Featured Poet 5 - Lawrence Upton

A selection of poetry 1

I am limited in what I can do here because a considerable amount of my writing is either awaiting publication or is under consideration, and I don't feel able to use any of that; and so a couple of pieces I would use here are excluded. Nevertheless, I hope the following will give some sense of my writing. If you're still reading, thank you for staying with me. Here come the poems.

[This poem, written as from Greece, the Dodecanese, is the second / third in a sequence addressed to Eric Mottram, within a bigger sequence of verses. It refers back to the first, written from Poldhu in Cornwall. It is split in the middle, a split filled with letters to others. "The Point" = Lizard Point. "Gilbert" = Gilbert Adair, who convened the colloquium No one listens to poetry? in 1992. "Petar Hektorovic" was a Croatian poet, the first to write significantly in his own language, I am told - who wandered into my poem - his house on the island of Hvar is built like a fortress.]

Letters to Eric 3 & 4
Dear Eric, I'd thought my next thing to you,
which must be this; there's nothing else to send!
unless you count that card I sent last month,
would be written somewhere in West Cornwall,
adding to what I'd said; but nothing grew -
I don't like rush; perhaps I'm like a bulb
that feels itself well set before it grows -
I'd used up my energy at Poldhu;
and I was booked towards Byzantium;
Thus I took the seeds of my speaking voice
to Thessaloniki then half round Greece
.............I paused and stuttered...
.................................................My poem set
at the end of Britain's an outsider's view,
ready at any time to riot like
alien exotic plants round The Point,
expanding and exceeding the garden walls.
I am no longer English all the time.
I'd tried to clear some ground, turned it over
if I like, for splitting, new growth, seedlings,
in order that ideas might spread and bind:
the garden as a building, and building
as gardening: love of calm and caution -
bring them together, add experiment
and an imperative to honesty
..........which stays open to law and law's overthrow
.....................which knows that what is spoken makes knowledge
...............................and knows knowledge can't stop gen'ral fear
and you have poetry - assuming skills
that many writers lack - the gathering
of structures to get by, in which to bloom,
shade from wind and sun, artificially
co-operating, well-framed for suppleness,
strength and an eagerness to work alone,
so that we may, sometimes, work together
so that we may survive outside chaos,
a defence, hospital and meeting place,
a place to be in love with one's own life,
a place where friends retain their own power,
a garden and a home. The place to be.
In Cornwall and in Greece, and Bosnia too
if they'd just stop fighting, I'd make my home
in England, now a foreign field cornered,
but one I know my way around. I see
tumbles of bright hydrangeas down old walls
and seek to simulate the wild effect
like many a Saturday gardener.
Or the hot sun blocked by a roof of figs
has me designing barricades to keep
myself from the edge of dying London.
I don't let go my anger or my hope.
Okay; do I start again or build on top?
The Cornish note is done but could extend
like modular Mediterranean blocks
(Greek not Spanish) or Croatian palaces'
with bits out each end like cardboard models
which still have some more work to do on them.
Plans make the future which the future fails
to validate. Nothing's ever finished,
the modern state stacked bone mounds much as Troy
in which scared individuals try to guess
whence comes the next marauding incident,
the causes out of our control but clear.
Most buy insurance; spare beds are handy;
things change. Our reproduction of the world
is unstable. We lack security;
and anything organic needs to age:
a garden, good stews, wine, friendship, memory.
And so we reuse, like Beethoven humming
his old tunes inside new melodies; and all
art repeats, without or with intention.
All competence is recognisable
because it's a use of repetition;
to go beyond that is to abandon
the likelihood of wide comprehension;
what's not already seen's invisible;
but, in the daily graft of writing verse,
who has the time to think about such things?
My strong desire to celebrate you
forces me to awareness of my purpose...
"strategy" is such a hateful metaphor -
I mean: "what I intend". That's all I mean,
to my knowledge; I don't know all I mean...
This is a way of making, these letters...
I think that's it; they're a way of making;
but some listening will reply "Making what?"
Tyrants and creators use intransitives.
The concept of "creator" is worrying;
we lack some words. Tyranny opposition's
not strong enough to validate its own
methodology; everything's shaky;
one false word and the foundations of the
argument one puts move out from true;
then none sees straight; perhaps a new business
opens up; cracks widen; dereliction
follows opportunities and dead hope;
towns become ghost cities filled by loud noise;
weeds grow; memory fails; food goes off; friends die.
Something that worked, like Jugoslavia,
goes gangrenous, won't start, rejects itself
(thanks to the winning cabbage, Helmut Kohl)...
All it needs is one human with power
to hate their fellow and we're in trouble.
And we have so many stupid people,
seeking blindness. "What do you write about?"
is the usual form, asserting the stance
of those hoping to make a quick - Ah!
what may I say here? "killing" would complete
the device; but it's somewhat decorative,
the device; I'll let go and leave it hanging...
The question I have razed remains. Some stores
make large profits marketing glossy pictures
of scenes and animals that don't exist
and don't propose anything that's contrary
to the vegetable thought underneath hate.
If people want realistic pictures,
pictures that are about something, then why
purchase images of nothing nowhere?
I wonder: who is listening to us?
as Gilbert asked us sev'ral years ago.
Are there many more than us? How many?
What do I write about? God doesn't know:
not only is God not, no reality!
A man dreaming of Eden on Death Row
might be fair analogue for our mistake
in thinking that there's anything to say
and that, as you'll know, is the main subject
of any poet who's worth that used word.
Maybe it wasn't always so, but now
that's how it is...
.........................I didn't know till now.
I haven't let you speak - I've talked that much;
chattering's led me to this understanding:
that nothing we can say is worth the light!
I needed someone patient in that role
as one calls up a poet's speaking voice
in their printed words - if they're any good.
I sat you in my imagination
and, without actual words from you, found words
for things that can't be said. That's what I hope.
I walk further faster with less effort
than ever before. My brain's state is good
and this despite being on my own, quite broke,
three weeks before I can go home - and that's
to be an endurance test. I'll survive:
black birds are flocking overhead, gold hills,
an illusion of the sunset, round them
and me, except where the sea's vermilion
and the sky over it sort of amethyst.
I've scrumped figs and almonds half the day,
saving for my evening meal. All's well
if we only have the space to feel free
and I do now. Time to rebuild paradise!
If we can believe in it then surely
we can rebuild what's never been, thank god,
knowing we'll never make it. Well, so what?
You've laid down much advice to consider.
I trust in your continued presence too.
So then, Professor Mottram, three weeks left!
When I return I'll fight with you against...
What do you suggest? You'd better tell me.
I think tyranny's what we need to destroy;
I'm tired of bullying; tired of lies.
I need to talk. I need your guidance still
Lawrence, Greece, 6/8/94
and it seems to me, Eric, regarding
these bits sticking out the ends of houses
which somehow withal seem elegant although
I may not have it right in memory -
What I have in thought is more Croatian
than Greek - they're like their arms to link dancers
with the hand leading pushing out, unlinked,
determining the course of all in train,
locomotive to carriages, shepherd
to dogs, dogs to sheep and so on, but more
dynamic, more interactive - you know
I love the words the wankers steal! Take this
seriously, a little, and one sees
houses around amphitheatrical
valleys, which foster villages, dancing,
winding in organised haphazardness,
their roads about themselves. In Croatia,
Hvar and Korcula especially,
the houses are far too stuck down to dance -
..........as I imagine him,
..........Petar Hektorovic
..........would not have danced
..........his house could not -
I have it pictured in my outside loo,
understandably fortified, full weight -
I have locks on all the windows out there -
but the idea was too good to let pass.
The local worlds we make determine lives.
I was up, captived, all night, in the hills,
listening to a lyra player, six hours,
ended at dawn by eating a boiled sheep's head
though I'll not say more on that! And today -
Which day? It's heading towards further dawn.
I've been harbourside talking half this night
of police and lawyers and advisors
and other forms of dying. I'm full of
an octopus and slowly music swamped -
last night's band's playing the village. I'm home
in my white room, fan full, the window back,
and the songs, the music and its singer, 'll play another hour,
I have to rest,
sounding not just directly up the hill
but echoing off the cliffs two kilometres away
and round the whole bay's curve
an interlocking charmed herd breaking
tethered by the musicians.
......................................... Here the houses
point upwards, metal reinforcement like
shoots from tubers stuck in the roof, structures
which seek high cooperation - the word
acropolis acro polis, high town
in ancient Greek. Their music lifts me up.
More so last night. I'd had more retsina
and concrete creates such harsh short echoes.
In the hills it's less distorted afar.
You hear almost perfectly. He leading
in these dances will often break half free
and circle the line he has attached of
people dancing, performing complexities,
leaping, stamping, kicking his legs higher
than I'd like to
...................II thought of this
........................................... not sure
how content I am with it
...........................................of poems
which are extensible, half unlinking
my locomotive loose
a theme
.............and then recombining themselves
.............................................................with the rest
............so that sequence becomes
maze like;
..................it's contingent;
........................................it is secondary:
small stories grow to several stories
and ricocheting narrative builds up
like the possible routes through a smallish town
in growth. Like here -
...............................It's half past two!
........................................................Good night
Lawrence, 24/8/94
Subversive Activity for Gilbert Adair
One has in that virtuality called mind
an overlay of medium and organisation
a sense of how things should work.
It is false, an oversimplification,
a sighting on the map and not the sun.
Thus starts every act
including war and other failure
To last reliant on bitty mental-mapped data
in an environment of unplanned order
which we do not comprehend, except partially,
lacking referents to supposed reality,
and do the same thing for a dozen years
and keep it energetic and keep your spirit
is almost magical
one suspects the use of gadgets
Some on death row survive as long
but they have lawyers and a clumsy system.
Few want to gas or burn us;
no one wants to film it.
This is our cruel and unusual punishment.
Gilbert, I wonder!
Where do you come from?
Some time in a reign of frogs
and other species supplementation
perhaps you were dropped
and started running on your inside motor
where most would lie dribbling
like things birds drop.
It's hard. I've just passed a sign saying
"We adore thee O Christ
and we praise thee
because by thy holy cross
thou hast redeemed the world".
Where does a poet's strength get waxed?
It always was this difficult I'm sure of that.



[I'm not sure what to say about this. I could tell you the personal circumstances at the time of writing, which are very clear in my mind, but they are not relevant to the poem. It's to be read quite fast]



absence of blue in blue, rectangles, tending to round, forest cross trees branch; a metallic bird chants, stop-switch broken; a woman walking by, squinting from short-sightedness into middle distance, hair fringe overhanging the tops of her eyebrows; root stumps among purple weeds, silvery as an effect of the afternoon's diffracted light.

malt brown sun, glistening sloppy, melting when you shade your eyes with your hand; green star too low to be seen distant; an engine revving in an out-of-sight clearing; creak and swish and repercussion crash, a tree trunk falling.

we're rooved over by trees' outgrowth; a parrot voice is asking "where's the other one" repetitiously in between the notes of the one note bird, like avoidance of gaps between paving stones; a loudspeaker broadcast invites us to a helicopter excursion, but no price is quoted.

sunlight between two trees is paling fire, a column of dullness bright enough to make me put my hand over my eyes, like solid honey glowing; and it fades as I or the sun move, like sugar melting syrupy into water; in the space it leaves, narrow where the roots curve out towards each other, one like an arm thrown over another's, though rigid as in death, a slight haze of reflected light and of vapour and of hovering insects; a wasp on a broken sign or once-upright fence post tilting among tubers easily thrown back by my sudden breath blow starting to walk, beginning to die; walls like turrets out of a marsh, galvanised steel painted grey; a gun unsafetied but not fired; a river floating sluggish with the weight of its own detritus; brown-streaked sputum on a plate of white fish, smell of drains; a face, from recent memory, overlaid into what one is seeing now; see this?, he clicks his fingers, the paper cat falls apart, the drill chuck lets drop the router, someone opens a door into a dark place and goes inside; oh, yes, I confirm, I do see it now, still unsure what I am seeing or why he is interested unless it is to take money from me; his clothes are well-fitting, he smells of soap all day, he smiles, his hands move into others' pockets with the best of intentions.

the bar and all who're in it become transparent, dissolving; their substance fills my recollections; my senses ring to the high-pitched oscillation; a kind of synaesthesia wipes out localised desire; one is no longer sure of the base location; the idea of location is awry; all that I can say, one begins to clarify, is -

a gathering of grass stalks in a clenched fist, coming towards me so it's not my own; but I have, to let you know, a lack of feeling in my either arm; I do not believe which way to face or who you are or where it is I'm feeling who I am?; is that a question; sand each every way on an artificial surface; wind in all ears; silver and grey, as I splash into a river, shuddering; a bridge over yards of concrete; a wall between eyes; cable boxes coming open; an Easter egg collapsing in the heat; honeysuckle; rose; heaven knows nothing; there is a war everywhere, the big estates breaking images overturn and imprint images; a rich youngster forced under the protectorship of opportunists; hands spreading smouldering seeds; danger - high voltage; you keep vomiting like that I'm going to hit you, course there's no point to it; come back to bed; give me a cuddle; that's nice; there's nowhere like this on any map; why are we whispering?; give me the compass; give me the notebook; give me a sandwich; give me your love; give me your trust; give me an hour and I'll pay you back; give some help and I'll help you; give me your hand and I'll pull you up; give me the code and I'll save the world; give me the time and I'll take you there; put your foot here, no here, good boy, here, that's it, and up; well done; give me the sun and I'll give you jewels; give me; give me; the hat's pulled over her eyes to make her look fetching; I keep smiling all the time; his face distorted by water flowing, otherwise he'd look peaceful; a child whining for no declared reason; is this your car?; keep playing; a factory surrounded by scaffolding; don't let your accent drop, we may actually have managed to fabricate the stuff of life; the front door rattles as the bailiff and the ghost, each invisible, unknowable and unpredictable to the other, try to get in; garlic and chains and the smell of ashes; someone holding a fox glove is telling me about digitalis; but why are they called fox gloves? she asks, she is only six; midwinter storms; diagonal lines of sunlight crossing the diagonal lines of her dress as she sits on the tilted easy chair, diagonal patterned fabric; you can't describe everything, can you, officer?; I didn't think it was central to your inquiry to mention when I fed the tropical fish; can you really deduce anything from that?; if you say yes I shan't believe you; that would seem to me a quality of purely fictional detectives and you, unfortunately, are neither fictional nor pure; get to the point, snarls a detective sergeant; the point is it's half past four and in this house that means it's time for tea.

indelible ink on a white blouse; I've said all this before you know so many times; a bottle of rioja; a marzipan delight unwrapped and presented in its paper as a mark of respect; thank you, darling, says granny; stockings pulled down to the knees; a windscreen wiper missing a beat; an orchard attracting humming insects in millions; a brimming reservoir; a mutual orgasm with the one you love; a car almost submerged in flowering heather; a half-remembered hymn heard now again; thank you for calling dominos pizza; sun upon a plastic-glazed greenhouse; melting sorbet; a duck on a wooden table, eating my sandwich; now the-re are thre-e steps to heav-en, wa! wa! wa!, just follow steps one two and three.


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