Thursday, 28 May 2020

Poems from the Backroom 74: Bob Beagrie

And so let Friday and Saturday be the days of the English. Ochone ochone. But we are not displaying narrow nationalism here, let us hearken back to the days of the early Stuart Kings, when every nationality was welcome to Scotland without a passport. Except the English come to think of it, so that's not a very good example. 

Our beards have grown long in this process but we've actually already, away back, featured a very fine English poet,  Jean Atkin, though I’ve always believed she had some kind of joint citizenship. Over the next two days we’re featuring two excellent poets who will also be welcome as honorary Scots when we finally depart the unnatural construct of our political union - and poets will always be welcome residents because poetry knows no boundaries and poets should be a perpetual multinational force, like UN peacekeepers, circulating round the world dampening conflict, showing there's another way.

 The first of these is Bob Beagrie who made a tremendous impression on me when I saw him in action in the Scottish Poetry Library last year? Was it really last year? He was reciting from ‘Civil Insolences’ a series of poems based on the Battle of Guisborough of 1643 in the Civil War and I don’t know whether it was his backing track or all the drink I’d had at lunchtime but it seemed at some very vivid points like we actually all were in the 17th century. I love historical poems and I love the power to communicate them and give yet another level to what might already be supposedly a weel kent story. And also to give history not just relevance but credit for being in very many senses part of the present.  Particularly working class history, or the stories of ordinary people. In this respect I would recommend to you the extraordinary 'Leasungspell' written partly in Old English about Oswin, an uncelebrated monk, charged with a mission of no real consequence, adrift in the strange wilderness of the Dark Ages and we're with him every step of the way.

Bob Beagrie lives in Middlesbrough and is a senior lecturer in creative writing at Teesside University. He has published numerous collections of poetry and several pamphlets, most recently 'Civil Insolencies' from Smokestack in 2019, 'Remnants' written with Jane Burn  from Knives, Forks & Spoons Press in 2019,  'Leasungspell'  from Smokestack in 2016 and 'This Game of Strangers' – written with Jane Burn  and published by Wyrd Harvest Press in 2017. He has collaborated with musicians, he has also worked closely with visual artists on public artworks and with theatre company Three Over Eden and and is a founder member of the experimental poetry and music collective Project Lono. His work has been translated into many languages.

Here Bob is reading Sutra from 'Civil Insolences '. 

Lyke Wake

“Where am I hurried! What sanguine place
Is this I breathe in, garnished with disgrace?”

John Quarles – An Elegy upon that Never 
to be Forgotten Charls the First, 1649

The broken men yield, after the blizzard's rage,
 to the scandal of disorder, tainted by the taste
 of this new age and grub about for tales to give 
account for their phantasmagoria from ordinary 
house-holder, groom, apprentice, tinker, gent, 
undisciplined idler rendered citizen-soldier, 
hystericals, histrionics, mama's boys, bastards, 
brewers, patricides – although there is so much 
they'll not meddle with, including themselves, 
having been shunted out of grammar’s backdoor
 into the vulgar dirt of unpronouncables, the fylth- 
riddled freedom of formlessness, succoured on 
an homeopathy of killing. Their dark nativities 
bubble with ramblings to take back control
 in defence of the state as Cartemandua, Frigg
 Britannia, safe-guarded, wearing the familiar
 mask of mother, sweetheart, favourite whore
 – each of them a springhead of fresh anxieties, 
labour pains for a post-term Kingdom Come.

(from Civil Insolencies)

Self Portrait With Body Works
(after Gunther von Hagens)

Photography is not permitted so I make mental snapshots of everything
as I mooch around the exhibits and scribble a coded reference
in small pencilled letters in the lower left hand corner of each print
before filing it away in its proper place which I will no doubt forget
because it is not the Dewy Decimal Classification system that I use
far from it – you only have to take a glance at my book shelves to see
how that would never suffice but rather a rubric of many random
associations which only makes sense in the moment before filing
and which makes retrieving books and mental prints time consuming
frustrating but ultimately more interesting in the rediscovery of subtle
alignments and as I walk quietly through the half-light from consenting
monster to saint from fisherman runner tight rope walker and lover past
the human sliced thin as honey roasted ham bought over the deli counter
I am studying my own hands the skin old scars sub-dermal boulevards
then looking through my own face reflected in the glass of the display case
superimposed upon the catalogued cadaver with its spinal column
drawn back and out sprayed like the tail of a peacock – when I swallow
I notice how my laryngeal prominence rises and dips like a wary seal
in scummy waters by the jetty at Bran Sands although I always vanish
whenever I blink so I learned from early childhood to do this quickly
to avoid disappearing completely as gas moves somewhere inside me
I recall the leaf skeleton I picked up at the end of a winter while cutting
through the cemetery when the last snow had retreated holding out in
low gullied pockmarks in the hills and which I later placed delicately
but deliberately between the pages of a chosen book before sliding
the book back into its proper new place on one of my sagging over-
stuffed shelves which has so far managed to avoid being rediscovered

(Reprinted from 'Ink Sweat and Tears')

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