Old Iron

As the many thousands of you who I claim as my ‘closest and dearest friends’ will know, I am a keen functional and recreational cyclist. In a secret location not far from my back door I have two bicycles which are what we call ‘fit for purpose’. Swinging open the door to my high-security storage unit, and stepping over the fallen rake (the horticultural tool, not a person…ha!) and the stacks of plant pots, I select the mount most likely to suit my purpose. My purpose is almost certainly not to be rushing about. 

At times I meet poets who are in a hurry and I certainly admire their resolve. Like the well-tuned professional racing cyclist, they are out all weathers putting the early-season miles into their beautifully shaved and oiled legs (oh, yes) astride their mudguard-less light-as-air machines, all hunched and futuristic. Why, only the other day, as I had dismounted from the old iron to inspect a rather nice bit of herringbone brickwork on a Worcestershire farmhouse, one such swept past me, their eyes focused on the prize, which appeared be both very important and a long way away. 

But back to the poetry. My point, of course, is that sometimes the journey is as – or more – important than the destination (and if you don’t fit mudguards you shouldn’t be allowed out on wet roads because you’ll muddy the rest of us as you whizz by, you clot). Also, that there are only so many roads on which we may saunter and that scarcity of resources – call it attention or road-width, if you like – means that we must be careful of – and on behalf of – other road users. The infrastructure on which we move, be it the grit-strewn gutter of a dual carriageway or the cracked asphalt of a minor road, did not come into being by accident.

But back to the poetry. My point also, of course, is that those who whirr along at great speed on skittish thoroughbreds – be they bikes or automobiles – too easily assume that the road belongs to them. And why should they not? Considerable amounts of money have been invested in creating the brand, setting up the sales structure, purchasing the attention of the car- or bicycle-buying public, and all this to generate the return that will allow the dividends to be paid to those who own the capital upon whose oiled bearings the whole thing runs. The traveller who chooses to tread the lonely pedals of the classic ‘safety bicycle’ or simply wear-down their boots step by step must, the logic suggests, be of less value.

But back to the poetry. My point finally, of course, is that just as I wish the hierarchy of travellers were not so brutally revealed as I potter along lanes that cut up into the Mercian Massif on a Sunday morning, so I wish that the poetry world would have more regard for the slow moving traffic that chooses not to be part of the race. Not using very much of the resources that go into the poetry infrastructure and not making, therefore, much of a return on investment, does not mean the work is any less worthy of our consideration. Perhaps poets who do not consider themselves ‘successful’ are reluctant to say this for fear of seeming to complain. Or perhaps they don’t give a damn.

One who I suspect doesn’t trouble himself overly about his own reception is David Hart. His name will not be awfully familiar. Searches reveal he did much in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s but thereafter references peter out. His last published book was Library Inspector from Nine Arches Press in 2015. I have read, I think, everything he has published over many years, much of it from Five Seasons Press. Although these two presses are hugely fashionable amongst those with finely developed tastes, I suspect they are not quite the ‘poetry airports’ frequented by the commercial carriers. They are not privileged by wealth or inherited influence.

It is a foolish commentator (a complete twonk) who claims the universal knowledge implicit in such statements as ‘book x is the best book of the year’ or ‘poet y is the finest of their generation, etc.’, so I will limit myself to saying that the poetry of David Hart is very much to my taste and typically brings me a combination of intellectual and emotional pleasure and even excitement. There may be a hill or two to pedal up – we have to read the words, damn them – but the freewheeling down the other side is joyous. Although, to be more accurate, I would describe his poetry as ‘freewheeling uphill’, which is a good trick if you can do it, and he can.

Which brilliant, simply brilliant image, brings me back to the very jelly of my pork pie (hmm… not quite so good, Jonathan, needs more work – Ed.). I wonder if we might pedal more slowly, freewheel now and then – uphill if we can – and develop our tastes and enhance our pleasure by looking at all the far horizons, those behind us and those ahead, while also glancing around at what is nearby, what is emblazoned on the concrete overpass or hidden in the hawthorn hedge. I mean, of course, that there is fun to be had reading and listening widely and deeply, giving ourselves time to appreciate poets like David Hart.

So here, chosen at random and to finish my sermon, from David Hart’s 1998 collection Setting the poem to words (Five Seasons Press), and reproduced with the kind permission of the publisher, is a poem:

The body in the bluebells

I found a body in the bluebells snuggled in,
laid down by the stream, bent, playing dead.
Anyone is allowed to play dead, their ration
of dead, to discover the world. Ferns flattened

and bramble even flattened and of course
bluebells as exquisite as any I’d seen walking
in the wood there year after year. An angel
that serves warm bread at the border waiting

seemed to be present, not stone with a trumpet
not the embroidered sort nor gilded wax
nor painted, none of those, but humanly patient
and blue, undecided, slight and wanting sex.

So here was an angel randy around the body,
longing to be earthy. We were at the margin,
almost I had a foot in it. Should I tell the story?
Should I tell of the bright angel’s longing? 

I ate my sandwiches and my cake and drank
water form the stream, with blood in it, reader.
Someone would in turn find me, blue, sunk
in the job of being found, of being found there.

By David Hart
Setting the poem to words (Five Seasons Press)

Why this article was written & a declaration of connection:

Oh, you know me, I like the sound of my own voice. So that’s one reason I wrote it. I enjoy taking a metaphor or analogy as far as I can and then leaving it to cross the Rubicon. I like to see my website hits increase – oh yes I do – and to see myself noticed, a little, so I certainly wrote it as an exercise in self aggrandisement. I also wrote the piece to develop some of my ideas based on my observations of how the poetry world/sector/colony that I come across works. I wrote it as a vehicle for saying something positive about David Hart, a poet I feel warmly towards and whose work is admirable. I know David Hart a little. I haven’t seen him in years but had a brief e-mail exchange a few years ago. I told him I thought his poetry was superb. He received the compliment with dignity.

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