Dave enjoyed writing poetry. Here is a selection of some of his poems.
Let us construct this collective record of
Progress: starting from nowhere, from zero,
gradually working our way upwards.
To build this as we go requires words
which can be universally accepted,
pieced flush together, made to interlock.
Of course, expect words to be unavailable…
We shall have to invent, to improvise.
And if not words, best make do with letters
to indicate our cumulative achievements,
or, to be precise, make do with numbers
…and even then if this will not suffice,
human progress still need not be impeded:
out of words, letters, numbers, let us forge
new tools, new alphabets, new languages…
The Primrose (primula vulgaris)
The flower has a rarity
in the urban setting,
rarely under cultivation
or in arranged bouquet,
even in the countryside
prefers a known location
at the edge, verge, boundary
formed of a bank of grass
between two habitats,
in the zone of mediation
say, between field and road.
For me, I hoard intelligence
of their known whereabouts,
I gather, treasure knowledge
of each isolated cache,
the overgrown embankment
of a disused railway track
at site A, the roadside verge
between B and the old bridge,
or the edge of forest land
west of C —to be stored away
so that when spring comes,
when I need the reassurance
of a sure thing, a bright prospect,
I know exactly where to find
the medicine I need.
The flower's colour is unique,
basic yellow with a tincture
of pure milk, which sets it apart
from marsh marigold or catkin
or yellow of iris or daffodil,
or all variants in between —
the reflecting of sunlight
somehow blended into the petal
as if van Gogh's white impasto
on the mane of the craggy sunflower
of ochre or burnt umber
were rubbed into the palette
to chum it into a pale butter
with an identity of its own:
'Primrose yellow' let us call it
for sake of argument.
It is this exactitude of hue
that I have come to treasure,
this highly specific, unique tone,
the wording of the specific message
as well as its cadence and calm
and the simplicity of its measure
in the complex juxtaposition
between the two realities
in which it finds itself alone,
and it is its very transience
in the time-domain that grips,
its subtle appearance in grass
on the verge between two seasons,
a narrow highly-coded burst
of specific, pin-point, information.
What we extract from this
is less obvious or important,
how we decide to use
reassurance and knowledge
or how we choose to interpret
the sudden gift of information
given to us by change and chance
and without solicitation,
the random sightings on the path
leading us elsewhere or nowhere,
or how we assimilate the calm,
how we absorb its warmth
or come to terms with reticence,
all this is our prerogative —
or whether, without full understanding
we simply pass the message on.
The name of a thing has an imbued significance
residing in its every syllable; it is the essence,
clothed in language, of the thing it represents.
When we hear the rustle of foraging grouse
we see the creatures encroaching slowly nearer —
then, startled, they stretch wing and flutter up
at the reverberating discharge of a musket
over deserted moorland where the wind howls
with no-one to bear witness or make record,
except, mutely, the corpses lying on the heather
where, innocent, shot on sight, they fell,
blood soaking down where they were butchered
into the landscape — these remote Galloway hills —
where the established, legal order enforced
to the utmost measure, to the letter, its fierce will.
Atrocity is the proper name to be bestowed
on murder committed in the name of authority,
the murderer's name, John Graham of Claverhouse,
and his accomplices-in-arms, that troop of dragoons,
with Robert Grierson, Sheriff of Wigtownshire,
Captain John Inglis and the Earl of Annandale…
that long, chiselled roll-call of the infamous,
who syllable-by-syllable are remembered still,
their names imbued with murderous significance.
At James Clerk Maxwell's Grave
The past seems now impossibly remote,
beyond the headstones, Motte, and Loch,
the fertile hills and the transient clouds
seem intangible and beyond our scope.
Maxwell, whose father is buried here,
would have walked along this precise path;
as a child he would have seen these hills,
although not these precise clouds perhaps.
His was a career remarkably short-lived
before he joined his father in this burial plot;
for all that, it was a life fertile with ideas,
deeply coherent in its imaginative pursuit.
The challenge is one of seeing what avails,
stones, Loch, hills, the random passing clouds,
seeing imaginatively what is physically ours
and to set this into precise and fertile language.
Goldfinch (carduelis carduelis britannica)
Your infrequent visitations
bring a carnival to the eye,
sharply defined inscriptions,
encrypted, coded flashings
in the jet pinions of your wing,
with embedded canary lozenges;
upon the face a crimson mask.
Distinguished from birds
belonging to other species
committed to drab and khaki
and survival camouflage
who make themselves scarce
in mottled flickering foliage,
the siskin, wren, and sparrow,
the chaffinch merged in shadows…
You, in contrast, an alternative
to the imperative of survival,
to the instinct for concealment,
for retiring to the background,
rather, a bold, emphatic display
of contrasting, vivid colour,
an unmistakable signature
declaring your identity.
A life lived in public spaces
sharing your heart with Passion,
like the sharing of loaves and fishes
endlessly grasped and broken.
A life exposed to the elements
of opprobrium and ridicule,
compassionately giving solace to
the multitudes who reject you.
On The Art Of Writing Poetry Badly
I. Enderby Revisited
I heard the late Anthony Burgess
once defend Enderby's entire oeuvre
against a savage criticism levelled
by a distinguished on-stage interlocutor
(whose name I can't now remember)
to the effect that Enderby was a failure,
an irredeemably mediocre poet.
"That's indeed a very harsh judgment!"
said his injured, indignant creator.
"His poetry surely has the merit
of its sincerity, to state the obvious!"
Indeed, how to dismiss as doggerel
work conceived with such conviction
under the high pressure of ambition?
The detailed issue of its provenance
(written, if I understand this correctly,
entirely whilst ensconced on a lavatory)
need not detain us any here further.
Whatever the fountain of his creativity
we must respect the art that emerges
from the struggle of life-long effort.
Ah, the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh
back then when I was in my thirties…
Reading Enderby today, a much more
disconcerting, unnerving experience;
no longer does it seem such an excessive,
over-the-top exaggerated caricature,
but uncannily, uncomfortably, accurate.
Thus, unlovely, male and middle-aged,
I resort to the same old iambic tactics,
the music-hall and mindless fragments:
The dark aborted any urge to tame
waters that day might prove to be a ditch
but then were endless growling ocean, rich,
in fish and heroes, till the dredgers came…
The urge to write a truly awful line,
to repeat the feat in a long outpouring,
to contrive, distort, a natural word order,
to make of language a bluff buffoonery
amid decrepitude and constipation — well
there is relief in the very act of exertion,
in the defacing and in the profanation.
But there is danger too in the practice,
the foul danger of cross contamination:
a fine line exists between literature proper
and corruptions seeping from its neighbour
with fartings and bellowed ejaculations
distracting the attentions of the Muses…
as he inveigles his way into our verses.
II. Kinbote's final 'say'
The Cantos of the poet John Francis Shade
are nothing short of a miraculous cavalcade
of unremitting excruciating phraseology,
like Nabokov's mock-exemplar translations
into English of Eugene Onegin, matching
exactly Pushkin's rhyme-scheme and metre
(supplied in the translator's trenchant Forward
as illustration of how not to go about it…)
Nabokov's genius was to recognize in this
the makings of a darkly comic masterpiece
based on precisely this versifying principle
but elevated to a more pan-historic level
as Canto after Canto successively dispenses
its medley of banality and remorseless dross
overlain with a gloriously ponderous overburden
of would-be erudition and sham commentary
which is where I, in all humility, offer services…
Behold the discipline with which it's carried out:
nine hundred and ninety nine lines of rigid verse
without lapsing once into the zone of the sublime
nor even into the passable, nor marginally marginal.
The poet adheres to the iron diktat of doggerel:
Extract only what is ludicrous, bathetic and banal
to keep each spinning plate spinning in its plane.