i.m. John Wareham
The tide of chance may bring
Its offer; but nought avails it!
THE OPPORTUNITY Thomas Hardy
Each week on Tuesday promptly at seven –
chicken curry and chips from Barry Wong’s
on West Derby Road at the ready –
he and I would turn on the TV
in our rented rooms to watch Hughie Greene’s
‘Opportunity Knocks’. It was an hour –
including adverts – of metaphors
of the mid-sixties: kitsch; schmaltz; condescension;
nudge-nudge; the cruelty of class; fifteen
seconds of fame; occasional talents.
We had no doubt we were poets – actual
not aspiring. Would we settle for minor
recognition – or would only major count?
How this would happen we never discussed.
Maybe we hoped we would be discovered
like others in their twenties in the city!
I can see him now chortling at the absurd –
his laughter bubbling, his kindly eyes gleeful.
He was an admirer of Thomas Hardy,
ever the collector of the bathos
of pretentiousness and misfortune.
He told me tales about the writer’s heart.
Hardy had willed, though an atheist,
his body be buried in the churchyard
of the village in which he had been born.
But his young widow was strong-armed by the Dean
of Westminster Abbey. Her husband’s ashes
were interred in Poets’ Corner near Dickens’.
His heart, however, was preserved, and borne
in a biscuit tin – Huntley & Palmers
Bath Olivers, it was claimed – from Paddington
or Waterloo to Dorchester then Stinsford.
One tale had the heart buried in the tin.
Another, the tin being on the grave digger’s
kitchen table with, for some reason, the lid
off, maintained the family cat ate it.
He published little. Re-reading what he wrote
when we lodged together in Liverpool
I am shocked by the matureness of his talent,
and his ability to make the mundane
original, significant, portentous:
Spareness is the point.
November’s manifest in skies of ash,
Branches whittled by the edge
Of winter, the parkland quite
Quit of final birds.
And how his, over years, has shaped my work,
like an underground, uncharted watercourse.