August 30th 2013

Summer is fading when we get the news.
Another rain-soaked, work-stretched, child-struck summer
pulled into bits; one eye’s to Syria’s
bombing, debated with the Commons’ answer,
another’s on the progress of my daughter,
who’s five now, at the college swimming pool
– quite the improbable and wriggling swimmer
quick as a slippery fish – but that’s forgotten
just seconds later when the moment’s still
surface is smashed. We’re rocked from top to bottom.

Two texts. I get an email on my phone.
Twitter erupts, it seems, in shards of verse.
Phrases from ‘Postscript’ serve to set the tone
(under 140 characters)
then struggling to the coffee-shop downstairs
we stand like cattle, dumbly looking on
for something on the widescreen’s coverage, where
news breaking here, at length, at length it’s said
after all those reports – online, diverse
and instantaneous – the short word: dead.

It’s timely, in a way, to hear from sources
far-flung and disparate, that you, whose voice
made itself heard above your fellow voices
in poetry that leaned in awfully close
to living speech, and which was crafty, yes,
patrician sometimes too, but, down to earth,
adept and fluent, all self-consciousness
and forward-motion − oh, and amorous
… that you should die. The media holds its breath.
Then the reaction, which is clamorous.

As all of us, it seems, both men and makers
gets to our keyboard to express the loss,
for blog post/ status update/evening papers
of everything that you had been to us
who was – if not synonymous with ‘verse’–
then weather system, backdrop, Northern star,
and moral compass of such bending force,
like it or not, we overlooked just how
you were required as man and mortal source
(not merely ‘touchstone’, as I need you now).

And as our networked culture makes lament
perhaps we’re mourning too a passing age:
the Derry homesteads: flax-dams, bagged cement
and benediction – and the pen, the page,
enshrined in those broadcasts, long-wave, analogue,
in which we watch you, awkward and intent,
declaiming poetry about the bog –
wild-haired, wide-collared, for the BBC ­–
those I miss too, or what they represent
watching them now… a lost Authority?

Or is it life more communal ­­­­– that order
your work displayed, its faint whiff of the classroom?
The bag behind the chair, the patient reader
sat with his fellows and content to listen,
while this day shows we favour conversation
from every quarter – now! – hyper-kinetic
and self-renewed – all excess and sensation ­–
with commentary and meme, so to and fro
we zigzag digitally, thrilled, frenetic
but slowly forgetting how me might go slow.

Or slow enough to let the matter settle;
for some small thought to grow before it’s said –
typed, rather, on the message boards for battle –
there to be liked, disliked, the thing agreed …
Oh brave new world: crowd-sourced and quantified!
Of rave reviews, conglomerated hype
for audiences vast, readily-made,
but never mind the minor – or the freelance.
And never mind the few who rarelylike’
(loving intensely), or the witty silence.

And as you glimpsed, our standard is the dollar;
spurred by the age’s itchy self-promotion,
– our only term of value now ‘best-seller’ –
‘Me! Me!’ we cry out, jostling for attention.
‘Dumped down’ unfiltered, ‘written with intention’
you would have called these efforts – unenthralled
by day-dream, born both from our fragmentation,
toward it (both ignored and over-rated) …
which is to say our poetry’s installed
with AirCon, Wifi AND is central-heated.

… But this is my idiom. Not hawthorn stick
or hobnail boot and waxing operatic
about how Lit-Crit culture’s getting sick
will only make me seem a touch arthritic
if not potentially undemocratic…
So let me row back – boys and girls don’t scorn me
for I too bend before the times Mathematic
and Algorhythmic; also, pass the tissues,
please understand where I am on my journey:
a messed-up woman poet with daddy issues.

‘The way we’re living, timorous or bold’
you wrote of Lowell, ‘will have been our life’;
and all these gripes aside, I’ve not rebelled
but drifted: campus-bound, prosaic, staff –
so have no moral stick to beat her with
the Goddess Dullness squatting on our pages
– her language slack, her mind a monolith –
and would it make a difference if I tried
mounting the lectern, auguring Dark Ages?
Me, not just timorous, but terrified.

The way we’re living will have been our life:
your steely line – that Future Perfect – cast
in an impending retrospective light
our present efforts, not as some rough draft ,
but, mid the multi-platform din and drift,
as instrument and something to get right;
which is another thing you will have left
(or have left – past tense now -–those choices made).
An ethics: which instructs: Now shut up. Write
for joy. Be deliberate and unafraid.