Sunday, 30 March 2014

The St Pancras resonances

This is a poem sequence I wrote in 1992-1993.  I have alluded to its origins before: around 1988, in a Guardian interview with Stephen Poliakoff about his film Hidden city, I read the sentence (I quote from memory):

While filming at St Pancras Hotel, he was told of another complete station underneath St Pancras, which was bricked up like a time capsule at the end of the last century and now, presumably, awaits the mega-development of the site.

That became an obsession of mine partly because it made me think of so many other things.  The poem sequence looks at them one after another.

A few disclaimers are in order:

The date in Resonance 3 is incorrect.  It derives from a half-remembered entry in a Nicholson's guide.  The closure of the Chesterfield Canal west of Worksop happened rather later.

In Resonance 7, no link is intended with any real person, living or dead.  Googling the words St Pancras Trust (as one couldn't in 1993) brings up links to several organisations with those words in their name, all of which are concerned with far better projects than the truthifying of an urban legend.  And I had better not give any more time to changing the names of the characters.  The characters bear no resemblance to people of similar names who are known to me.

'The St Pancras resonances' was published in Cous-cous 4, March 1995, pp. 10-11.


"Underneath St Pancras lies
    bricked up at the end
of the nineteenth century
    like a time capsule
waiting for the other works
    to complete the site
such a darkened terminus."

Resonance 1

The house was old: of course it had a tunnel.
We wished it didn't, but we hoped it did.
We hunted it by tapping on the walls.

    tap    tap    tap

    tap    tap    tap

    tap    tap    tap

    B W A R M ! ! !
  B W A R M ! ! !
  B W A R M ! ! !

which knocked me cold awake.

Resonance 2

The book where Mozart notes the work he's done
is dated seventeen-eighty-four dash one
-- century blank.  Eight years remain unrun.

Resonance 3

Brindley's canal winds level:
north, the remains of brickworks.
West, above Worksop, steeper,
a heavily-locked section,
closed in eighteen-ninety-six.

Resonance 4

Even the twomost years at length
came round again to May,
evening, and they began to end
his time away.

In plain clothes but accompanied
and reading upside down,
Westbourne Park, night in Pentonville,
then fetched through town

by cab to Bloomsbury, fresh clothes,
breakfast, reunion
with many friends, so many, late
into the afternoon,

night passage to Dieppe, spring dawn,
high spirits, Reading charmed
into the castle of a myth,
the King unharmed,

the Queen fêted with strawberries,
sirop de grenadine
for fifteen gamins, and a cake
in pink and green,

much gratitude, much joy in life,
new life, and a new name,
and waiting in the air the plays
that never came:

the work so rich in beauty that
it would shine back the phrase
of those who sneered that such a life
had led such ways

darkened inside him.  Three more years
creaked festering and black
up to November nineteen-hundred,
end of the track.

Resonance 5

Two hundred years apart, and parting two
quite other other worlds, having in view
centuries' ends, the stones torn down by rage
turned round at once and parted age from age.

Resonance 6

The run up to the one hundredth psalm
is a run of mounting exultation:
a run all through the nineties
shouting louder and louder,
the whole run, jubilee, coronation, power
over the thunder of floods,
and the roar of the sea itself
declares the glory of God,
the many coastlands rejoice,
the hills sing together for joy
and worship by his holy mountain,
one whole world joyful in the Lord,
serve him with gladness, come before
his presence with a song,
all generations gathered up
in the Old Hundredth,
all people that on earth shall dwell.
Then the mirror quivers in the sun
at slanderers I will destroy,
haughty and arrogant I will not endure,
I will know nothing of evil,
and again it goes off a little.
And next morning --
oh, it's a bit like the first week in January,
it's almost like the-silver-wedding-and-then-the-countdown-began.
There is a forgetting to eat,
and strength broken in mid-course,
and a long time,
a trudge of psalms,
a limp of inventories,
a c.v. of as many blessings as you can find,
before it will go bright again.
But it has more good to run:
the end of the psalms is in mid-century,
a soaring trajectory of praise.

Resonance 7

Lyn discovered she had been once divorced.
We hadn't touched on it for years, and then,
coming up from a conversation -- oh,
money, my work for the St Pancras Trust --
but coming up from that, you know, and after
the News at Ten, I made some cocoa for us,
not fishing for apologies, and held,
she grimaced as I held her hand a bit, I said,
then or later but that day or that week,
I said We've made it up to fifteen years,
anyway, and still going strong, and then,
tactlessly, stupidly, I don't know, I said
That's five times where you got with Harry.  She said,
Harry?  I don't know anyone called Harry...
As if I'd made some silly accusation.
Harry was her first husband.  And, OK,
I know we've talked about it less and less,
as time goes by all memories get awkward,
but there are documents, old letters, photos,
cuttings even.  I got the box, went through it,
showed her them, wished I hadn't, as I think
it left her rather shaken.  No, it's not
a sort of shadow life, with shadow kids
growing and eating, winning shadow prizes.
Harry and Lyn were married just three years.
They hadn't any children.  Was I right
to resurrect it after all this time?
I think so.  She is a librarian,
she tends, or did tend, I should say, to make
herself the rational, the academic,
married as if by accident, and me
harmless enough with my St Pancras Trust
but -- Well, anyway, I think the raising
of her amnesia -- five years of it --
has let her see that (a) she too can be
deluded -- self-deluding -- and, much more,
there really are enclaves of the unseen,
even in your own life.  Who knows, will Lyn
one day again be helping with the Trust?

Yes, the St Pancras Trust -- just Lyn and me
to start with, she was with Harry still,
but the last ten years have seen such a huge
upsurge of interest that I devote
myself to it full-time -- it aims to settle
the truth about the buried terminus.
Because officially there's nothing there,
just a staff car-park that was once a depot
for beer-trains in from Burton-on-Trent, or some say
the old St Pancras Underground -- you see it
west of King's Cross St Pancras, one dark platform --
when that was closed and bricked off, that must be
the grit inside the buried-station "myth".
Or: is it really there? did funds run out?
were the plans lost when history
derailed everything in nineteen-fourteen?  Who knows?

I sometimes dream about the buried station.
The other night, it was a bright March morning,
I was on Euston Road and walking east.
St Pancras clock tower -- in the dream it looked
like Westminster Cathedral -- had a clock
which showed the time with numbers coming out
like the blades on a large-scale working model
of a Swiss Army knife -- you've seen it too.
And this clock signalled, eighteen-ninety-seven!
I ran across the road -- this was a dream --
hoping the buried terminus was open,
and, you know, what else will it restore?
Lyn and me happier again, or reconciled
with Harry, as it does from time to time
trouble my conscience, or them never married,
Harry not outrageously patronizing
to his own assistants, or to me, or ...?
I reached St Pancras, I could see the platforms,
which I had seen in dreams before, dark, empty,
and they were bright, with trains and people -- people
I could recognize in the dream, and shall
if I should ever meet them, but the blades
moved on again, the radio alarm
was hardening the real world, I was waking.
But it occurs to me, that was the day
that ended with her big discovery,
and I think -- touch wood -- ushered in the spring.
That was it, yes.  That was the dream I had --
that was the day, I'm sure!  That was the day!

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Trees and virtual teaching

This post contains two poems.

I entered the first one in the Guardian Poster Poem competition for March 2014, in which the mode of entry was to upload the poem among the blog comments.  The poem was written in 2004, as my entry in another competition -- to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Joyce Kilmer's poem 'Trees'.


So the poem by Joyce Kilmer

adds trees to what we remember

1914 for. Another year --

of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster,

of the Hungerford massacre,

of the underground King’s Cross fire,

of no summer -- I read from cover to cover

Mitchell and Wilkinson’s Trees of Britain and Northern Europe;

and the way its entries trace

lines between the names of place

and evoke the scent of trees

marked it with poetic grace. 

The second poem is by way of a makeweight: a haiku.  Clare gave a presentation, at the March 2014 Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds Inter-Disciplinary Project conference in Prague, on her report Higher education teaching in virtual worldsConference participants all rose to the informal challenge to write haiku on their presentations.  Clare is tweeting hers, and she suggested that I, though unconnected with the conference, might like to have a go.  This is it:

SL failed to blaze 
every candle at both ends 
but it can help teach.