car accident in Portugal in 1957.


My thought has learned the lucid art
By which the willows lave their limbs
Whose form upon the water swims
Though in the air they rise apart.
For when with my delight I lie,
By purest reason unreproved,
Psyche usurps the outward eye
To trace her inward sculpture grooved
In one melodious line, whose flow
With eddying circle now invests
The rippled silver of her breasts,
Now shaves a flank of rose-lit snow,
Or rounds a cheek where sunset dies
in the black starlight of her eyes

His obituary in the Times read Campbell was an individualist, a traditionalist and a fiery scorner of much that was accepted by his articulate contemporaries as being commonplace truth. But to call him a poet of the right is merely to use a convenient label. It does not explain the beauty of his lyrics nor the marvellous sweep of his narrative descriptive power..

Friday, September 04, 2009

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast

I’ve seen the film, but unlike
my daughters I am no student
of the varied vicissitudes
of Belle, the Beauty’s, life.
I like the louche candlestick
and the footstool who’s a dog,
the Beast I’ve not much time for:
loads of men are hairy, have bad luck,
and don’t have a palace to stay in.
Belle’s got a Disney nose, hardly
a nose at all, a tiny inverted V,
just a scratch, and eyes like a lemur’s,
but we cannot doubt her qualities:
she loves her father,
is brave, yet vulnerable
and she has curves that Walt
would not have liked.
In the end all is well,
she marries David Coverdale
so that’s alright,
and lives happily ever more:
so why do I shudder so,
when my girls rehearse
the kiss that wakes the beast?

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

MacDuff documents released

Alan Houliston declares the Tea Dance Open

In the face of growing international criticism the Government of Clatteringshaws has published all official documents pertaining to the controversial release "on compassionate grounds" of MacDuff from his sponsored walk along the Southern Upland Way. "These documents" commented an official this morning, "clearly vindicate our position. No pressure was put on us by any outside agencies."

In spite of these assurances concerns still remain. Can it be an accident that MacDuff's release coincided with a major deal signed for the export of goats to the Masonic Club in Dumfries? Doubts have also been cast on the extent of MacDuff's illness, details of which were excluded from the document release on grounds of patient confidentiality. An independent expert has assessed that, with proper care, MacDuff might live for another 140 years, well in excess of predictions made by the Government.

Fears have also been raised that MacDuff might play a significant part in the upcoming Tea Dance to mark 3,000 years of whisky drinking in the Prancing Pensioner. "It would be like a slap in the face" said one commentator.