Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Some poems from Delhi: Richard Gwyn


I loved Richard Gwyn's understated reading in Delhi. The poems he read came from somewhere inside him rather than being picked out of the air. Both procedures are fine, but there was a sense of some almost bottomless deep blue sea there. The tread was delicate and the balance precise, but it wasn't about delicacy or even precision in the end, but about a state of being. I read his memoir The Vagabond's Breakfast on the plane home and was gripped and moved by it.


Absolutely nothing or nobody can help you now. You are on your own. Outside a gale blows. There is a beggar lying on the porch bt you cannot let him in. He will bring pestilence, disease and chaos. His name, you have been informed, is unpronouncable except to those who speak the dialect of a part of the country you have never visited. A beggar then, whose name you cannot speak, whose needs can never be satisfied, and whose gift is turmoil. But you need to pass him if you are to leave the house. So you assume a disguise, open the front door, step onto the pavement. The beggar appears to be asleep. You ring your bell, clutching your hood tight around you face. 'Unclean,' you say, voice quaking: 'unclean.' The beggar whose name you cannot say lifts his head. His eyes are bloodshot. He smiles upat you and from deep inside his coat produces a black snake. He holds it above his face for an instant, then drops it into his upturned mouth. The tail enters last, thrashing from side to side. He belches, wipes his lips and lies down again, turning his back to you. The depth of his breathing tells you he has fallen straight back to sleep.

Richard read just one prose poem in Delhi I think, one shorter than this, titled Dust which I liked very much but that isn't in my book. I could just as easily have picked the excellent verse love poem Dissolving that was printed in the full programme of the festival (and I might return to it) but I have chosen this because it is a prose poem and for its unremitting encounter with something altogether more sinister. The you in the poem is one possible variant on the first person singular as distanced into dreamlike automatic state. The beggar might be a figure from nightmare or conjured from memory but he certainly enters nightmare with the appearance of the black snake. Despite this there is no panic, no melodrama, no cheap gothic, only the steadiness of survival, a survival in which the we believe because we know this is no fancy. This too is understated. The prose is what keeps us in the world of reported event. It comes from his collection of prose poems, Sad Giraffe Cafe (2010)

Richard also blogs as Ricardo Blanco

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