One should clearly keep clones caged. Not easy to say.
Not easy to do. They have a way of growing up,
becoming indistinguishable from oneself
at that age. Which of course is their point. You may
love them. Don’t. If you give them an hour, they’ll take over
your life. It won’t be just your heart, your eyes,
your hips that will be replaced. It will be you.
Temper mercy with sense. It was not as replacements
that they were created, brought into the world,
it was as spare parts. Parts. To be used as needed.
But will they understand that? WillyB-3 is
resentful still about his eye. His eye,
I ask you. I said, Willy, it was never your eye,
it is my eye; that eye you still have
is my eye: you are all me, all mine.
WillyB-4, who is minus most of his teeth
from my dental op and can’t talk properly –
and will probably provide me with my new liver
which will be the end of him, said – “I shink Mary’sh
right.” “Mary?” “Mary. She shaysh we are
people, shame ash her, shame ash you.”
“Listen, Willy. You know you are not people.
You have no name, no parents, no passport,
all you have is the codeword WillyB
linking you to me, and a number, you are
a clone, my fourth, like WillyB-1 and WillyB-
2 were, and these others are. That liver
is as much part of my body as this liver here is,
the body you think of as yours is as much
my body as this one I am at present using.
“What will happen when I need a brain?
That brain will be programmed with all my knowledge,
all my memories, all my feelings – your
few little thoughts – if they are your thoughts – will cease
to be like a ripple on a pond – my pond.”
If, like me, you have always been fascinated and thrilled by the poems and pictures of William Blake, you will be delighted with this book, for it is set in his London and he plays quite a major role in it. His London, yes.
(This and several other poems crop up quite naturally in the course of the story.)
I wander through each chartered street Near where the chartered Thames does flow And mark in every face I meet Marks of weakness, marks of woe.
In every cry of every man In every infant’s cry of fear In every voice, in every ban The mind-forged manacles I hear.
How the chimney-sweeper’s cry Every blackening church appals And the hapless soldier’s sigh Runs in blood down palace walls.
But most through midnight streets I hear How the youthful harlot’s curse Blasts the new-born infant’s tear And blights with plagues the marriage hearse.
And what is more, he is credibly depicted – an outspoken radical (he was a friend of Tom Paine’s) at a time when a breath of socialism or support for the revolution in France could cost one one’s life; eccentric to the point of “madness” – in constant communication with his dead brother, and living in fact on two levels, in two worlds, simultaneously; and very, very kind in a society where kindness seems to have been in extremely short supply.
A poor family emigrate from a Devonshire village to London, and the story is of the two village children, Jem and his beautiful but totally naive and innocent sister, Maisie (a source of inspiration to Blake!) and her adorable streetwise counterpart, Maggie, the local London girl who befriends Jem and tries to protect Maisie.
It is perfectly written, as one would expect of the author of Girl with a Pearl Earring, and succeeds on every level. I will never be able to read William Blake again without thinking of him facing a mob who are demanding that he sign an oath of allegiance to the king, and refusing outright; and Jem and Maisie’s father, the local from the Devonshire village, following suit, not because he knows or cares anything about politics but because he objects to being forced to do something by a violent mob.
And the depiction of the two girls, Maisie and Maggie, as they grow up, become women, is completely unforgettable.
A must for all Blake-lovers as well, of course, as all lovers of top quality Historical Fiction.
if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.
if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.
don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.
when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.
I’m nobody! Who are you? Are you nobody, too? Then there’s a pair of us – don’t tell! They’d banish us, you know!
How dreary to be somebody! How public, like a frog To tell your name the livelong day To an admiring bog!
This “nobody”, this voluntary recluse, who chose loneliness (perhaps after her one love, a married protestant minister, moved thousands of miles away, to San Francisco), preferred to avoid people who “talk of hallowed things aloud, and embarrass my dog“.
It might be lonelier Without the loneliness …
It probably would. Though perhaps at times she regretted it:
This is my letter to the world That never wrote to me …
In Hunger, she speaks of “persons at the windows“, seeing herself as an outsider, hungry, looking in – but preferring hunger, although sometimes she may dream of going back:
My business? Just a life I led …
But who can go back? Mostly now she looks beyond the present. In an early poem, she writes:
Who has not found the heaven below Will fail of it above …
Did she find heaven below? Perhaps not in her immediate surroundings, but she shows the mystical, pantheistic tendencies (we find the same in Blake, for instance, and Wordsworth) of one who does indeed find heaven here in this universe.
My river runs to thee: Blue sea, wilt welcome me?
But when I think of Emily Dickinson, the first thing that comes to my mind is the odd, outstanding, perfect line, the sort of line that truly does make one sigh and say “That is poetry”. Lines such as:
I like a look of agony, Because I know it’s true …
Or this two-line description of a man:
A face devoid of love or grace, A hateful, hard, successful face …
Or this, on the scientific doubting Thomas:
Split the lark, and you’ll find the music …
Or these, on Death:
I heard a fly buzz when I died
The blond assassin passes on, The sun proceeds unmoved …
Because I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me …
Or this, from the poem Charlotte Bronte’s Grave:
Oh, what an afternoon for heaven, When ‘Bronte’ entered there! …
Oh, what an afternoon for heaven when ‘Dickinson’ entered there!
This collection of fifty or so poems is actually made up of three smaller collections. The first, “Once Upon a Time Please”, contains only three poems I would want to return to again and again. “Berlin 29/1/33”, “Both Sides”, and this one:
In one room of a damned metropolis a lonely madman works on a plan.
In an all-night corner coffee bar a statistic prays for one last fix.
Under frozen branches in black park pale fingers fumble with elastic.
Twelve inches away from the late-night news a myopic spinster weeps in colour.
Someone somewhere begins a letter to anyone’s silent son or daughter.
The third collection, “Lines from No Man’s Land”, seems to be about a failed marriage. It is simply a poet whingeing, therapeutic writing, and probably better left unpublished.
However – and I do hope you are still with me, for this is a big however – the second collection, “Love Should Be”, is a series of gems in which the poet sees and feels and notes in perfectly crafted lines what others see but lack the imagination to feel or the will, or the skill, to note. As I say, they are all gems, but I must draw attention to“Do You Need Love?”, and to “Escape”
They found him eventually, of course: face down in a stinking ditch, hidden by bracken and gorse and bramble. After more
than thirty barred and bolted years, a dim number became a public name, four terse lines in the local paper conceding
him existence posthumously. I’m glad he died outside, pleased he at least clawed back that week to himself, that one lousy week
in an antiseptic lifetime, defied those grim samaritans with needles full of reason, eluded their muscular
compassion, electric understanding. Yes, they found him in the end, the sick one, the freak, the mad thief who stole one whole week
and spent it all. I see sane eyes above neat uniforms beside that rotting ditch, hear thoughts in trained minds click like rusted locks.
As promised in my post of 27 Dec, here is a slightly fuller look at Elizabeth Bartlett’s Two Women Dancing.
I consider it one of the best books of poetry published in the last fifty years, yet on the first page, in the second poem, we read:
People need contemporary poetry like a hole in the head.
That depends on the poet. They certainly need these poems. We’ll come back to that later though, because the next poem is one of my favourites. “My Five Gentlemen”
Prostitutes have clients, wives have husbands, Poets, you will understand, have editors …
She describes the five editors whose hands she has been in, finishing up with:
Five is dead, of course. His failing health Was a comfort to me, though not to him, Naturally. His death removed one more market For battered goods, and proved a welcome release.
Rest in peace, I thought (for I always think kindly Of the gentlemen who direct me to the pages I am to sit in). I can only hope to be recycled And end up more useful than I would appear to be.
She frequently reminds me of Dorothy Nimmo or Sylvia Platt. Consider for example “Guitars as Women”, and “With My Body”:
With your hand, like that, he said …
and “There Is a Desert Here”:
Come, little creatures, walk on me, Come, little worms, slide on me, For no man ever will again. I watched beetles and ladybirds Long before you gathered birch twigs To beat me in a field – in fun, of course, And I will watch them again, And grow old ungracefully, barefoot And sluttish in my ways.
And she is always so human. Read “Ian, Dead of Polio” and “Farewell, Gibson Square“. Unforgettable pictures of people she has known and will never forget. Nor now shall we. “Farewell, Gibson Square”, for instance, is dedicated to Dr Susan Heath who, if this poem is anything to go by, you would probably fall in love with but certainly wouldn’t want anywhere near you if you were ill. She eventually left, and now, Elizabeth tells us:
Professional boredom has settled in Again, and patients go home whole.
Or “Government Health Warning”, or “A Plea for Mercy”:
For all the poor little sods who shoot themselves off in boarding schools and dormitories, jerking into sleep, and all the prissy girls who ride their horses bareback or wet their knickers and seats at noisy pop concerts …
Or “A Straw Mat”:
I am guilty, she said to me. I didn’t know what to say. We are all guilty, I said, of something, if it’s only living when turf rests heavy on all the people cut off in their prime, or buying this old cardigan from Oxfam instead of doing something real. She said, Like what? I didn’t know. I saw my tears fall on the leper’s foot. What a nonsense. Africa is thirsty for blood and yet more blood, and we wander round the Oxfam shop …
With poems like this around, why would anybody not be reading, not be needing, contemporary poetry?
And “Consumers”, another of my very favourites – but you need to read the whole thing. (In fact, you need to read the whole book.)
Ask me if I ever liked small talk, chit-chat, the smell of a new car, the fat freezers lingering like overweight virgins in shadowy garages. I have to say no.
Ask me if I ever liked the long silence, full of thoughtful emptiness, the bruised smell of geranium leaves, the thin edges of poverty like sides to middle sheets, thin and anorexic. I have to say yes.
Standing in Trafalgar Square I was pleased the skin-heads ate our iron rations. Shouting into the dark I felt at home, the candles in jam jars, the small group of word-spinners sheltering from rain, not ashes.
Ask me if I ever think the nuclear winter will be like a giant freezer full of damaged goodies. Lord, Lord, I have to say yes. After the feast of flesh and red gravy, there will be ice cream for afters, and then, we shall wish we’d said no. Lord, Lord, I tried to say no.
Do people need poems like this? I have to say yes.