Clear Night in Oxfordshire
Gemini shifts above me down the lane
in curved or infinite space beyond the bushes,
the clumps of cattle, the tithe barn and the one
poacher who shakes from palm his pipe’s warm ashes.
With snares and stealth he does as his father did;
my thoughts are on the holocaust that’s coming.
He damns in silence the whims of a rabbit god;
I meditate on The End, while loudly humming.
Each from The Bell has gone his separate way:
I with his friends long-dead in distant trenches;
and he – what does he take along of me,
as he stumbles half-drunk through wet grass with his hunches?
It hardly matters. “I’ve seen the bad times, son:
I told the late Squire straight, in his own study –
that’s ﬁfty-ﬁve year ago. I’ve always been
a radical, son, the rulers they be a bloody
leech on the poor!” His Guinness to his lips,
I’ve heard him out with deference to the stories
the locals know by heart. If there are shapes
that I might make, they’ll pass him like the lorries
a mile away on the M4 – streaks of light
cleaving the night to unknown destinations
he gives no thought to, where he curses failing sight
making more dim ancient nocturnal stations.
Old Bob and I, taking appointed paths:
one to the desk, the other to the dingle.
Both warm with beer, and warming to the deaths
we journey towards, and can’t afford to bungle.
The tedium of old age.
With so many pleasures gone
hours wait emptily – forget
seducing wilful Beauty,
or hitting the winning run,
or indulging a wild urge
to party all through the night.
Forget dancing, fancy-free.
Read books, smile at grandchildren,
attend to small household chores,
walk to lose those extra pounds,
and ponder things that happen:
floods, fires, famines, earthquakes, wars,
the deaths of yet more dear friends.
Dark Street Curving
Where does the difficulty lie? –
with thought, word, echo, pattern, form,
or what comes into being when
settles on the page, lacking charm,
trustworthiness, or even tune
recognizably born of sense
struggling with inexperience?
The long day falls away. Evening
stretches and yawns into late night
silence: a chair, a lamp, a book,
and outside a dark street curving
wetly deserted, out of sight,
like another poet’s mistake.
Tony Connor’s tenth collection is framed by military encounters. In the first poem a young man grapples with a malfunctioning machine-gun, while the author grapples with the poem he is making from this event, memory or fantasy. In the surrealistic sequence that ends the book, a strange army invades a country collapsing into societal and semantic dissolution.
Connor’s abiding preoccupations continue into his eighties: his own life and the lives around him, passing time and its traps, poetry and its transfiguration of the commonplace. Yet all is not solemn as Connor extends his range into comic verse and dramatic dialogue. His new poems mix fantasy and reality in unexpected ways, always with the unobtrusive hand of a skilled craftsman.