All 54 entries tagged David Morley

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December 31, 2011

A Happy New Year to One and All

Take a flower

December 01, 2011

Is Brendan Kennelly Essential?

Pile of books

Brendan Kennelly is certainly an essential poet but his editors, Michael Longley and Terence Brown, have done him a favour by distilling his burgeoning oeuvre to the 110 poems in this book and 36 poems on a CD (Kennelly is a highly skilled spoken word artist).

This is a strong introduction to Kennelly, and the editors are refreshingly candid about the poet’s lyric and epic strengths as well as his occasional failures of rigour (there are worse crimes than over-writing or writing too much).

What comes across in The Essential Brendan Kennelly is the poet’s spiritual generosity, a tonic sense of wonder and a project that allows new readers to reach the core of Kennelly’s poetry without being tripped up by thirty slim and not-so-slim volumes.

The Essential Brendan Kennelly: Selected Poems, edited by Terence Brown and Michael Longley with CD of poems read by Brendan Kennelly, Bloodaxe Books, pb., 160 pp., £12.00, ISBN 978-1-85224-904-5

Thanks are due to the editor of Poetry Review, Fiona Sampson, where this piece first appeared.

November 28, 2011

'How Snow Falls'

‘Married to Poetry… in Love with Prose’Flaky

Peter Reading’s Vendange Tardive and Craig Raine’s How Snow Falls have a strong sense of reaching shore after testing experiences, losses, voyages. Yet these latest collections by Peter Reading and Craig Raine arrive at styles of expression that are as comparably and incompatibly different as absence and presence. Peter Reading is absent from his work, his grump ghost and voice notwithstanding. Reality is favoured by Raine, even when it cannot be borne. But this written reality is made from himself, from remembered and imagined feeling. I know that, for a critic, subject should be secondary to style. I cannot help but feel that style in How Snow Falls is partly sacrificed for the purposes of shock:

…two days before she died, a question:

would I pluck the hairs out of her chin?

There were none on the ward,
so I bought some tweezers down the road.

Every time a hair was plucked,
she sighed, almost like someone being slowly fucked.

Yes, she said, yes. Yes.
The last pleasures of the flesh.

‘I Remember my Mother Dying’

As Kate Kellaway has observed the details seem not so much intimate as disinhibited. Raine’s early poetry possessed a poise of exactitude through its artistic inhibition: the poet edited himself very tightly; selflessness of vision made his metaphors ring with invention. His images extended how we might see, connecting with the reality of things, there being no reality but in things. There is still plenty of poetic CGI for those who like the spoils of eye-made art: ‘Ski lifts tireless as a trail of ants’; ‘The firs are herring-bone with snow’; ‘Trinity lawn, effervescent with hailstones’. Raine claims in this book that although he ‘will always be married to poetry’ he has ‘fallen in love with prose’, and the recent passion shows in the length of the book, an occasional breeziness of technique, and the privileging of subject.

It seems presumptuous of me to state of a writer and editor of his accomplishments but I think Craig Raine is a far better writer and editor than he is allowing himself to be. How Snow Falls might have been a shorter, sharper book. The final poem ‘A la recherche du temps perdu’ releases brilliant, buoyant, elegiac energy (imagine a Martian Poet recreating Muldoon’s ‘Incantata’). But ‘A la recherche’ is a poem published ten years ago in book form by Picador (How Snow Falls is advertised as his first collection in a decade.). As Peter Reading is super-selective ‘eschewing utterance’ when there is nothing to say, Craig Raine is generous, but generous to a fault.

How Snow Falls, Craig Raine, Atlantic Books, hb., 168 pp., £14.99, ISBN 978-1-84887-285-1

Thanks are due to the editor of Poetry Review, Fiona Sampson, where this piece first appeared.

November 18, 2011

'Now I Know What Love Is’ – In Memory of Peter Reading

Vendange Tardive grapes are left on the vine to dry and concentrate, creating exquisite dessert wines inHilbe Island the Alsace region. The term means ‘late harvest’. I do not imagine this is the last we shall be hearing from Peter Reading, not when there is no escaping what follows winter. For older poets, age might break or make you into seeing yourself and your work with more exactitude. I imagine age might feel like exile yet provide the solace of arrival. Edward Said believed the late style of creative artists ‘is what happens if art does not abdicate its rights in favour of reality’. Speaking of the final poems of Cavafy, Said commended ‘the artist’s mature subjectivity, stripped of hubris and pomposity, unashamed either of its fallibility or of the modest assurance it has gained as a result of age and exile’. Peter Reading has conducted most of his poetic career since Work in Regress (1997) in this late style. Vendange Tardive is a taut example of mature subjectivity, stripped, tellingly, of ego: ‘when there is nothing’ he writes in a Wittgenstein-like fragment, ‘eschew utterance’.

The volume opens with a modest plea: ‘For the attention of Penelope Reading (Nunc scio quid sit Amor)’, Reading acknowledging that we write – in fact, we behave - with more exactitude when, with Virgil, we know what love is and have set ourselves to serve its purpose, even when we also know love can neither save us or the world. Vendange Tardive offers the modest assurance that love and wine can console while the human world splatters about in an abyss of its own bloody making. The world is too much with us and is getting worse and worse and worse:

The rhetorical ‘How goes it, old boy?’;

the unnerving response:

‘Infinitely sad, old warrior,

infinitely sad – I’ve just heard…’.


I cannot picture an oenologist becoming a nihilist unless he or she were producing plonk for some poisonous purpose. In an age of mass cultural plonk, Peter Reading’s poetry is vigilantly harvested and casked. David Wheatley has called Reading the world’s worst nihilist and he is correct. Peter Reading is too fine-tuned a technician; he is too funny a comic even at his blackest and gloomiest (he is poetry’s Eeyore of the eyesore); and he is still writing without tedium, derangement or barrel-scraping. I admire him for not stopping writing - despite or because of publishing Last Poems in 1994. There is no abdication of art’s rights in the late work of Peter Reading. His eye for the natural world, his sense for artistic detail, for order and for the beguilement of verbal pattern, vies with defeatism:

 Hilbre, winter, high tide.

Over the West Hoyle, hurl and white swash, and above,

the sky the colour of Blaenau Ffestiniog slate.

And the long-ruined sandstone lifeboat station brine-lashed,

the slipway thrashing the saline assault into spume.

from ‘Maritime’

Vendange Tardive, Peter Reading, Bloodaxe Books, pb., 56 pp., £7.95, ISBN 978-1085224-884-0

Thanks are due to the editor of Poetry Review, Fiona Sampson, where this piece first appeared.

November 15, 2011

Voices for Nature

Writing about web page


Voices for Nature is a major gathering of writers, artists, poets, musicians, historians, scientists and film-makers, all of whom have one thing in common: they draw their inspiration from nature. This year’s gathering/symposium, the third in a series of annual events, takes place in the beautiful Lincolnshire town of Stamford, at the Stamford Arts Centre on Friday 18-Saturday 19 November 2011.

Voices for Nature is organised by New Networks for Nature, a recently founded alliance whose goals are to challenge the low political priority placed on wildlife and landscape in this country and to celebrate the central role played by nature in our cultural life.

The event runs over two days and features a hugely impressive roster of talks, including keynote speaker, the acclaimed poet and novelist Ruth Padel, as well as Pete Cairns, founder of the 2020 Vision photographic project, and the author Richard Hines, who trained the kestrels used in Kes, the film by Ken Loach and Barry Hines. The day will also include presentations by sound recordist Geoff Sample and Professor Tim Birkhead author, academic and co-founder of New Networks for Nature.

On the second day, Voices for Nature moves to the nearby Helpston Church, famously associated with the great 19th-century poet John Clare. The day’s event is held in association with the John Clare Society, and speakers include award-winning poet David Morley and the celebrated artist Carry Akroyd, whose recent work has been inspired by her exploration of Clare Country.

Voices for Nature is the first meeting open to anyone. If you wish to attend one or both days the charge is £30 inclusive. Bookings will be handled by the Stamford Arts Centre, tel: 01780 763203.

For more details or information email or

November 12, 2011


A Water Measurer‘As Clear as Water’: Ink, Sweat and Tears on “Enchantment”

Angela Topping reviews Enchantment in “Ink, Sweat and Tears”, 2nd November 2011

This book is aptly titled: it certainly does bring the reader under Morley’s spell. The first poem is an elegy for Nicholas Farrar Hughes (Plath’s son). Morley recounts a simple and beautiful memory of going for a walk with Nick, in which he befriends two horses. Morley’s reputation as an eco-poet is well deserved for this one line alone:

where leaf-worlds welled from all the wood’s wands.

This is such an elegant and visual line. The alliteration works really well with the imagery, such as ‘wands’ which is a perfect description of the young whippy branches but with the added resonance of magic which wants to conjure Nicholas up and relive the moment of his happiness. ‘Welled’ is a lovely word as the young branches are moist and full of sap, with the added resonance of tears filling the eyes, and ‘leaf-worlds’ recalls Blake’s ‘to see the world in a grain of sand’. The next poem, ‘Dragonflies’ contains dazzling language to match these insects, through skilled deployment of internal rhyme to the imagery of ‘sparking ornaments’. Each poem in this water sequence opens out into the next one. And these poems are as clear as water, so clear primary school children would enjoy them and be charmed by them. I am with Orwell on the notion that good writing is like a pane of glass, and like Keats in the pursuit of ‘negative capability’. Morley shows us beauty we can focus on, rather than us watching him seeing the beauty. That is a mark of the truly great poet.

‘The Lucy Poem’ is a remarkable imagining of the life and thoughts of a human ancestor, dubbed ‘Lucy’ for the light shed on our past , but more scientifically Australopithecus afarensis who lived 3.2 million years BC. Intellectually Morley’s research is admirable, but the poem connects with us on a deeper level. We see the planet as it was in the past through Lucy’s eyes, and its beauty is strange and startling:


when those mountains
bloomed from underworld lodes
springing geladas led their fat
appetites to the snow-caps
muscled like woolly gods;

The poem follows Lucy as she takes a walk through the terrain, and the poem’s short, springing lines and long stanzas perfectly suit this narrative, because each line makes a stride and each stanza break a change in landscape. Lucy is on a quest for water, and she finds it through the sense of hearing. This makes a satisfying close to the poem. Even if Morley had not taken an epigraph from Wordsworth for this collection, the link with that great Romantic poet is unavoidable through the name Lucy.

‘Chorus’ celebrates the birth of a son to the Morley family. The joyous tone is achieved by using Whitmanesque long lines of observation, focusing on bird song and bird behaviours. It is best described as a hymn to morning. As society becomes increasingly secular, poems like this and ‘The Lucy Poem’ reach out to everyone and provide spiritual sustenance without religious agenda, as does ‘Proserpina’. Morley does not seek to be obscure; everything we need to know is in the poem, such as the reference to Ruskin:

… to attend as Ruskin did
to Malham Cove when the stones of the brook were softer
with moss than any silken pillow;

And I love the assonance and consonance of the phrase ‘silken pillow’ which creates the tactile sense of the softness through the repetition of the l sounds.

Morley also draws on Romany heritage to remake traditional stories, for example ‘Hedgehurst’ in which he gives a voice to a half human half hedgehog youth from a traveller children’s story. This long poem holds the reader because of the freshness of the language, the aptness of the metaphor and the music of carefully orchestrated sounds:

Whose is this scorned skin?
What weather rouses me
to lag my limbs with lichen
to fold fresh thatch around me?

There are a number of Romany poems in this collection, forming a core section. All repay reading aloud and all are spellbinding. I can’t help thinking of John Clare and his fascination with the ‘Gypsies’ from whom he learned fiddle tunes. Morley gives the reader a powerful insight into a culture which is often secretive and closed. The circus sequence, ‘A Lit Circle’, gives voice to many of the circus entertainers such as Zhivakos the Horseman and Mashkar the Magician. Morley’s language glitters and delights, when he captures the excitement of the performances tempered by the sorrows of the travelling life and the inevitable changes which will threaten this world of magic and bravado. This language is enhanced by the inclusion of Romany words which lend their own music and exoticism to this gliding, gilded poetry.

Morley includes unobtrusive notes in the back of the collection, which acknowledge his source material and help the reader to access information. Although this is a complex book in many ways, and the third in a series, I find the poems have just the right amount of challenge for the reader. Morley is a quiet poet whose work is to be savoured and mulled over, by a fireside on a winter’s night or swinging in a hammock in the midst of the natural treasures which he interweaves throughout his work. Ever inventive, yet true to himself, Morley is a marvellous poet.

....reviewed by Angela Topping

November 08, 2011

Our Singing Language

Our Singing LanguageDale Farm friend

There is no pure Romani language: there are several living, vivid, ricocheting dialects. These dialects sometimes take a loan from other tongues: language is absorbed as it is travelled through. The porosity of Romani dialects can seem to resemble the porosity of English except for one distinction. English, for all its riches, is a language of colonisation and globalisation; Romani, for its treasures, is a language of the invisible or enslaved. The Gurbet Romani dialect for example is influenced linguistically by centuries of enslavement of the Roma in Romania (the group term Gurbet means foreign work or aliens).

The Gurbet Roma group, like the Kalderaš and Lovara, is known for independence and entrepreneurship. A number of writers have arisen from it, the most prominent being Ilija Jovanović whose first collection of poems Bündel/Bodžo was published in Romani (and German translation) in the year 2000. News from the Other World: Poems in Romani is a bilingual selected poems by Jovanović. The book opens with the writer’s memories of childhood – accounts of the casual, unconscious racism of non-gypsy “friends” - as well as a short history of Roma people. The body of the book is made up of poems about settlements, hazards of travel, identity, love, childhood and salvation. These make for strong if, at times, severe reading: dark notes abound, duende is evoked and Jovanović’s Romani diction has fine, wry attack. Romani is phonetic, so you can listen in to his voice through reading the poems as you find them. To get the flavour of this poet, try sounding the buzz-note consonants and dammed-up internal rhymes at the close of ‘Lost World’:

Traden amen pe sa o them.

Amen džas thaj džas

ni džanas kaj thaj dži kaj.

(They chase us across the whole world.

We move on and on, having no idea

when this will end, or where to go.)

Jovanović writes of Romani as ‘our singing language’ and Romani certainly possesses qualities, as with English, that pass beyond meaning: the sound of sense, the sound of sensuality, and the sound of a group’s shared sensibility. The poems are capably translated by Melitta Depner. My sole criticism is that the concentration and energy of Jovanović’s dialect sometimes carry abstractedly or blandly into English. The poet’s attack and duende are what vanish in translation. To take a fairly typical example from the poem ‘I Have No Home’: the syntactical crackle, alliterative strut and resignation registered by the line-break of ‘Čořope, bokh, maripe, mundaripe / traden ma than thaneste te džav’ registers in translation as dejected prose: ‘Poverty, hunger and violence /drive me from place to place’. The Roma are indeed a victimised people, but do not wish to behave or sound like victims - or be ventriloquised into that role. What I am saying is that the poems work best in Romani, but you do not need to be a Romani speaker, nor a specialist in the Gurbet dialect, to get something out of this attractive and truthful book of poems. It is probably a tiny miracle such a book has been allowed to exist and it is a welcome addition to Romani writing in English translation.

News from the Other World: Poems in Romani, Ilija Jovanović, Francis Boutle Publishers, pb., 152 pp., £9.99, ISBN 978-1-903427-54-5

Thanks are due to the editor of Poetry Review, Fiona Sampson, where this piece first appeared.

November 07, 2011

Incarnations of the Wild

Hedgehurst by Peter Blegvad

‘Incarnations of the Wild’, Poetry London on “Enchantment”

A review by Sue Hubbard in Poetry London, Summer 2011, No. 69

SUE HUBBARD WRITES: "When I was a child one of my favourite poems was ‘The Raggle Taggle Gypsies’, a Scottish Border ballad written around 1720. It seemed to suggest a parallel, unregulated world that sat alongside my own rather constrained, suburban existence. The words spoke of the unfettered pleasures of an alternative life close to nature: exotic, sensual, dangerous even. Something of this atmosphere is evoked in David Morley’s new collection Enchantment.

"It begins with an unconventional sonnet sequence in memory of his friend Nicholas Hughes, distinguished professor of fisheries and ocean sciences at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, the son of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, who died by his own hand at the age of forty-six. This not only flags up Morley’s own role as an ecologist and naturlist, but links him to the poetry and imagery of Ted Hughes, whose mythic relationship with the natural world hovers behind these poems.

"The Wordworthian epithet at the beginning of the book ‘with rocks, and stones, and trees’, also suggests a connection with the elemental. The close observation of a water measurer – that spindly insect which can be seen slowly walking around on the surfaces of ditches and ponds, apparently pacing out the distance between points – reveals a specialist knowledge of fauna that avoids the trap of much romanticised nature poetry. Dragonflies, mayflies and Alaskan salmon are all closely observed here. In ‘Proserpina’, Morley refuses the easy bien-pensant terms of environmentalism – ‘I could write a cliché about conservation here / but I won’t and I won’t because I can’t – understanding that the mess of the external world, all too often, mirrors a deeper internal disquiet:

It is true

That what we waste bends back to grind us. My rubbish

Is also here in me, and I shove and shovel it around

Every day, sometimes alert to its weight and stench

But most of the time too busy or bored to see or scent

The wealth and ruin of evidence, its blowflies, the extended

Families of vermin.

"But it is the second section that takes me back to that childhood excitement of ‘The Raggle Taggle Gypsies. It begins with ‘Hedgehurst’, a poem based on a traditional Romany story taken from Duncan Williamson’s Fireside Tales of the Traveller Children, about a creature that is half-hedgehig and half human. Spoken in the voice of the Hedgehurst, the tone is incantatory, ancient and pagan:

What weather rouses me

to lag my limbs with lichen

to fold fresh thatch around me?

"Like some John Barleycorn or Green Man, the Hedgehurst appears as the incarnation of the wild:

I had kenned from my wrens

how to cave-mine my call,

to speak through soil, make

speech slither through a hill...

"In the later, more obviously narrative sequence ‘A Lit Circle’, Morley creates a series of monologues spoken by various circus folk, including the ringmaster, clown and strongman. Fizzing with Romany and Parlari (the unwritten language of fairgrounds and gay subculture), his language conveys a sense of what it means to live on the margins of mainstream society. As ‘Demelza-Do-It-All’, who has an act as a barrel walker [as well as fifteen other acts, DM] says, ‘down in the industrial estate with my sister for small animal food, / the vet for the dogs’, she saw ‘swastikas scratched on every circus poster’. Romany traditions and superstitions, along with a fierce pride in their itinerant way of way of life, are graphically drawn in ‘Songs of Papusza’:

The straw of which a Romany gives birth is burnt. A gypsy dies;

the caravan with all goods and clothes is flashed into flames.

They’re unclean.

"In these strangely evocative poems where a blacksmith creates a girl from fire and a mother slides her fairy-baby into a waterfall, David Morley taps into myths and folklore to weave a series of spells reinventing the oral tradition of poetry and returning it to fireside and hearth."

November 04, 2011

Taken Away, Teacher's Notes for a Workshop

Writing about web page

This document is taken from the British Library website cited in the entry below this. There are also some good workshops based on poetry by Mimi Khalvati, Moniza Alvi and Saradha Soobrayen.

Teacher's notes

Taken Away


David Morley’s... writing often addresses Romani culture and uses Romani language. Frequently he writes poetic narratives which blend traditional story-telling with the hard concrete realities of urban life, writing about difficult situations with the lightness of a magical realist touch. In this activity students will think about tone and language, updating a fairytale to a twenty-first century context, and mixing contemporary diction with archaisms and clichés.


This poem’s title ‘Taken Away’ helps the content of the poem work on many levels. It is about a child who has been taken away from his parents, but the exact details of the story are murky – is this about death (even possibly murder) or the taking away of a child by others who fear the parents can’t look after it? Ask the students to work through the poem, making a list of narrative events. What do they think is happening? When is the poem set? The same poem contains ‘fairy baby’ and ‘postman’; the child is ‘like a seal’ and ‘drinking whiskey’ – what happens when we mix language, time and situation like this? What’s the mood of the poem?


Bring in a pile of children’s books that contain nursery rhymes and fairytales. Also bring in lots of newspapers. Firstly give out the children’s books and ask the students to open them randomly and write down ten words or phrases that they think carry the tone of the story or rhyme and make us feel like we are in a magical world. Then give them the newspapers and ask them to choose ten words or phrases that are totally contemporary and put us in the twenty-first century. The students then have to choose one fairytale or nursery rhyme and find a story in the newspapers that somehow relates to it. They should then write a narrative poem, updating the fairytale to the modern day context and make sure it contains at least 5 of their magical words / phrases and at least 5 of their contemporary newspaper words / phrases.

If they want to really push themselves and help their poem gain momentum, they should write the poem in 4 line stanzas, with an alternate line rhyme scheme XAXA XBXB XCXC etc.

However, the poems will also be fine, unrhymed and in a different shape - perhaps try copying David Morley’s poem using long lines and irregular stanzas.

Between Two Worlds: Teacher's Notes for David Morley's 'Taken Away'

Writing about web page

Taken Away


Taken Away

The mother places her baby at the waterfall’s brim.

She waits for the moon’s climb.

They’d been hard at the hay with a blunt scythe between them

circling and slashing for hours under blanking sunlight

with the cradle nestled and nooked on the one hayless place.

They’d had their breakfast, porridge and milk and tea,

scones, cheese, whatever they had. Their picnic things

were scattered on the green knowe around the cradle

as if plates and pots and pans had been tossed out by the baby.

The wife shadows her husband with a wide wooden rake

weaving and whirling his handwork as he worries the hay loose.

You know how a man makes bouts of hay with a scythe

and round and round the field in close and closing spirals

he rounds on the hayless knowe and that one white cradle

with cups and greaseproof wrappings pallid with butter;

like a maze of mauve leading into a green eye and an unseen

staring gap among the eye’s blades. Some small wind shoves

the grass as if a snake were sidling.         The parents are heads down.

Their muscles move with each other as if they were making love.

Round he goes, and round she goes, a buzzard’s marriage

on a thermal. Then a cry goes up as if the soil were screaming

or the wind were wounded on nails of brittle straw. A cry

neither parent has heard and cannot stem with any known thing,

not milk or love or kiss or words or food. The young doctor

from across the glen hears the child’s call across five miles.

He rides towards it as if the cry were a fire rising in the fields

but all his knowledge’s clear water will not quench the child.

And so it goes for the fever of three thickening months

except at the wick of midnight when the baby closes down

as if his switches had been thrown, or some wires scissored

in his throat. Tethered by their child, the parents thaw into sleep

only to freeze awake at dawn as the cry bursts back alight.

Folk keep away. Folk catch that cry in their cattle’s eyes; taste

its scum in their milk and mutton.   

At summer’s flow, the postman

deaf with listening to a lifetime’s stories, strode into their cottage,

downed a dram, and drank the scene into his memory: salt water

damming a child’s throat, a cry that would not cease for love.

He stayed with him all day. The parents scrammed for provisions

and the cure of quiet. As the door slammed and their footfalls

slapped into the lane, the postman turned to the baby and the baby

sat up asking if they had gone and, if his parents had gone

would that now mean he could get up at last—and get up he did

as if he were a young man sternly sick of his own board and bed.

He could stand and speak. The child’s voice was dark and thrown

as if four corners of the room were talking with him or through him.

The child clenched the whiskey bottle and downed enough to throw

a horse. He drew a long straw and slit it to the note of a flute.

Then he played the long day through, making the postman drink

deeper and harder than he had the head or height or heart for.

A moon widened on the windows; a garden gate squeaked

cringing on its hinges; the parents poured through the door

to find their child crying in his cot like a seal left on some low ledge

of the Atlantic; and the postman pointing at him, adrift or bereft.

‘He’s not here, your child. He’s not anywhere. He’s taken away.

He told me everything, how you left him to the cloud and sky,

left him to the harebell and the grasshopper and the cow parsley,

left him in grazed gaps between grass, to skylark and to hoverfly,

while you worked, if that’s what you were doing.’       They knew

one cure, one pure matter passed from their grandmothers.

When midnight massed itself over breakers and shore,

when the tide of the day had flown, mother, father and friend

headed by torchlight up the headstream on the high moor.

The mother slides her fairy-baby towards the waterfall’s brink,

taut-shawled, his baby arms pinioned like a wrapped cat.

The child’s mewling, breathing the breath of the chilled spray

slaping up from the trout-brown pool at the fall’s foot.

The father and their friend are behind her, egging her on,

baying that it’s for the best, that their child isn’t in the child.

The moon bends a bow behind a cloud-castle then shoots

its light-arrow through a slit across the waterfall’s rim.


October 19, 2011

The Lucy Poem


‘The Lucy Poem’. Most environmental research depends on the establishment of a time-line: how far back in the history of the planet can we go to find information that we can analyse in order to make reasonable predictions? And, taking these historical timelines together, how do they interact and inter-twine? I first found myself writing about the future until I realised that such images neither consoled nor could describe accurately the climatic possibilities opening before us. The science of global warming alerts us to the realisation that such catastrophes lie behind us in history as well as before us; that everything affects another thing; and that, however much we have transformed them, climate conditions are beyond good and evil—our weather is not a moral climate. In order to find a truer time-line for writing a poem about global warming, I began thinking about previous climatic transformations, and how our ancestral species dealt with them. I settled on the story of ‘Lucy’, the famous Australopithecus afarensis of Ethiopia dating to 3.2m BC, the heart of the Pleiocene Era. Who were her family or tribe and what were their stories? Where was ‘Lucy’ going the day she died? In her mind - and it was likely to be a considerable mind - how might ‘Lucy’ narrate the world around her? Her world and that of other creatures of her time (including large predatory civets and mass populations of antelope) were under unimaginable threat. Unlike us, ‘Lucy’ knew nothing about it nor could she or her kind have done anything to prevent the coming changes. Our evolution came about because the world of ‘Lucy’ was utterly transformed - the activity of nearby supernovae caused the destruction of the ozone layer. The changes wrought to the planet tipped the Pleiocene era into the Pleistocene. What ‘Lucy’ left behind for us to unearth was her presence, not her name. Her presence was the story, a time-line that predicted our own present. The story and name of ‘Lucy’ represents our story but with these differences: we have a time-line, we possess a little knowledge, and we know that our ability to continue the story of our own species lies in our hands.

October 03, 2011

Of Fire Damage

You were broken

for Les Murray

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,
while the volcanic rocks made landfall
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 what it 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.

As I have written elsewhere, complexity is what writers pass through to gain simplicity and clarity, and this poem represents that journey for me. It opens on an image of an araucaria in a poem of the same title by the Italian poet Ungaretti, but then unfolds its own complex, interweaving storyline. The poem is stripped to clear images and winds through one sentence of one hundred and ninety-five words. You Were Broken is a poem about the complexity of connectivity; biological connectivity but also the intricacy and vulnerability of emotional connections. In some ways it’s a terribly lonely poem, but also a poem about companionship even if the tree’s companions are stones. To finish: any poem should be the visible part of an iceberg. As Hemingway put it, the knowledge a writer brings to the creation of a literary work is the unrevealed submerged section of that same iceberg. The passage from complexity to simplicity is about making sure most of that hidden iceberg remains invisible.

August 01, 2011

Matt Merritt reviews Enchantment with panache

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He is fabulous with thyme also

Enchantment, by David Morley

Carcanet, 2010, £9.95

Recent years have seen David Morley mining a rich seam of inspiration from his Romany background – the results, in terms of both quality and quantity, have been enough to make any poet envious. This latest volume shows no sign of a drop-off in either department.
Enchantment does exactly what it says on the cover, fully living up to every sense of that word. In the modern sense, it draws the reader in immediately, delights and intrigues, and doesn’t stop doing so until you put it down.
To do so it draws heavily on worlds of myth and magic (as in the Latin incantare), and most importantly, it sings (cantare). The straightforward simplicity of the title is reflected in poetry that’s serious, ambitious and challenging, but never wilfully obscure.
Its early poems celebrate both friendship and the natural world, and as you’d expect from an ecologist, Morley has a sharp eye and a knack for exact, economical phrasing to conjure it up for the reader.
He also has a gift for evoking nature in a far more impressionistic way, though. In Chorus, a favourite at recent readings, there’s a sparrow sorting “spare parts on a pavement” for every turnstone doing “precisely what is asked of them by name”.
Enjoyable as they are, though, these poems are merely the warm-up before the main event, the “lit circle” in which Romany myths and circus stories are unfolded in sparkling, shimmering language.
This section contains the highlights of the collection, for me. There’s Hedgehurst, telling the story of a half-human, half-hedgehog creator-king, The Circling Game, in which a blacksmith creates a girl from fire, and Spinning, which considers the whole process of story-telling and translation of experience into words, bristling with lines such as:

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 Lippizans held or hurtling on the harness of a verb.

Now while the Romany background is much in evidence, for me these pieces also recalled Anglo-Saxon poetry and (appropriately enough for the Midlands-based Morley) the Gawain poet in their heavy use of alliteration and their physicality. That’s a difficult knack to pull off – however much I like it, I’ll admit that in some Anglo-Saxon poetry, the metre makes it very difficult for the language to really take flight – so all the more credit to Morley for keeping his lines so supple. Passages such as this, from The Circling Game, beg to be read aloud for the sheer pleasure of the sound:

The masters stank of rancid bank-notes. Their palms were plumy.

Their palms were planed purple with done deals and sure things.
John played a circling game with the horse masters, sending

himself off when wanted most, shying on the end of a lunge line
of their flattery, letting himself be talked back to the fair with a drink

before coming back and laying out the tackle and terms of his trade.

It adds up to an intoxicating brew, and I’ll go back to that word ‘fabulous’ that’s so crucial to the passage quoted from Spinning. As with his collection’s title, Morley’s good at getting you to consider a word’s whole lineage – he takes you back to an older meaning while keeping all its current connotations alive.

I’ll be surprised, and disappointed, if this book doesn’t end up in the running for one of the big awards this year, but regardless of whether or not it does, it’s a superb piece of work. Read it.

July 18, 2011

The Boston Review on Enchantment

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Review of David Morley's Enchantment - Paul Daniel Franz, Boston Review, April 2011

Enchantment is the final installment of a trilogy which David Morley introduced with 2002's Scientific Papers. Like its predecessors, Enchantment combines the interests of a naturalist - Morley trained as a zoologist - with themes and language derived from Morley's Romani heritage. Though less overtly experimental than The Invisible Kings - the second installment, which arrived in 2007 - Enchantment exhibits a range of formal interests, especially in the recursive properties of anaphora and the pantoum, as well as an increasingly Swinburnian phonemic playfulness: 'Cockerels were volleying vowels from valley to valley.' In another poem, this style seems to echo in aural effects what poets as ancient as Lucretius have imagined in matter, 'particles / that swerve through this under-space like quiet comets.' Cognate with such imagery of dissolution and recombination is the book's focus on the ongoing history of the Roma and their language, which have both long depended on their readiness to transform. Inevitably, the book's catalogue of particles includes ashes - recalling both the genocides of World War II and Romani funeral custom. But, in this world of quasi-fantasy, where historical suffering can be reclaimed through folklore, the emphasis is on restitution. The book's emblematic fairy tale shows a blacksmith reviving a girl by working her ashes on an anvil, explaining, 'Love's the craft of it.' The love of language displayed throughout these poems makes Enchantment live up to its name; its limits are often merely the limits of charm.

Another Excellent Review of Enchantment

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Enchantment, by David Morley

By on February 25, 2011

David Morley’s poetry collection opens with a sonnet-sequence, written in memory of a friend of his. Although they have the requisite 14 lines Morley’s sonnets depart from tradition in a number of ways with line-lengths of around 15 to 20 syllables, and lacking end-rhymes, but building internal patterning with assonance and half-rhyme. The quality of the writing in these short pieces is particularly striking and they are poems which the poet’s background as a naturalist shows through to good effect. The evocation of, for example, an Alaskan Salmon, is as powerful and fully realised as the faunal observations of Ted Hughes or Alice Oswald, while his specialist knowledge prevents the pieces from slipping into the all-too-easy Romanticism of ‘nature poetry’. This is also true in the poem which follows the sonnet-sequence: ‘The Lucy Poem’. The title alludes to Wordsworth’s famous Lucy poems, but the eponymous subject in this case is not a young girl but rather the 3.2 million year old Australopithecus afarensis skeleton. In content, these opening poems are far from typical of the collection, with the majority of the pieces in the collection concerning the world of Romany gypsies, both their day-to-day experiences and their myths, with the line between the two becoming intriguingly blurred at many points.

The Romany section of the book begins with ‘Hedgehurst’, based on a traditional story concerning a being which is half hedgehog and half human. The poem is spoken by the Hedgehurst in an incantatory tone which at times recalls Geoffrey Hill’s earlier work: “I was space between an axe-edge / and the oak’s white wound.” This is the most lyrical of the Romany poems, the others becoming at times more narrative in tone, at others more directly spoken. The sequence ‘A Lit Circle’, for example, uses monologues by a series of circus workers to take us behind the scenes of that aspect of Romany life in which we are most likely to have encountered them; from ringmaster, to clown, to strongman. The poems do not shy away from the darkness behind the circus, and feel authentic in their blend of pride and realism. In fact, darkness is the presiding hue of the Romany poems. Tradition is celebrated, but Morley is keen to remind us of the hatred many have felt towards gypsies both historically and through to the present day. As with Morley’s previous two books (Scientific Papers and The Invisible Kings) in this loose trilogy, the oral roots of poetry are fore-grounded. The poems remind us of their connection to both magic and to making, as the mythic intertwines with the artisan. In language and in content these are startling creations and a powerful conclusion to the sequence.

July 12, 2011

Excellent Reviews of Enchantment

Edward above Lyme

Order copies of Enchantment at

By Nisha Obano in Poetry Review, 101: 2, Summer 2001

‘Morley’s poetry evokes with enormous skill and sensitivity the many ways in which ecological changes affect our economic and social lives…Enchantment is a profound and tender work which confirms Morley’s place at the helm of British poetry today’.

By Julia Bird in Magma, Vol, 50, Summer 2010

‘David Morley[‘s]…inheritance and ongoing research has given him access to stories, histories and language which are unfamiliar to most of his non-Romani readers and, in writing them up for us, he offers us a genuine thrill of discovery. Too many times, I’ve seen poets with Three Book Gravitas turn for the first time to the Greek myths in order to sub out their current disquiets to those overstretched archetypes. Sometimes, I don’t want another retelling of Diana and Actaeon, I’d rather read for the first time about The Hedgehurst. He’s half human, half hedgehog, and he’s a powerful figure…

I judder awake as jays bounce

and strut about my body.

I rise, I shout, and they scatter.

They jump screaming into the sky.

It is time to call everything to life

for I am king of this and this is my kingdom.

…with much to tell us about self-determination and statecraft. His spines prick us and demand our attention.

…Morley has a professional stake in the outdoors; his background is in ecology and naturalism. His nature poems read like diagrams of food chains and water cycles; no on element in the web of life has precedence over another. In ‘Fresh Water’, humans, horses, midges and salmon are equally important, yet all of them are subject to a greater power – ‘the energy system / cindering softly under us, slow-cooking the marshlands.’

Whether giving a representation of Romani culture, or weighing up the balance between the natural and the human world, Morley’s lyric “I” is dropped well back. It does not crash about in the undergrowth, drawing attention to itself. Instead, he finds fresh alternate voices and personas to articulate his concerns. The subject of ‘The Lucy Poem’ is – while tipping her hat to Wordsworth’s Lucy-muse – the 3 million-plus-year-old Australopithecus afarensis, whose fossilised remains were found in Ethiopia in the 1970s. Imagining Lucy’s search for water is a way for s to talk about climate change in a way that privileges sensory experience above manipulable stats and science-lite…

When the waterhole went

wolves ran with their thirsts

higher than fur could manage:

they loped the dry courses

to their source, lapping parched

stone where water buried its song

…its persuasive effects unavoidable.

Morley’s language is gorgeous, slubby and dense, demanding a slow-paced reading and recitation. ‘Chorus’ is a patterned, refrain-rich poem for a newborn – ‘The heron hangs its head before hurling down its guillotine. / The tern twists on tines of two sprung wings. The dawn is the chorus’ – which is as much a lullaby as a powerful cradle spell. His tales are told strongly enough to ‘draw readers into a lit circle’ even if the closest they get to a Gypsy campfire is a chalet at Centre Parcs. If I had been anywhere near the shortlisting panels for last year’s poetry prizes, I would have nudged this collection and its newly delivered worlds to the top of the pile.’

May 04, 2011

Marriage Vows of a Rom to a Gadji

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I was recently invited by the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy to write a poem on the subject of wedding vows. I decided to open the subject to Romani language and culture. The poem was published in The Guardian before the Royal Wedding, alongside a number of other poems which can be found here. Enough time has passed now since the wedding and publication for me to reproduce the poem and notes below, and also to show some of the source material from the Patrin website. If anybody has a copy of the actual Guardian in which the poems appeared I would love to have it as I was away walking the Pembrokeshire Coast Path when it was published...

Marriage Vows of a Rom to a Gadji

To all of you at this pliashka, we are one
Until the shadows steal our horses home.
To thee, romni, lightest lace across thy kocsh,
For the treasures of lon and gold marò.
Break the bold marò, Borì – salve it
In the blood and salt upon thy knee.
Share this salt, this bread, this blood.
Let us leap low over the candles' glow.

Mi dèhiba, I feed thee and thou will feed me
Even as our hearts slow, our tresses sewn with suy.
Our unlike hands will untangle. We shall
Gather up kookoochìn for your balà.
Sorì simensar sì mèn, we cry as one.
All who are with us are ourselves.

Rom: Romani man; Gadji: Non-Roma woman; pliashka: Romani ceremony preceding the 'abiav' or wedding (see below); romni: wife; kocsh: knee; lon: salt (n); marò: bread; Borì: bride; mi dèhiba: my beloved; suy: grey; kookoochìn: snowdrops; balà: hair; Sorì simensar sì mèn: We are all one; all who are with us are ourselves.

Romani vows: At the pliashka the symbol of celebration is a bottle wrapped in a coloured silk handkerchief, brought to the ceremony by the man's father. Gold coins on a necklace are looped on the bottle. The future groom's father takes the necklace of coins and puts it around the future bride's neck. In the subsequent Roma marriage rite, the bride and groom might each take a piece of bread and place a drop of their blood on the bread. They then exchange and eat each other's bread. Sometimes a small amount of salt and bread is placed on the knees of the bride. The groom takes some of the bread, puts salt on it, and eats it. The bride does the same. The recent depictions of 'Gypsy weddings' on television are a travesty of what happens at these occasions.

April 05, 2011

I was reading Corso's poem 'Marriage'when a wasp dropped on to my keyboard & I jumped out of my skin

'Marriage' by Gregory Corso

Should I get married? Should I be good?
Astound the girl next door with my velvet suit and faustus hood?
Don't take her to movies but to cemeteries
tell all about werewolf bathtubs and forked clarinets
then desire her and kiss her and all the preliminaries
and she going just so far and I understanding why
not getting angry saying You must feel! It's beautiful to feel!
Instead take her in my arms lean against an old crooked tombstone
and woo her the entire night the constellations in the sky-

When she introduces me to her parents
back straightened, hair finally combed, strangled by a tie,
should I sit with my knees together on their 3rd degree sofa
and not ask Where's the bathroom?
How else to feel other than I am,
often thinking Flash Gordon soap-
O how terrible it must be for a young man
seated before a family and the family thinking
We never saw him before! He wants our Mary Lou!
After tea and homemade cookies they ask What do you do for a living?

Should I tell them? Would they like me then?
Say All right get married, we're losing a daughter
but we're gaining a son-
And should I then ask Where's the bathroom?

O God, and the wedding! All her family and her friends
and only a handful of mine all scroungy and bearded
just wait to get at the drinks and food-
And the priest! he looking at me as if I masturbated
asking me Do you take this woman for your lawful wedded wife?
And I trembling what to say say Pie Glue!
I kiss the bride all those corny men slapping me on the back
She's all yours, boy! Ha-ha-ha!
And in their eyes you could see some obscene honeymoon going on-
Then all that absurd rice and clanky cans and shoes
Niagara Falls! Hordes of us! Husbands! Wives! Flowers! Chocolates!
All streaming into cozy hotels
All going to do the same thing tonight
The indifferent clerk he knowing what was going to happen
The lobby zombies they knowing what
The whistling elevator man he knowing
Everybody knowing! I'd almost be inclined not to do anything!
Stay up all night! Stare that hotel clerk in the eye!
Screaming: I deny honeymoon! I deny honeymoon!
running rampant into those almost climactic suites
yelling Radio belly! Cat shovel!
O I'd live in Niagara forever! in a dark cave beneath the Falls
I'd sit there the Mad Honeymooner
devising ways to break marriages, a scourge of bigamy
a saint of divorce-

But I should get married I should be good
How nice it'd be to come home to her
and sit by the fireplace and she in the kitchen
aproned young and lovely wanting my baby
and so happy about me she burns the roast beef
and comes crying to me and I get up from my big papa chair
saying Christmas teeth! Radiant brains! Apple deaf!
God what a husband I'd make! Yes, I should get married!
So much to do! Like sneaking into Mr Jones' house late at night
and cover his golf clubs with 1920 Norwegian books
Like hanging a picture of Rimbaud on the lawnmower
like pasting Tannu Tuva postage stamps all over the picket fence
like when Mrs Kindhead comes to collect for the Community Chest
grab her and tell her There are unfavorable omens in the sky!
And when the mayor comes to get my vote tell him
When are you going to stop people killing whales!
And when the milkman comes leave him a note in the bottle
Penguin dust, bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust-

Yes if I should get married and it's Connecticut and snow
and she gives birth to a child and I am sleepless, worn,
up for nights, head bowed against a quiet window, the past behind me,
finding myself in the most common of situations a trembling man
knowledged with responsibility not twig-smear nor Roman coin soup-
O what would that be like!
Surely I'd give it for a nipple a rubber Tacitus
For a rattle a bag of broken Bach records
Tack Della Francesca all over its crib
Sew the Greek alphabet on its bib
And build for its playpen a roofless Parthenon

No, I doubt I'd be that kind of father
Not rural not snow no quiet window
but hot smelly tight New York City
seven flights up, roaches and rats in the walls
a fat Reichian wife screeching over potatoes Get a job!
And five nose running brats in love with Batman
And the neighbors all toothless and dry haired
like those hag masses of the 18th century
all wanting to come in and watch TV
The landlord wants his rent
Grocery store Blue Cross Gas & Electric Knights of Columbus
impossible to lie back and dream Telephone snow, ghost parking-
No! I should not get married! I should never get married!
But-imagine if I were married to a beautiful sophisticated woman
tall and pale wearing an elegant black dress and long black gloves
holding a cigarette holder in one hand and a highball in the other
and we lived high up in a penthouse with a huge window
from which we could see all of New York and even farther on clearer days
No, can't imagine myself married to that pleasant prison dream-

O but what about love? I forget love
not that I am incapable of love
It's just that I see love as odd as wearing shoes-
I never wanted to marry a girl who was like my mother
And Ingrid Bergman was always impossible
And there's maybe a girl now but she's already married
And I don't like men and-
But there's got to be somebody!
Because what if I'm 60 years old and not married,
all alone in a furnished room with pee stains on my underwear
and everybody else is married! All the universe married but me!

Ah, yet well I know that were a woman possible as I am possible
then marriage would be possible-
Like SHE in her lonely alien gaud waiting her Egyptian lover
so i wait-bereft of 2,000 years and the bath of life.

December 15, 2010

Enchantment is Featured at The Book Club with Three Poems and a Poetry Film

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The Book Club at The Knowledge Centre features my new poetry collection Enchantment, as well as three poems and a poetry film. Seasonal twist to the poetry film...

December 05, 2010

"Enchantment" chosen as Book of the Year by Jonathan Bate in the Telegraph

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David Morley's "Enchantment" chosen as Book of the Year

by Jonathan Bate in the Telegraph

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