Authors: Philip Terry
For Marina Warner
Thanks to Tim Atkins, Mark Burnhope, Adrian Clarke, Sarah Crewe, James Davies, Steven Fowler, Ulli Freer, Jesse Glass, Peter Hughes, Piers Hugill, Tom Jencks, Peter Kennedy, Sophie Mayer, Aodán McCardle, Stephen Mooney, William Rowe, Michael Schmidt and Scott Thurston, who have previously published sections from this sequence, usually in a different form, in books, pamphlets and magazines.
I would also like to thank Ann Davey and Lou Terry, who have lived through this, as well as all the friends and poets who have helped this work along in one way or another with suggestions, encouragement, and opportunities to read, in particular Wayne Clements, Lyndon Davies, Cristina Fumagalli, John Goodby, Seamus Heaney, Jeff Hilson, Keith Jebb, Antony John, Jess Kenny, Matt Martin, Harry Mathews, Adrian May, David Miller, Marjorie Perloff, Tom Raworth, Stephen Rodefer, Tony Tackling, Jonathan White and Johan de Wit. Without the enthusiasm and support of all of these individuals this book would never have been written. Finally, I would like to thank Robert Sheppard for supplying some of the villains for Canto XIX.
Halfway through a bad trip
I found myself in this stinking car park,
Underground, miles from Amarillo.
Students in thongs stood there,
Eating junk food from skips,
flagmen spewing E’s,
Their breath of fetid
Myrrh and ratsbane,
And condemned chicken shin
Then I retched on rising ground;
Rabbits without ears, faces eaten away
Crawled towards a bleak lake
The stink would revive a
sparrow, spreadeagled on
It so horrified my heart
Here, by the toxic water,
lay a spotted trout, its glow
lighting paths for the VC.
And nigh the bins a giant rat,
Seediness oozing from her Flemish pores,
Pushed me backwards, bit by bit
Into Square 5,
where the wind gnaws
and sunshine is spent.
By the cashpoint
a bum asked for a light,
hoarse from long silence, beaming.
When I saw him gyrate,
His teeth all wasted,
through speed and booze,
I cried out
Whatever you are, man or ghost!’
‘Not man, though formerly a man,’
he says, ‘I hail from Providence,
Rhode Island, a Korean vet.
Once I was a poet, I wrote
of bean spasms,
was anthologised in
‘You’re never Berrigan, that spring
Where all the river of style freezes?’
I ask, awe all over my facials.
‘I’m an American
Primitive,’ he says,
‘I make up each verse as it comes,
By putting things
have to go.’
‘O glory of every poet, have a light,
May my Zippo benefit me now,
And all my stripping of your
You see this hairy she-rat
that stalks me like a pimp:
Get her off my back,
for every vein and pulse
Throughout my frame she hath
‘You must needs another way pursue,’
He says, winking while I shade my pin,
‘If you wouldst ’scape this beast.
Come, she lets none past her,
Save the VC; if she breathes on you,
you’re teaching nights.
This way, freshman, come,
If I’m not far wrong we can find
A bar, and talk it over with Ed and Tom.’
I went where he led, across a square
And down some steps,
following the crowd.
The SU bar, where we queued
For 30 minutes
To get a watery beer, was packed;
Ed and Tom
Sat at a banquette in the corner
Chain-smoking and swapping jokes.
Here we joined them,
till closing time,
the beer doing the talking.
‘Look,’ said Tom, ‘if this guy’s got funding
And approval from the Dean and whatever,
Why not take him round?’
‘Show him the works,’ said Ed, ‘no holds barred!’
‘You mean,’ said Berrigan, ‘give him
a campus tour,
Like, give him Hell?’
‘That’s exactly what I mean,’ said Ed.
‘Let’s drink to it!’ said Tom,
At which we all raised our glasses,
Unsteadily, clinking them together above
The full ashtray.
‘Hell,’ pronounced Berrigan gnomically,
‘Is other people. Sartre said that.
Hell is Hell. I said that.’
Now people were leaving,
we shifted outside,
Into the cold air,
Where we lingered a moment sharing a last
Cigarette, then split,
Ed and Tom going to their digs
Leaving me and Ted to breathe the night air.
The day was dying,
the rabbits, unable to move,
sat confused in the fading light,
And I too found myself stuck to the spot
as I do
At the thought of that terrible journey
Which outdoes memory.
Now, Oulipo, come to my aid,
And muses, if you are there, now
Is the moment to show yourselves,
As I inscribe what I saw.
‘Poet,’ I said, ‘who come to guide me,
Do you think I’m cut out for this?
you said you
“heard the dead, the city dead
The devils that surround us,”
And in life you always had one foot
In the underworld – and I don’t just mean
You were friends with Lou Reed
Like Virgil, who wrote of Sylvius’
father, who, while subject to corruption,
journeyed to the immortal world,
You have that special power
to penetrate the veil of sense;
Nor am I a Heaney or a Walcott,
Come to mention it,
By what right should
Perhaps you’ve got the wrong man?
And then, if I say I’m up for it,
I fear I might make a fool of myself.
You see what I’m driving at –
Perhaps you can understand my
‘I get your drift,’ said Berrigan, ‘you’re
Getting what in the trade we call cold feet.
You’ve got that
fear that all too often
Turns a man away from a noble enterprise,
As a frightened beast that runs from its own shadow.
Now listen up. I’ll tell you why I came
And why I first took pity on your
I was hanging out among those souls in Limbo
When a Lady came up to me
And dragged me out of my lethargy.
She was so fair and blessed
That I was won over at once.
Her eyes shone with a light brighter than any
Eye-liner, and she began in soft and gentle
Yet commanding words to address me,
With the voice of an angel:
“Oh noble spirit, courteous Rhode Islander,
You who taught in the Poetry Project
At St Mark’s, and indeed taught here too,
Whose fame still shines resplendent in the world
And will continue to shine as long as Time lasts,
I have a friend and colleague, so impeded
In his way across the Essex wastes
that he has turned back for
And I fear already
From what I have heard in London,
That I have come too late for his relief.
Now go, and with your ready turn of phrase,
And all the art at your disposal,
Help him, so that I may have solace.
I who urge you to go am Marina;
I come from a place I must quickly return to,
For I need to give a talk at the
British Library, this same afternoon,
Where there is a symposium on the sonnet,
With Jeff Hilson and Paul Muldoon –
When I return there, often will I sing your praise.”
She was silent then, so I began:
“Oh Lady of Grace, aren’t you that
Lady writer on the TV
Talking about the Virgin Mary
Celebrated in that Dire Straits song?
It’s good to meet you ma’am, and let me
Tell you now, you can rely on me to
Get the job done. It’ll be a pleasure,
And a good excuse to get out of this place,
Which gets real dull at times.
But tell me, what madness
Brought you to this point of spacelessness,
Stuck out here in the marshlands of Essex,
And away from your spacious home in town?”
“That song,” she replied, “is not really about me –
about a beloved
Of Mark Knopfler’s, of whom I briefly remind him.
As for your other question, why I fear not
To come within this place,
I can answer with ease:
A woman only stands in fear of those things
That have the power to do us harm,
Of nothing else, for nothing else is fearful.
I first heard tell of my friend’s predicament
On a lunch date with Dawn and Michèle,
And they urged me to make this untimely visit;
There never was an entrepreneur in all of Texas
More anxious to pursue his selfish ends
Than I was, having heard this,
To rush down here and do what I could,
Confiding in thy noble speech, which honours thee,
And they who have heard it!”
After telling me all this, she turned away
Her bright eyes, weeping, then made her way
To the car park.
To cut a long story short, that’s why I
Came to get you, just in time to stop that
Giant rat getting its teeth into you.
So what’s your problem?
Why chicken out now, with dames like these
To look out for you?
Pull yourself together, there’s not a moment
As daffodils, bent down and cowed
By the chill night air, lift themselves up
when the sun whitens them,
So my courage began to come back,
And I stood up,
as one who is ready to go.
‘I was a fool to doubt you,’ I said,
‘Let’s get moving.’
These are the words I spoke, and as Berrigan turned,
I entered on the savage path.