I seem to have a hat-trick of these up my sleeve at the moment.
I have typed that sentence with my tongue firmly in cheek, in case the regular reader thought my years of creative failure had finally gone to my head… I can assure you it hasn’t. I live that part of my life very much by this maxim.
It serves me well. Today’s world exclusive is a fail better poem called Blake’s Tyger by the Thames. It was the first poem I wrote with performance in mind. The performance I had in mind was on the South Bank last autumn, but that went into the tray marked ‘tried/failed’, so tonight its premiere is on the Broken Verb programme from 8 p.m. on Reel Rebels Radio.
Reel Rebels is a community internet radio station and, in a virtuous circle that relates to my own Songs of Experience, it is based in Stoke Newington, Hackney, where I spent my wildest years (they weren’t that wild). They broadcast out of Politi Arts Centre on Manor Road, which is an old Turkish Delight factory, and literally round the corner from my last flat in Stoke Newington. It is practically next door to the Indian takeaway that often provided my dinner. I had no oven in the flat (other than a one ring camping gas cylinder) so I subsisted on basmati rice and raita from the Indian, boosted by a weekly dish of jerk chicken with rice and peas in Cricklewood. I used to skip lunch and breakfast was Jordans muesli and plain yoghurt. I was a lot thinner back then. Those were the days.
Anyway. Now you know.
And a thank you is due to Tim from No Tall Stories who, I think, is reading the poem.
So, thank you.
Ted Hughes, Birthday Letters, 1998
London. The grimy lilac softness
Of an April evening. Me
Walking over Chalk Farm Bridge
On my way to the tube station.
A new father – slightly light-headed
With the lack of sleep and the novelty.
Next, this young fellow coming towards me.
I glanced at him for the first time as I passed him
Because I noticed (I couldn’t believe it)
What I’d been ignoring.
Not the bulge of a small animal
Buttoned into the top of his jacket
The way colliers used to wear their whippets –
But its actual face. Eyes reaching out
Trying to catch my eyes – so familiar!
The huge ears, the pinched, urchin expression –
The wild confronting stare, pushed through fear
Between the jacket lapels.
‘It’s a fox-cub!’
I heard my own surprise as I stopped.
He stopped. ‘Where did you get it? What
Are you going to do with it?
On the hump of Chalk Farm Bridge!
‘You can have him for a pound.’ ‘But
Where did you find it? What will you do with it?’
‘Oh somebody’ll buy him. Cheap enough
At a pound.’ And a grin.
What I was thinking
Was – what would you think? How would we fit it
Into our crate of space? With the baby?
What would you make of its old smell
And its mannerless energy?
And as it grew up and began to enjoy itself
What would we do with an unpredictable,
Powerful, bounding fox?
The long-mouthed, flashing temperament?
That necessary nightly twenty miles
And that vast hunger for everything beyond us?
How would we cope with its cosmic derangements
Whenever we moved?
The little fox peered past me at other folks,
And this one and at that one, then at me.
Good luck was all it needed.
Already past the kittenish
But the eyes still small,
Round, orphaned-looking, woebegone
As if with weeping. Bereft
Of the blue milk, the toys of feather and fur,
The den life’s happy dark. And the huge whisper
Of the constellations
Out of which Mother had always returned.
My thoughts felt like big, ignorant hounds
Circling and sniffing around him.
Then I walked on
As if out of my own life.
I let that fox-cub go. I tossed it back
Into the future
Of a fox-cub in London and I hurried
Straight on and dived as if escaping
Into the Underground. If I had paid,
If I had paid that pound and turned back
To you, with that armful of fox –
If I had grasped that whatever comes with a fox
Is what tests a marriage and proves it a marriage –
I would not have failed the test. Would you have failed it?
But I failed. Our marriage had failed.
We have had dog disturbed nights recently. The ice and snow on the pavement has meant that late-night pedestrians have upset Rudi’s sensibilities forcing him into some light growling and barking. I hoped for peace now that it has finally melted away, but last night was the worst yet due to foxes. From the noise they were making I wonder if it is mating season, either that or some great foxy crime was being perpetrated down the road. Their noise sends my dog into an incandescent rage of growling, howling, barking and generally hollering at the varmints accompanied, most alarmingly, by flinging himself at the single-glazed window with considerable force.
He knows this window battering is highly-frowned upon, but he just can help himself in the face of fox provocation. I can’t just shut him out otherwise he gives full rein to his anger and bashes other windows or just makes a terrible noise to wake the neighbours. I managed to calm him with a little sympathy and understanding, but he made me smile because he can’t calm down completely. He ends up lying on the bed, being stroked and sympathised with and sort of huffs and puffs intermittently.
The other half of the bed has no time for any of this (and can we blame him leaving the house as he does before 6 a.m.), but sadly I think this may be a regular occurence for a few weeks yet.
I think the dog needs earplugs, walks to fell Ian Botham and I am going to have to get a quote for double-glazing, at the front at least. This will be expensive as we will be replacing 1970 abominations with wood-framed sash windows. Either that or bars.
I am borrowing the Stephen Foster blog’s house artist to illustrate our fractured night, featuring an unwitting fox at the centre. It’s come out a bit big, but I like it like that 🙂