ThePoetryOfMoney

My friends and I who run Poets’ Corner Folkestone put on an event called The Poetry of Money this week. This is the piece I wrote for it. It is called The Artists Who Burned A Million Quid. It speaks for itself, but it is worth knowing that Nailed to a Wall was the name of an artwork which was a million pounds in £50 notes nailed to a framed board.

The Artists Who Burned A Million Quid

In the early hours of the morning
Of August 23rd, 1994 –
Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, burning
A million quid in fifty pound notes- more
Money than most artists ever see.
They had flirted with the idea before
That money has become the root of art
(How beautiful is money? was the core) –
Why paint Sunflowers, Nativities, nude sweethearts?
No artist needs to hear the Muse’s call
To understand that the activity
Is just like nailing money to a wall.
Therefore, what kind of art could be purer
Than burning a million quid on the Isle of Jura?

More than news of murders and poverty
Corruption in the corridors of power
New crime waves – stabbings and armed robbery –
The photograph of three men around a fire
Drinking whiskey from the bottle, poking
Bundles of fifty pound notes with a stick
To catch a flame, and, it appears, not joking-
No, they look more as though they’re feeling sick;
More than news of footballers and of sex
Columnists explaining what these events mean
The extinction of species, plane crash wrecks
The disgrace of someone who once met the Queen
More than all the bad news in the world
This was the baddest news that could be heard

There should, I think, have been an audience
And I don’t mean the kind of audience
Made up of those who already have the key
Or have at least sometime have touched the key
People who are always in the audience
Who use words such as ‘horizontality’.
No, I mean an audience of families
Fathers carrying children on their backs
Saying ‘You’ll Never See The Like Of This Again’
Mothers, grandparents, widows, families
Who’ve done nothing like this since ‘who-knows-when?’
There’s nothing like a fire in the outback
In the dark to attract an audience,
Who talk of life, of art and of mortality

The population of Jura, give or take,
Is two hundred, few of them millionaires.
A million quid- the difference that could make –
Five thousand each – would relieve a few cares;
But would that be creative, thought-provoking,
Controversial, challenging, satirical?
Five thousand quid is neither here nor there
But burning a million quid can really change things
It can change your life, like a miracle
It can ruin it, have you waking in the glare
Of day thinking What have I done?
If love of money’s the root of all sin
What of this hatred of money they slung
In the fire with their yan and their yin?

How much they preferred their lost memories-
Of sunflowers, nativities, naked flesh,
With their attendant ghosts of shame and regret-
To this piece of work that cannot be lost-
There are photographs, a journalist’s account…
They lose their hands in the ashes of the fire.
Ars longa vita brevis– but the amount?
Is art too long, life too short for
All the forgetting and spending that must be done?
Van Gogh and Rembrandt died broke, their money gone
And now their works sell for two hundred million.
Is life too short to spend two hundred million?
Where would you find the time for the lost memories
With their attendant ghosts of regret and shame?

On August 23rd 1994
In the early hours of the morning
In an abandoned boathouse on Jura
Drummond and Cauty sat there burning
A million in fifty pound notes in the fire.
On the second day they created light
On the third divided the waters from the sky
On the fourth they created day and night
And then the sun and moon to light the earth
The plants and living creatures and then Man
And then created money and its worth
And said to man Do with it what you can-
You only live one life there’s nothing surer
So come and join in the fun on the Isle of Jura

The Day After World Poetry Day

I was busy yesterday and allowed World Poetry Day to pass me by, so it is too late to offer my customary greeting of

Hip hip hooray!

It’s World Poetry Day!

and I don’t think

Hip hip hooray!

It’s the day after World Poetry Day!

will do. Instead, here is something called

The Poet Peels An Onion

She cannot peel it in the ordinary way
There has to be mythology and blood
(Her knife runs round King Oedipus’s eye)

The outer layer comes off as a whole
(Like the dead leaf that Aristaeus scorned)*
But after that it gets more difficult

The peel is not the end, is not even
The beginning of the end
The onion has to have the final say

The cloves with which she studs it
After peeling are not mere cloves
(But the helmets of the Seven Against Thebes)

Tears come to her eyes
This is what she likes about onions –
At no cost, they can make you cry

*I cannot, for the life of me, remember what this line is about. There is an Antaeus in Greek mythology, but what, if anything, he had to do with onions, and in what circumstances he scorned a dead leaf, I have no idea. If anyone can enlighten me, I would be grateful.

The Last of Summer

The Last of Summer

…such beautiful days
i saw sheep in fields
trees on high ridges against the sky
horses in a field with sheep
i saw water rippling under low bridges
churches of flint down dead-end lanes
old cottages with tiny window panes
long-horned cows that stopped chewing until I had passed –
chickens!

And yet I need my medicines and drugs
and long sleeps and dreams
of things that never happened
and will not happen now

if I could only stay here with the horses
the horses and the healing sheep

The Winter Cherry

I’ve been fiddling with this and having trouble getting it right. This might just be the latest version…

Snow stopped falling long ago.

Only the oldest inhabitants remember

The hard years when snow

Would cut off house from house,

Obliterate the land with cruel beauty,

Freeze even moving waters.

They tell the worst of it in serious voices –

All kinds of hardship, even death.

 

Outside my window this New Year Day

A blossoming winter cherry reminds me of snow;

Reminds me of an old perplexity

Of wanting to remain and yet to go.

Such beauty on my doorstep

I don’t even have to step outside.

I think of coming spring –

Of the lambing.

 

Bury me under the winter cherry, I chant.

It can’t be done, you say; not here.

Then bury my ashes, my ashes will have to do

To let you know

That something kills you more than snow

And I will be under the winter cherry

Feeding the roots

And helping it to grow.

 

Your coat is flecked with something that looks like snow

Look, you say, laughing- snow!

It can’t be snow, I say; it isn’t white;

And you sigh- everything, you say, if you look

For long enough, is white –

I stood under the winter cherry

And a gust of wind threw blossom over me.

If you were buried there, it might be you.

Untitled

It’s so long since I posted anything here, so I am just squeezing this in before Christmas. It isn’t a Christmas poem however- it’s about a dead badger.

 

 

is

As I walked down this hill towards the road

Like one without a care in all the world;

I stopped and looked, then on I strode

In wonder there was nothing to be seen or heard.

 

As far as my ears could hear or eyes could see

There was nothing moving in all the world

No birds, no folk, no creature besides me.

I went over the stile to the metalled road.

 

The road was as unpeopled as the path

Until I turned the bend towards the town

And saw, blocking one entire lane, Death

In the shape of a badger, lying still as any stone.

 

A dead badger, and nothing else around;

Decaying in the middle of the road;

An obstruction to human traffic, food

For smaller creatures picking at its wound.

 

Its stale blood dirtied the tarmac where it had run.

I couldn’t see its eyes, only the belt

Of stored muscle in its lustreless black pelt;

Flies buzzing around it, catching the sun.

 

It was a phoney summer; I’d been expecting rain.

The corpse was there all week in the same spot.

I walked around it, cars swerved around it

Without slowing- the heap of slow ruin.

 

On my return, I climbed over the stile

Back up the quiet hill about a mile

To the isolated cottage. It was a quiet time

But I’d something to tell my friends about back home.

 

Happy Christmas.

Pages of the Sea

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I was involved in the Pages of the Sea workshops and was inspired to write something myself. This is it.

Late Memories

These are of course not memories for most;

Are postcards from that other country- The Past.

The Silence, the medalled men, the Last Post,

The lists of names, the Unknown Soldiers, are dust

 

That runs through our fingers leaving nought

But a smear on our palms, an idle boast

That we too have done our duty, fought

Our battles kindlier than these ghosts.

 

We know now what was wrong with all that- the Lies,

White Feathers, fools who sent our fathers over the top

Into the killing-fields, the no-man’s land, into skies

Of chlorine gas, over ground whose only crop

 

Was body parts and blood, nothing to feed

Lands fit for heroes, men grown too wise

For work and wages, men whose deeds

Could not be spoken of, or seen by unseeing eyes.

 

Of course you wonder sometimes if there’s a point

In learning history, reading the poets-

One way or another the time is out of joint –

Our tongues can find no new words, only quotes.

 

So why should we remember? And if we do

How choose among the dead, the grieved,

The nurses, the spies, the conchies, the few

Innocents who knew nothing of the graves?

 

Can the world ever be free of war?

If we pay the right attention can we make it?

Remember so intently what went wrong before

That we never never repeat the same mistakes?

 

Time will tell and history will judge.

More Old Lies, I think. If there be any judges

Who understand time and history and judgement

I ain’t heard of them- but who am I to judge?

 

It’s the same time, the past, as the future and the present;

The same but different;

Just like our sight of it –

The same, but always shifting.

 

I read down

the list of names

Expecting to find my own

Wade C.G.

Wade F.R.

Webster M

Webster W

Wilson –

No, it isn’t there

No White A

No-one whose face to see or hand to shake

Uncharted

I read these pieces at the private view of this beautiful exhibition last night- such a privilege to be involved. These poems are based on/inspired by Catherine’s pieces about water and words (‘words slip slide, perish’) and migration – the migration of peoples/the migration of cranes.

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                    Water as Metaphor

It’s water and it’s something other than water –

You wash your hands and imagine you’re Macbeth,

Or Pontius Pilate –

And while it’s

Comforting after the slaughter

To imagine that you can be cleansed,

There is a divinity that shapes our end

However we try to style it.

                           Water as life and water as death –

                           Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow

                           Is how the ancient wisdom goes;

 

But as for water washing the words away!

It’s terrifying –

I feel like Miss Muffet eating her curds and whey,

Although the metaphor here’s more highfalutin –

The words slip and slide under the tension

Slip so far from your first intention

That wounds cannot be washed with simple water

And you find yourself needing metaphors

                             Verifying

                             The necessity for putting the boot in

                             Before words tumble down the waterfall

 

             The True Language of Cranes

We cranes, you will be pleased to hear,

Speak English so that you may understand;

What’s more, we use iambic pentameters

Mostly, so you will know this as poetry

Without having to have that pointed out.

Up here, it’s quiet and that suits us fine

(None of us bothers to watch the in-flight movie)

We like to concentrate on what we are doing,

But in a relaxed way, as if this is not difficult at all,

Flying 3000 miles at 20,000 feet.

No movies then, but we enjoy the occasional poem

Many of which are about the weather

So you would probably enjoy them too

Although it isn’t quite the same, as cranes

Have about fifteen hundred words for what you call clouds.

Yes, we like to concentrate on what we are doing –

You might think we are out of harm’s way up here

But it is dangerous enough all the way

From Siberia to south eastern China

(China is always nice, for there cranes are considered auspicious-

Which is much better than being considered delicious-

We are symbols of fertility and long life;

Fidelity too- we try not to spoil that for them)

Yes, it is dangerous enough on these crowded flyways

So we concentrate on what we are doing;

But we take an interest in what’s going on below.

Don’t be alarmed- we’re not going to start

Coming over all wise and knowing more than you;

We’re not anthropomorphic cranes; we’re real ones –

We speak English, in iambic pentameters

Mostly.

 

No, what’s striking is how similar you are.

Here we are, migrating from Siberia to southeast China

Back again six months later

And there you are, moving to and fro all the time,

And it’s dangerous enough for you too, we observe –

Deaths at sea, deaths on roads, but not enough

To make you think you’re better off at home

Where, after all, more deaths take place than elsewhere.

Yes, there are many similarities –

You, like us, don’t want to become extinct

But you don’t appear to have found a nice winter home

Where people think your arrival auspicious

Rather than suspicious.