April 5th 2016
While traipsing the canals of Birmingham with an acquaintance we agreed that the Canal Poet Laureate really ought to have a crest and a Latin motto in the manner of an upmarket school, and that the motto ought to be don’t fall in the canal because that’s what most people say to me (often with the addendum that it’s actually quite shallow) when they find out I’m the canal poet laureate. When I got home I mocked up a prototype:
I’m now looking for a textile artist to make a fair copy and a Classics scholar to correct my Latin (I’m afraid I didn’t go to one of the aforementioned schools).
The same walk ended up being quite fruitful some distance after a vast, Peaky Blinders-esque tunnel. The landscape turned bleakly 1970s with blocky white pillars and dingy ceilings; the civic-art murals had all been resoundingly re-tagged; even the quality of the litter seemed to come from another era, prompting two questions: 1. They still make Space Raiders? 2. Where can I buy Space Raiders? But then waiting at a lock gate for the water to, um, rise/fall (sub-editor: please check), we found a beautifully maintained narrow boat called Snowdrop. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I love the incongruous. If there are two things Kennard likes, they’d say, it’s bread and incongruity. In that order. I love bread.
There’s a lovely Anne Carson quote from Men in the Off Hours: “‘Dirt’ may be defined as ‘matter out of place.’ The poached egg on your plate at breakfast is not dirt; the poached egg on the floor of the Reading Room of the British Museum is.” (143) We create our worlds through contexts and boundaries, we make sense of it through observing and transgressing them. We recoil from the house of the compulsive hoarder, each room a towering bricolage, nothing thrown away, not because it is unsanitary but because of disorder; the spectacle of a meaningless world, nothing given precedence over anything else. Bus tickets, apple cores, envelopes, used cans of deodorant, broken toys, all assembled in the same precarious mass with the useful things, as if a thousand crime scenes had been dumped one on top of the other. Like the internet.
On the same walk I’d also been thinking about a recent Clive James poem called ‘Imminent Catastrophe’ published a couple of weeks ago in The New Statesman which begins:
The imminent catastrophe goes on
Not showing many signs of happening.
The ice at the North Pole that should be gone
By now, is awkwardly still lingering…
I’d been thinking, in the first instance, that I disagree, as do the ice caps, but also that I quite liked it because it was a poem that was wrong and attempted to convincingly express a view which was wrong in the medium of poetry. I hate the whole dull-bulb defence of poetry as if poetry is one thing. It’s as silly as defending music or, I don’t know, a ballpoint pen. What about Fascist poetry? Or, on the other hand, what about all the propaganda anthologies we published in praise of totalitarian Communist regimes? And, come to think of it, what about a poem written and designed to insult you and you alone? What if the government funded that? Exactly.
A little further on (and this is what cemented the idea for the following poem), we found a patch of rainbow on the shingly ground by the side of the canal. At first we took it for some particularly minimal graffiti, but then it was occluded by the shadow of my leg and when we looked up we realised it had been produced by the sunlight through a three-panel glass and metal fence.
I’ve been writing a poem about manners on the towpath (revealed next week) and decided it ought to have a consistent meter and rhyme scheme, partly because that feels effectively school-masterly and partly just out of my general sense about public art and literature. You know, in the same way that if they asked Anish Kapoor to make a sculpture for a local community centre he wouldn’t suffocate the building beneath a sixty foot high inflatable pink monster. This is a misguided thought, probably. Nevertheless, having mired myself in traditional form for several weeks – and using a favourite poetic cheat by using the pattern of an Anglican hymn (I think it was ‘How Doth The Little Crocodile’) – I felt the need to grant myself some vers libre leniency for this month’s blog poem. Maybe it took a slightly darker turn than I intended.
THE PERSISTENCE OF RUBBISH
The moon reflected in a broken pair of
star-shaped children’s sunglasses.
The perfect feet of a knocked down statue
survey the abandoned shopping centre.
The cat describes the arc of a fountain as it leaps
the lip of the busted fountain. Grit crackles.
A mural painted over a mural depicts
your worst acts in the social realist mode
and you’re thinking why me as the artist
is thinking why not? An empty crisp packet
rumoured to be the last meal of a martyr
is worshipped by a group of fanatics
dressed as empty crisp packets.
God’s promise not to flood the world again
is a dispersion of light through the study window
of a climate-change-denier’s poem.
Meanwhile a man gets his head stuck
in an ornamental wrought iron gate
and has to be cut free by the fire brigade;
the 2 hour notch they sawed to loose him
visible from the next street forever.
When asked by a journalist he replies:
‘I wanted to see if my head would fit
through the ornamental gate.’
The moon reflected in the journalist’s iPhone
contains detritus of its exploration:
space junk, giant foil wrappers, glass,
an everlasting bootprint, our new logo:
A dust so fine it won’t wash off.
Plans are afoot to take part in the Braunston Historic Boat show in June. My trips so far have been somewhat Birmingham-centric, but this will soon be remedied by visits to Yorkshire and Leeds-Liverpool (I plan to walk the whole thing and write a mammoth, novel-length blog entry with at least, say, six hundred poems). Thanks, as ever, for reading.