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Sunday, 25 July 2010

Elephants' Trunks on the Poetry Bus

Confusion was the theme set for us this week by our driver Niamh Bagnell, who gave me, at any rate, a journey to remember. Worth paying the blog a visit - after you've read my contribution,
The Glass Monstrosity... (of course!)

From Germany,
two crates

addressed to me.
My father's there.

I recognise his writing
prise one open

probe the straw
encounter first

a glass monstrosity
a vessel of some sort

with trunks
as if

from several
elephants

      (for what
      I cannot say)

then beakers,
conical

retorts, test tubes,
condensers

stands and tri-
pods, petri

dishes, Bunsen
burners, gas jars,

beehive shelves --
enough

to gladden any
young lad's heart.

Then more
monstrosities --

all taken from
some Nazi lab'

they've overrun --
      all "liberated"

      he would say
for me.

Deep in the straw
a note that tells

but doesn't tell
of something seen

of liberated
Bergen-Belsen,

will catalyse
tomorrow's potent mix

of newsreel --
skeletal surviors -- and

those banner headlines:
TEST TUBE BABY!

Conflation
by emotion

brings it
graphically

clearly
into view.

Soft
human twist

of liquorice
that someone

might have spewed --
a baby in a bottle,

foetus
in a flask,

homunculus
in hooch.

Colour-changing
liquids

mind-altering
solutions

bubbling
around it.

Only Nazis
in my book

are capable of wickedness
on such a scale...

My glass
monstrosity

      -- its purpose
      clear at last --

an icon
to be shunned.

Is this why I
      once keen

      on chemistry
will never use

dad's gift?
how fate

will make me
useless

at this darkest
of all disciplines

this baseness
worse than alchemy

this
Godless chemistry

pure evil
in a glass monstrosity?



I have tried unsuccessfully to verify the sequence of the three events: the arrival of the crates, seeing the TEST TUBE BABY headline (on or from the top of a bus, I believe) and the images from Bergen-Belsen. Memory insists that they occurred within a short space of time. The sequence seems more important to me than reason suggests it should.

32 comments:

Elisabeth said...

A powerful alchemy here,Dave. What matters the actual order? Your unconscious ordered it so.

It seems to start off as benign - a child's memory of parental gifts - and moves into horrors with that wonderful dreamlike and surreal quality so many of your poems have. Thanks.

Gwei Mui said...

Striking and very disturbing
The objects in themselves "innocent" it's the reaslistion of who and what they were used for that taints the thoughts.
I espeically like the way that you have genetly steered our journey from the simple superficial to the the darker and deeper concerns that we should all perhaps think on

Jim Murdoch said...

There was a programme on a couple of days ago, Dave, about the writer Beryl Bainbridge who had long held the opinion that she would die at 71 because that’s when her parents both died. At the end of the film, which was made to record her 71st year, she visited her parents’ graves and lo and behold they both died at 70; she had outlived the two of them and managed a few years after that. Why I mention this is because of a comment her grandson made – he was the filmmaker – he said something along the lines of: The fictions of our past are as important (or it might have been ‘as real’) as the facts. The fact is she couldn’t remember and neither can you but you’ve assembled what facts you have in a way in which they make sense which is more important than accuracy.

I like your use of indents in this piece. What I like is that it’s clear when reading how you’re using them. Granted you could have achieved the same through punctuation but since we have this extra arrow in our quiver why not make use of it?

jinksy said...

Enough to put anyone off science (and history) for life, a present like that...

Totalfeckineejit said...

The fictions of our past often become as true as the reality.Great poem Dave.And what a story! Well told.

dublindave said...

Hi Dave, I really enjoyed this one - it is the most specific poem probably out of everything this week and you tell a great story with style. Many great lines - I love the reference to the 'homunculus/in hooch.'

Kass said...

"...soft human twist of licorice." -
That line really got me.

Excellent poem.

Helen said...

After waiting patiently for your Poetry Bus 'posting hour' ... I certainly was not disappointed. This just may be one of your finest works! Deep and thought-provoking.

Derrick said...

Dark and powerful, Dave. And I too noted the line "...soft human twist of licorice."

Paul C said...

A potent return to the era of formaldehyde and disgust.

Linda Sue said...

I have a sick fascination for things of which you write...Drawn to them like something sweet, reviled,and go away somehow enlivened...fetus in a flask- Oh yes!

Lucas said...

The use of lines short and economical drive each new development of the poem forward to its disturbing conclusive awareness. I like the complex power of images such as "with trunks/as if from several elephants", which sets the scene for what follows.

Titus said...

I really liked this. A profound and disturbing exploration of memory and experience that really resonated with me. Impressive.

Dianne said...

whew, I love the links, daring.

Niamh B said...

A very interesting mix of things here Dave.
I like the echo in the title of the glass menagerie too.

Gerry Snape said...

Powerful images and words. They make me think of the honesty of Louis McNiece in the poem ..I am not yet born. Thankyou.

Karen said...

Fascinating and disturbing, Dave. I, too, can't get the "human licorice" from my mind. This is powerful work!

the watercats said...

this started out to be so hopeful and magical and then it all went seriously dark, in a fantastic way. I love the two line verses, somehow makes it more intense, like a the memory is actually flicking through like old film...

Dave King said...

Elizabeth
I don't know, I can't figure why it matters, only that it seems to.
Thanks for the teassurance and the compliments, though.

Gwei
Thamks Gwei. yes I agree that the horror, perceived or real, was in the objects that were themselves innocent. It often seems that way, doesn't it?

Jim
I think you must be talking about the programme I've been kicking myself for missing! Interesting story that, and I take the point you are making with it. Logically the sequence is not central in any way, for it occurred to me that I could have constructed such a story with any of the possible sequences and been as satisfied/dissatisfied with it as with this one. In my memory they happen almost simulteously, but that is highly unlikely.

I thought the indents a device worth trying. Pleasing to hear you thought them successful.

Jinksy
Do you know, you may be on to something there. It hadn't occurred to me, but I did go off history and replaced it with a new-found enthusiasm for biography.

Totalfeckineejit
Many thanks. Yes, indeed, in a way the fictions become the truths of our past in that they helped to mould our present - and maybe the same could be said of our confusions.

dublindave
Hi and very welcome. Thanks for the encouraging remarks.

Kass
Thanks Kass. When I first wrote that phrase I wasn't sure about it, but it grew on me.

Helen
I think actually this poem had been waiting for some time to be written. We maybe have to thank this weeks driver, Niamh Bagnell, for giving it its life. Appreciate your remarks.

Derrick
Thanks Derrick, I was having difficulty finding an expression. I think that was my third try. I left it out of desperation and then when I came back to it thought Well, i don't know... And left it a bit longer.

Paul C
Hi Paul and welcome. Thanks for a very apt summing-up.

Linda Sue
I am somewhat in awe of the way you seem able to hold up a mirror for me to see myself. I don't know how you manage it, but it is fascinating and useful. Thanks.

Lucas
Like Linda, though very differently, you always seem to manage to tease out for me something of what is going on from the reader's point of view. Again, very useful and thanks.

Titus
Again, you are exactly right. As I worked on the poem it seemed to me that the experience (or perhaps just the memory) had been of much more significance to me than I had realised.

Dianne
Than you very much indeed.

Niamh B
Hi and Welcome. Many thanks, both for the comment and the seed to get it started.

Gerry
Wow, well thanks for that, a humbling comparison, though in fact I am doubly humbled as a result of not knowing the poem. Some looking-up to be done forthwith!

Karen
That is probably as powerful a compliment as one can get, like a composer being told his tune stays in the mind come what may. Thanks.

Dave King said...

the watercats
That is a brilliant analogy. Thank you for it and for the comment generally.

Carl said...

WOW. I am speechless at the over-all poem and at the nuance of language around each corner. Very real and powerful and stunningly crafted.

Erratic Thoughts said...

Whoaaa! wat a great alchemy...
I especially liked the you have decsribed the second event.It was real tough one, but you have said it beautifully...
"Colour-changing
liquids

mind-altering
solutions

bubbling
around it" is the best one!
What a compilation.You get the best seat in the bus :)

Dave King said...

Carl
And I am bowled over by your phrase nuance of language around each corner Thank you so much for the comment.

Erratic Thoughts
Hi and many thanks for the feedback.

Rachel Cotterill said...

Based on a true story? Certainly an interesting read. I hadn't heard of Bergen-Belsen.

Kat said...

Nothing like a child's imagination to take images and twist them into nightmare! I was dragged screaming from the Confederation Train in 1967 that had one car filled with beds and wax-figures to represent some sick people (I still don't know why), but I will never forget it! I have not liked dolls, wax-museums or mannequins since.

I like the way you laid this poem out physically - it really drags out our anticipation and builds to a satisfying, if grim, conclusion.

Kat

Dave King said...

Rachel
Useful to know that. I think I should have included links. Thanks for pointing it out. And yes, a true story.

Kat
Wow! That really is the stuff of nightmares! Thanks for the comment.

mikroenjeksiyon yöntemi said...

was an article I liked. Thanks for sharing.

Dave King said...

mikroenjeksiyon yöntemi
Hi and welcome. Your comment is very much appreciated.

Jeanne Iris said...

Dave, your triad of events in this poignant work illustrates the need for vigilance.

Dave King said...

Jeanne Iris
Hi and very Welcome. Thanks for commenting.
Of oneself, do you mean?

Peter Goulding said...

Yes,powerful images, well articulated. Wondering about the form - a bit elongated maybe? (Not that I know much about these sort of things)

Dave King said...

Peter
Thanks for the comment, it was very welcome and yes, you may have a point.