Martin Stannard has published several collections of poetry, the most recent
of which is Coral (Leafe Press, 2004). He is also a regular reviewer, and
Stride published a collection of his reviews and essays, Conversations With
Myself, in 2001. He runs the website Exultations & Difficulties, which is a cross between a blog
and a poetry magazine but much better than either of those things.
SOLITUDE AND ENNUI
I have a reason for this, which is nothing literary:
This morning I translated Homer, but it wasnít necessary:
Everyone I know only understands The Simpsons,
Even if they donít all like it. And every poem I concoct,
I imagine one day some kid somewhere will write,
Be forced to, his or her parents are paying a fortune
In university fees, an essay about it. Boy, you can really
Throw some shit into poems if putting some kid
Through agony is what youíre after, and if thatís
What youíre after and if thatís your kind of poem
Then this is not that and Hey! You get terrible reviews!
A small battleship is sailing up the river away from you
And thatís a cannon pointed out of your funny little head.
Brazil, for example, is a fascinating island. The natives eat
A lot of cheese; at least, thatís what I heard, but what I heard
Is maybe not true but I like it anyway, and so I am throwing
It into this poem as possible information because one day
Maybe you will go to Brazil and experience dancing life
Beyond the sound of heavy machinery. I canít be literary:
Once I lived with someone who was someone who lived with
Me and I wasnít sure if she was my reflection or not:
Then it started hurting, and all those old poems started
Coming back to haunt me: ďThredgoldĒ, ďUnder-King
And The Tree MaidenĒ, ďBlissĒÖ.. I have so many
Memories, so many preoccupations, so many distractions.
The pork was expensive but someone else was paying:
Always there may be a balm to calm. I just killed, at last,
A mosquito. I just got fucked. I just got an e-mail from
Someone who says things I donít even begin to understand
Except I think I canít ever go within a hundred miles of her,
Her clutch stretches that far, and probably her voice, and certainly
I think her madness. ďSolitude and EnnuiĒ is a poem
Iím thinking of writing, but I need to find a rhyme scheme,
A rhythm, and even perhaps a subject: my teacher and mentor
Tells me this stuff, and even though I think heís an arse
He earns much more than I do and publishes with
Much bigger but not better publishers than I do and he knows
The editor of ďPoetry SnatchĒ so well they holiday together
And, whatever, I can count syllables if I really have to
Although not my blessings, whose existence I refute.
I have been in love so many times, and I donít mean
In my life: I mean today. I canít concentrate on the state
Of the nation, the latest episode of that thing I canít even
Remember what it was called, the anniversary
Of my twin sisterís death, my appointment at the clinic,
Why I should do the thing I am paid to do. The bluebird
Of love drifts past my window, itís not even bothering
To beat its wings, itís just coasting on the air, a glide:
Everything is easy if you are the bluebird of love. But
Iím not the bluebird of love, nor even very nice to know.
An ocean cannot compare to the bowl of my tears;
The sky is not wider than my insincere smile; I wish
I could believe in something I could hold. Sand would be
OK. I have a reason for waking up every morning
Which is not literary: I have a shit load of bricks
Waiting to be delivered but they wonít tell me when
Theyíre coming so I have to get up, just in caseÖ.
Iím going to build a wall or, maybe, get someone
To build it for me. Nobody deserves the literary life,
Where the best you can hope for is to go unrecognised
Through this vale of beers. Nobody needs that.
National and international harmony is important, as is
The ability to maintain a balanced view of all that happens
And thus be able to put forward a thoughtful and reasoned
Critique of our world and our lives, our society
And our system of governance and, who knows, to
Say something reasonable to someone else and before
Your body goes cold make a difference. Oh, I just fell asleep.
My mother, who is a hundred and twelve, thinks
There is a Jim Reeves song which explains everything,
And Iím worried because Iím starting to think
She could be right. Jim Reeves lives on the moon in a house
Made of old drum skins held together with hair oil.
While the commercials are on go away, make a cup
Of strong coffee and come back, and write a story about it
Called ďWhere Did He Go?Ē The roads are lined with crowds
Casting lotus blossoms at your feet. A light rain falls
But everyone has an umbrella so donít be concerned.
Rockslides are a threat; terrorist activity too, maybe,
So you can only come into my apartment if you have
The correct paperwork, or are exceptionally pretty.
There are times itís necessary to take a calculated risk,
But you can never predict when exactly such times
Will occur. An adventure is more than a working holiday;
Look behind you and see all those burning bridges.
Her she is really fine but her he is not so good:
Iím not sure what that line means, if it means anything,
But this means Iím going to have to spend lots of time
With myself, nurturing, coaxing, watching the laughing sun.
Or shall I instead spend a thousand empty hours
Thinking of nothing in particular, wasting my time
In daydreams, sleeping until late, drinking long
Into the night, leaving telephone calls unanswered.
The moon disappears behind a cloud a second
After I look up to admire it; the moon is such a girl.
I want to say Iím irritable but I lack the vocabulary:
Always I lack the vocabulary, also the poetry acrobatics.
Oh, how I wish I had the technique of the rich and famous!
Tomorrow I will translate the something or other
Before lunch. What I want to say can be turned into
What I have no idea what it means, but itís deep. A puzzle
Keeps me awake at night, which is why I sleep late.
The morning means another day and another hole to dig.
Out on the coast the air is clearer, which is why I want
To live there. Maybe the boats will sink when the weather
Turns unfriendly, the world turned upside down, heaven
And earth exchanging places, but the fish taste tremendous.
Iím going to go and put someone elseís hat on my head.
The quarantining of emotion is a trick one can only
Become an adept at after years of optimism and despair,
But Iíve figured out some shortcuts: they all involve
Losing your heart, mislaying your senses, idiocy,
Falling in love with a bar girl is one example,
And being just about as human as you can be in this life.
I am alone. The walls have more true friends than I do.
Surreptitious leaps of faith achieve nothing, blind alleys
And brick walls, sunshine and showers, cap and bells,
Laurel and Hardy, wash and go, who gives a fuck?
This week two years ago something happened and I try
Never to think about it but it sneaks up on me unbidden
And I fall apart, then my brain shuts down, and I am me,
Although I am not sure I can carry on being like this.
I have to phone my mum but I donít really want to.
You canít see through the rain. I canít hear you speak
Above the sound of the fans. One area of possible discussion
Might be the difference between your eyes and mine:
What you see and what I see and whatís there.
Here I come through years and air and emptiness
To batter your ears, but you are not there, having moved
Away a long time ago, and I had no reason or right
To expect anything else. Anyway, Iím not where I was either.
The fires have almost gone out; they are going now.
Oh, Iím consumed by jealousy and hunger and poverty
And inconsequentiality and weather and clothes and bliss
(Alright, not bliss) and jealousy and dinner plans and pins
And happiness supports and got to go now and haste.
Suddenly itís gone this feeling of ecstasy and paranoia
I donít think I believe what Iím saying the philosophy,
The itchy sport of taking a pinch of stuff at midnight,
A solitary pleasure unless thereís someone with you.
And now look whoís here, as if this wasnít predictable:
Mei Ling, who are you? Close the bar, leave me here
Alone, and I will find someone else to not be with.
I can hear rain. And dance music. I can hear someone
On someone elseís television through the wall,
Iím throwing stuff into a plastic bag and shaking it up
And when I tip it out on to the table itís a poem;
Itís a little bit rough around the edges but itís still a poem,
Started before we met and finished after you stopped answering
My calls. Now Iím going to tidy my room and wash the floor
And let the warm breeze blow through to dry it.
I am consumed by guilt, but I put it into a box
Then Iím OK. But when I open a drawer to find some pants
Blackbirds wearing white boots fly out, theyíre
Quite cute although Iím not taken in by cuteness now
But they know Iím an easy surrender worm. Oh,
The evening you were wearing red. And this evening
A small boat is creeping up the river towards you or me
And thatís a smile slapped on your beautiful face. Always
Iím surrounded by people and you and Iím on my own:
My head wonít be at peace, my silence wonít fall.
THOUGHTS IN SPRING
You think this is interesting? I think you have
No life, and one day if you are a girl
I would like to marry you. If you are a boy,
Forget it. I stand here, behind a bar,
Offer you any drink you want or can imagine,
Turn somersaults for you, and you fall
Into expendable love. Itís a risk you take
When you decide to be alive. If there is water
Itís possible to collapse into it, if there is
Me itís possible to make an immense mistake,
Like thinking I am someone else. You think
This is what matters? How can you ever know
What matters? I donít know what matters,
And I know more or less everything.
When Zhāng Mž comes from the shadows
And Zhŗng LŤi emerges from the
Pools of fish under the shadowy willows,
The orange butterfly flies from tree to tree
And from bush to bush. I watch it all dreamily
Because life is a dream and youíre always asleep
On a bus, or on your bed after a heavy lunch,
Nothing you can do can change what is done,
And thousands of years of this kind of thing
Pile up around you, trees down in a forest,
Seas washed up in the harbours, weíre so tired,
Even in the face of this and all those cosmetics
Everything that happens to you is sacred.
Zhāng Mž comes into the wet room with air,
Zhŗng LŤi welcomes you almost into the
And the Sun falls out of sight after the hill.
I think it is very difficult sometimes to be sweetly
Lyrical when so much has been so horrible.
The boy from ďFighting LaundryĒ almost delivers
My linen, shows me his new second-hand bicycle
Which is quite splendid in the rare world of
Bicycles, and Rose singing a song cannot
Conceal her quiet girlish happiness, and death
To any man who chooses to trample into it
With ruin, the walls of this place still stand,
Nothing gets past anyone, please donít change
The important bits. When Zhāng Mž calls to say
Only Hello and Goodbye the usual hills are inside
A cloud that looks like smoke. Zhŗng LŤi
Is at work because always she is always at work
But a country mile more beautiful than thought,
Tonight she looked unhappy and didnít say Hello
Her eyes were fixed to the floor, itís impossible
To understand anyone elseís life but continue
The attempt, I donít even understand my own;
To be my friend costs I think more than itís worth.
Once I was married and was very happy. Then
I woke up and was unhappy so I got married again
And was very happier than the very happy before
Then I realised I was dreaming and I was unhappy
But it was okay because now I was too tired to care.
Then I decided I had had enough so I gave up
And was happy again, and I am still that happy
Although it has been punctuated by sadness,
Iím still in love, but you canít think this is interesting
And anyway I will die muttering this kind of thing.
Donít look to poetry as a way †
Of getting a girl. Okay, perhaps sometimes
It will get you the girl but sheíll be crazy or flaky
And more trouble than sheís worth. Usually
Poetry is no good for to get a girl. A car
Or a somewhat flashy new bicycle is
More practical, a horse more romantic, although
Maybe you would need two horses, one for you
One for her, and hope she likes animals.
Most girls like animals, and always want
To be a vet or a nurse when theyíre a child,
Although they grow out of this
To become something else when theyíre older.
I know a girl who is an engineer, although
Sheís not the prettiest girl I know
Nor the funniest. Girls make good nurses,
And so itís good if you too have some medical
Knowledge. Knowing the names of a few
Diseases and organs never did a chap harm.
Should you be lucky enough to have a serious illness
Girls will fall in love with you
If some films are to be believed. Films,
Though, are as treacherous and fickle as poems
And should not be looked to for ways of
Getting a girl. Itís pointless to go through the trauma
Of something traumatic just to get a girl
And then have her abandon you in a wilderness
Of emotional desolation on a whim,
As if you were some kind of lipstick. Thatís
What films would have you do, whereas
Poetry would have you whimper and simper,
Which is unmanly and pathetic and even
Nearer to the wilderness than in the movies.
You need luck, if you can find it, and coincidence,
Which is perhaps the natural domain of novelists,
But novels these days are usually so dull
You will fall asleep before you fall in love,
And the girl will be gone, unless she is
An impressionable student or a librarian,
Neither of whom should be turned away
Before theyíve answered all the necessary
Questions, and taken the tests, but donít be
Carried away on a wave of optimism.
Nothing good ever came of optimism.
Material things are often despised these days
But only by those who do not have them;
Lots of things attract girls, so try to fill your life
With them. The fuller your life is of things
The more likely you are to attract girls
And find short-lived peace and contentment,
But after the short summer of bliss
Comes the winter, which is long and hard
Like in one of those really cold places,
Darkness fills the day, and your lips are frozen
Together in ironical mimicry of a kiss.
This would make a good painting, but one
Cannot look to the visual arts as a way
Of getting a girl. Girls like paint but
Only certain kinds of paint, emulsion or silk
Gloss, or face paint, and thereís too much
Room for error in anything you might choose,
And youíre certain to be wrong. Paint a tree,
They want a river; paint your state of mind,
They want a tree. Donít look to painting
For ways to get a girl, donít look to instructions
Inside magazines, donít watch television
Or take the most desperate of all measures
And go to church in the hope of meeting
Someone as desperate as you. Donít ask
Your parents, donít ask your friends; you donít
Want your parents or your friends to know
Your intimate concerns. Search the world
For someone to talk to, but donít expect to
Find anyone; all you can hope for is
Interesting travel to exotic or not exotic places,
And familiarity with numerous airports.
Some men will tell you how an airport
Is a good place to get a girl, but some men
Will say anything. An airport is as likely
To be the place where the girl says goodbye
As hello, and anyway airports are full of people
But not of people you want to know:
They are filled on the inside with emptiness
And on the outside with sometimes
Though not always the gentle wind moving
Silently, invisibly, and everywhere
Inside and outside and wherever you look
Is some traveller you canít trust, sighing,
And he will be the one who gets the girl.
copyright © Martin Stannard