By STEVE ELY.
HAD SUFFERED MANY things, of many Physicians
Since the fall our seed has been punished
to the fifth generation. No future but scraps
from the banqueters’ table or leaving the dead
to bury the dead and joining their killers.
So uncap the shaft and layer us down,
like captured carbon, or radioactive carbon rods,
stacked floor-to-roof on the maingate rip
in spongy pillars like badly-maintained chocks.
And they brought vp an euill report of the land vnto the children
of Israel, saying, The land through which we haue gone is a land
that eateth vp the inhabitants thereof, and all the people that we
saw in it are men of a great stature.
The bough of the beech by the ride at Holy Well Wood
hangs over the path like a rafter, a light-fitting,
a bannister rail. What witchcraft did I conjure
that long-haired May Day morning, when I cut
and coiled the azure rope, ravelled the fluttering
crime scene tape and scoured the earth for ejaculate?
Woodpecker gunfire, jays launching Katyushas
from dark rhododendrons and the wreck of the Niggers
in flames. Bombweed blows in the roofless tap,
where ghosts sup Sam’s from skulls of scabs
and weave carbon neutral wickerwork coffins,
for Steve and Mark and Brian and Tez, Tony,
Jud and Clarrie. Abide with us up Westfield Lane,
to the shaft of the country park pit: where the bugling
Bristol-to-Newcastle train drops them
in Groundwork’s regenerate meadow; where once
the winding gear stood like the sons of Anak,
grashopper scrats his unregenerate bombweed song.
‘The Niggers’ was the nickname of Frickley Colliery Working Men’s Club, South Elmsall. The colliery-owned club acquired the name in 1926, when it was the only place in the village that would serve blacklegs during the great strike. Although the name was widely used throughout the club’s life, its legitimacy was frequently challenged, especially in the lead up to and during the strike of 1984-1985, when the club became the base for a particularly militant clique of young socialist miners. Frickley Colliery Working Men’s Club closed in 1994, one year after the closure of the pit, and was destroyed in an arson attack in the same year.
Some thing should be given her to eate
From the castle roof let the red cock crow.
The technique is generally juxtaposition: Kaz
wi chips an garlic mayo ont bench by GT News;
Taz with wind-dried blesbok biltong, chez Hes
in the Obs magazine; smug, self-satisfied. Here’s
a hundred-million road; there, a hundred-billion
railroad, each Shanghaied cargo bristling whips,
City deriving futures: Kaz wi chips an garlic mayo
ont bench by GT News; Taz with gilded dik-
dik testes, chez Fez—with Tez and Jez
(he sez)—on Etihad’s First Suite™ flatscreen.
Karen Matthews, Tara Palmer Tompkinson,†
Heston Blumenthal, Ferran Adrià, Teresa May,
Jeremy Corbyn. The epigraph is taken from an
English translation of a German revolutionary
song, ‘The Black Band of Florian Geyer’.
Ninety nine in the wildernesse
Johnny Copley took an axe
and gave his bum-chum forty whacks.
When still he heard the bastard whine
he gave him another fifty-nine.
He took off in the ice cream van
to a boarding house in Bridlington
and signed his name in the visitors’ book
with the van’s bright decal—Donald Duck.
John sauntered down the Promenade
and played the fruits in Mick’s Arcade.
He killed time in the Pompadour
sinking pots by the shithouse door.
At last orders the lad turned up
and Johnny shared a loving cup
with his bleached-blonde, borstal-boy rough trade—
the bingo-caller from Mick’s Arcade.
By the bogs they shared a kiss
and smooched to jukebox Johnny Mathis
each clinging tightly to his squeeze
until the bell rang ‘time gents please’.
They staggered up the road together,
singing Misty and The Twelfth of Never,
and fumbling for keys at Ocean View
John sighed, I’m stone in love with you.
They creaked the stairs of Johnny’s digs,
turned on with poppers and herbal cigs—
then John pulled out his bloody chopper
and gave it to him good and proper.
Johnny woke—or was he dreaming,
cops with cuffs and truncheons screaming—
but Johnny had run out of luck:
they’d traced him through the Donald Duck.
They marched him down the hotel stairs
past gawping guests quite unaware
that Donald from the ice cream van
was Johnny Copley, the mad axeman.
They shoved him in the Black Maria
and cuffed him up behind the wire.
But the Transit never made the clink
because the alternator was on the blink.
And that’s how Johnny ended up
a final time in the Donald Duck
cuffed to the freezer en-route to the nick
singing along to the Teddy Bear’s Picnic.
Heartened by the way they’d chimed
Johnny begged that one last time
he’d be allowed to park his van
as Donald Duck, the ice cream man.
Three wise monkeys kept them sweet
and they turned off onto Fraisthorpe beach
where Johnny served those three bent coppers
two ninety-nines and a strawberry woppa.
The Judge gave him life like shelling peas,
and recommended no release
for this homosexual psychopath/
John thought the whole thing was a farce
and told him stick it up your arse:
he was well-acquainted with the Judge
from Bell Street bogs, where they both packed fudge.
They banged him up in Wakefield nick
but Johnny didn’t take no shit
from the psychos, nonces and sex cases,
serial killers and London faces.
And shortly Johnny took a shiv
and holed some fat poof like a sieve—
because the cockney bastard played
with his bleached-blonde, borstal-boy rough trade.
These poems are selected from Lectio Violant, a recently completed book of poems, as yet unpublished. Although these four poems happen to draw upon the (former) mining communities of the Yorkshire coalfield for their themes and content, they originated, along with the other poems in the book, as improvisations provoked by contemplative readings of certain chapters of the gospels in the 1611 edition of the King James Bible. Lectio Violant — ‘profane reading’ — is the name I’ve coined to describe this process, alluding to Lectio Divina — ‘divine reading’ — the long-established Catholic practice of devotional reading, the purpose of which is to draw the reader closer to God by enabling a fuller experience of scripture. I’m not sure this book’s doing the same thing, although you never know. Lectio Violant is an impossible compound in Latin, although Google Translate will tell you otherwise. Lectio Violenta is the preferred play on Lectio Divina. But the wilful perversity of Lectio Violant enacts the method and embodies the content and is thus preferred. —S.E.
Steve Ely has published three books of poetry, most recently Englaland (2015 – Smokestack UK; US edition) and Werewolf (2016 – Calder Valley Poetry). A fourth book of poems, Incendium Amoris will be published by Smokestack in June of this year. His biographical work, Ted Hughes’s South Yorkshire: Made in Mexborough, was published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2015, and is also available in the US.
He lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Huddersfield.