Tuesday, 16 August 2011

The Bones of Blake

I’ve been thinking about bones, as you do. Last thing to go in the crematorium fire, apparently. The skull hangs on for quite a time and sometimes has to be bashed a bit by workers with a metal bar. Dust, got to get back to that.

When Blake was buried in Bunhill Cemetery in 1827 his body was interred over the top of at least three others. Later four more bodies were buried over the top of his. Land in London was in short supply. The current grave marker drops the usual Here lie the remains of William Blake in favour of the vaguer The remains of William Blake lie nearby. Bones everywhere.

When I travelled to Tewkesbury Abbey in Gloucestershire in search of the mortal remains of the Norman Lords of Cardiff – the founding dynasty of de Clares – I found all four of them grave marked in elegant brass clustering around the holy warmth of the cathedral’s alter. They’d been there since the eleventh century and they are still down there, replete with armour, jewels and burial cloth, tight in their lead-lined stone coffins. Waiting for god. Waiting for redemption.

But actually, no. People just can’t leave alone and down the centuries various grave robbers, disinterers, historians, record keepers, holy archivists and the simply interested have dug down to look, pull, shift and fiddle. What’s there today, apparently, is a mess of bust stone, the odd bone and a mess of mangled rubble. The de Clare eternity. As it should be. Wreckage and dust.

Bones might work as a poem, if I could made them repeat themselves regularly enough. I decided to make them flicker on the edge of the reader’s boredom by changing them slightly but not significantly. A bit like this:

These are the things
you go through
all white bone
chalk white bone
flake white bone
cream white bone
sea white bone
pale white bone
bone white bone
wash white bone
powder white bone
lime white bone
liberal white bone
soft white bone

That began to sound okay, as I created it. I wrote it down, sounded it in the air, changed it, wrote it down again. I then added more:

gloss white bone
bridal white bone
hat white bone
paper white bone
quartz white bone
light white bone
mist white bone
honk white bone
jet white bone
hard white bone
old white bone
cloud white bone
bleach white bone
thin white bone
dust white bone
weak white bone
woven white bone

I stood up in my long study, thought about the bones in my legs and straightened them just like I’d been told to in tai chi, got the body weight to run from the top of my head right down through my bones and into the floor. Weight disposed by gravity. I read the whole thing. Boomed it. Still worked, but still didn’t go anywhere. That was the problem. Not why but where next?

Blake white bone
Clare white bone
Gone white bone

Are poems small intellectual stories with a punch line? Should they prove something? Should they end and the reader know that the end had been reached? Should they always have a deeper purpose? Or are their patterns and the way the air bends around them enough?

1 comment:

Barbara Thimm said...

Do you think the bone is on its own -- in our minds? Or does it stand for an absence (of flesh, that is)? Could that be emulated in language?