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Two Poems

Tom Paulin, 6 September 1984

... Waftage: An Irregular Ode All my mates were out of town that lunk July and though we shared a bed still it was over – she’d paid the rent till August first so each bum hour those rooms threw back at me this boxed-up, gummy warmth like a pollack’s head and eye wedged in an ironstone wall. Most every day she’d paint in the loft above the stables while I wandered right through le Carré – Murder of Quality was where I started ...

Three Poems

Tom Paulin, 11 January 1990

... History of the Tin Tent During the first push on the Somme a temporary captain in the Royal Engineers – Peter Nissen a Canadian designed an experimental steel tent that could be erected from stacked materials by an NCO and eight men in 110 minutes so the Nissen hut is the descendant and enriched relation of the Elephant and other similar steel st ...

James ‘Mick’ Magennis VC

Tom Paulin, 6 January 2000

... You get off the boat and they call you Paddy – Paddy or Mick of course it’s the same thing and sometimes that nick- name’ll stick as it stuck to me – clamped – mine waiting for that time we nudged our midget submarine under the Takao’s keel – I tried open the hatch but it hit on the cruiser’s bottom – there was no room no room to ...

On Being Dealt the Anti-Semitic Card

Tom Paulin: Poem, 2 January 2003

... The first answer is Beckett’s in another context – to ‘Mr Beckett they say that you are English?’ he answered ‘au contraire’ – he didn’t say ‘I am not dot dot’ which plays their game – in this case the ones who play the a-s card – of death threats hate mail talking tough the usual cynical Goebbels stuff so I say the same and ...

Three Poems

Tom Paulin, 7 March 1991

... Across Howrah Bridge On the banks of the Hooghly River there’s a huge banyan tree the biggest in all Asia – it’s two hundred and twenty-five or more years old and ever since 1923 there’s been a sort of hole where the main trunk should be – on our way north from Bhubaneswar I found this sprawling woody creature its branches propped by vertical tubers – aerial roots painted white and all supporting something with no centre – a tree that isn’t a tree quite like the doubt in ‘literature’ The Lonely Tower ‘WANTED – Coastal farm, site, derelict house, period house, stable yard, outhouse, lodge, mortello ...

The Road to Inver

Tom Paulin, 25 September 2003

... for Xon de Ros and Jamie McKendrick I left a village called Tempo oh maybe an hour back and now I’m driving to Inver in an old beat-up gunked Toyota I’ve borrowed from a mate in Belfast (there was a poet down south who blessed all the new Toyotas in Ireland – everyone else was driving in circles but he came out with a firm line and drove it s ...

The Argument at Great Tew

Tom Paulin, 4 November 1982

... worse if you don’t wear it.’ ‘Oh, the good-old-cause, it’s such a chalky little myth – Tom Paine and mistletoe, your druid Diggers. How many feel it in their blood and bones? only Jimmy and a few dons. It’s sentimental, don’t you know? and neither Hill, nor Thompson, plodding Williams or doggy Foot can swing the people. Whoever’s heard of ...

Door Poem

Tom Paulin, 21 January 1999

... the eight o’clock walk to the greased trapdoor then that hidden chalk mark on the inside of Tom Paine’s cell door – it was shut and that saved him from the death squad in the corridor – but these are a young skite’s callow fears I’ve been here before and later grown weak and flustered in front of a blistered door – the door of an empty ...

Cadmus and the Dragon

Tom Paulin, 8 April 1993

... Metamorphoses 3, 1-136 If Cadmus is the Age of Reason – and he is if Cadmus is the State – and he is if Cadmus is Descartes with a scalpel – maybe so then Cadmus must also shadow Locke with his shovel a shovel loaded with decaying sense but always new and stainless like the idea of rights – rights not duties be it said – yes brother so Locke hires a surgeon barber to make an incision in the Earl of Shaftesbury’s right side for like a monstrous dragon of superstition and formal piety the suppurating cyst on the earl’s liver menaced English liberty but the little silver tube that Dr Locke inserted gave one man life and restored the nation’s freedom therefore Cadmus laid a conduit in the body politic which has to mean that we’re safe and secure with Citizen Locke – though they set spies on him he worked to bring ruin on the Stuarts and plant an orange tree at the gates of their state brothel but if Cadmus is a subtle doctor it also occurs to me that Cadmus was present at a working lunch in the Stormont Hotel the winter of ’90 or ’91 – there was a civil servant on my right and when I glanced at his left hand a signet ring cut with a tiny gold pentagram was making its point quite silently while beyond the picture window the neoclassical gateway the long straight drive – it dips into the underworld and that hollow muscly facade were also making much the same point – so Cadmus is Sir Edward Carson raising his bronze fist against the twisty tail of Home Rule – a theatrical gesture he copied from James Larkin who raised the dragon people against their bosses but let’s say instead that Cadmus is Willie Whitelaw sitting at a bootshaped table with the Spartoi – they wear hoods balaclava helmets and dark glasses – here Cyadmus one of the hoods says ye cannae sit in this coul chamber wi a bare head at a table that’s shaped like a Wellington boot – put you a hood on and we’ll do business for as Lévi-Strauss’d argue Cadmus is himself the dragon and ancestor of the Spartoi or as it says in the Good Book as ye sow so shall ye reap so know ye this Mr Kidglove Whitelaw we’re no Piltdown Planters but the real autochthonous thing – we’re the Cruthin aye a remnant of the ancient British people who rose again in ’98 in 1912 and ...

The Unholy One?

Tom Paulin, 11 December 1997

... At 10 – let’s be specific – at 10 a.m. you’d be sitting in your deckchair filling pages with shorthand so I imagine a caption in the News Chronicle GBS TRAVELS P&O ‘I always work on holiday’ says the world’s most famous author ‘especially if some kind cruise liner pays me’ so there you are in a deckchair a kind of rational tautology dry as your deckchair and like its flat depth still slightly intriguing because your plays are engines each of them equipped with a Möbius strip instead of a fan belt – they run on ideas well they’re powered by will and opinions at 12 ...

In an English market

Tom Paulin, 3 March 1983

Nothing Sacred: Selected Writings 
by Angela Carter.
Virago, 181 pp., £3.50, October 1982, 0 86068 269 2
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... In Roman mythology, the god Terminus presides over walls and boundaries. He expresses the ancient doctrine that human nature is limited and life irredeemably imperfect. Terminus agrees with Robert Frost in saying ‘good fences make good neighbours’; and he also takes a classical view of artistic creation by insisting on formal constraints and closed symmetry ...

Faculty at War

Tom Paulin, 17 June 1982

Re-Reading English 
edited by Peter Widdowson.
Methuen, 246 pp., £7.95, March 1982, 0 416 31150 4
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Against Criticism 
by Iain McGilchrist.
Faber, 271 pp., £12.50, May 1982, 0 571 11922 0
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... confidently referred to as ‘Great Britain’ but whose imminent fragmentation is prophesied by Tom Nairn and others. Unfortunately, Dr Widdowson and most of his contributors appear to share a deep hatred of art and to be united in a desire to abolish both texts and authors. They are frustrated sociologists who believe that sonnets and beer mats ought to be ...


Tom Paulin, 5 November 1981

Too Long a Sacrifice: Life and Death in Northern Ireland since 1969 
by Jack Holland.
Columbus, 217 pp., £7.95, July 1981, 0 396 07934 2
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A History of Northern Ireland 
by Patrick Buckland.
Gill and Macmillan, 195 pp., £3.95, April 1981, 0 7171 1069 9
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... Two months after the suspension of Stormont in 1972, Belfast’s retiring Lord Mayor, Sir Joseph Cairns, delivered a farewell speech in which he reflected on the political situation. Ulster, he said, had been cynically betrayed by Britain’s policies: policies that had relegated it to ‘the status of a Fuzzy Wuzzy colony’. The Lord Mayor’s parting shot is one of my favourite quotations, for as well as being banal, ridiculous, righteously angry and very dim, it offers a profound insight into the Northern Irish troubles ...

The Case for Geoffrey Hill

Tom Paulin, 4 April 1985

Geoffrey Hill: Essays on his Work 
edited by Peter Robinson.
Open University, 259 pp., £18, March 1985, 0 335 10588 2
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... Geoffrey Hill’s second collection of poems, King Log, was published in 1968, that year of student radicalism and disappointment. Hill’s title is reactionary in its implications and derives from Aesop’s fable of the frogs who desired a king. In my edition of L’Estrange’s royalist version of Aesop the fable runs like this: The Frogs, living an easy, free life everywhere among the lakes and ponds, assembled together, one day, in a very tumultuous manner, and petitioned Jupiter to let them have a King ...

The Wind Dog

Tom Paulin, 17 October 1996

... A sound cento for the fiftieth anniversary of Radio Three I married a tinker’s daughter in the town of Skibbereen but at last one day she galloped away with me only shirt in a paper bag to the shores of Amerikay Snug as a foot in a mocassin shoe – never the boot no never the boot I lay in Huck’s canoe one still night and heard men talking – clean every word they spoke on the ferry landing like the Mississippi was a narra crick you could hear across plum as a bell – one man he reckoned it was near three o’clock he hoped daylight wouldn’t wait more’n about a week longer so there I lay a clockaclay waitin for the time a’day logs float down the Mississippi logs float down the Mississippi but but don’t let’s start the whole caper or caber don’t let’s ever grow up              * not to roll out the Logos – at least at the start or say in the beginning was the Word – not to start with a lingo with the lingo jingo of beginnings unsheathed like a sword stiff and blunt like a phallus or masonic like a thumb – not to begin then arma virumque – plush Virgil but to start with sound the plumque sound of sense the bite and the kick of it – green chilli kerali white mooli radish all crisp and pepper definite – so my vegetable love did grow vaster than pumpkins and more slow for the sound of sense is what the pretend farmer – Farmer Frost that is used call sentence sound because a sentence he said was a sound in itself on which other sounds called words may be strung which – never not quite iambic though – is ten syllables that hang together – so – just so the way the elephant’s child took seventeen melons (the green crackly kind) and said to all his dear families ‘Goodbye ...

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