All 13 entries tagged Romany

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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.


August 01, 2011

Matt Merritt reviews Enchantment with panache

Writing about web page

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

Writing about web page


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

Writing about web page

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.

January 12, 2011

Inviting You to the Launch of "Enchantment" 19th January 2011


8pm, Wednesday 19th January, 2011
Venue: The Capital Studio, Millburn House, Warwick University, Coventry, CV4 7HS
Entry: Free

'Enchantment' by David Morley

Publicity material for this event says:

Carcanet Press invites you to the launch of 'Enchantment' by David Morley.

David Morley's 'Enchantment' reinvents the oral tradition of poetry as a form of magic, marvel and making. Opening with a celebration of friendship, the poems tell the world into being. In myths of origin and the natural world, the terrible chronicles of history and the saving power of folk wisdom, the poet weaves spells of Romany and circus language, invents forms and shapes, drawing his readers into a "lit circle" magical and true.

Please RSVP to: For more information visit

November 26, 2010

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

Writing about web page

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.

Writing about web page ttp://

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

Atching Tan, a Stopping Place

Writing about web page

Vardo by Harwood.Jerry Creative Commons

A Romany play “Atching Tan” is on Radio 4 at 2.15pm on the 23rd November (today). There is a link to the webpage.

It’s by Dan Allum and The Romany Theatre Company. I’ve worked with them at Arvon. Listen out for this.

Atching Tan BBC website page

May 07, 2010

New Romany Poem in London Review of Books

Writing about web page

A page-long excerpt from one of my new long Romany poems 'The Library Beneath the Harp' appears in the current London Review of Books.The poem as a whole appeared in a recent issue of The Long Poem Magazine. Thankfully, both sets of editors were kind enough to allow this miracle of cooperative publication.

As blogged earlier in the year, the subject of the poem is the poet Bronisława Wajs (1908-1987) who was known by her RomaniPapusza name Papusza which means ‘doll’.

She grew up on the road in Poland within her kumpania or band of families. She was literate and learned to read and write by trading food for lessons.

Her reading and writing was frowned upon and whenever she was found reading she was beaten and the book destroyed. She was married at fifteen to a much older and revered harpist Dionízy Wajs.

Unhappy in marriage she took to singing as an outlet for her frustrations with her husband often accompanying her on harp. She then began to compose her own poems and songs.

When the Second World War broke out, and Roma were being murdered in Poland both by the German Nazis and the Ukrainian fascists, they gave up their carts and horses but not their harps.

With heavy harps on their backs, they looked for hiding places in the woods. 35,000 Roma out of 50,000 were murdered during the war in Poland. The Wajs clan hid in the forest in Volyň, hungry, cold and terrified.

A horrible experience inspired Papusza to write her longest poem "Ratfale jasfa – so pal sasendyr pšegijam upre Volyň 43 a 44 berša" ("Bloody tears – what we endured from German soldiers in Volyň in '43 and '44”), parts of which are used in my poem ‘The Library Beneath the Harp’.

In 1949 Papusza was heard by the Polish poet Jerzy Ficowski who recognized her talent. Ficowski published several of her poems in a magazine called Problemy along with an anti-nomadic interview with Polish poet Julian Tuwim.

Ficowski became an adviser on “The Gypsy Question”, and used Papusza's poems to make his case against nomadism. This led to the forced settlement of the Roma all over Poland in 1950 known variously as ‘Action C’ or “The Great Halt”.

The Roma community began to regard Papusza as a traitor, threatening her and calling her names. Papusza maintained that Ficowski had exploited her work and had taken it out of context.

Her appeals were ignored and the Baro Shero (Big head, an elder in the Roma community) declared her “unclean”. She was banished from the Roma world, and even Ficowski broke contact with her.

Afterward, she spent eight months in a mental asylum and then the next thirty-four years of her life alone and isolated.

Her tribe laid a curse on Papusza’s poems and upon anybody using or performing her work. My sequence of songs called ‘The Library beneath the Harp’ partly borrows and reshapes some of Papusza’s introductory autobiography from the Songs of Papusza as well as three of her poems. 

It's my heartfelt wish that the curse can be lifted. Let's hope it can. Part of my publishing in the London Review of Books, Long Poem Magazine and this blog is part of a campaign - alongside the Romany Theatre Company and others - to lift this curse.  

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