Douglas Tawn

Douglas Tawn

back

next

the poet

Douglas Tawn is a poet, actor and screenwriter whose poems have appeared in the in-trays, at least, of numerous literary journals. His first collection, The Collected Poems of T S Eliot, was disqualified from the T S Eliot Poetry Prize following accusations of plagiarism. Douglas holds a 100m swimming badge, and is now working on updating his CV.

the poems

13 Birds in the Way of Looking
(or The Parliament of Fowls)

00:00 / 01:44

                           I


                                   Following on from the Keats House

                                      they taxi over garden feeders

                                       the green chute’s permanent

                                         flash-spangled guitar licks                            

                                            ascend with a flourish

                                              of birds gone wild


                                            Para! Para! Para! Para!


                                              So we’re left to ask

                                             what to make of this

                                          ornithological hypotaxis?

                                       to wit: where do they belong?

                                   to whom do we owe the pleasure?

                                are they not, these birds, out of sight?


                           II


                  ‘We know we are supposed

                  not to leave, but suppose

                  we had some friends to stay?

                  They’d brighten up the place … ’


                                 (Letter to a Beefeater, the Ravens)


                           III


                  The kite where I come from

                  is not I’d say something to write

                  home about. There again, why write


                  home when you’re there already?

                  They’d say it should be taken as read.

                  Everything has its place, just so


                  the parakeets of London and just so

                  there are no hard feelings, feel free

                  to point them out when you see them.


                           IV


                  magpie silent eyes

                                 his pound of carrion


                  starling spangles sky

                                 dark with murmuring


                  crows nineteen amass

                                 numbering full murder


                  they see the carcass

                                 and look no further


                           V


                  ‘Brighten up the place—

                  What do you think we’ve been trying to do?

                  I don’t wear the uniform for fun you know.’


                                 (Letter to the Ravens, a Beefeater)


                           VI


                  Flush with all heaven’s range

                  blackbird beetles about the town

                  ready to sing and define the age.


                  Even the worms all dig her sound

                  they love her style and critics agree

                  she’s a bird of high renown.


                  They offered her a record deal,

                  all the fat cats in the yard,

                  lining her up for their next meal.


                  But blackbird caught them off their guard

                  “Sure I’ll sign on one condition,

                  so you just listen up hard:


                  “In this deal you give permission

                  for me to sing whatever I please

                  with total freedom of expression.”


                  Those foolish cats at once agreed:

                  they signed up blackbird there and then

                  and prepared for her first release.


                  It was a jazz-fusion album. Didn’t do that well.


                           VII


                  I am not one for sorrow

                  nor was meant to join

                  the dance, signifying union

                  of man, woman and song


                  Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy!

                  passing under the stage

                  the god, Hercules, whom Antony loved

                  leaves only our senses


                  dimmed and silver with age

                  memories of beaten gold

                  sickening and slow

                  awake the sinning bird


                  squatting greedy overhead

                  like a secret.


                           VIII


                  Behold the fowls of the air: some of them do sow actually;

                  nor did my first draft take into account the barn owl.


                  Behold, they mount the sky; cross-winged embassies to heathen

                  shores; yet why should foreign masters not call these birds native?


                  Behold, the peregrine falcon, a native species; how did we figure

                  that one out? Such divisibility buckles belief.


                  Yet see how this open secret rewards the kingdom; her white 

                  cliffs shrink and her statues swell.


                           IX


                  ‘We didn’t mean to offend you.

                  Maybe we could wear the uniform too?’


                                 (Second Letter to a Beefeater, the Ravens)


                           X


                  Well, that was the day he went completely

                  cuckoo—riding high on Mellow Fruitfulness

                  (I’m guessing the guest ale down the Wheat Sheaf).

                  Real state, yet kinglier in his madness,

                  somehow, he comes in raving about some bird.

                  Now I like the guy, although it’s a pain

                  this nonsense, bursting squawk-eyed mouth oozing

                  in here, proper disturbed,

                  crying “So you like sad stories? I’ll frame

                  you one now: a real traga-doozy!”


                  “Now I’m out on the heath having a blast:

                  the birdies were pinging from tree to tree,

                  the smell of sweet flowers swelled through the grass

                  (my eyes were blurry, but they looked great to me).

                  Then I hear a warbling cry overhead.

                  I look up to find a bird wringing her

                  wings, frantic: “Detested kite! My daughters!

                  No feather stirs, no breath

                  heard—I had hoped to see them grow full singers—

                  here cracked—some parasite has thwarted us!”


                  “At my feet lay two fractured crowns, her chicks.

                  She cursed, forced to feed the alien brood

                  perched over us. Some opportunistic

                  fowl, some sterile conveyer of misuse,

                  some stalking spirit of infestation

                  had laid them there and waste to her daughters.

                  Vile cuckoo! To sin against her singing

                  sisters—” but he couldn’t go on.

                  He crumpled, still muttering tortured slurs,

                  tugging at buttons where his shirt choked him.


                           XI


                  Þhre crowes gaþered aboute a pyloonne

                           “A straunge bowre!” proclaimeþ oone,

                                          “Grene leves yt wants,” spake anooþer

                                                         “Eke he bereþ not swete fruyts nouþer.”

                  “Yt carrieþ mens powre accross the dale,”

                           Resouned þe þrid, “eke illumineþ wele

                                          Hire lyȝtsomme wodes, iwrouȝte on hye.

                                                         Ek þes strenges ylonge do kepe armonye,

                  Makynge a plesaunt noys of musique softe

                           Yherd alounge þes þreds alofte.”

                                          Ech herkened, wel lykinge the melodye

                                                         So þey set þem doon on thys steley treë.


                           XII


                  ‘This probably sounds like an odd request … ’


                                 (Letter to his Tailor, a Beefeater)


                           XIII


                                  The parakeet’s cry retreats over the heath

                                      le beau oiseau sans birdseed is all

                                          I can think without calling on

                                            more authentic superficies

                                             (e.g. an MA in Creative

                                                Writing, fancy that!)


                                                     Honk! Honk!


                                                  That was a goose

                                            shrewdly complaining of

                                          the lack of water-fowl under

                                        discussion today, which is fair,

                                   and I think they will agree with me that

                               truly these high-flyers are out of their minds.

Les Poissons Puissants

00:00 / 01:44

            I, a fish, I want to—hang on

            sometimes there’s the net

            (some say a soft cage)

            one doesn’t know one’s in it

            until we all are—too late.


            This is not ideal

            but we’re used to going

            unminded—now I’m under

            the dense cloud of a gunboat


            here to assert someone’s rights

            (not mine, I’m sure) under these

            waters. Dominion over the fish

            means you gotta let them have it.


            Where was I? Constant motion

            makes that a difficult question.

            Where going? Ditto. That dreadnought

            means life or wreck to someone.


            Been a while since one came down

            here, all noise until it isn’t

            then we get a chance to nip in

            and browse: you sink, we swim.


            Eventually you’re pulled up

            the sky dense with voices

            charged with all their differences

            left ashore—they sound the same to me.

From Whitman to Dylan,
Their Multitudes

‘(I am large, I contain multitudes)’


~ Walt Whitman, Song of Myself ~


‘I play Beethoven’s sonatas and Chopin’s

preludes. I contain multitudes’.


~ Bob Dylan, I Contain Multitudes ~

00:00 / 01:44

            ‘Contain,’ we know, has its double sense

            (both to possess and suppress)

            parenthesis creates and contains

            multitudes, in equal parts, suggests

            copia is more or less the sum of its parts.

            Repetition multiplies and refines

            to the singularity from which it starts

            restarting similitudes; resonating decline.


            The Song of Myself is no more a song

            than repeated multitudes mean no more.

            Was copia their dominant mode all along?

            An epic rhapsody with an unsettled score?

            Apparent formlessness finds ease with tradition

            tracing a song to the Trojan diaspora

            while The Great British Novel might be on television

            a saccharine story in aspic vernacular.


            ‘Past and present wilt’ Whitman tells us

            wilting his own name into timeless self

            ‘wilt,’ too, suggests archaic future (ambiguous,

            but better, I think, than saying ‘melt’)

            leaving with us wilful tradition

            refusing the will to be traditional

            the voice withers in the songs of Dylan

            as the multitude he’s given have given all.


            History is the addition of what is lost

            (Today and tomorrow and yesterday too)

            to the sum of what is coming to pass

            (The flowers are dying like all things do)

            and the past is not what is meant by tradition.

            Dylan’s flowers wilt in and out of time

            in time to the off-beating Whitman’s

            feet: by and by, Lord, they walk the line.


            Oh my, America! your new-found songs

            revive the dead democratically

            each season’s bloom of virtuous carrion

            stirs equal hosts of union and confederacy:

            Oh pick out a tune, boys, of Raleigh or Drake

            They’ll be landing here soon, boys, and make no mistake

            It’s the song of our doom, boys, sing Lowell and Tate

            To the Land of the Free, boys—PAY THE TOLL AT THE GATE

Publishing credits

All poems: exclusive first publication by iamb