Archive for June, 2012

Ok, this is my take on the St George and the Dragon tale. And yes, it is meant to be wryly humorous!

 

GEORGE

 

Listen, this is what he did:

he narrowed his eyes, he levelled his lance,

his mouth behind his visor set;

begrudgingly to admit at last

the road now led to the lair,

and all ways out used up,

or going nowhere.

The knowing smile of the earl’s wife

tucked away for later. He uncurled

to a back-twinge, a tooth niggling:

(a back molar broken as he bit hard),

and his horse fidgeting.

 

With a sigh, now turned his mind

to this matter: the dark of the cave,

no hanging grasses, scented woodbine,

but mill-stone grit, a gully that gave

onto a sounding river.

Palms damp, glove seams undone,

he nudged his lance tip, a sliver

of bright sun, into darkness.

Pawing and restive his horse

snorted, snorted.

 

And in a turning of the cave

where light fell diffuse, the huge

bulk turned its head and gave

a look of surprise, almost human.

‘Steady!’ to the horse’s flattened ears.

‘This is just him and me now. Walk on.’

And the dragon

smiled

eyes, muzzle, ears,

crinkled to their corners; teeth shone,

then hoodied. It spoke:  “You will not kill

me, George. You know that!” His father’s voice!

A trick? He’d expected something. Chill;

reined back; his horse trotted, neighed at the voice –

‘Whoa!’ Panicky, and picked up on. “Once before

I remember this” I was five! “You were five

and Torridon could not jump. And you swore.”

We were alone. My father has betrayed me!

 

And again it spoke: “George, listen to me;

I said to your father, I spoke to the bishop

before he blessed you…” My god, is it she?

My mother?  He patted, stroked, to settle his horse,

‘You should not have spoken to the bishop!

This is family business!’ “You would

not listen! Not one of you.

I know you better than anyone could.

My one blessing. My only son.

You are too young.” The voice insistent,

“Too young!” ‘Mother! Don’t go on!’

 

‘It seems you have everyone here!

Let one go free. Her in the background!’

A shape in the cave. The dragon winked.

And he heard the busy sound,

the voices of his friends; of tradesmen

and businessmen he had met; and again

of top ministers, of top policemen.

And the voices of Asian, African, Caribbean:

all the voices of the land. “Now listen!

You will not kill me. You know you cannot.

I make all that you value, the glisten

and the glow, that is your island;

all the fortunes, and the mishaps.”

And then it smiled; a little smugly perhaps.

 

He hitched his lance, steadied his spurs.

Could I, he wondered questioningly,

be the booby who blows it?

Is it as they said? Is it me?

 

‘There has to be change!’ surprised

to hear himself: ‘If not conquering,

then concessions! You,’ he hurried,

overriding interruptions,

‘have to agree. What you buried

now must be born. What are corruptions,

rebooted – what you represent,

are how it was. If I can’t kill you, dare

I then… clip your wings a little? Tear

off a leg for a trophy?

As he spoke, edged to the side slowly;

fire blared down the cave; he was safe.

 

And as the dragon paused to inhale

he charged, pricked its breast, blood ran:

‘I may forget myself!’ he said wildly,

and the dragon blinked, backed up a span ,

and blinked again. He was off, blade out,

paused by the flank… “What do you want?”

a whisper from nowhere, everywhere.

 

‘Change!’ “Change can mean defeat;

for I am everything ….” , ‘I will take

what comes, and seek concessions.  Defeat

is integration, alteration. Nothing is ever complete

without this mix.’

 

“And what will you give?” That voice;

that final question.

‘If she goes free, the choice is

my bones on your hearth.’

 

Coda

And she did, lighting her way alone,

with a Chinese lantern:

part saint, part dragon

wholly her own.

This is what she said:

He was hoping it would just take the horse;

but no, it took them both.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Hot House (1988)

Greenheart (1990)

Harm (1994)

The Drift (2000)

The Shorter Life (2005)

 

Carol Ann Duffy wrote “To read him is to understand what it is to be male.” This is the “erotic energy, rage, sorrow and confusion” David Lehman found. Other contributions praise his “technical finesse”, “wit and astuteness”.

His first two books are striking for their open narratives of erotic misadventure, his courage to follow up the naïve mindsets of youth, and to allow equal measure to all. There are no winners in these shifting panoramas of relationships: people meet or not meet, miss to find out later where in fact they did meet etc

The background music to these poems he is at pains to give us, it is the music of the time: Led Zeppelin, Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks, Cream… I would also suggest the deep music of Leonard Cohen: Jenkins’ heroes are damaged survivors.

Cohen’s monotone, however, belies the variousness of Jenkins’ elegiac; he acknowledges: “I was once told… there is a tension… between a very English understated, conversational voice, and a residue of the French symbolist poets ….”

The erotic adventures take on the guise of a search for meaning, within relationships, with parents, but also with society, culture. There is an ongoing discourse with European art and literature. We have poems set around the Mediterranean, and inevitably Northern Ireland, North America; also London, Paris.

There is a deft handling of personal lyric, warping it out into greater resonances, disconcerting realms. In his first book the rawness of subject matter can become strident, unappealing:

 

when one of them, sucking ostentatiously

                         on the remains of a joint  and extinguishing the rest

                         just below your left breast

                         slams back the bolt

                         of a hand-gun he has slid….,

Politics

– it spirals into B-movie hell.

The best must be Greenheart; the subject matter is viewed through frames, lenses: Isaac preparing for his sacrifice transforms into a painter’s model, by way of painter’s catamite, and the poem’s focus of the portrait contemplated (see Isaac); the shadow of Kierkegaard’s ‘Fear and Trembling’ gutters in the background.

The poise that this framing allows enables greater flexibility:

…………………………

                              Do you hear? The rain falls

                              on this abandoned

                              forest-growth

                              with a rustling

                              that comes and goes

                              deepens, fades on the air…..

Rain in the Pine-Forest (from D’Annunzio)

The lightness of touch is exquisite without becoming precious. The Island Muse is a sequence of nine poems after the nine muses, and all in sonnet form. Each poems’ last line begins the next, as in traditional mode.

Is Carol Ann Duffy correct: is this what it is to be male?

There is a kind of reductionism going on. Combine this with, “(his) work always relished exposure… pulling back the sheet… lifting up the stone… reopening the old wound…”: he is paring back to get at the core of relationships. All he has found is pain.

The subject matter seems more character-specific than gender-specific.

He asserts a Freud who says the elegiac is “connected with the death-instinct”, “a negativity”; it comes as little surprise the stripped-back visceral rawness would lead us to Harm. What is distinctive in this volume, sends up a ‘Beware’ signal, is the relish in the onrush; the rhythms are more pronounced, the music less. We have, now:

…………………..

                        when every good intended

                        like the harm unmended

                        ………………………………………………..

                        and nothing, now, will be all right.

(Nocturne)

Harm won the 1995 Forward Prize. Where does Harm leave us?

There he was, on the tv! The programme was about Depression, about the efficacy of Prozac as a treatment. He agreed to try it, not without a deal of trepidation.

With The Drift and The Shorter Life the poems on his dead parents are there as always; a new structure to these books is apparent; “ecologues to the recently dead (Brodsky, Kathy Acker…)”; the “failed relationships”; and the ”evocations of “ south “London family life” in late fifties, early sixties.

The poise and delicacy of Greenheart has become “lamp-eyed brooding” (D J Taylor) with echoes of Eliot’s Prufrock in Galatea, Betjeman in Tales of the Riverbank. But the scarifying honesty is still there. There is also a possibility of a kind of redemption, through compassion. This is new. This is more than expected:

         Young women with damp hollows, downy arms,

         bare burnished legs -………………………………………………..

          …………………………………………………….. As if they’d share

         their world of holidays and weekend farms 

         with you!

        …………………………………..

         they seem to say, beyond the mortgage, car and wife –

         I am what you deserve, I am the buried life

 

         you will never live.                

(The Love of Unknown Women,  The Black Book limited edition).