A Hundred Gourds 2:3 June 2013
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From There to Here: Conversations with John E. Carley

| Introduction | page 2 | page 3 | page 4 | page 5 | page 6 |page 7 |

From There to Here

— by John E. Carley

As a natural loner I might have been the kind of kid who lost himself in books, but dyslexia put paid to that. Poetry was a better bet – shorter and mnemonic.

Writing was a challenge, but, given that I had good aural retention, I composed everything in my head. Tunes, songs, poems, perorations – one was very much like the other, looping around what passed for my mind while the sixties went from black and white to colour.

To my surprise I made it to 20 years old, any faith in poetry having gone pretty much the same way as everything else. Then a friend lent me a little book of Japanese in translation which mixed haiku poems with passages of prose. The culprit was one ‘Basho Matsuo’ as channelled by a man from Hiroshima called ‘Yuasa’. What I read struck a chord I didn't know existed. I didn’t write again for fifteen years.

Not true. I was a musician. Good on percussion. Dodgy on guitar, but able to dash off lyrics with the disjointed fluency that only a disrupted education, free beer, and a promise of cash on the nail can secure. I was also quite good at foreign – looking foreign, acting foreign, communicating in foreign - including things like translating advertising copy, mainly from Italian to English.

Of course advertising is the bastard son of poetry – and a good deal more honest. At age thirty odd I washed up in the English scrublands, proudly role-reversed as carer to young kids, with nothing but a pile of dirty washing and too much time on my hands. I'll tell you what: why not write some poems?

Chernobyl c 1990

beneath a gently fissile sky
we who know no fear
offer up our children
for Him to suck their bones

Rage, rant, puff, pant. Pity the poor battered Amstrad. To be fair I knew that bathos wasn’t just the way I used to spell pathos. And though you can get away with murder as a Europop pap-picker the longer an actual poem goes on the more it just goes to poo (a subject in which I was by now expert). Perhaps if I tried a few shortish ones?

La Vecchia c 1991

bulging belly
bow legged black
squats in the corner
spitting sparks
crackling strips
of chestnut bark
lei, si chiama
la vecchia

dance of the shadows
warmth of the wall
curl of the smoke
and the leaves in the hall
split to the seams
and the cackling sides
lei, si chiama
a vecchietta nera
lei, si chiama
la vecchia

her, she’s called the little old woman in black
her, she’s called the old woman

Another way round the doleful soliloquising seemed to be to cut out anything meaningful and just go for a bit of badinage, old bean. The refrain above is in Italian. Like wot I used to speak.

Au Lit c 1992

allez, allez
les tapis topis
allez, allez
au lit
venez, venez
souris de tapis
maintenant on dit
bon nuit
go on, rug rats, to bed
come on, carpet mice, now we say good night

Poor children. It’s embarrassing enough to have your father sing lullabies, let alone ones written in a ghastly dog-French that purports to be Savoyard from the Val d'Août. Strangely, the children have grown up normal.

Bodger c 1993

sap rising
axe falling
lathe turning
bough forming
old learning
tap rooted
sun shining

The poems I present here are all circa because every time the old computers backed up data the file creation date got re-written. This one is a bit self-consciously clever, but it has something. And get that ending: transmuted. It's all a bit cosmic.

Cormorant c 1993

the black christ stands
spreading wings to the sun:
oh let me be a fisher
of fish

Ah yes, sententiousness never really goes out of fashion. This deep little number is at least short. And note the pay-off - fisher / of fish - a line break trite enough to qualify the poem as a sort of proto-haiku. In my defence I still remember that cormorant.

Scirocco c 1994

skitter and turn
dry leaves
drifting and crisp

a distant scirocco
sings: sêche

the dust devils dance

Sometimes a piece looks good even now. During the 90's I worked a lot on multiple-voice performance poetry which relied on the kinetics and phonics of drama. Scirocco is strong on assonance and alliteration too but it delivers as text, and the movement is conceptual.

Curiosity c 1994

killed the cat
- but -
better dead
than dull

In 1902 Basil Hall Chamberlain tried to explain what a haiku was by calling it a lyric epigram. Others thought aphorism might be closer to the mark. Curiosity is not really fish nor fowl either, but there is a certain direction of travel.