I hope you had a good Christmas. Warm wishes for a Happy New Year anyway! In my last post I said I would write about the other book I’ve recently completed, along with Charles Williams: The Third Inkling. This is a new collection of poems, to be called Luna Park, and it will appear from Carcanet Press in autumn 2015. It’s currently available for pre-order at a discount, here:
It’s my first full-length book of poems since Playing With Fire in 2006.
This time the themes have a distinctly ‘lunar’ tinge to them – hence the title. Many of the poems are set at night, or they deal with dreams, visions, ghosts, or the magical.
Not that the title comes directly from moon matters. Luna Park was actually the name of a derelict funfair I was shown when I visited Sydney in 2001. It was beside Sydney Harbour and it fascinated me: all those slightly battered rides and attractions slightly dilapidated and shut off behind chain link fencing. It stuck in my memory.
But it struck me that ‘Luna Park’ could also be a name for the territory of the moon and all things connected therewith. And I found the delightfully strange painting reproduced above by my friend the Cumbrian artist Linda Cooper and realised it would make the perfect cover image. Looking at it, you don’t necessarily see the cat at once, but then you follow the woman’s eyes and see that there’s a black cat and she is pulling back the curtain to let it see the moon. Fascinating.
I’ll put in a couple of poems from the book below. The first, ‘Cosmos’, was written when I was sitting up late at night in my room in a farmhouse in the Duddon Valley in the Lake District. It was first published in the magazine Resurgence, chosen by my friend Peter Abbs, the poetry editor.
Between Orion and Gemini, an almost-full moon.
Wrinkled tidewater tilting at the lips of Morecambe Bay.
Galaxies of cow parsley edging the valley fields.
Slow explosions of lichen on the fellside boulders.
The long-armed yew gesticulating at your window:
ancient growth-rings cupping a still more ancient hollow.
Old glass: molten tremulous lungful of human breath
spun flat, cut to rippled squares, set in the dusty casement.
Grain of the living oak, stopped dead in your tabletop.
Cobweb at the table’s corner a map of skewed co-ordinates.
Your tablelamp fed by Heysham’s uranium rods,
Haverigg’s twinkling windfarm, buried cables along the Duddon Valley.
Your mobile: lit menu, notional time, no signal.
The mountain: against the black of the sky, a blacker black.
The Troytown labyrinth of your fingerprint: Chartres maze stretched to an oval.
The fieldpaths crisscrossing in the palm of your hand.
Ink-slick spreading in the pen’s furrow:
gold keel ploughing an ocean of churned Norway spruce.
All of it drawn and drawn into the pupil’s black hole,
the dark that cannot be seen, the space that is everything else.
The second, ‘The Maldon Hawk’, was suggested by the Old English poem The Battle of Maldon, in which an Anglo-Saxon nobleman sends his falcon to fly free while he himself goes to battle with the Norsemen. If he survives he will call the hawk back; but we know he won’t survive. The poem gives the hawk’s view. It was first published in an anthology of poets with Oxford connections called Initiates, edited by Jane Draycott, a poet I greatly admire.
THE MALDON HAWK
he let him þa of handon leofne fleogan
hafoc wið þæs holtes, and to þære hilde stop
– ‘The Battle of Maldon’, 991 AD
And so, dismissed, I rose on a wingbeat
over horses already scattering to the wood,
unwanted as men turned to their war.
Vassal set loose from his master’s service,
blameless outlaw freed to the houseless wild,
circling, I watched thickets of metal and leather
crowd the shallows of the deepening tide.
Now as I scour the air my heart divides
between longing for a man’s call and the wideness of the world
where I got honour by my endgame, pleasing nobles
in the hour when the bright dove fled the man-flung hawk.
I pivot at flight’s apex but will not return,
though my jewelled eye sees each ring on his corselet
catch sun as he merges into the mass,
death-besotted warriors on their way to darkness.
Gladly I would stoop a last time into his language
but already battle’s whirlpool sucks him in, his face downward,
nameless and eyeless among the iron helmets.
I am a word forgotten from his story.
He is a landmark fading from my sight.
Men had seemed to have some special knowledge:
now the sea-wind tastes of death, they rush towards it –
whether to sing with saints or feast with battle-fellows
or lie at a tree’s root until the world ends
they know no better than I. Never again,
child of the waste moor and the tufted woodland,
will I perch on that wrist, grasp the bone beneath.