Douglas Tawn

Douglas Tawn

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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)

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         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

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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 ~

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‘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

S h a r e