A lecture explaining why using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, is an obligation for all citizens
Home Sweet Home
by Kate Bingham
I need a chocolate bar I can live with,
nothing too big, a red-brick biscuit base, perhaps,
south-facing, on a quiet, tree-lined residential street
where parking late at night won’t be a problem.
Nothing too crumbly either. I don’t want
to be sweeping up bits of cornice all weekend
and pestering the surveyor with each new crack
in the milky bar matt emulsion shell.
It’s got to be the sort of place I can forget about,
with cocoa solids minimum 65 per cent
and nougat foundation limed with soya lecithin
cement and bourneville guttering
no matter what the cost because you can’t price
peace of mind and that means no original features,
nothing too fancy, nothing architect-designed.
There’s only me, I know exactly what I’m looking for,
not space so much as surface area, a honey-comb interior,
with wafer walls and butterscotch parquet
leading from room to room, each mouthful lighter,
sweeter than the one before and breathed, not tasted,
like a puff of icing sugar. Coming home
will be a hit, a score. I’ll drop my hand-bag in the hall,
tie back my hair, lie down and lick the floor.
Just what I need at this time in my life.
By Clare Pollard
The absence contradicts itself:
the missing conjures what we miss.
You are not here, I’m not myself,
but still I talk to you like this.
You’re in the crowd, the news, the glimpse -
I make you there when you’re not there.
I trace your steps, I map your face,
I say your name, see you in air.
You’re all I know and so unknown.
I cannot hold you, yet I do:
please let me hold you in my head
and where you are now, hold me too.
How can you be so near and far?
You are not here. But here you are.
To a love poet
By Dennis O’Driscoll
Fortysomething did you say? Or more?
By now, no one could care less either way.
When you swoop into a room, no heads turn,
no cheeks burn, no knowing glances are exchanged,
no eye contact is made. You are no longer
a meaningful contender in the passion stakes.
But a love poet must somehow make love,
if only to language, fondling its contours,
dressing it in slinky tropes, caressing
its letters with the tongue, glimpsing it darkly
as though through a crackling black stocking
or diaphanous blouse, arousing its interest,
varying the rhythm, playing speech against
stanza like leather against skin, stroking words
wistfully, chatting them up, curling fingers
around the long flowing tresses of sentences.
Never again, though, will a living Muse
choose you from the crowd in some romantic city —
Paris, Prague — singling you out, her pouting lips
a fountain where you resuscitate your art.
Not with you in view will she hold court to her mirror,
matching this halterneck with that skirt, changing her mind,
testing other options, hovering between a cashmere
and velvet combination or plain t-shirt and jeans,
watching the clock, listening for the intercom or phone.
Not for your eyes her foam bath, hot wax, hook-snapped lace,
her face creams, moisturisers, streaks and highlights.
Not for your ears the excited shriek of her zip.
Look to the dictionary as a sex manual.
Tease beauty’s features into words that will assuage
the pain, converting you — in this hour of need —
to someone slim and lithe and young and eligible for love again.
An editor’s preface to the language of love (volume 3)
by Helen Mort
Imagine love’s our youngest language.
Two lexicographers in charcoal suits
must spend their winters dotting parchment
to trace soft plosives, map conspiracies of lips and fingers.
How they’d stammer at the accent of a parting handshake
or tremble at the easy grammar
of heads tipped close. How they’d stand, hawk-eyed
and watch two skaters glide, poised to catch the syntax of their dance.
And like the fullest dictionaries, their books fall short.
They pause in the kitchen, stall over ritual tea.
They face each other speechless
and turn out pockets for the glance translated,
find nothing but ancient small change
shabby with a tender long since cast away.
The Good Neighbour
by John Burnside
Somewhere along this street, unknown to me,
behind a maze of apple trees and stars,
he rises in the small hours, finds a book
and settles at a window or a desk
to see the morning in, alone for once,
unnamed, unburdened, happy in himself.
I don’t know who he is; I’ve never met him
walking to the fish-house, or the bank,
and yet I think of him, on nights like these,
waking alone in my own house, my other neighbours
quiet in their beds, like drowsing flies.
He watches what I watch, tastes what I taste:
on winter nights, the snow; in summer, the sky.
He listens for the bird lines in the clouds
and, like that ghost companion in the old
explorers’ tales, that phantom in the sleet,
fifth in a party of four, he’s not quite there
but not quite inexistent, nonetheless;
and when he lays his book down, checks the hour
and fills a kettle, something hooded stops
as cell by cell, a heartbeat at a time,
my one good neighbour sets himself aside,
and alters into someone I have known:
a passing stranger on the road to grief,
husband and father; rich man; poor man; thief.
From the Good neighbour (Cape, 2005) © John Burnside
Amor Vincit Omnia
by John Burnside
Find me when summer ends and the lamps
I have practised being the one
to whom you return,
if not the betrothed, then at least
the autumnal familiar,
the almost unveiled.
Songlike and lost in the mist, I have made you a bed
of fingerprints and outlook and those
footsteps that go in the dark
through a litmus of snow
to seek benediction.
Call it a house of cards,
or a hall of mirrors,
but nothing will measure you here
and find you wanting.
Novelist Sam Byers explores the uneasy relationship between the novel and technology.
Catharsis? I know nothing of catharsis.”