The Gully Hermits

On Friday 2nd June 2006, poet David Hart gave a talk entitled ‘Sometimes this, Sometimes that’ and, by way of introduction, he quoted the following from a poem by Yehuda Amichai: ‘Sometimes pus,/sometimes poetry/…But through the wound in my chest/ God peers into the universe’. Amichai’s poem (in David’s own translation, drawing on other versions and helped with the Hebrew by Rikki Jackson in Birmingham), and his own poem in response, will appear later this year in a Picador anthology edited by Carol Ann Duffy called Answering Back.

David has sent, for this journal, a poem from his new collection Running Out and he follows this with a few words about the poem and poetry. Thank you very much, David.

The Gully Hermits
David Hart

Something should be said now in respect of the gully hermits,
for the record,
that they are, to find the words, Christ with deep-grasped eyes,
for remembering,
tired as a shelf, where the shaggy cliff seems to overhang easy,
to note it,
up and down, boots soaked through, a nod, shifty, a finger,
to give it shape,
preferment without title except fluke, bristleworm, thrip, whip,
in shadow,
hand in no hand but in the rush of air, in nettle, in bramble,
to keep this on file,
how the rocks lock almost, how sanctuary, to seek the words,
to map it,
where secret brides, to find the words, to translate longing,
document it,
the face in the rock when otherly lit, I swear, lichen-tasting,
keep a record.
the flower called candle, Christ in the ditch-turn disintegrating,
keep a record,
Hello, remember that Hello, its echo Hello, Hello for nights after,
keep a record,
nothing comfortable here, to shake the words, no ship, boat,
keep a record,
not even a coracle, a plank, branch, even a toy mock-cutter,
keep a record,
a mark on a stone, blood on a leaf to be interpreted, day’s night,
keep a record,
the bargain, the deal, the instrument of promise, the up-down-up,
keep a record,
no camera steady, only to imagine if the light is right, emerald –
keep a record –
aquamarine, pitchblende, malachite, lung-strike, gannet, gull,
keep a record,
prints in mud, overprints, whisper bouncing off rock, tug-flight,
hold it.

NOTE July 18th 2007

‘The Gully Hermits’ is in my Running Out (Five Seasons Press 2006), a mix of poetry from the previous ten years or so. Although I have provided notes in the book, this poem has no note, and I am unable to say now where the poem came from, why I wrote it. Looking at it again now, some years after it was written, there is sea and thereabouts (I was born and grew up in Aberystwyth), there are religious namings – hermits, Christ – which I recognise, as I do deep Christian history in Wales; keeping a record is there, layering in books, in the library (the National Library?), in poetry itself, and the gully I recognise as off the track, a hidden place, treacherous even.

None of this, though, begins to explain the poem, and the truth is I had no such clarity in the making of it: no conscious decision as to where it was going, what it ‘was about’. Simply or complexly, I got into it and stayed with the shape with something like obsession.

It is quite possible there is in the poem only confusion. A kindly web site review lists the poem as one of the reviewer’s ‘ten best’ in the book, and I can quote this because I don’t know why. I wonder if it is of necessity (to me) a religious poem, or what that might mean.

If I say I have for as long as I can remember been attracted by the surreal, I don’t want this to be heard to mean it is merely a game to play, a joke on the side. On the contrary, what if an essential part of the work of a poet (as of a visual artist) is to discover what is there when the language of images is played with, investigated, let loose? I use these three verbs to suggest (1) a letting go in an experimental, childlike way, (2) a laboratory testing and (3) a wilful going beyond everyday conversational, journalistic etc use. But all the words in my poem exist in the language and the grammar isn’t fractured (or perhaps it is, I wouldn’t be too sure, but I like to think not wilfully against sense).

What does seem clear to me is that the big questions concerning poetry cannot be answered extraneously to the poem itself. The poem is a new thing, it is the experiment and not the putting into effect of an intellectual position, or of a reasoned scheme. Not for me anyway.

In our everyday use of language we use a tiny fraction of what language has to offer; at worst this means hackneyed phrases, cliché, verbal craft at a minimum, language borrowed without new thought or feeling. At best, language in everyday use can attempt precision and subtlety, can test new meanings, relish new pleasures, but this is rare.

So poets might at least be taking this on as a task. And there are big stakes: what might it mean to use language for religious meaning now? What might it be to rehearse well-established meaning that has become stale in the telling? What is there to be discovered by bringing verbs, nouns and adjectives together that have not usually be found (heard) together? How far can we go in discovery by way of unexpected metaphor? Should we know what we intend to say, or might we discover what we have said after we’ve said it?

Bringing into fruitful collision, towards unexpected possibilities, from the compartments of our brain: the verbal, visual, sensual, mathematical, logical, dreaming, of memory, playfulness, is a process not readily predictable, or amenable then to simple analysis. The resulting poem is open to other people’s brains (emotions, memories, etc) of the same complexity.

So for myself I am moving (in mid-2007) into making poems even less predictable of obvious meaning, where there is juxtaposition, ideas connected by subliminal association, no essential necessity for narrative continuity, while I am aware that I am myself making the poem and I want some kind of emotional charge – uncertainty with possibility, significant lack of resolution held in tension, suggestion of purpose even if elusive.

‘The Gully Hermits’ was written some years ago and does show something of what I’m suggesting here; I am taking that further, wondering where ‘further’ might be.


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