Alone in Sutton with Fynbos my orange cat

A long weekend of wind and rain drowning

The tumultuous flurry of mid-February blossom

A surfeit of letters to work through, a mountain

Of files to sort, some irritation at the thought

Of travelling to Kentish Town alone when

My mind was flooded with the mellifluous voice

Of Heath-Stubbs on tape reading ‘The Divided Ways’

In memory of Sidney Keyes.

“He has gone down into the dark cellar

To talk with the bright faced Spirit with silver hair

But I shall never know what word was spoken there.”

The best reader of the century, if not the best poet.

Resonant, mesmeric, his verse the anti-type of mine,

Classical, not personal, Apollonian not Dionysian

And most unconfessional but nonetheless a poet

Deserving honour in his eighty-fifth year.

Thirty people crowded into a room

With stacked chairs like a Sunday


A table of pamphlets looked over but not bought

A lacquered screen holding court, a century’s junk.

An ivory dial telephone, a bowl of early daffodils

To focus on.

I was the first to read, speaking of James Simmons’ death,

My anguish at the year long silence from his last letter

To the Christmas card in Gaelic Nollaig Shona –

With the message “Jimmy’s doing better than expected.”

The difficulty I had in finding his publisher’s address –

Salmon Press, Cliffs of Moher, County Clare –

Then a soft sad Irish woman’s voice explained

“Jimmy’s had a massive stroke, phone Janice

At The Poet’s House.”

I looked at the letter I would never end or send.

“Your poems have a strength and honesty so rare.

The ability to render character as deftly as a painter.

Your being out-of-fashion shows just how bad things are

Your poetry so easy to enjoy and difficult to forget.

Like Yeats. ‘The Dawning of the Day’ so sad

And eloquent and memorable: I read it aloud

And felt the hairs on the back of my neck prickle

An unflinching bitter rhetoric straight out

Hence the neglect. Your poem about Harrison.

“He has to feel the Odeons sell

Tickets to

damned souls, that Dante’s Hell

Is in that red-plush darkness.”

Echoed in Roy Fisher’s letter, “Once Harrison and I

Were best mates until fame went to his head.”

James, your ‘Love Leads Me into Danger’

Set off my own despair but restored me

Just as quickly with your sense of beauty’s muted dance.

“passing Dalway’s Bawn

Where the chestnuts are, the first trees to go rusty,

Old admirals drowned in their own gold braid.”

The scattered alliterations mimic so exquisitely

The random pattern of fallen conkers,

The sense of innocence not wholly clear

The guilt never entirely spent.

‘The Road to Clonbarra’, a poem for the homecoming

After a wedding, the breathlessness of new beginning.

Your own self questioning, “My fourth and last chance marriage,”

Your passionate confessions of failure and plea for absolution

“His thunder storms were in the late night bars.

Home was too hard too dry and far the stars.”

You were so urgent to hear my thoughts on your book

And once too often you were out of luck,

Heath-Stubbs nodded his old sad head.

“Simmons was my friend. I’d no idea he was dead.”

Before I could finish the poem John Rety interrupted

“Can you hurry? There’s others waiting for their turn!”

I muttered to my self, but kept my temper, just…

Eventually Heath-Stubbs began – poet, teacher, wit, raconteur and man

Of letters – littering his poems with references

To three kinds of Arabic genie

The class system of ancient Egypt

The pub architecture of the Edwardian era.

From the back row I strained to see his face.

The craggy jaw, the mane of long white hair.

The bowl of daffodils I’d focused on before.

He spoke but could not read and

Like me had no single poem by heart.

In his stead a man and woman read:

I could forgive the man’s inability to pronounce ‘Dionysian’

But when he read ‘hover’ as ‘haver’

My temper began to frazzle

The woman simpered and ruined every line

As if by design, I took some amitryptilene

And let my mind float free.

‘For Barry, instead of a Christmas card, this elegy

I wrote last week. Fond wishes. Jeremy..’

“So often, David, I still meet

Your benefactor from the time:

Her speedwell-blue eyes, blue like yours,

With recollection, while we talk

Through leaf-fall, with its mosaic

Mottling the toad-spotted wet street.”

I looked at Heath-Stubbs’ face, his sightless eyes,

And in a second understood what Gascoyne meant

“Now the light of a prism has flashed like a bird down the dark-blue,

At the end of which mountains of shadow pile up beyond sight

Oh radiant prism

A wing has been torn and its feathers drift scattered by flight.”

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