The Poetry Kit
A Poetry Kit Interview
Conducting an interview can be a difficult business, when one of the people involved is in the UK and the other in Australia it could be thought almost impossible. Selwyn Pritchard was willing to give it a go so we sent off a series of questions and after a few more emails the following biographical portrait was written.
My name is Selwyn Pritchard Hughes. When I arrived in Oz I found a poet called Selwyn Hughes, an aborigine, and lopped the Hughes off. I prefer to be anonymous and I think it's as daft for poets to pursue celebrity, as if they are part of the 'entertainment industry', as for them to expect to make money. I understand why many do hope for such recognition, for even fifteen minutes of fame helps. Of course bums on seats seem to justify state subsidies too. It's difficult to make judgements nowadays, as no one knows what counts as good or bad beyond a certain ability, and some people, like Richard Burton, can make one weep conjugating the verb 'to be', so a good deal of what gets applause at readings and festivals is illusory. It is better then nothing, of course, in a world which seems indifferent to poetry - except doggerel at toe-curling funerals or in death notices. (eg 'We looked up to the Lord and we cried for mercy/And the Lord looked down and he took our Percy'. The Stockport Advertiser.)
I'm a peripheralist by nature - and old to boot - and see the role of the poet as that of the tribune, or as the Dark Ages thunder near, the monk preserving the word in the scriptorium.
One of the first poetry anthologies I bought (and those pursuing courses in creative writing ought not to be passed if they cannot provide evidence of owning at least 20) was Allot's THE PENGUIN BOOK OF CONTEMPORARY VERSE, published in 1950, the year I left school aged sixteen. I carried it about in my army haversack It's language was as exclusive as that of my fellow officers, designed to maintain a social gap between us and the troops; its poets were predominantly Oxbridge ('He got his Blue for golf') and metropolitan. It was oppressive. I did not stop writing poems, but I did not ever expect to get them published. Even when encouraged by Herbert Read, a director of Faber, I failed to pursue the matter.
I think that it was because I had spent five years as a phoney in that literary regiment, The Royal Welch Fusiliers, that I turned from the pretentiousness that poetry required (and still does in some literary magazines) and kept myself to myself. I went to Oxford at thirty-two in 'order legitimately to reject it', as I told my Economics don in a fit of candour, and also in the spirit of George Mallory, but it wasn't until I became an émigré that I began to send out what I wrote to literary magazines around the English-speaking world. Not that my troubles were solved: to some I'm a boring-old-Pommie-fart falling between the two stools of the UK and Australia. But what's the fuss, per specie aeternitatis? More than half of Allott's poets are gone and forgotten; some of Dr. Johnson's exist only as names on his list of the illustrious.
I have decided to cast my poems on the cyberzee and it is surprising where they wash up. What I now try not to do in these dissonant times is write clever, tinkling or ambiguous poems. I rhyme but only if is it's there. I want the force of breath to shape the poem. I blurt my deepest feelings whilst I may.
Selwyn Pritchard has a website at - http://www.poetselwynpritchard.com/
Suppressing the Welsh
December 1932, they cracked
the kids' moneybox, came home singing drunk.
Dadda had played two games for Wales, had
had two wives, two pubs, three kids...No means
of support when he landed on my Mum and Dad:
twice the mouths to fill; twenty shirts in Monday's tub.
Down on his cold couch Dadda heard my making.
Slump or not, the doctor said, now I was
in her belly, they must get off her back.
Guilt kept her on the attack years after
Dadda had gone, feet first, back home to Wales.
I saw his dead face in my dad's who had
'FOOL!' round his neck for talking Welsh at school,
but died talking it to Dadda, proud as a bard.
From beneath a tent of flags Her Majesty
stares down on where we wait on ceremony.
Babel builds. All kinds of kids slide and yell.
‘About bloody time!’ a ripe voice informs
His Worship, processing in his chain and ruffs.
He blows in the mike, starts, says four times
he’s fifth generation Oz, murders the M.P.’s
Polish name, nods to Polly Glot, his clerk,
who raps them out, no sweat. We line up,
swear or affirm loyalty to the photo.
Republican Pom, doubly smug, I say ‘Elizabeth
the First’, not ‘Elizabeth the Second’,
but feel a right burk. Vietnamese
weeping with joy scotch my smirk.
i.m. Haydn 1960-69
Dead son, dead son, I can no longer
hold you in my mind
as once I held you in my arms:
it can’t be done, it can’t be done.
So I arrange your smiles, print dates,
chart your curve beyond our knowing,
here in God’s gravity record the faint pulse
of love’s disproof of time and space.
The Last of England
I remembered Pendle, strapped in, waiting to go,
the low eaves, steep slate roof, miles from the road
under Brown Clee and a smattering of snow.
Flakes floated in the kitchen as we stood
at the door holding hands, Katie, Bu and me,
the roar of the Teme undercutting a hanging wood
on the Hereford bank, windows forced by Autumn bluster,
snow cleanly carpeting flags worn by clod-hopping boots
which once thumped the stream bridge between Salop and Worcester.
At that confluence of waters where old shires met,
we hesitated, turned away in December dusk long ago,
as I gratuitously recalled in the hurtling jet
as it lifted from Heathrow...(Would I come there again?)
climbed over M4, industrial estates and fields of bright rape below,
banked so I saw the spires of Oxford, where I heard urbane
Mozart played by the Warden of Wadham in Jacobean chapel gloom
(Sir Isaiah Berlin had inflated his rubber ring) and the glory
of evening lit the glass and tune.
Astounding in the streets outside, English beggars sit,
so young and pale, reasonably reciting woe
and only asking for ‘a little change.’
We are into clouds and climbing. Eleven hours to go.
Soon drinks and dinner in the sun, Tokyo...then Australia,
but first Siberia’s page beneath us blank as Pendle’s under snow.
‘I never knew one who was not a beast in comparison.’
Byron on Shelley.
How romantic of Byron to snatch Shelley’s heart
from the pyre. The bones were black and cracked,
his fats had fried and flamed,
but there was his heart, a blackened lump.
No doubt he tugged hard on its strings
before it came free, half-cooked.
He passed it to Leigh-Hunt, but Mary claimed
her widow’s part and bore it of to be
buried at Bournemouth years after her death.
Meanwhile Byron swam where Shelley sank,
a match for any man in water, for any woman
in bed, and the sun flayed him. When his Contessa
died a hag, they found fragments of the poet’s hide
preserved in a velveteen bag.
It’s fifty years since the Rector of Hucknall
assuaged clerical ennui by lifting a slab
to discover the heroic lord lying ‘handsome’,
except that the grateful Greeks had taken his brain
to explain his genius. The noble brow
was laced like a football or that of Mary’s Űbermensch.
I made myself walk because I’m slack
Turned at the crossroads towards the cliff edge
Under the dark trees on the red dirt track
Before I glimpsed the sea I came to a stop
Something was wrong - I felt like
A hot water bottle being filled to the top
A dull evening and the wind was still
No one was near as I breathed in deep
Only waves collapsing over the hill
Was this it? I waited…Turned for home
In slow motion as the blade in my chest
Turned sharp under my breast bone
I lay waiting for the ambulance on my bed
And looked at the cherished and familiar things
Which would not mind if I were dead
You see I survived again and it’s true
Take out the future and it’s small matters -
The condolence of doves the sea’s rich blue
The fridge photo of a grandson’s face
The morning shadows of my wife’s flowers
On the sitting room wall - her kindness - and grace -
That delight me like Mozart as I wake…