My poems mostly concern the natural world, and our relationships with it. They are also often concerned with time, perhaps because I am not really of today, but of yesterday and tomorrow.
My poetry largely writes itself – it takes me over. Perhaps I am being used. Most poems are written outdoors, in special places – perhaps by the places themselves. Perhaps some places are poets, they dictate to us?
I am not a competition poet, am scarcely a modern poet, and seldom seek to publish my poems in mainstream poetry volumes.
It would be daft to even dream about making a penny out of them.
If you don’t like them: print them out, and light a fire with them; and blame it on my old school, Christ’s Hospital, and on an inspirational English scholar, Peter J Cornish, who taught there, brilliantly, from 1969 to 1971.
I belong to a poetry group, Brokenborough Poets, which meets monthly in The Horse Guards at Brokenborough, an aimless village near Malmesbury in north Wiltshire. We comment constructively on each other’s poems. There are currently eight members (Sue Chadd, our leader, and John Richardson, Phil Kirby, Atherton Gray, David Lukens, Liz Carew and MM Season). We have recently published Fieldwork, an anthology (ISBN 978-1-326-37759-5).
If I ever publish my own collection, it is likely to open with Drunkards Corner, below, which wrote itself, bar subsequent fine-tunings, one midsummer day along the old drove road that curls round the south-east corner of the main block of the Bernwood Forest, an ancient forest north of Oxford, before petering out into a cattle grazed meadow. It is a locality for the rare Black Hairstreak butterfly, which breeds in the Blackthorn jungles that crowd the rutted lane.
For many years, decades even, a rickety wooded gate led into the buttercup meadow, bearing a hand painted notice, in peeling red on a piece of rusty old tin. Recently, the gate has been replaced with one of Defra’s countryside stewardship metal gates, which clangs urbanely. I am unlikely to visit Drunkards Corner again.
Here is a place outside of ordered time,
Where the same cows graze the clay mead,
And light spindles soft along a stippled lane
As if, perhaps, it has always rested so,
Filtered by ever-ancient blackthorn boughs
That tunnel haphazard over age itself,
Through summer, once more, and on again.
I cannot say how this lonely place
Took its name, a name of man,
For no man comes here, drunk or not,
No singer staggers along the ruts,
In time of slipping mud or kicking dust,
On Midsummer or on any other eve.
One act, or one man, long ago aroused this name,
And so it has ever rested so, and ever always will.
But here, still now, amongst the brambled tangles
A whitethroat scratches his rusty song,
While an ancient peeling notice reads and pleads:
‘Please close the gate’, the gate that leads to time.
The next poem is my latest, Winter’s Grave. It wrote itself one wet January day in 2016 on the edge of Hailey Wood, a tract of ancient woodland near Cirencester in the Cotswolds. Hailey is an ethereal place; many of my poems are written there – not by me, I suspect, but by Hailey. It takes me over.
I may come back this way,
Past the hulk of a dead tree
That leans, bookishly,
Under an incessancy of rain;
Past ashes that drip ceaselessly
Through drab January days.
I may pause as a moment stills
Itself in some perpetual longing
For a wakefulness not come,
As a squall blows itself by;
And shelter leeward there awhile
To touch the first primrose bloom.
Then shall I dream, alone,
The spring, in its eternity,
As drifts of blossom fully spent;
Where once, as January paled,
A line of berried yew trees bled
The way to dismal winter’s grave.
(Copyright, Matthew Oates. Jan 2016)
I wanted to use the term ‘incessancy of rain’, inspired by the excessive rains of December 2015 and early January 2016. If you want to know what the poem’s about, visit Hailey and ask her; but note that only the wood’s western half is poetic – the eastern half has been penetrated by dog walkers and sulks.
The following are the first and seventh stanzas of a pig of a poem, Simulacra (Latin, Likenesses), a bitter meditation on unrequited love, set in the poignant autumn of 1975, which followed and destroyed a great summer. There are nine stanzas. It ain’t nice.
You were the endless summer’s ending,
You were its shimmering autumn fall,
Beginning on a bronze September day,
When sunlight pledged eternity
Beyond the pale transience of spring
That ends so deadened by the rain,
The cold embittered autumn rain
That blows before the emptying of time,
Gathered from the lifeless, deathless
Windblown waves that rage on wintry seas.
Magenta the spindle, in a vacant autumn lane,
Breaks to reveal an orange-tongued heart;
Rose-red the sunset, as love alone lies down,
Blood red, the rosehip heralds October dawn.
Fall through me then, you maelstrom leaves,
Drift as fire-filled flies that, without knowing,
Have lost the souls they once possessed;
Be scattered by the burnished autumn winds,
To litter and bedeck the woodland floor
With sullen corpses, glorifying death,
Rotting in the rains of cussed winter;
To be engorged, by sightless, mindless worms,
Till all vestige of summer fades beyond recall;
That others may be born, not again, but once,
To live and love and then be felt no more.
Muddied, the sombre waste of trampled leaves,
Bloodied, the vestiges of passions that have fled,
Bereft of colour, the soul’s own no-man’s land;
Impassioned red, the lost rose of summer gone.
I told you it wasn’t nice. The whole poem is orders of magnitude more nasty. Burn it, it burnt me.
Others may follow. The above is a taster, a starter pack.