Showing posts from 2019

new poem

NEW LAW Dear gentlepersons,
Please note that if you have
Ever thought anything
We disagree with, Or said anything we disagree with,
Or anyone, anywhere, anytime
Has made a statement about you –
And strangers and other people always Tell the truth –
You will be found guilty instantly;
We save money
Without courts, trials, tribunals, panels – Believe the lie, or truth,
They’re the same now.
All that matters is the performance act
Of accusation – to accuse is to exist – We come alive, become our best selves
Pointing a finger;
We rise above the animals, reach the angelic
In stating the crimes of you – For the other person – or rather, you –
Are always wrong.
How can you be telling the truth?
You’re guilty. You’d lie, of course, to save your skin.
No accuser lies, how could they?
They’re brave.
They risk being exposed as liars. In the Bible, no one ever bore false witness;
In the French Revolution no one lied;
In the second world war no one lied;
During the McCarthy trials, no lies. In Sal…


It is good - if more than a little late - to see an apology from the newspaper (with over a million online readers, and 15,000 in-print readers weekly) who published an article about me last week.

Meanwhile, we can only hope that those who screen-captured the original article for Tweets will now remove them.

There is more to say, but I remain convinced that it is best to be kind.

A Possible Introduction To My Poems

20 years ago, when I was living in Budapest, this was what I was thinking about current issues in poetry, as I prepared to bring out my first collection, Budavox. I was 33 then.

A Possible Introduction To My Poems

I recently had the opportunity to talk with a well-known British poet, critic and lecturer, who knew almost everything about British and Irish poetry (including who was likely to succeed Ted Hughes as Poet Laureate), some things about American poetry, and almost nothing about poetry in Canada; I have had similar discussions with American poets who are clearly established in their contemporary field, but can draw only blanks when asked to name more than a handful of their peers in England, or Ireland, or even their neighbour to the North; alas, it is also rare to meet Canadian poets who are cognizant of the very latest trends in poetry in Australia, let alone, say, New York or Miami. And one can only presume the case is the same for those poets from Italy or France, or New Zeal…


Christmas Prelude

Embrangling snow is forecast for Scotland
so it will come tomorrow, love:
verecund snow will bedizen
when asked out.  Even now — look —
whiteness like the old walls of Hydra
(recall our honeymoon) descends.
This snow — trochal as a clock face
whose oval is an egg between the hands —
avoids time’s embracery, to move.
No need to miss colder Canada tonight:
new snow falls light as levin,
grows ever more candent.  It drapes lace
across each feme sole's bed —
upon each winter bride a profluent dress.


The Ailment

What got there, got there
then it stayed. Like glue
a doctor implied. Like prayer
argued another clad like a father
black as grease. It stung
and stuck inside. A thorn

she cried; a hornet having died
the priest complained – unsin
thy side! It was presented
in a finding so I had to decide:
pull out the fervid pin or wasp
away to little else besides lather

on a shaved boy’s chin. Its clasp
was like wax on a ski or an LP’s skin.
It slid about, it grooved, it played
the length and lines of me, a musicness
unto breath. A tiny ceaseless death
the dentist opined then wanted cash.

It felt like wine-slosh in my brainpan.
All night I travelled in my bed, a train.
Each carriage disgorged an ailment
but this main thing only grew in size.
It happened finally to emit a claim
on my own name. It wanted out

but as me. I feigned indifference
to my external self, retained some
dignity. Soon though, unguents came
and took the resourceful fluid for a stroll.
It shook off the air and walked upright, so
everyone who saw it n…


For the Boy in the Choir with Tourette’s

He slaps his face as others take communion,

A joyful disunion lurking in a devil’s abandon

That plays jerky havoc with his composure;

A boy of maybe ten or eleven, corpulent

With brown curls and a wide open stare,

Struck into the choir like a daring nail, who

Takes the music into him and jabs it out

Every third bar by an angelic shout;

I feel comforted he is up there, exposed

For all to ignore or mock. In a sea of doubt

And conceit and sin, his two-faced

Demon that winks about his eyes and mouth

Every so often with a punch to the head

Is all the compulsion I need to recognise

For all the love of Jesus a rich seam of lies

Resides within the idea of heavenly skin

Or a bag of cats roils just beneath us all

And in this sweet off-kilter boy is beautiful:

His stop-go body a rock to save stiller ones,

Says every twitching thing that crawls can sing.



In the late summer I saw my future.

Not gaudy, hardly mine,

Brought to me by a blunt test.

The trees were alert to the wind.

Parents threw their dismal joy

And busy disorder about

The streets. The park strained

At its collar, barked with playing;

The hours in my head abruptly

Stuck. Now I was sterile.

All my weird kids blinked out

UFOS off the radar –

In a moment that stayed around

Like an invasion long planned,

That held its breath, that froze

My bones to my mouth –

I tasted the invisible loss

Of hopes going out. Maudlin,

So private, but pain occurs

Even when the reason’s sentimental.

I attempted profound respect

For nature. Nodded sagely

At my secret body’s amazing failure.

Considered new identities –

A renewed gender. Freed

From the requirement to breed,

I momentarily thrilled at time,

Now heaped, big, before me –

No Daddy-wasting anymore –

I’d learn Chinese, particle physics –

Hard to be ordinary when rare –

Free from expecting anything –

I gave my wife the gift of nothing –

I planted autumn in our gar…



No children;
Cold uncoils in the blood;
Science, true, not good
For you. So old,
Suddenly, or so young.
Lyric inside not to be sung.
Plug pulled, screen gone.
Sun out; mind
Bountiful, playing pain.
These are my children
In my head. Unbegotten.
This is to self-forget,
To have the future
Born forgotten.


When All My Disappointments Came at Once

I greeted them as guests,
brought them in and settled their burdens
with footstools, olives and cool white wine.

This was a delicate stage –
they’d never met in one room before –
had circled warily in the past, strangers

to themselves if not to me (for I
had often expected, if not them,
others with equal claim on my time).

Now, none of my hospitality paid off
for they began to quarrel
over who would take my will to go on

first – each wanted to be the foremost cause
of my early failure to maintain a living.
Frames came off nails; books spilled; lights

fell like building blocks; stains spread.
During their intensity of competition
I took off over the garden wall, refreshed.


‘God has left us like a girl’

after a line from Sidney Keyes

She has gone, out of the house
And down the stairs, her scent
Evident and sweet as lilacs,
Shaping her descent in the air,
Leaving us alone to pray
That tomorrow, again, she will
Deign to, lightly, reappear.



What to do with this?
He was the taverna owner
On the island we honeymooned on.
He’d stand behind the counter, show us the fish;

I recall his wife more, she’d bring us our retsina, the bill.
They had a bunch of boys, all nice lads, who brought the bread.
We’d sit on the terrace, above their home, dream of moving there.
Every time we came back to Hydra, we’d seek them out, return

For the welcome, the freshness. I read now they were
Tied up by five men, the married couple, and he was
Tortured to tell them where the jewels and money
Hid. I didn’t know about any other fortune

Beyond their friends, family, good food.
Manolis died, she survived.
There is evil in this.
I move from shape, form, language,

Plan revenge – but that’s useless.
I have no skills in that department,
And we know killing never resurrects.
My eloquence terminates at the harbour,

Deepens into inconsequence.
It’s part of the awful
Dishing out of undeserved fates
I’ve gained experience of

In th…


Mainstream Love Hotel

The night we washed up late in South Japan ­–
our first night after we’d clashed –
we found ourselves finally falling in
to an old smashed-up Love Hotel.
We could picture our small lit-up room
down by the woman who doled out her keys
as if they were dog collars for the unbound.
We edged ever upwards, floor by floor,
not wanting to use the pinball machine, rum,
coin-slot bed, glowing dildo, or karaoke mic,
while a blue fan rattled, rolled like
we were being beaten round inside
some smooth hot-headed drum. Like in a plane
we half-slept, lights red as looped fuck films ran.


Taking Tea with Charles Bernstein

Lapsang Souchong with a lapsed sous chef;

Charles enjoys its smoky aroma and tarry taste.

Keemun with a Communard;

Charles delights in a lightly-scented nutty flavour.

Yunnan with a U-turning UN man;

Charles likes the maltiness with milk.

Gunpowder with Guy Fawkes;

Charles notes the soft honey taste, the little bang of it.

Chun Mee with Connie Chung;

Charles raises his eyebrows at its smoothness.

Oolong with Long John Silver;

Charles eschews milk and sugar, not wanting them to dominate.

Ti Kwan Yin with a typist quite intuitive;

Charles swoons at the fragrant infusion.

Pouchong with Pol Pot;

Charles is suspicious of the very sweet, stylish taste.

Pai Mu Tan Imperial with a pretty tanned empress;

Charles notes the small buds of this rare, white tea.

Yin Zhen with L. Cohen;

Charles spits out the silvery needles.

Jasmine with a Jass band;

Charles sits in with Bix and finds delicate modern time.

Rose Congou with a Belgian from the Congo;

Charles admires the great skill used in t…


The Ministry of Emergency Situations

During an emergency, all
Wedding rings must be removed
And citizens will be asked to
Undress in the streets. The Ministry
Will bathe those affected with
Disinfectant Foam. They must ensure
Their eyes are shut. Those who refuse
To take off jewellery, tokens
Of affection, clothes, will be shot.
The fully naked will dance in
The medical shower, then be
X-rayed and scanned by magnets.
Inspections will go on. The cleansed
Will be allowed to request
Compensation for their torn rags,
Irradiated keepsakes.
The Ministry of Songs will form
A choir, and douse them in anthems.


The Recording Artist

Wonderful, wonderfulJohnny Mathis

My father, among other things, was sometimes sad
And he also sang, just like Johnny Mathis, to us
At night, seated on the left hand of our pillowed heads

His face turned slightly upwards, gracefully, to the side:
The image and sound of him I had when he died –
So that, despite the many hours when he cried out

This memory, not the others, will rise to mind –
Not in order to prove that love is better than suffering
But to record, in my deepest groove, his tenor’s loveliness.


On His Wedding

Rising early as if for a duel, seconded
By a best man, I wake to sky that’s bleu céleste,
Rented tails, and fresh anxiety, but bride
And groom do not turn backs to pace. We
Collide at an altar, as though it was a super-
Conductor. As old Wagner marches
You up the aisle, my awe wells up at what is
Brought in: veiled, molecular, still flowing out.
Your entrance is an atomic favour, for witnesses
Observe us, met here not to cut, but sew space
Rent in multi-fabrics. Our cells push and pull,
Mysterious as that new-smashed meson X(3872).
Side-by-side, apart, like shadow and
Direct flame crossing to overlap, as a rosy flower
Sometimes is mistaken for its name.



Karla is eight.

Her whole body is folded like a napkin used in a trick.

Folded and folded over again.

A red napkin.

Folded and folded, then swallowed.

Out it comes, from somebody’s ear.

Slowly, knotted.

Nobody says: it isn’t the same one.

For her next trick Karla will stay under water, silent.

Until she wants to.


Gun Crazy

Against the world, just us.
Behind, a trail of gas stations,
small banks, the meat packing plant,
knocked over. FBI Telexes
clatter like town gossips across America:
Barton Tare and Laurie Starr, dangerous
and armed. How did it begin?
Neon wakes me, I peel back blinds
to jackhammer rain, shake a Lucky
from the pack, and light.
Behind, on the tangled bed, you are mine,
every inch of your easy hunger, your fear
cold and material in the night.

Where are we two going? When we get
there, how will we know we’ve finally
arrived? Mexico, possibly, but the bills
are marked and the Feds hot on our tails.
The first time we met, I shot six matches
off the crown on your head, at a carnival,
won five hundred bucks. The moment
the matches flared, I knew my bullets
would always be true, direct. You kill
out of a necessity verging on need, I
cannot squint the eye down to that degree,
my hand trembles at the sight of flesh targets.
Still, I’ll end up putting a bullet in your heart
up in the Lorenzo mountains, in the mi…