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Three place-poems with an introduction.

By ANTONY ROWLAND.

This sequence is, in a sense, a response to The Life of Charlotte Brontë, because Gaskell’s book merges acute observations of Haworth and its environs with questionable accounts of the wild, vicious natives…

INTRODUCTION: THE TITLE of the first poem in this sequence, ‘Manchester and Leeds-where are they?’ is taken from Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of Charlotte Brontë. The whole sequence is, in a sense, a response to The Life of Charlotte Brontë, because Gaskell’s book merges acute observations of mid-nineteenth-century Haworth and its environs with questionable accounts of the wild, vicious natives: Gaskell is rightly accused of perpetuating the ‘Brontë myth’ of the parsonage family growing up in the forgotten wastes of outer Yorkshire. Hence the sequence mixes my own creative responses to the landscape and experiences of the region with direct quotations, and sometimes collages, from the biography, usually to subvert Gaskell’s presumptions. In contrast, the first stanza of ‘Manchester and Leeds-where are they?’ presents a continuity between Gaskell’s colourful ‘larrups’ and a landlord from Heptonstall who flitted whilst allegedly owing money to some regulars. Hence Gaskell’s ‘sleuth-hounds’ pursuing their debts in the mid-nineteenth century cannot be completely disassociated from the concerns of the contemporary. The factory wheels at the end of the stanza refer, of course, to the industrialisation of the area in the nineteenth century compared to the previous domestic production of textiles, and the introduction of, for example, a cotton spinning shed in Hebden Bridge Mill.

One particular detail from the Gaskell biography which struck me in the context of my own family history is Gaskell’s characterisation of the dogged ‘Norse’ inhabitants. My own Bradford heritage takes the compass a little south: emigrating as Flemish weavers in the late eighteenth century, my family got into hairdressing in Essex before moving north (as I recount in my first poetry collection, The Land of Green Ginger); probably due to an outbreak of cholera in London at the time. As a teenager, I worked for Bradford Council and emptied the bins in Haworth before partying at a house near the railway on Bridgehouse Lane. Now my experiences of the village can’t be extricated from that of Gaskell’s tourist, and yet I still can’t shake the mistaken sense that the Brontës were somehow ‘ours’.

The sequence is also a form of creative redress. As a student, I was berated and excoriated in an essay for referring to the lack of curtains in the parsonage due to Patrick’s worries over fires. Rewarded with several lines of red ink (it was that long ago) and critical invective, I was told that I was effectively contributing to ‘the Brontë myth’ by peddling such nonsense. Thirty years later, I came across Angus Easson’s wonderful annotations on The Life of Charlotte Brontë, which refer exactly to the lack of curtains in the parsonage. It is now time to draw a line under a pupil’s simmering indignation.

barbed rule‘Manchester and Leeds—where are they?’

Sleuth-hounds pursue their money
and purse against the hoar-frost
the hale men lingering custom
spinning at the great wheels
until factories crash the dawn

Declivities tend to brutalise
the roads draining as sloop rinks
to magnates of secluded hamlets
where you stair to alter a pump
the bill as gel in your folding plans

Your crime was only a lock
dreaming of saddle-girths in mud
halting the precinct with a face
conducted under pressure, sizzling
above the pans of meat; your daze

He stays as a bastion of exactitude; lichen
blooms on slate like jellyfish crowns,
his silence rare as a vendace
where black clings as drainpipes
your stain blinked in his violence

The lithophones of Hornfels stone:
lark warble to the bass of a funeral
where we dream of mycologist and herdwicks
volcanic tuff dropped in the mist
trust as belaying the fells’ edge

Dangerous when perverted
I shall forget the utterance, the utter
indomitability of your palate
a glutton for banishment
among lords doting the parish

All doors open to winter
and the harshness of a wrong bun
loosen the table with a blessing
you meilly-mouthed larrups
singing the tun to Asketh bridge

Charms to endow the loom
cordial as mountains, gentle
as a vestry meeting, happy
for occasion, the scutter
of gimcracks in an alleged park

Norse-bred natives until cholera
peculiar forms of population, a race
sagacity and dogged power
as Chiserley pins the valley
to light crag, the deciduous sway

Affections are not wide-spreading
amenities of curt and tone
the blunt squalls and hill air
rough as this vinegar, the pane
freezing our drinker backs to mash

Turn the bar churl into Joseph
and enduring grudges, more leads
than wallets on this bloody loon
who still draws stone in his wallet
for debts that flit to a Halifax chain

Irregularity mars the pastoral
authority grumbles as a cur
the pedigree enters to lap
grapefruit of a Goose Eye pot
the dye turning the streams to beat

Lamartine, Kossuth and Dembinsky:
replies crust to an insult. Doited,
the youths warch in their blood
to skunk among the rivers’ leaves
skilled to an ordinary yes

Ancestral homes are a dense thaw
among the becks and minerals
arvills pitched between mourners
where we now rub a cottage bed
half-naked and blooded as a foot-race

Psalms flog the church mornings
of Norse ancestors who repair the Bull
as respect, stored with cold possets
and the dog’s nose of chased ale: shirk
your liquor and face a pawsing

Hardening as mint cake, the people turn
addle and die among the sumphishness
of fire hogs, the defibrillator hung
as relic by those panting over stamps,
the wreck divining the branches

Strangers came from beyond Burnley:
finial teeth lodged their slate
their box a lintel punched with crosses
their clouds weigh on Widdop tarn
carts distort the angled panes

Servants rubbed his circulation
to great raptures, the third heaven
a sermon lasting Lent, with fervour
of Wesley in as many churches per acre
as these pubs wrapped in winter bights.

Stone the football to pebbles
challenge the alternative parish
to moor races; say neigh
to profligacy under the bare moon
for a chapel bolstered to element

Arvills and the foot-races
pitched the mourners to froth
the railway ales from India
pale as a citrus to ruddy
these dogged cuppers meld to fire

Not enough room for communicants
pray do not flatter them at Hell
with their eyes open to seed-cake
everyone inattentive to knees
among gems elusive as a bit-coin scam

Do not walk between service fields:
he sports a whip to the public houses
he flogs the loiterers to genuflect
we push our lungs on his cobbles
mounting our inklings to breath

You awaken those to God
snivelling in a backwards room
you nobble with a raw onion
we press the space with Espace
an incline jaded to a pad

The horse-races were objectionable
combustible to wickedness
tea scones busted with currants
by a stream enhanced with liquor
a stone cross bought to its please

He brought his earnestness
rain buckets that spurned the feast
no beast or footing for a man
the faithful ministration of a pint
the peeled virtue of HEART AND SOUL

Revenge as hereditary duty
among the heavy grasses and poor moss
wrong in Lawrence, alleviate
our sump of black pudding, bloody
as the nose of the baker’s trot

Thoresby prunes mourn the rosemary:
he was obliged to desist: they
beat him to the Keighley turnpike
we partied there after a hint
and rolled our thighs in tin potches

Give dissenters their kale through the reek,
back bites and sniggle. Dogs warm pelts
in the sotted aperture of The Fox and Goose
where a guitar unseats our pints
with its bend leather, greedy to palm

Ovver th’ steyres you were,
the sty of a grouse’s mizzle
sticking the doors of the chapelry
hunting to quaff the rigger
or the grapefruit of a pale Chinook

Rain intensifies the tiles
the deadening orange buoys
the swell of beans that need sticking
reminiscences that stand a pillow
SENTIMENTAL STATIONS WILL BE MADE

Ponden.

Jupon, camisole and curl-papers
as rocks and quicksands;
an improper fichu
opened to the blinds, and
a sunset parsing its cloud.

Echoes of the snatches:
the canker exasperates
over the uneven lanks
of Brontë water, the skylarks
shifting between practice falls.

Bring taste: dulcet creams
or the parkin rusks in cafés
like Villette: the black peas
of border towns where Haworth
pits into the outskirt heath.

The glebe-house as grave
in Peri-mask; a soft
agitation of space as we
join the hollow and kittle pots,
shuffling over the borders.

Tighten your skin to
a parson’s ‘fit’ and girth
of chocolate surtout: a mud road
gunged with tyres, the grass
raising its edge to Ponden Mill.

A shillelagh grasped
in his dexter fist: random questions
for a shovel hat and sog pattens
where a lapwing quiff
crashes the path to Oxenhope.

The poet’s festal brightness:
a Yorkshire burr bulls out
the rattan’s squeak. Cuckoos impress
as merlins, then doves bend
in return to an errant V.

The steam of dye houses
repeats in a cloud shift:
prepare your lollies among
tea cloughs with heads
pitted against his metal darlings.

Buried in coeval oaks:
BD22 I could never believe
was a home outpost, pestled
between Thornton’s confusion
and the iced reservoirs of Colne.

Uncorrupted excellence:
the musk of heated bookshops;
the clean pride of Mr Moore;
the pale ribbons of Stanbury
mugged in a sky of orchinol.

Wormwood and gall to Luddites:
the squatting mills
repel in selfish moonlight
up to the saddle girth
in their bloodied pitch.

Outrageously charitable
like dripping lard or
another larrup perquisite
over the cobbles to pot
the road jagging to Oakworth.

The double frills of a net-cap
surround the pulpit brow
now railings carted for shrapnel,
the cow parsley of kine,
paths of sycamore rainments.

A continual fry and beef slice
of parson invasion: cheese
coagulates your guttle like
rock pips bleeding their foam;
apples winnowed as choice pigs.

Let’s settle the Dissenters,
your samel disciples
over the animal pitches
of uncaulked bone: they pace
and flume the cattle grids.

A shower of curates
horse the siling evening,
pool their fripperies
among the farms ripped
to blocks and beams of teeth.

Luddites build to a rush—
Mun we say, wisht! Lig down?—
as cow afterbirth beads
its string of liver, garlic
abacus and bulbing lungs.

Decidedly inclined,
the embonpoint at Fieldhead;
the Jacobins rich in dykes,
down in conifers trained to patch
dwelling toys on purple moor.

Crabbed contumacy
among the stickle of non-
resistance; this pipit taming
the path tributaries
of early bilberry greens.

Subject of panegyric:
his blood is good, coated
with these submarine hills
periscoped as forests, and
absent trails of Saxon barks.

I feared your loveliness
among the sides falling
to becks that sop the woods,
the moor edge of Enshaw
trawling its core.

Drink eagerly of lune, as
you waste your snow-wreath
after Tartar’s fangs;
cling to your posset
and the flagging stone.

An eulogium of beech
slides the wide angle
of these beck valleys; stones
mossed and shed from
the lost hands and scattered pew.

Please be a vicinage
or bounteous repast beyond
the expostulation of lovely Harriet
as chickens bob the graves, Tabitha
mulled under a bricked swing.

The lake-lasses, een
that pierced a body through
hobble the tussock;
paths as white streams
and dry-stone as rampart.

You disdain sympathy
with a kindled eye, under
the heavy ashes
and clouds ranking
to your bonnet-point.

Girn at your perverseness
and despotic necessity
of ruling the clefts: you
are parched for an answer,
tucking into its afternoon.

Your nose flasks a strand
among the doddered oaks
as morning spreads its poppies
to corner folds, slowing
the boulders’ approach.

Wise in precocious conceits
is Jessie’s cuckoo-song;
all these participles
cranking the past to
a willow-patterned tureen.

Mounds of sullen outline
beyond the jessamine lattice,
the pencilled shadow
of a church hunkering its dead
and filling its gates.

Oxenhope.

A crude rhapsody of tilt
and leaf: quires of paper
run to sand, and books
grass a lost exhibition.
A gin-ring races

a circuit to Gomersal
and Cleckheaton where
a reservoir frowns its laps.
Done up with prosing
and charivari art stew:

cuckoo still imitates hawk
where becks teem the scud
in Chapel Plat and mud brooks
the colour of quaigh
or usquebauch under cottages

boxing their grimestone.
Boli of turf blacken
like Warren’s jet;
follow the pipit thrill
to Ogden spores

after the flesh farewell
of Ash Wednesday. Your
Schwester mourns as wires
rust the current
under the eyes of side-

jaw to cud: stunned
with opium, the reeds
flatten like a brother’s will,
a cloud away. Hydropathic
establishments in Ilkley

are fogged to the Batley
corn mills where clitter
runs to sphagnum
and a collie holes
its frisbee in a ramrod

declivity: cry the family
into soap. Fern browns
to wind slant and moss
spreads the northern bark.
Light shales the back surface,

not a portal geography, but
nearly couched eyes, cut
after The Salutation slub
and cataracts as deep
as a gulph of verge

in sackcloth weather
when rain circles
an intolerable thaw, tight
as a charley horse
on the vicarage in Oundle.


Antony Rowland has published three poetry collections: The Land of Green Ginger (Salt, 2008)—which was shortlisted for the Michael Murphy Award—I Am a Magenta Stick (Salt, 2012), and M (Arc, 2017). He was awarded the Manchester Poetry Prize in 2012, and his poems have been anthologised in Identity Parade: New British and Irish Poets (Bloodaxe, 2010), and New Poetries III (Carcanet, 2003). He received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors in 2000, and recorded for the national Poetry Archive in 2009, and the Lyrikline (Berlin) in 2014. The Dutch government elected him as a UK poetry ‘ambassador’ for 2016: his poetry was read on national television, and shown on screens at Schipol airport and Amsterdam Central Station. He teaches poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University.

 

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