Making the Living Poetry by Quentin Bega

The longueur between my eyes ungluing and fitful sleep
Can challenge a score most tedious or page a-snoring.
I know the ceremonies of the egg at breakfast time:
The scene has not exhausted TV writers yet-
And so I wrote a poem: commemoration blessed
By the “Times” (TV Times, that is.)

Galahad at the kitchen sink
Reviewing his strange position sees
In memory vast battles fought
Over sauce bottles and arduous
Pilgrimages to a point where two
Can understand a simple gesture.
Most strange: he shakes his elfish
Head and wrings the dishcloth.

Later, waiting for the post I hope again…
I take a turn around the garden, smell a rose perhaps.
Still later, looking at the sky, as I will often
Do outside; I gasp a gasp (small, of delight).
-I’ve read my Keats you know- I rush inside and grasping
Pen I live again and practise poetry:

Let me say to the whole sky- Hello!
Not forget the clouds or sheets of rain
But take them too and with them take the low
Swooped birds which flatten out the rolling plain
And make mirrors of the silver rivers:
Best seen from a curtain of rarest mind
Distilled which then attuned re-shivers
Shaking out the foil that makes me blind.

My wife interrupts creative flow: “The post
Has come.” I go, and grabbing missives from beyond
Return to recognise my writing- Self Addressed Envelopes-
Their purpose you all know, myself, I sigh, too well.
Not surprised and counting up the cost of postage
Am inspired to verse- strange term for despair.

If I could affix a postage stamp to my desires
And by swift courier send my dreams direct:
By easy payment cease to feel the gnaw
Of rats and slimy presences within my heart
How I would clerk away this toil:
Forego the rant and laugh away the blasted
Urges burned upon my shrieking mind
And feel the calm of statues to the moon.

My family gives advice, they find my stuff insipid.
“You’re in here while a world out there is going mad.”
They’re getting holes-in-one and winning journeys- sun
Drenched vistas kissing cardboard packets- I reply.
I can take advice from anyone; not proud, I scribble
Down a souped-up-eight-line poem, full of life.

We are excited! We are ecstatic!
The world has delivered another one to us!
I was just getting bored, going to bed
But we have been rescued! We have been saved!
They say that he lived with a tiger for two months!
Taught it Zen Buddhism! Chess! And Backgammon!
Lived on raw meat! The occasional peasant!
But now he has come he will tell us it all!

I’m glad I’ve taken their advice. Feeling humble, humble,
Bumble to the pub to re-acquaint myself again, again,
With vast events which justify the forests falling, falling.
Royalty is worth the trees, I see. Po-faced politicians, too.
Blessed be communicators, blessed be their names, their fame.
And glad to see democracy alive and well, I register dissent:

Trained at fox hunting, a guest in the Bourse
And schooled in reading the secret signs
On portals through which we blindly pass
Enables you to laugh when I say
“You are the enemy- you are no friend.”
For you point to rows of men in singlets and
Double-knits, girls in evening gowns and common prints
Who do knee bends if you but bow their way.

In the interests of realism I hope you understand me when I say
That though I was contrite earlier today I must report
My feelings now at the masses, the hoi polloi, have it
As you will- I’d flush ‘em down the toilet-
That they’d comprehend- the language and the action!
And now the spin-off: hear and mark the next denunciation.

We have seen the winners and heard them rejoice
Tumultuously in the city squares and coffee bars.
Hanging out of office windows, whooping along the corridors
Or tastefully gloating in Laundromats or bistros.
For they are vindicated in their perfect view: a loss
Of control of the hardening shades of real power
Releases them once again to their fragrant marshes
Until another prophet points to the beast nearing Bethlehem.

Fire in my belly, actually it’s beer, and quite a lot
Judging by the path worn, not to the Guinness tap, but
To the jakes. Emboldened now I borrow pen from man who serves
This slop and bursting from the close restraint of
Eight-line verse I sally on. I now attack my critics
Who send me S.A.E.’s instead of money through the post.

Quizzically befrowned, stop and go,
Reverse and sagaciously ponder,
Sniff and cock an ear toward
The howls of dogs around you.

The task- so fitting for your prowl.
The traces faint but soon perceived:
By all means call the others dogs
But hide your doghood from them.

A likely clump, some singing bush,
A sniffing joy, a wagging trill,
On spreading haunch give voice, for, Aye,
The masterpiece has found you.

No money in polemics, I decide, and dreaming, scheming
Come to know that I won’t win the pools- notice all these
References to Mammon? Yes, I admit I’m venal and greedy
But I’m safe ‘cause lots of poets have made it big by
Bringing the Confessional into the open. I hit upon a plan-
Listen to this discussion of my coffee-table poem:

Books are passé, my dear, don’t you know?
And little games on hooks, the same, the same,
I’m sure your husband uses to keep sane
The whiling day away, I’m sure. But tell me

Do you know what I myself have found,
All by myself while polishing my belt?
You don’t! Well, let me take you in, my dear,

-To my confidence, that is- what I have found.
I bought it in the Art shop down the road:
A coffee-table poem to firm our flaccid dreams.

I stumble up the hill and meet the wife a blazing:
“Where the blazes have you been? Your dinner’s burnt!”
I listen to the litany- I know it all by heart.
And I will be revenged- I will get her back.
Stamping to my room I hammer typing spite
Take that, and that, and that, thou awful kite!

Filling up with poison like a poison sac
Suck I in and blow me out, drinking down
And then piss out some fraction of the death
I comprehend and, indeed, I apprehend
Although it makes no difference in the end.
Breathe pure air if that you really must
And drink the chlorinated water from your tap.
But why to me you come if you would know
Why flowers will not flourish under snow?

My paranoia blossoms in the afternoon- I read new poetry.
And don’t they understand, the silly shites, ensconced inside
Their cradles in the colleges and universities? For most
I see from notes have safe positions, teaching students,
Or cosy sinecures the councils for the Arts provide:
No starving-in the-garret poets grace the page. No more:

There is no time for a new poetic
For guns are made faster than language.
The opiated spires are falling to
The rocking tilt of flashing boots.
At rest within your soft regime,
A scented bath in a palace of liquid sound:
The regiments of silence bid the eunuchs
With twisted towels from behind…

And just as darkness falls I have a swipe at God.
Oh, don’t we all? Easy, now they don’t burn us anymore.
But as Edwin Brock says, we’re left here in this century-
And that’s enough. The TV essay tells us of those men,
The particular physicists, who now aver that here it is,
Or maybe isn’t- could be fish or could be pheasant:

The hand outstretched from sky above
In Books and Tracts teach to remove
From mud and slime to be sublime
Encounter His most perfect Love.
To reach, to press, with fingers splayed
Through brush and bramble, rock and void,
Avoiding by-ways then I clutch
The outstretched hand of the anthropoid.

Black, brooding thoughts- on the dole, no work this year at all.
I’m resting! I’m resting! Well, it’s true enough-
I’m paid to play the part of bludger, work-shy me.
I pick up my guitar and dedicate a song to the Employment Minister.
I get a reggae beat; dreadlock anger- words come easy
And I sing my song alone, I sing my song alone:

I watch them from my window walking down the street
They’ve everything they’ll ever need or have to know
Why do they scream from the dole queues of their plight?
They’re all right They’re all right

I have to rise up every morning half past five
I catch the train and join the swarm just half alive
They sleep all day and party half the night
They’re all right They’re all right

My ulcers and my taxes always get me down
My neighbour’s son relaxes there’s no work in town
And yet he tells me things are getting tight
They’re all right They’re all right

I went away last summer on my holidays
But they were all around me in the sun to laze
I wonder why I work with all my might
They’re all right They’re all right

What more could they want I just can’t figure out
They take this question as a taunt without a doubt
It’s as clear as black is black and white is white
They’re all right They’re all right They’re all right…

My wife comes in and asks, “Have you written for those jobs
I marked for you in the paper?” No…no…no…no…
“I told you! You should have gone for that temporary teaching post!”
Oh God, I remember, remember last year, the last day,
That last day of teaching. We played that silly blackboard
Game. I saw more than a game. Felt a metaphor. I wrote then:

Let’s play hangman. It’s easy!
Strokes and dashes, wild guesses
That get nearer and nearer to the
Point where the rope begins to choke.

It’s fun, and a treat you know,
For the whole family. Take a flask,
Cut sandwiches and a rug to sit upon.
Find a grassy knoll- some small prominence.

Now, nicely settled, let us aid the man.
“A?” No. “Z?” Never mind, the charge
Will not survive this mob. Now look!
He’s worried. Time is short. Running out.

He knows the class only crowded there
To see an end. The last letter is now in place.
Nice to see…
Nice to see…

The memories of the past, the recent past, impels a scramble
To my box of papers, poems, songs, half-finished essay:
All the detritus of a negligent literary life. I come across
A spring-back folder read the hopeful dedication. Hopeful
In that I wrote 25, then scrubbed out five, wrote six,
Stroke, seven, stroke eight, I scrub eight, write in nine:

Twenty-nine and nothing done
And at this age to do
So, nothing doing?

Time of search and I review
And nothing in my view
Is worth reviewing.

Once I seemed to have it made
But find I’m on the make
With nothing making.

Embrace my form and find it false
But am I just a fake
Or merely faking?

I’m drinking whiskey now from a pint glass diluted with
Brown lemonade. It looks like ale but it doesn’t fool
My wife. And now we scream at one another. No point in
Describing it for you. Most of you will know what it’s like,
If not from life, from books or the TV teaching eye. I threaten
To leave. And I’m taken at my word:

What do you mean you’re going away?
You say that life with me is no longer your scene
You say our interests are now far apart
For you it’s over and you want a new start

Baby hold on this won’t take much time
I must be blind deaf dumb stupid yeah lame-witted so could you explain
Why you tell me that you want to stay friends (no thanks)
Is that what you call making amends?

Baby you have been listening too long
Those songs on the radio just don’t tell the truth
Nor do the books that you point to with heat
The Moon and Sixpence is not me at all

Do you recall when we walked down the aisle?
You swore to stay by me neither falter nor fall
You say the truth is everything now
Is that what you call breaking your vows

I want to know tell me then go
Are you leaving me because it now shows?
That you’re a failure you’ve fooled all your friends
But you couldn’t hide it from me in the end

I know I must bear some blame
I could have lied to you but what would remain
Narcissus with an echoing head
Who made love to a mirror in bed at night?

So I go. Couldn’t stay after that. And I walk. I know
A friend- he’ll put me up. He isn’t pleased. “I’ve walked
For miles- I’ve nowhere to stay!” We stand. “All right!
You’d better come in- and don’t waken the house. So what’s
It all about?” I tell him. He’s not impressed, goes to bed,
Taking pen and paper I now repay his hospitality:

My false friend tells me things that I should know
The terror in my rambling only fear of night
My lack of something called technique and feeling
Overwhelming reason why to him I should defer.

But have you seen a hare caught within a trap?
No technique or what you would call feeling
Yet the terror and pain flooding a tiny body
Makes me wince in my gross hemisphere.

This dark meandering within my resting time
When I catch the scraps of minutes when
I cast the books and pens and papers all aside
Attends no febrile muse of high domain.

There come a time, I think, when I must reject
The counsels of the learned and the sage
For time throws up a coursing track where
All their stratagems become a trap.

Where will I go now? Perhaps Australia, but no…no…
It beat me too. Quietly leaving through the glass door
At the front I walk to the shore. Remembering with pain
The lost years. I put it in a poem, the only one ever published.
Crown of sonnets, crown of thorns. Beaten and leaving,
My friends published it- favour or good riddance gesture?


“Drowning Tragedies Have Occurred Here”
We strike, tentatively, away from water.
Coarse grass closes on my foot. I fear
This place; a man saw a girl and caught her
Unaware at just this point. The dune
Has stood an age dividing Fairy Creek
From ocean waves while life, like the moon,
Has waxed and waned: a burgeoning or bleak
Retreat as circumstance rolled snakes eyes or sixes.
Pushing through the bush the senses blur
And then the foliage flows to form a rictus-
Pulls us through and into time we swirl
Where tyrant lizard stamped to win and lose
The Earth; exult and then, too late, accuse.


Two factions, gulls, squat down; one in ooze,
The other sand prefers. The canopy
Breaks behind- a black bird arcs to use
The air, the morning under wing, slapping
Down our gazes as it traces in
The wind a portent of the bones the beach
Has hidden ‘til the rumours rolled within
The sea-tongue stripped away the skin revealing…
I did not know the beach had bones or was
So old. My son plays in a pothole twice
His size and seeks to know the why, the cause.
The wind whips my coat: I feel the ice.
Beyond the gulls are rising as a hand
Shakes the trees- the squat dune bleeding sand



This beach is home in summer for that band
Of sybarites who dwell inside the sun
And, surfing, dream of king-waves: timeless, bland
Rejection of our life- seen on the run.
The beach is washed away, a wreck of stone
And weed. The storms exist in time and place
But northwards the surfers run chasing foam
On unspoiled strands: sun on every face.
Schoolboys take their midday break in cars
Their fathers lend and carefully ignore
The desolation; think of girls in bars
And plan the cheap seduction placed before
Their willing eyes: the TV stations nourish
All our baser dreams so they may flourish.



Backed by high-rise flats and units: boorish
Architecture blots the sky behind.
Two cannon point to sea: did there perish
Cruising vessels in a former time?
I think not- every high park near the sea
By regulation, it seems to me, has cannon
Pointing bravely making phantoms flee,
Their bores with litter jammed and kids upon
Their roundness: candid snapshots for the album.
Gulls sweep down to eat discarded food
The council workmen throw to see the fun
As weaker birds are buffeted: a rude
But common spectacle- these gulls have fought
And thrived upon the scraps we leave to rot.



The north end graced by craft that most cannot
Afford (convict labour built the basin)
Best seen, surely, from the picnic spot.
A warning tells of fearful infestation-
Sharks! (they’d have understood the sign.)
We walk along and watch the trawlers run
In toward the southern, working end. A line
Of Norfolk Island pine has swept the sun
Back toward the dune; while out the harbour mouth
The spray, like lace, adorns a shore a million
Miles away. The gulls sweep down then out
As frosty flowers falling from chill
Hands…and all I know has left me- dazed
I turn and scan the basin; stand afraid.



The rocks here; fissured, whorled and splintered gave
Prefiguration to the land before
This city, poised below a frozen wave,
Stamped its uses- like a semaphore
Of silent signals radiating pain
And danger: land will not give up with ease
What aeons shaped and groaning made. In vain
We grasp the shadow, think the substance seize.
Endeavour Drive is patched with wind-blown sand.
I watch surveyors making measurements
While sand-wraiths whisper past unnoticed. Hand
In hand we walk, my son and I: we spent
The day exploring- now it nears its end.
Above, the lighthouse gleams and there we bend.



Occulting ten times a minute, sending
Light to mariners: avoid red sectors.
The reef and islands to the south sent
Men to liquid doom. The graven vectors
Etched in metal celebrate the voyage
Captain Cook assayed- he didn’t climb
Here: failure jarred his journal’s page
The sun sets, and for the first time
Today the wind drops. Tiny insects
Whir above the commemoration plinth.
A ghostly light on Fairy Creek reflects
And tarnishes the time the dune fought: since
From the water, binding close and near
It gave rise to a future human fear.

I borrow a two-man tent, a sleeping bag and fifty pounds,
Hitch a lift to Ballycastle and catch the boat for Rathlin Island,
Almost as inaccessible as Australia, and as bare. It awakens memories.
Out through Ouig, past the loughs I walk to Ushet Point reflecting
And remembering, hearing in my head the song I wrote upon returning:
The light reflects upon the waters of the sound as I sing:

Singing songs over coffee cups, trancing in the gloom,
Reading Nietzsche in a darkening room, Lord how it gets you down.
I wish I were a rolling wave approaching a winter shore
Where the moon consecrated the blood as the spay hits a windowpane.

Playing fool with the troubadours, laughing in an empty space.
Changing masks in a burning glass with a rigid facility.
I wish I were a scented breeze along a garden path
Where ladies parade and sing my praise, fed swans on a silver lake.

Dreaming down in the Southland, poised beneath a frozen wave,
At the carnival of Babel lost the voice to struggle through.
I wish I were a nomad fire scorching a frosty plain
Where shadows dance as fire, a lance, keeps at bay night again.

Sailing in through the spice-lands, watching as the curve fell north,
Under the shadow of Krakatoa, held my breath until we passed.
I wish I were a high peak scraping holes in heaven’s floor,
Sun above and clouds below, surrounded by prayers and poems.

But I go back. A week on Rathlin does me. I can’t be Joyce or Singe.
No, perhaps for me, naiveté, domesticity, and, yes, verbosity,
Is as close to high art as I will get. We meet, my wife and I:
She cries a bit, and so do I- not the stern stuff of heroes made.
Walking back to my room, resuming the life I left before,
I feel a dislocation and try to type the ghosts away:

It seems so strange, after days and days away,
To come back- as to a scene of murder.
First the slow survey. You recognise a pile
Of papers, written on and once sufficient
To hold at bay what you have since become.
It seems so strange, after days and days away.

My forensic skill increases- to read the clues,
Discarded whistles, mute bouzoukis, flaccid
Bodhran, banjos, bones and my guitars
Lie scattered in the room to which I come
To try to re-establish lost communion.

And can it be repaired, so much hope
For this one, last throw? Driven back
Impacted, retreating like a stone before a flood
And even the ossified heart sends out its signals
Help help help help help help help help.

And so my life goes on. The dole-man’s been, has to know
The reason why I haven’t signed. I’ll tell a lie tomorrow.
And reaching for my Russell, read again that magic prose
Made for dunderheads like me- explaining Western thought.
Then, taking down the Tao Te Ching, I read my favourite passages
And from them both I gain, once more, a reason why I write my poems:

Any way may lead to no end:
No way may lead to the One.

In the room a pale electric glow
Allows the cursory pen
To lead the line, direct the flow
Wherein a poem or tale is spun.

Further into darkness spinning round
Begins the night squalls

The table shakes
The words are written down

The house shakes
The wind is at the walls.

I climb the stairs, I’m tired now. My wife is sleeping in the
Other bed- no chance of her joining me tonight. I look in on the
Kids. Yes, they’re both asleep- I wonder did they miss me?
But sleep won’t come just yet. I reach beneath the bed and
Set down random thoughts on the pad I always keep there. A cat
Cries, and the gibbous moon outside inspires a nocturne:

The cat outside my midnight window
Rubs the moon Rubs the moon
This book of poems beside my pillow
Filled with gloom Filled with gloom
My wife beside me breathing
Over there Over there
My eyes inside their sockets seeing
All so bare All so bare

The light off now and late night thoughts: a tune swirls in my
Head. And round it goes. Words come. I compose sometimes like this.
And tomorrow? Well, I suppose I’ll wake late as usual- no work.
And try to hold myself together with words and songs. I have it
Now. The words won’t go away, or the tune. The advantages of being
Simple, I suppose. And tomorrow? Tomorrow I’ll make the living poetry:

Don’t shed a tear for me, Mr Brown,
I’m on my knees, I’m almost off the ground.
I’m on my way back up to a life
That you won’t blight
Send back the wreath, Mr Brown.

I read your sister’s poems on the lawn,
Down by the gasworks sang songs of your son.
And if it comes out that I agreed,
Don’t send for me-
Look to the road, I’ll be gone.

The job you gave me almost filled a need,
The problem was, my spirit atrophied.
Don’t think I’m not grateful, it’s not that.
But when I look back,
I didn’t breathe, I didn’t bleed.

If we should met again, Mr Brown,
Don’t ask me to laugh with you at the clowns.
I’ll laugh at you, at your expense.
And in recompense,
I won’t shed a tear when you’re down.

Don’t shed a tear for me, Mr Brown,
I’m on my knees, I’m almost off the ground.
I’m on my way back up to a life
That you won’t blight
Send back the wreath, Mr Brown.


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