Apologies for the lateness of the Sunday Poem today. Irish Alice and I Went Out last night and not only was it very late when we got back, but I made the fatal mistake of feeding her Port at two o’clock in the morning. In the early days of our acquaintance, the misguided application of late night Ports, Rhubarb and Custards or brandies would result in torrential, albeit well-informed, lectures on the history of Irish politics. I have put a stop to this. Nowadays, I get the minutiae of her friends and neighbours back in Tipperary, whom I now feel I know as intimately as I know myself. She has just left; two strong cups of tea, three Marlboro Reds and a torrent of colourful language have restored her factory settings.
Enough of this, let’s talk about poetry. Anthony Thwaite is a writer who has been deeply involved in English literary life; in addition to 15 volumes of his own poetry, he has been a publisher and literary editor of magazines such as The Listener and the New Statesman, and is an executor of the estate of Philip Larkin. His work is broad and expansive and extends from homage to Larkin to more lyrical and romantic work. He has an honorary D.Litt from the University of Hull, and was made an OBE in 1990. He has lectured at universities worldwide, including Japan and Libya (where he spent his military service), and he is the co-editor of The Penguin Book of Japanese Verse.
I came across this poem last week, curled up late at night in front of the fire, in a browned and brittle Penguin anthology, recently extracted from the Age Concern Bookshop in Harborough. Something about this poem sets all one’s senses tingling. I could hear and feel the voices in the pub, the smell, the textures, that strange solitude of being in a pub alone, other humans but no connection. Very moving.
Mr Cooper – by Anthony Thwaite (1930 – )
Two nights in Manchester: nothing much to do,
One of them I spent partly in a pub,
Alone, quiet, listening to people who
Didn’t know me. So I told the bloody sub-
Manager what he could do with it . . . Mr Payne
Covers this district – you’ll have met before?
Caught short, I looked for the necessary door
And moved towards it; could hear, outside, the rain.
The usual place, with every surface smooth
To stop, I suppose, the aspirations of
The man with pencil stub and dreams of YOUTH
AGED 17. And then I saw, above
The stall, a card, a local jeweller’s card
Engraved with name, JEWELLER AND WATCHMENDER
FOR FIFTY YEARS, address, telephone number.
I heard the rain falling in the yard.
The card was on a sort of shelf, just close
Enough to let me read this on the front.
Not, I’d have said, the sort of words to engross
Even the keenest reader, nothing to affront
The public decency of Manchester.
And yet I turned it over. On the back
Were just three words in rather smudgy black
Soft pencil: MR COOPER – DEAD. The year
Grew weakly green outside, in blackened trees
Wet grass by statues. It was ten to ten
In March in Manchester. Now, ill at ease
And made unsure of sense and judgement when
Three words could throw me, I walked back into
The bar, where nothing much had happened since
I’d left. A man was trying to convince
Another man that somehow someone knew
Something that someone else had somehow done.
Two women sat and drank the lagers they
Were drinking when I’d gone. If anyone
Knew I was there, or had been, or might stay,
They didn’t show it. Good night, I almost said,
Went out to find the rain had stopped, walked back
To my hotel, and felt the night, tall, black,
Above tall roofs. And Mr Cooper dead.
There was an error on WordPress which wouldn’t let me do linking, so if you want to go to Amazon to find this book , click on the link below. I will try again later.