The Story of U

And now the track is snowed with words,
The poor train of childhood followed,
A good aunt picking out the thirds
On an old piano, gutted, hollowed
By years which left the trees the same
Adding one storey to the house
In others’ hands – and can you claim
That here sex showed you her old powers?

The little ghosts which charmingly
In gentle masochism shone
Grew up and lived oppressively
Till loving was a looking-on;
The staff was joined by Feminists
With good French accents and strong wrists,
Then blinds were drawn and hands went
                                                        free –
‘Une dentelle s’abolit.’

Flesh at its most jardinière
Will always be the watcher’s prize.
Why then do any more than stare,
The sonnet tells you that her eyes
Are only words and time is time?
And even on Banana Downs
The Fetishist of Polished Rhyme
Will spill his soul in abstract nouns.

This is the house they made for you
With water-steps and angled palms,
A cellar where your tears came true
And terrors took you in their arms.
Down by the water a boatshed
Collected the dynastic dead
Who heard cicadas keeping on
Their etching of a single song.

The torturers have moved upstairs.
Elegant explainers leave
Missals in their chests-of-drawers,
The labyrinth of just one sleeve
Now takes you through to violence
And precious parities of women
In Mallarmean recompense
Prove the pain and rage are human.

The poem to end poems

This poem will get up and off its bed
And let you have the mostly left-out facts,
Such as, it’s getting written round about
A theme it’s following whose doubtful tracks
Are somewhere in the poet’s dusty head:
It fades to life, its past ahead of it.

The theme it’s following has special pegs,
Such as, ‘eleven o’clock one day in June,
The trees enleafed, election vans proclaiming
Words as meaningless as opportune,
The mind blocked like a sink and all its dregs
Demanding form but unconcerned with meaning.’

The writer senses that his work must be
Like archaeology on some distant dig
And should he paint the throne-room and declare
It must have looked like that, an endless gig
Of beards and timbrels, bulls and minstrelsy,
He’ll turn the serious to the picturesque.

Demanding form but drowning meaning is
The sort of sub-Platonic joking which
An art which flees the sacral is left with:
Hi Tech should go without a single hitch
And arrogance should never lose its fizz –
You pay the Freudian pension off in myth.

What’s new? What’s old? What even smells of
Today the theorists are the avant-garde,
The artists make it in the Supplements.
The cultural Michelin is stacked and starred
With every genius and his nagging wife –
We keep the templates safe in our bank vaults.

But as I write this down I may uncover
That ring of majesty I know is stored
In words, and by retrieving it I may
Dredge cool epillia from the image-hoard –
Thus while each word remains I will discover
The source from which the magic rays are sent
And publish it this once, the world at play,
Our single sphere which purrs with measurement.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences