Poems of place seen through other eyes. Fifty locales of the United Kingdom recreated by their particular geographies, associations and history — the small and nondescript, the grand country houses, new towns and old, unpeopled moorlands and industrial belts, the scenes of past splendour and the small, homely scenes that retain our childhood affections.
All are quiet, meditative pieces, but range from the topographical through the surreal to the purely imaginary as the poetry moves from description to the significance that places hold in our lives.
Though traditional in form, all use the techniques of Modernism to explore the larger settings that the words evoke.
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An endlessly subverted dream: things falling
as though in slow motion to their own place, particularly
it may be in the tenements and small-windowed apartments,
beyond where the roads run round scratching a living
or the derelict factories give way to industrial parks.
Improbably, they are all hung upside down in memory.
The buffers rise slowly into the small town terminus,
the rails rusting but incorrigibly present, the glittering
thread lost among sleepers or the scatter of weeds
carnivorously dark by viaducts or dank canals.
Scenes that are variously lit by the blaze of drinks,
and bars hoarsely incontinent with Irish voices,
the cash-till ringing up stories through the recollections
of drink-stacked happiness that time the home team won.
Throughout their years abroad, these called them back — the good-
earth smell along the thick-mossed paths, the topiary
of leafy ways that led to croquet lawn, the haze
of midge above the green and lily-spangled pool
— and which they saw, in counting-house and fevered port,
with breath of evening lifting through the temple smoke:
the Leith Hills crumbling always to a loamy quiet,
the winds still warmly perfumed with their Wealden miles.
Old memory's contentment came with evening prayers
that fell profuse as candlelight on leaded glass.
From rooms that smelt of childhood ailments and of spinsters'
breath, the eye looked on through the rainy, green-soaked glass
to charcoaled roofs of cedars and to tea at five,
set down with chintz and silver on the sun-warm grass.
Along the nave the hooded candles wink and flare
as though their pinchbeck innocence could light up faith.
The small hypocrisies of Sunday dress or talk
enlarge to radiant mummeries of coloured glass.
The footfalls echo into dust, but quiet as nuns,
wimpled and unruffled, the pillared transepts soar
in grey processionals across this land of smoke
entangled alder woods and flats and marshy creeks.
Afar is Palestine, bright-templed, robed in blue,
and bounteous with olive, or the unfavoured fig,
but here is only Ely, doubt and what men do
who drudge for pearl and sustenance in oyster beds,
for all that storms that daylong batter the shore will leave
on pools the benefice of glittering evening light.
SOME OTHER PERSON, YEAR OR STREET
Far out on branch-lines, past the usual termini
of London's ever restless, packed commuter trains
there may be occupations built quite differently
with prospects open like the morning paper, ads
that float unthreatened by the slowly-lifting clouds.
Indeed the out-of-season coastal towns like Tenby,
Rhyl or Bridlington may just be that, produced
by conversations with a total stranger, stop
we suddenly alighted at for no good cause
which, like our memories of childhood books, became
a part of Superman or Dare or Famous Five.
Careers would then have been quite otherwise but still
presenting us with purpose, cash or clout in lives
complete, but in some other person, year or street.