Thursday, June 23, 2005

Almost famous

or "Some of these poems have previously appeared..."

Modesty is a natural thing, so much so that people assume that you are being modest when you are sticking to the literal truth. When I put in my Self definition in 30 statements that "I have published a handful of poems in very obscure places", readers instinctively interpret this as "I have published quite a few poems in a range of quite well known places but don't want to appear big-headed". And they are wrong, as I shall explain, by going through the list.

1. Ampersand

Although there have been several magazines of this name, the one to which I refer was published for two issues in 1984, in Cambridge, England. Each contained a poem by me, one worth forgetting, the other "Student Poet":

In the void before the nicotine dreams,
Noises and thoughts collide and merge
Until the random racket seems
Like a Muse's whispered urge.

Arise, young man, turn on the light,
Before the self-deluding moment goes,
Take up your fountain pen, and write
The sort of stuff too transparent for prose:

Of rain and night, love and aircraft noise,
Of barbed wire, holocaust and tanks -
Find again the self-important joys
Of borrowed woes and teenage angst.

Then lie back, turn the light off,
Dream of suicide and post-mortem fame,
To wake in the morning light, and cough,
And file the page with others, much the same.

The life cycle of the university arts magazine was a short one; essentially, a group of English and Art students would become frustrated at being unable to get their work printed by the cliques running the established magazines; those with rich parents would finance the upfront printing costs for a new one; it would appear, having disappointing sales, relying for distribution on its staff and contributors; the editorial staff would graduate, get bored, or have to start doing some studying; and then it would vanish. Although people often talk about the world of publication as a small gang where knowing the right people is an essential element in success or acceptance, meaning this figuratively, I think, in the case of these little magazines it is quite genuinely the case. So the only two issues of the magazine have vanished almost without trace- my parents I think have a copy somewhere, which now has some rarity value.

2. Gower Society Newsletter
This is perhaps a different sort of obscure. Members of the Gower Society wouldn't call it obscure at all, I suppose, but then the Society is for people who live in or are interested in a small part of Wales west of Swansea. The Society has an annual journal which publishes a range of scholarly articles. At one stage (in the 1950s) it printed topographic poetry about Gower to fill up the gaps at the end of articles, and this is what led me to submit a sort-of topographic poem about Gower (or rather about sin or the end of the world or something, but mentioning Gower) to the editor, who hastily passed it on to the newsletter editor as 'more suitable', and was duly published, sparking off a mini-tradition as subsequent issues included more conventional topographic poems written in verse.

Dead water, Oxwich Bay

The languor of a hot midday in June
Spreads to the sea, where slackwater waves
Slap ineffectually at the sand.
A moment of silence: the humid air unmoved,
All action countermanded by the heat;
And in that moment all the world stood still

A choice to be made: to start again?
Renew the tide of life and thought?
Or else to let it end, worn out
By one too many days and doubts.

My heart drummed out the seconds one by one,
Until at last an answer came -
A breeze across the water cooled the shore;
A Wind forgave the sinful land.
Gabriel unpursed his lips, lowered his horn.

So read things carefully: sometimes people say exactly what they mean!

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