Eyewear is honoured to be able to feature poetry, this Friday, from John Haynes (pictured),this year's winner of the Costa Poetry Prize (formerly known as the Whitbread Prize) for his collection, Letter to Patience, published by the excellent Seren, based in Wales. While I have yet to read the whole book, what I have seen of it, including this section, excerpted below, is worth getting to know.
Haynes was born of parents who were professional entertainers. After dropping out of school at 16, he joined the RAF, before going on to university, where the great poet F.T. Prince ("Soldiers Bathing") was his tutor. Haynes spent 1970 to 1988 as a lecturer in English at Ahmadu Bello University in Nigeria where he founded the literary journal Saiwa. Now back in the UK, he has continued teaching, writing and publishing and is the author of a number of books: on teaching, style and language theory, as well as African poetry, stories for African children, and two other volumes of verse. Sections of Letter to Patience have appeared, over the years, in London Magazine, Stand, Poetry Review, Ambit, Critical Quarterly and Poetry Wales. He has won prizes in the Arvon and National Poetry competitions. He has a PhD in applied linguistics.
"The bar is what you're going to miss," you said,
"not me," but that's wrong isn't it, to draw
lines around people (even if they're dead),
as if I'd miss the place you live in more
than you, when there's no line between at all
and that's something that you kept saying, your
philosophy, the sense of floor, mud wall,
dust road as who we are, the kites' long cry
at harmattan, the beggar's rhythmic call
outside Alhaji Kowa's store, this I
that floats and enters you from just as far
as ever, dear one, shapeless as the sigh
that lifts out of your mouth, out of the bar,
out of the rusted corrugated zinc
and mixes with some wailing armoured car
out on the road, and then the first tink-tink
of birds, the cockerel's call, none of it you,
except that when I think of it I think
it is and not the old femme noire, femme nue
"Afrique", no, something shared in spite of skin
colour, and Lugard's maxim gun, or through
just those, is it? I think so, what we're in,
as what we are. And so I'm writing this
Magana Jari Ce, am I, to spin
you into words? A spell, a selfishness
to try and keep you there, or rather here,
closing my eyes with lust to see, miss
you, sharper - no, the bar, musci, the beer?
Or it's an elegy for someone dead
for all I know, for all I fear to fear.
section excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from Letter to Patience
Seren Books, 2006
by John Haynes
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