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 AGAINST TYRANNY : ELEGY 4 for Jackie Kaye 1. 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 1973
2 opinions on “Against Tyrrany”
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.
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.”