Against Tyrrany

This morning, reading about the English critic Frank Kermode‘s passing at ninety (here and here among many other places), I couldn’t help thinking back on Eric Mottram (who passed away at barely 70 nearly fifteen years ago) who had so often warned me (& others) about Kermode’s reactionary literary stances — even if both men had followed each other on the stand at the Old Bailey in defense of Last Exit to Brooklyn, famously in the dock for alleged “obscenity.” I must confess that I never took much pleasure in reading Kermode — & have forgotten to do so for a good many years now, except for some of the more journalistic pieces in the LRB, which while always intelligent, confirmed my sense of a most unexciting literary mind.

But: this morning’s excursion drove me back to Eric Mottram, & as I am right now in the process of updating my relocated Homad website, I decided to start beefing up the Mottram part of it to, adding John Calder’s obit from The Independent. I hope to find the time in the months to come to add much Mottram material to the site and give it back some visibility (if anyone out there has work on Eric Mottram they would like to see added to the site, please contact me).The Calder obit quotes a poem of Eric’s I have also loved (& quote on top of the Mottram page on my site) but The Independent didn’t put in any line breaks which made me pull the book of the shelves to do just that. So here is the poem itself:

Eric Mottram


                                   for Jackie Kaye


to regrow forests     free water from waste
collect soils foster algae
the new alchemists' intensive food gardens
deny a fifty year old world
old cars for new windmills
leadership shifts from shoulder to shoulder
to be wise      to restore the earth
against priests of science
psychologists of money
to restore windspeeds to gardens
in balance      let the boundary
between yourself and fire
disappear     to be sun fire the conscious garden
mutual preparation
a circle of eyes ray the fire hearth

fire gardens of rocks shells driftwood
gourds boulders from glaciers and he holds
to his face a bone mask     femur upwards
as horns and he throws search    the lost
his face in cold light a frozen wind
Siberian tribesmen circle in satire
to their freak     Green River Cemetery holds
Stuart Davis    Ad Reinhardt     Frank O'Hara
Jackson Pollock    the colleagues
hope is that all created life be rescued
from tyranny     decay sloughed for a share
in magnificence    hoof thunder     silence of
pines and birches across the taiga
for ginseng roots
skins trail the frost

a region of brilliant smells intense colours
men among them confused     extravagant edge
between stone and brick as old as olives
veins trunks roots overimposed in the eye
trust and resentment entangled and it is
the survivor who cried out
                                         I can never stop
thinking of my friend        he is my measure
our differences increase    since his accident
                                         but passion funds
creation out of accident deaths
                                         it is not settling scores
after revolution                 that act is sacred resistance
how to conquer anguish    see barricades go up
                                         gunsmoke across barley
every year without crumbling behind a dazzling wall
                                         for what
he does not cry out           is his sacrifice of passion
                                         to essays as in China
politics came through poets
poet-statesmen the rule   where western mandarins
abjure the state or accumulate art
                                         where film-maker films
                                         the burning of books
tattooed on our nerves      tracts in tracts of forest

this is a book I would like to read
this is a moment I would like my father to know
those fabled moments and years of study     candid
a grim pass  not like iron then     mountain amnesia
roofs as tiles and tesserae     splits humanity
creating itself     how perfect and in a moment
it won't be there     thanks in the simple sunflower
I am so lucky to have found my work a madness
apart from love a trade a commerce     with paths
through forests     daily to school a canvas in high wind
where to surpass yourself out of nature

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2 Responses

  1. bill sherman says:

    Note also the passing yesterday at age 90 of Scots “Makar” Edwin Morgan. One small poem, “The Sheaf” from the old Penguin Book Of Scottish Verse:

    My life, as a slant of rain
    on the grey earth fields
    is gathered in thirsty silence, disappears.
    I cannot even guess
    the roots, but I feel them sighing
    in the stir of the soul I die to. Let this rain
    be on the childeren of my heart,
    I have no other ones.
    On the generations,
    on the packed cells and dreaming shoots,
    the untried hopes, the waiting good
    I send this drop to melt.

  2. Doug Manson says:

    Thank you for posting this poem. I hadn’t read his works in years, and now reading through his Selected Poems again provides such a distinct, specific shape. As you said then: “two energies, two modes–a balanced interweaving of both.”

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