Listening at the fringe

12 01 2014

Every time I come to the Southbank I wonder why it is that I do not spend every day here. I didn’t manage to get tickets to the T.S. Elliot Prize readings tonight as I thought I might—but drinking wine at Skylon, looking over at the river below, the blue lights, the train racing south to north and north to south. I feel privileged just to listen at the door.  

Below is a taster of what I might have heard but read to myself instead beside the river.

Talking to myself

In the mildew of age

All pavements slope uphill

Slow slow

Towards an exit.

It’s late and light allows

the darkest shadow to be born of it.

Courage, the ventriloquist bird cries

(a little god, he is, censor of language)

remember plain Hardy and dandy Yeats

in their inspired wise pre-dotage.


I, old man, in my new timidity,

think how, profligate, I wasted time

–those yawning postponements on rainy days,

those paperhat hours of benign frivolity.

Now Time wastes me and there’s hardly time

to fuss for more vascular speech.

The aspen tree trembles as I do

And there are feathers in the wind.

Quick quick

Speak, old parrot,

Do I not feed you with my life?

–       Dannie Abse

Wife of Brain

don’t say you weren’t

expecting a volcano those

red wings

that not even bad love can


must signify something’s


about to go up in flame or

(as Proust says) be

eternalized in pleasure

like the men

in a Pompeian house of ill

fame yet fame

is not ill

for all

in this tale Sad may be a


but Io’s getting ready

for her free


with one eye on the herd

and the other on that

pyroclastic glow

– Anne Carson

We Love Life, Whenever We Can

We love life whenever we can,

We enter the grocer’s, the baker’s, the chemist’s

    the post office daily.

We love life whenever we can.

We borrow each other’s books and paperclips

   and forget to return them.

We spruce ourselves up for a meeting, order

   a taxi, climb into a bus or a train.

We love life whenever we can

   and so we sign letters and cards and spend

   the evening walking the street

 when the winter is fiercest and the light

   in the windows and amusement arcades

   snarls at the darkness and the sea is quietly chomping at

   the cliff and the owl and the rat and the fox move over and

   through and we hear them and listen.

We love life whenever we can.

– George Szirtes 



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