John Hartley Williams, England

12th Medellin International Poetry Festival

Por: John Hartley Williams

Hsun-Chi's Bicycle

A good poet writes a line so simple,
it creates the ripples of an insight,
widening to the point where meaning 
seems to blink. The pool it makes
invites us to partake of a mysterious source.
By repeated tasting, you will
establish the true nature of its freshness.
How unfortunate, therefore,
that today's poets are all style and no conviction.
The water is brackish. The way to it
too well-signposted in gold letters.
Poets should modestly excel at pained reflection.
Then, gratefully, the reader responds,
hearing the poet's footstep steadily fall
down the overgrown path, over
the bare wooden bridge, pushing on
in the measure of language, against 
the brambles to reach the spring.
Why are such poems so few? 
Why, if they exist, do they stay hidden?
You need to be healthy to write a poem.
When poems sicken, readers are left grieving.
Take the Chinese poet, Yang Hsun-chi.
Encountering a passage that moved him,
he would wave his arms and legs in the air.
Do we not yearn to feel the strong spirit of a poet 
whose words make us pedal like that?

Never Accept Your Fate


Not till the last saxophone's yawp
Not till the last wine's uncorked
Be almost sure the train has gone,
set off into the blizzard
with your townee equipment -
you'll get where you're going. Or not
Listen to the bass, like snowdrifts
planting traps for the mind 
Tip the last of that bottle down
What was it: an '85 Pauillac?
Examine that sweet guzzle 
with all the slaver of your palate
There goes the last train now -
think how impetuously you missed it
Have a flute sidle into your head,
an organ be your locomotive,
have it whistle at the stars...
It's minus nothing already
If you had a beard, zeroes would nest there
Your hair's a cap of ice
Keep your mental fingers in those gloves you lost
drawn now on a dark catafalque
by two steaming horses, to wait
at tall and peculiar gates...
The zish of the cymbals  
seeps into the afterlife of your pockets -
spray of an entranced dust
Moon's up. Train's gone
Anyway your thoughts went first 
Flute's out, stalking the fields,
wading a diamond ploughland, 
kicking over crystal skulls
Chill factor, soul factor, song factor
And there's the night sky
patterned as a cloak is,
a decisive moment, no question,
and the train has arrived
where you wanted to get to
Be there already, 
snuggled down, awaiting sleep...
Downwards, the hill points like an arrow
Snowflakes big as tongues 
feel with a blur for your eyes
Stars are a Hammond organ,
solo hailstones,
hard on the roof of your head
Onward, friend, 
to the town where eternity becomes fashionable,
where trains have not been seen in weeks
This is it boy. The blues
Hoist your bag better on your shoulders
Hoist that bag better on your shoulders
These are the long, cold, deepwalking drifts

Under The Dolmens


hinab den Bestienschlund       - Gottfried Benn

A snout broke the surface of the lake,
and on the stunted tower in the field
a man leaned into a screech of wind
that carried echoes of a cataclysmic call.
His face, a straining mask, was blind,
a blank that seemed incised from stone.

Next to him, upon the tower of stone,
a woman watched him glaring at the lake.
Had a bolt from nowhere struck him unblind?
Could he see the horror she saw, at the field's
edge, its throat agape to loose a call 
of honking bestiality upon the wind?

The tower had withstood the wind
eternities and more. Its brainthick stone
was fractured by that lewd, plutonic call.
A vast, reptilian creature from the lake
heaved across the threshold of the field.
She wished she, too, were blind.

Its popping eyes were obviously blind.
With prickling wart-hairs scanning wind,
it made a zig-zag furrow down the field
on mud-caked claws, grey as stone,
ejaculating filthy ditch-swill from the lake,
and sounding off the leaden klaxon of its call. 

Epilepsy was transmitted on that call. 
The man convulsed. As if no longer blind,
he ran down sixty steps and straight towards the lake,
his woman stumbling after, through the wind.
The tower toppled slowly. Blocks of stone 
made giant boulder-tripods on the field.

The dripping gob-thing in the field
had magnetised the couple to its call.
Crunching them on hammer-teeth of stone, 
it chewed and tossed its head in blind
devouring, then mightily passed wind,
and infamously wagged its rump into the lake.

And blind eternities came wailing down the field,
called beneath the lintels of the stone
by wind that swept them all into the lake. 

Bean Soup


Steve played saxophone like Sonny Rollins
in a cellar in Novi Sad. He had a crazy drummer
from Budapest. An audience of
Tibor, Branko and me.

That was the year
modern jazz came to the Vojvodina,
Steve and I waltzing the Danube 
out towards Ribarsko Ostrvo,* 

me blipping the bass line with my lips
and him doodling the tenor solo with his,
smoking a little
of Mike's home grown.

The Danube froze over. It was serious
gloves, hats and coats. That was when I learned to love 
winter garments. Nobody really believed in wrapping up warm
where I came from. 

We tramped through birch trees to a cabin,
kicking the snow high.
When we opened the door
the corpse of cigarettes, wild music and brandy fell out.

We reeled back, put our heads down
and went in. 'Bean soup,' said Steve.
We breathed pure garlic farts
and smoke from the charcoal grill.

They brought it in a tureen
full of gipsy gold teeth, smiling up at us.
The beans were hopping
to the pizzicato rhythms of a mad orchestra,

to a melody that danced them
deep into the soulful thighs of the ham,
a spice barrel full of paprika, which went
ba-boom! when we dunked kettledrums of bread in it. 

We slurped the fiercest bits. It was
the choicest liquid ever tasted, and it had chosen us.
Our ears prickled to jagged kolo music,
the wheel dance, so many little feet this way and that 

like beans you can't get on yr spoon, so fast they jiggle,
that way and this. 'How many bean languages can you eat?' 
asked Steve. 'Serbian? Hungarian? Danubian?"
The white wine sank a shaft of bliss into our smoky heads

and the table cloth became
a funlovers' guide to the red light district
in agricultural Sremska Mitrovica -
every pig sty a brothel.

We were ignored, except 
by the band. They were waiting for us to get drunk.
We drank mulberry brandy, swopped a joint,
and ascended to the right hand of King Bean.

That was the moment the gypsies sneaked up on us, 
pulled the corks of our ears with violinistical 
twists and turns, loosened off our knees
with a throb-throughm of guitar chords,

planged the shoestrings of our hearts
with voices that wailed on quarter-tones,
till we broke glasses and plates, linked arms,
and danced on the shards.

More drinks. More snow. More cigarettes.
The word for beans in Serbian is pasulj, which
made me think of big, wild, white, leaping pussycats.
We put on our fur hats and toppled out the door.

Steve played Pick Yourself Up.
I plucked and punched my old violincello. 
We cackled and crooned to the crows.
We felt as if we'd eaten the entire fidgety

cloud symphony of the Pannonian plain.
Big black birds were jitterbugging on the boughs
of the sad, silent birch trees. And we cd see
the keeled over masts of sunken wrecks  

in the iced-up harbour. We exchanged,
the finest, the sublimest thoughts about life, love
and the best way not to get caught. And later, 
when Steve sawed off a finger from his playing hand

in a carpenter's workshop in Hamburg,
and I stopped listening much to Sonny,
and the town grew smaller and paler in my memory,
and much later still, war broke out -

I cd still taste the savage heat of that bean soup,
hear the rhythm of  those clenched hambones
beating on the skins of the innocent poor,
taste the mouth lash of that piquant sausage

and see the steam from a single locomotive,
a line of wagons, at least a mile off on the horizon.
Snow's forecast today, coming out of the east, from Russia,
snow whose icy stings drench my face, as I 

take my Sunday walk, flicking toefulls of it high.
Each blast of it seems to open that door we crashed out of,
the gypsy band kicking us up the behind,
sending us Oo Bop Sha Bam upon our way.

John Hartley Williams born 7 February 1942 – 3 May 2014, he was an English poet who was born in Cheshire and grew up in London. He studied at the University of Nottingham and later at the University of London. His 2004 poetry book, Blues, was shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize. He was a judge of the 2007 Poetry on the Lake poetry competition, a judge of the Keats-Shelley Prize for Poetry, and a tutor at the Arvon Foundation. Published books: Hidden Identities. Chatto & Windus (1982) in the Phoenix Living Poets series; Bright River Yonder, Cornerless People, Double, Ignoble Sentiments, Canada, Spending Time with Walter, Mystery in Spiderville, Teach Yourself Writing Poetry, Teach Yourself Books, 2003; North Sea Improvisation. Privately printed, limited edition, Berlin, 2003; Blues. Cape Poetry, 2004; The Ship. Salt Publishing, 2007; Café des Artistes. Cape Poetry, 2009.


Última actualización: 18/01/2022