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November 26, 2010

A Ghost of What We See, What We Pass Through & What Might be Watching Us Watching Ourselves Waiting.

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David Morley


But these two things shall come to thee
in a moment in one day, the loss of children,
and widowhood: they shall come upon thee
in their perfection for the multitude of thy sorceries
and for the great abundance of thine enchantments.
—Isaiah 47


I love those stories when the world they wake

whitens on the horizon of your own eye

as though another sun has neared us in the night

or some new star flowered from the dark matter.

They shift on a single movement of mind or image—

a suicide leaps into space but lands on a high ledge

where he is found by fishermen with ropes and jokes.

The man says he thought the night was his own death

and it was, nearly. His hair has sprung into white fright

as if his head had been dipped into the dyes of the dawn.

What’s expected of me, more so because unexpected,

is that I will go on telling and making and spinning,

more so because I was guilty of the crime called happiness.

Stories for children when we know all of us are children.

And now that I possess only my own poised possession

that I shall deliver these tales from some darker attention.

There they squat around the fires, with their teeth glittering.

They are moving on from their roll-ups to their shared pipes,

from red wine to glugs of gold whiskey. They are settling in

as if they were waiting for some long haul between settlements.

They say language shows you, so my stories should show you

what worlds I’ve wound through, whose voices I’ve breathed in—

that smoke spooling from their mouths; the fire’s smoke

swirling above them make an understood utterance, a ghost

of what we see, what we pass through and what might be watching

us watching ourselves waiting. If that’s too curdled for you

try truth. A five-year old boy dies. His parents bide by his body

for three days. Then they fill a rucksack with his best-loved toys.

Another rucksack embraces the child’s body. They drive to a cliff,

hitch on the rucksacks and throw themselves spinning off the earth.

What does their tale say about how much they loved each other

and how much their son loved and was loved? Their story

makes something cease in you. They drove as if going on holiday

in a campervan. They say language shows you, and this story

shows to me that truth and even love grow impossibly possible.

This is not what you have come for. It is not what you wanted.

Where is the magic-eyed metaphor that reverses them into life?

Why am I not spilling word-lotions into your ears that allow

these three loving people to meet in another place, laughing

and singing and unbroken? Why doesn’t the story wake the boy?

My own story interests nobody, not now I’m on my own.

Making story costs them nothing but my drink and caravan.

It’s the hour before I begin when the clouds close down

and I’m lacking of language and in a desert of image

and nothing knows nothing. I am not even nowhere.

Now the word-trail slows in my mind, my blood sheds

all sugar and I can recognise no thing, not even the walls

of my van, or who I am, or what I will later, maybe, become.

I used to reach out at these times, touch my wife and say

‘my wife’; then I would come back. I would come back into life.


The fire may as well be language for translating the logs

from their green, spitting blocks into red pictures and paintings.

The children spy wide worlds from the ringside of the fireside

as if a circus were performing before them. It shows in their eyes

for it is all reflected there. I usually start the evening with a call

to calm, then a joke and a drink before I unleash the animals.

Animal tales first, padding around the fire just there in the dark,

now in the ring of light, and back again; I go out of sight

for the ending. Then stories about witches (the children dozing)

and so on to burkers and ghosts before night swallows my voice.

They say language shows you but subject shows you too.

Reverse that order of telling and you end up killing the evening,

sending the children unarmed into nightmare, startling

the rabbits of the audience with glare of monster and murder.

Yet one day, one day I shall never be there, not that I am now.

I stalk that ring of light. I know to toe around every twig.

I know when to lower my voice, and when to stop silent.

That’s when I let natural magic have its effect—an owl call;

a dog fox wooing demonically in the wood; badgers scratching

and sputtering. These are not words; they are warier than words.

They are life not legend and sometimes they flout me.

They do not enter on cue. They make witty what is deadly

or horror from humour. Control. Do I really want control?

When their hearts are hearing me while their eyes are on the fire

it is as if I were the fire’s brother, that we were a double act.

The fire came free (although children fed it until sleep).

Just pictures and paintings. We’d see them anyway in dreams.

What’s expected of me is that I feed their dreams, lobbing

green blocks of words that spit and split and charm and char

while all the long, wordy night I am desperate to be doused.

What’s fabulous might be a hedgehog spiny with rhyme

or a bride born from gnarled nouns. What’s fabulous might be

darkness drowsing over a woman of words beside a waterfall

of words. What’s fabulous might be an anvil hammered white-hot

with hurt, or Lipizzans held or hurtling on the harness of a verb.

Truth or tale, you’ve winnowed my mind many times too many

for me to be free with feigning, and now night’s met my heart

and halved it. This is something I cannot say tonight, for tonight

is my last night. Tonight at midnight I am laying down my words.

I shall bury them beneath the embers of that brother, the fire.

I am sloughing the freight of fiction, the shackling story.

I owe this to my wife for believing in the one truth of me.

I am leaving the camp by dawn. I am taking nothing

apart from myself. The enchantment I offered as payment,

they will find it under fire. They will shovel it out ashen,

riven beyond repair. Stories are second chance. They repair.

They repay. I am broken. I want to try the truth.      So,

I am glad you are all here. I hope you enjoy your evening.

I was here all the time listening to you but now it’s my turn.

Ladies and gentleman, and children. I am ready when you are ready.

from Enchantment by David Morley (Carcanet Press, 29th November 2010)

November 23, 2010

Here is a Story to Return You to the Surface of Earth.

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Skeleton Bride by Peter Blegvad from Enchantment by David Morley

                             'The Skeleton Bride' by Peter Blegvad

From 'The Skeleton Bride' by David Morley in Enchantment

Light up, phabaràv, kindle the kind wood

for the rose of the moon is opened; the camp

nested in darkness; our dogs snore in their heap.

Prala, you are chilled. Seal your eyes when you will.

Those lamenting tents might then fall silent.

Our women are waiting on your rule of sleep.

Here, take my blanket stitched with flame.

Weave what warmth you can from what I say.

Keep listening, more like overhearing I know.

Don’t heed the wind’s gossip in the trees. Those elms

lie. Oaks over-elaborate. I have coppiced them all

for my word fires. Here is an ember to light you.

Here is a story to return you to the surface of earth.

David Morley's new poetry collection Enchantment is due soon from Carcanet Press, with original drawings by Peter Blegvad. Order it now at

November 17, 2010

Only Two Weeks to Go Before an All–Powerful Hedgehog Exacts Regime Change on the Planet…

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Hedgehurst by Peter Blegvad from Enchantment by David Morley

You've been warned.

David Morley’s new poetry collection from Carcanet is Enchantment.

His website is right here

July 15, 2010

Poetry's Reasons

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David Morley presents the last podcast in our series of Poetry Challenges. This episode is called Poetry's Reasons and it's about how and why we write poems. See:

David challenges you with two small exercises that attempt to remind the writer how individual and strange our relationship with words and language is, and how a writer's personal reading, listening and writing are intimately linked within any poem.

To finish the series Prof Morley shares a poem that he has recently written, You Were Broken, listen to the podcast to hear him reading it.

You Were Broken

The amazed, massing shade
for the glacial valley, made
from a single araucaria
that smashed its way
by micrometers of birth-push
under five centuries of dusks
of carbon dioxide and rainfall
against its unrolled, harbouring roots;

and the roots took the rocks in their arms
and placed them, magically,
like stone children, about itself
as it unfolded its fabulous tale:
of the wood heart mourned to flint
by slow labour and loneliness,
by whatit could not reach, yet see
at distance, and of the sound of that sea,
and of the cruel brightness

of butterflies and grasses,
foreknowledge of their brevity,
of a heard stream, overhearing
prints of otters on its plane stones,
gold wagtails sprying over
the gravel and shallows of courtship;
of orange blames of gall-wasps, honey fungus,
the watch-turning of tree-creepers;
of blights of summer lightning,

of fire damage and that dark
year's mark worn secretly,
a ring, forged inside a ring;
then the winter's coronation closing
in a swaying crown of redwings,
cones, drab diagonals of pine-fall,
the lead winds hardening, and while
the stone children wept with rain
the great tree sheltered them.

David Morley

March 31, 2010

'All Over the Open Pages of Wet England'

Hundred of Amounderness John Speed

March 30, 2010

'Powdered with peonies scattered like stars': Jane Draycott's poetry

Peonies watered

Jane Draycott’s previous collection The Night Tree (2004) was exceptional. At the time I celebrated her patient intelligence of practice, and concision of address, not only in every poem in that book but in the very philosophy of perception informing her poetics. I believe she has ground in common with Samuel Menashe. Like him, she has the wisdom to leave things out; she has a gift for the music and tone of a poem; and she won’t be rushed into betraying her vocation through lack of care or pursuit of fashion.

Jane Draycott's Over is an acutely musical book: Sean O’Brien was right to praise it recently for its ‘quietness’. It is quietly mesmerizing. Its sequence of twenty-six poems based on the International Phonetic Alphabet sounds at first like an Oulipean exercise. The music of Draycott’s language allows the poems to exceed and escape their framing, becoming something quite other than the sum and sound of its sections:

A match struck

in the house of ice.

Deep-sea flame fish

calling, the heart

harpooning. Something

in the dark is flashing.

Gold in the blood,

everything you know.

The fire on the little sandy beach.

The bear at the window.

No one escapes.


For me, the clinching moment of this admirable collection is the extract from Draycott’s translation of the medieval dream-vision Pearl. The language is marvellously modulated yet stirringly wild. Draycott has carried over into our tamer, tired world a strong, strange sense of how original, gorgeous and natural this old poem can be. I look forward to the complete translation if the extract is anything by which to judge it:

And I saw that the little hill where she fell

was a shaded place showered with spices:

pink gillyflower, ginger and purple gromwell

powdered with peonies scattered like stars.

But more than their loveliness to the eye,

the sweetest fragrance seemed to float

in the air there also. I know beyond doubt

that’s where she lay. My spotless pearl.

Over, Jane Draycott, Carcanet Press, pb., 66 pp., £9.95, ISBN 978-1-903039-92-2

My thanks to Fiona Sampson of Poetry Review where this piece first appeared.

March 24, 2010

The Raven in Ravening: the Poetry of John F. Deane

The Raven in Ravening


In an anguished polemic titled ‘Dream of a Fair Field’ published in The Furrow the fine Irish poet and editor John F. Deane wrote, ‘The ground of all my living and writing has been an attempt to fashion a language and imagery suitable to the translation of Christian faith in these modern times, and for this I have suffered ridicule and rejection … How can [a poem] bring a sense of integrity and morality to a political system in our own country that works by subterfuge, aiming at perpetuation of power rather than the good of the citizens when political life has become shameful and overtly dismissive of the deeper values by which Christianity ought to flourish. A poet may be noisily praised and lauded in public but is ignored and dismissed as having nothing ‘real’ to offer to the ‘real’ world. …’

I quote from this essay because the poet intends it to be read and considered: the piece is republished on Deane’s personal website. If we accept that these are legitimate assertions and questions for a poet of faith then Deane’s beleaguered response is perfectly understandable. However, the stance of his language gives the impression that Christian faith is already cornered - cornered by the ‘‘real’ world’, even though Deane is sharing that corner with his God. Poetry gets him (and his faith) out of this corner. Poetry serves his cause (and his God) clearly and beautifully. The poems in A Little Book of Hours release little worlds; Deane’s perplexity becomes articulate energy and the means for clear-eyed self-exploration—exploring if not quite never answering those questions in his essay. Here is an indicative quotation from the poem ‘Towards a Conversion’. In Deane’s poems an ecological sense of conversion, of ‘translation’, is always tangible within his spiritual perceptions:

… I walk over millennia, the Irish

wolf and bear, the elk and other

miracles; everywhere bog-oak roots

and ling, forever in their gentle

torsion, with all this floor a living thing, held

in the world’s care, indifferent. Over everything

voraciously, the crow, a monkish body hooded

in grey, crawks its blacksod, cleansing music;

lay your flesh down here you will become

carrion-compost, sustenance for the ravening roots;

where God is, has been and will ever be.

I admire the spoken music here: the mind’s flight-path for the crow across lines and stanza; and the transformational release of the raven in ‘ravening’. Good news for his readers that all the poems in the book are as wide-awake and as interesting as this example. The long elegy ‘Madonna and Child’ is the masterwork, eventfully spiritual, almost a dream-work in the way it stirs at memory – memory which is both observed and imagined. In ‘Dream of a Fair Field’ the poet mourned the loss to contemporary poetry of the language of the ‘Song of Solomon’. In ‘Madonna and Child’ he liberates and refreshes this same language for his own invocations and revivifications:

As an orchid among buttercups is she, as a peach tree

among brambles in the wood; as exile

in a hostile land, as drudge among the very poor.

Michael Symmons Roberts wrote in a recent Poetry Review, ‘The relationship between creative freedom and religious belief is far from limiting…religious faith was an imaginative liberation…’. That’s true of John F. Deane when he is creating poems. However, in the same way that the composer John Tavener’s work has been seen as more of a challenge to the world than a consolation, Deane’s poems offer ‘the rising recurrent sorrow of the merely human before loss, its unacceptability, its disdain’ (‘Madonna and Child’). These are beautiful, solemn, gravid poems, best read aloud for, like John Tavener, Deane has to be heard to be believed.

Many thanks to Fiona Sampson, editor of Poetry Review, in which this piece first appeared.

A Little Book of Hours, John F. Deane, Carcanet Press, pb., 100 pp., £9.95, ISBN 978-1-85754-970-6

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