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Silent Highway

Anthony Howell

Imprint: Anvil Press Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Available as:
Paperback (96 pages)
(Pub. Nov 2014)
Out of Stock
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  • Excerpt
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    Lord of Storms

    Back from the coast, on a breezy hill, there’s a heaving
    In the dense bamboo, and an undertow
    Of rustle from those cataracts of morning glory
    Burgeoning, since a god split a serpent in two,
    By the spring that used to serve the aqueduct.

    Vritra had sucked up every last drop, so we must thank
    Lord Indra for the water which now spills
    Out of our plunge pool, causing this profusion
    That overwhelms the view: as easy to get lost in it
    As it is to get lost in a poem – a growing tract

    Of jungle spilling down a cleft hewn between deserts
    By little more than a ditch. Bamboo, great walls of bamboo.
    Beyond its palisades, solar panels follow the sunflower’s lead.
    A field of shields, a field of blackened disks.
    Now the morning glory furls. Darkness falls in mauve

    And blue. We look into the pupil of the night,
    And daylight’s blooms deepen into tones of resonance …
    The purple under your eyes, the whirlpools
    Of unhurried time widening into stillness,
    Repeating, ever more slowly, the ghost of a meaning.

    Doesn’t it flow at different rates in different parts
    Of the cosmos? Now there’s the hoot of an owl
    And sombre shades start bleeding into the dream’s aromas.
    Being Indandra by name, they call him Indra cryptically.
    For the devas love the cryptic, yea, they love the cryptic.


    from Silent Highway: Pocahontas

    Thus the river sanctions love and lust
    For water, being water, isn’t dust;
    And sailors like their ladies in less clothes
    Than might seem proper – light shifts and bare toes.
    Call it, then, a short chemise, or mini-skirt,
    That Nannie wears on board the Cutty Sark.
    Weird perhaps for a clipper ship
    To be christened after a sister of Old Nick:
    “But Nannie, far above the rest
    Hard upon noble Maggie prest
    Whose spring brought off her master hale
    But left behind her ain grey tail,
    And when to drink you are inclined
    Or Cutty-sarks run in your mind,
    Think, ye may buy the joys o’er dear,
    Remember Tam O’Shanter’s mare”
    And Nannie’s speed, which brought the tea
    From China each new season with a tail
    Of old rope painted grey within her clutch
    When she sailed in past Greenwich with
    A stack of well-aired Twankey in her hold.
    Think of this silent highway – in its heyday
    Anything but silent – silent now;
    But not when Pocahontas sailed this way,
    On a sparkling morning – cloudless blue,
    A light wind helping and a silvery haze
    Improving London town. But it was hard
    To walk so, in moccasins on cobble-stones:
    Hard to be ignored by James the First,
    Though he looked fine in the palest blue
    On a foaming,fiery horse, and then,
    After a nicer interview with dour
    Sir Walter Raleigh, feverish, in the tower,
    Who knew the doings of the Powhatan,
    Hard to die at Gravesend, of consumption,
    Within a year, her long anticipation
    Heralding so short a stay in London.

    The centrepiece of Silent Highway is the title-poem which celebrates the role of the river Thames in the life of London. It is written as a sequence that looks at history and the present: from Pocahontas’s voyage to the arrival of the Windrush bringing immigrants from Jamaica, the mysterious death of Roberto Calvi and the  Marchioness disaster, via the Fire of London and many incidents in which the river has been spectator or participant. Howell’s mix of verse styles and skill with cameos ensures that interest never flags.

    In other poems he demonstrates his pleasure in avoiding the predictable and in writing on a wide variety of subjects. Among the many poems of place, in which he excels, are some disturbing descriptions of modern Britain; in the final section, poems inspired by a winter spent in Brazil, he has surprises in store, such as the witty (and true) poem ‘In Praise of Shopping’.

    Anthony Howell was born in 1945. A former dancer with the Royal Ballet and subsequently a performance artist – he founded the Theatre of Mistakes 1974 – he has always been as active in literature as he has in movement. He has published several collections of poems and two novels. During ... read more
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