Monday, 26 May 2014

Clive James Poetry - Driftwood Houses

May Bank Holiday 26th May 2014

On the Today programme, Radio 4, this morning, they announced that Clive James would be reading his new poem on Life and Death later on. Well, I couldn't wait for them to get round to it, because first of all they had to have one of their antagonistic interviews in the aftermath of the European Parliament Elections and I can't bear to listen to this kind of argumentative point scoring and ranting.

However, a search on Google brought me to this website;
It has a video of Clive James reading the poem in question "Driftwood Houses", and the write up below, from the New Statesman 
Clive James is, by some miracle, 74 years old. He was diagnosed with terminal leukemia and emphysema in 2010, and has come close to death a number of times. I'm in no doubt that everything depends on modern technology, he said, when we visited him recently in Cambridge, and the availability of cheap electricity”.
Everybody has a favourite Clive James. He is a poet, broadcaster, critic, author and translator, whose most recent work – his “crowning achievement” – is a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Since arriving from Australia in 1962, he has forged a reputation unlike any other in British public life. Even now he is brimming with ideas. He plans to abandon journalism over the coming months in order to start work on a new book – or two. There’s already one in the bag, however, a book of poetry criticism which will be published this autumn, “even if I drop off the twig, as we say in Australia”.
While we spoke, James’s sentences were punctuated by a violent, rattling cough. “This has exhausted me,” he said as we drew to a close. “But I’ve loved every minute of it.”
As we left and loaded our cameras into the car, he came out and stood by the gate. He thanked me for my questions, for taking care of the poem published in this week’s New Statesman, and for coming up to visit. “Oh to be starting out,” he said. “What I wouldn’t give to be starting out again.”

Further searching took me here;

Driftwood Houses is in "Recent Poems" - again, another introduction first, this time by Clive James;

Except for my micro-epic "Aldeburgh Dawn", all of the poems in this section have been written and published since my collection Nefertiti in the Flak Tower came out in the UK in 2012. (Publication in the USA is scheduled for late 2013.) Most of them are already ear-marked for yet another collection, which doesn't have a title yet, but which I hope I will be still around to see published. I have been quite ill for three years now but have found that when I have any energy and clarity of mind at all, poetry has been my first means of signalling how I feel. I don’t quite know what this says about how deep the instinct must lie to express oneself in verse. Maybe the whole impulse is just a reaction to the kaleidoscope of medication, with all those pills of different shapes and colours.

and here's the poem and its illustration

Driftwood Houses

The ne plus ultra of our lying down,
Skeleton riders see the planet peeled
Into their helmets by a knife of light.
Just so, I stare into the racing field
Of ice as I lie on my side and fight
To cough up muck. This bumpy slide downhill
Leads from my bed to where I’m bound to drown
At this rate. I get up and take a walk,
Lean on the balustrade and breathe my fill
At last. The wooden stairs down to the hall
Stop shaking. Enough said. To hear me talk
You’d think I found my fate sad. Hardly that:
All that has happened is I’ve hit the wall.
Disintegration is appropriate,

As once, on our French beach, I built, each year,
Among the rocks below the esplanade,
Houses from driftwood for our girls to roof
With towels so they could hide there in the shade
With ice creams that would melt more slowly. Proof
That nothing built can be forever here
Lay in the way those frail and crooked frames
Were undone by a storm-enhanced high tide
And vanished. It was time, and anyhow
Our daughters were not short of other games
Which were all theirs, and not geared to my pride.
And here they come. They’re gathering shells again.
And you in your straw hat, I see you now,
As I lie restless yet most blessed of men.

-- New Statesman, April 18, 2014

The point is that this sums up how I feel about my own condition; the various elements that affect my health result in my lungs feeling as though they are full of glue, and coughing up the gunk is physically hard work. Walking stairs and slopes makes me breathless, walking up a steep hill is very slow work, but is still possible, a few paces at a time. The second part of the poem says it all,

"To hear me talk you'd think I found my fate sad. Hardly that. All that has happened is I've hit a wall; disintegration is appropriate, ......
........ They're gathering shells again. And you in your straw hat, I see you now, As I lie restless yet most blessed of (wo)men."

So I'm not sorry for my self, (not yet, anyway!). I'm blessed by the life I have had, and the life still to come.

His rhyme structure is so subtle, so neat. The poem is a perfect thing.


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