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OTHER PEOPLE’S FLOWERS: Three Poems by Alan Horne

I read once – perhaps it was a quotation from José Saramago – that the writer’s life is the detritus left behind by the work. I’m not sure if that’s true, but it sounds better than any autobiographical introduction I can think up. I worked years ago in a steelworks, have a very longstanding interest in psychoanalysis and – perhaps it’s a reaction to all those clinics – now spend a lot of time outside. Here are three short poems which bear on these matters. Thanks to David for the chance to put them before you. At age 14 I found that we had a new English teacher called Mr Selzer, a young iconoclast without whose bracing wake-up call none of this would have been written.

 

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THE ELECTRICAL CELLARS

Someone directs us all down the electrical cellars

beneath the mill.  By switches and hot valves

we duck like drowsy priests avoiding callers,

counsel the machines to help themselves.

Please read the plastic notices.  They mark

the wiry, shirtless dead: Victorians

entombed like broken tools right where they fell,

the gauntlets only passing to their sons.

Not us.  For us, the moment of control:  at worst

the hole in the overall and the small burn;

the alcoholic customs of the blast.

We’re special men just now.  But markets turn

on us, will cut our cellar-space.  We’ll squeeze

like pitmen, skid by on our knees.

 

 

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WILFRED BION ON A MOONLIT ROAD

As I was taught at the institutes: write it all down straight away.

So.  Someone has a light going; no, it’s the moon in a late guise:

supermoon, blue moon, doo bee doo bee doo moon.  Never the sun,

but a white light on the modern tumps, the subterranean reservoir.

 

And here you are, strolling past the moonlit earthworks

at the borehole, by the warning sign about voids and crawlspaces:

still a little military, still a little medical, politely unco-operative

– those you annoyed might say bloody impossible

still chewing over Freud’s Two Principles of Mental Functioning.

 

And it’s a stranger’s light you walk in, to the junction.

All too pale, it brightens the lane from the wrong angle.

See how the shadows won’t disperse, but huddle in cracks

in the roadstone, argue back, point out that it’s night really.

 

You liked Freud’s letter to Lou Salomé, about the dim forms

lost in the daily glitter: they could be glimpsed, perhaps,

in a beam of intense darkness.  Or by this light,

aslant and incorrect, which picks out unmarked facets

of the sheds at Pollards Nursery, and calls up ghosts like you.

 

 

Note.  Wilfred Bion (1897-1979) was a tank commander in the First World War who later became a prominent psychoanalyst.  His writings continue to be very influential within the psychoanalytic world.  He wrote a remarkable memoir, The Long Week-End 1897-1919: Part of a Life.

 

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NEW ENGLAND

Veils of rain dressed the seedheads of high summer grasses

with a load of water, pulling them over

 

into mats that wound a cloche, a twilit subway

a foot off the ground, in whose steaming fosses shieldbugs prospered.

 

Through the burnt colours of gone-over grassland

yellow sparked: the vetch swimming; the hawkweed’s hand.

 

Only where the fields broke was the grass propped upright in the wires

bracing rotten posts like teeth in the jaw of the intake:

 

these of timber; others of a pebbly concrete – army surplus,

back of a trailer – bucked at crazy angles,

 

saving this old vertical: cable halo, flag of twine, spinnaker

plastic bag, it was steadying the line

 

of new barbed wire that scrambled past its comic adjutant,

the buckled straining post. Wires ran in all directions

 

out of the daylight.  Hills over in Wales dispersed like cigarette smoke,

and the track of the uprights parted the kneeling meadow.

 

 

Acknowledgement: ELECTRICAL CELLARS first appeared in the Poynton Poetry Trail, Poynton, Cheshire, in 2017.

 

©Alan Horne 2021

© Copyright David Selzer
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6 Responses
  • Ashen Venema
    May 28, 2021

    ‘Electrical cellars’ is a new term for me, but I sort of get it. Liked the line:
    ‘…counsel the machines to help themselves…’

    Inspired to look up Bion’s memoir.

    Some memorable lines overall. ‘…glimpsed, perhaps, in a beam of intense darkness…’,
    ‘…propped upright in the wires bracing rotten posts like teeth in the jaw of the intake…’

  • Alan Horne
    May 28, 2021

    Thanks, Ashen. Maybe the title of the first poem is a bit obscure. The steel mill I worked in had a maze of subterranean passages and rooms, housing electrical, hydraulic and other gear supplying the machines above, and people called these the electrical cellars. ‘A beam of intense darkness’ is originally a quotation from Freud that Bion made use of. It’s also the title of an interesting (to me, anyway) book by James Grotstein, one of Bion’s patients.

  • Clive Watkins
    June 3, 2021

    Thank you, Alan, for posting these three fine poems. I have read them several times with much pleasure, and I am sure I will do so again.

    What can I say about them? This is sophisticated and accomplished writing. The poems strike me as beautifully articulated, which I think is to do with the modulations of syntax, of the rhythms of phrase and line, and of tone. All three poems skilfully steer my attention from image to image and from thought to thought. This effect is particularly apparent in “Wilfred Bion on a Moonlit Road” in the shifts in imagined viewpoint from speaker to Bion and back again—for instance, at “As I was taught … / So. … no, it’s the moon”; and later at “And here you are, strolling past…”, at “And it’s a stranger’s light you walk in…”, and at “See how the shadows”; and, in the final verse, at “Or by this light…”. To pick out these details from among the many striking images here is only to notice what important work is being done by smaller and less glamorous words.

    I am struck, too, by a concern with things buried or overlooked: in the underworld of the mill haunted by “the wiry, shirtless dead: Victorians / entombed like broken tools right where they fell”; at “the moonlit earthworks / at the borehole, … the warning sign about voids and crawlspaces” (which seems to double as Bion’s experiences during World War I and as details from the present scene, related perhaps to the “the modern tumps, the subterranean reservoir”); “the shadows [that] won’t disperse, but huddle in cracks / in the roadstone”; the “dim forms / lost in the daily glitter”; the “unmarked facets /of the sheds at Pollards Nursery”; and in the third poem a host of vivid touches. And what a strong conclusion that poem has: “Hills over in Wales dispersed like cigarette smoke, / and the track of the uprights parted the kneeling meadow.”

    In David you were clearly fortunate to have had such an inspiring teacher. In you, I suggest, he was fortunate to have had such a talented student. I want to read more!

  • Rosanna McGlone
    June 5, 2021

    I can’t improve on your poems or Clive’s insightful comments. Astonishingly accomplished work, Alan, and a real pleasure to read.
    Having read your work I’m even more disappointed that you can’t make our poetry appreciation group ( where we recently focused on TS Eliot and Walcott’s Prelude/s).

  • Alan Horne
    June 6, 2021

    Thanks to Clive and Rosanna for their comments, it’s good to receive such attentive reading! And yes, it’s curious that all three poems have cellars, crawl spaces or subways running through (or under) them.

  • Mary Clark
    July 12, 2021

    Interesting to learn of Wilfred Bion. And the light ‘aslant and incorrect’ is so beautiful.

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