The Dovre slate mill (Aase Berg)

by Michael Peverett

Dovrefjell, with Musk-Ox

[Image source:]

In Dovre Slate Mill

Maneuver the body across deep traps, across water-clogged holes and open wells. across the animal's wet fur with terror in my neck-frenzy. Sharp branches strike and lash blood-needles against my finger-skin my face of blue enamel against naked nettle fibers. On the other side of the smeltery at the edge of the murky lake there I see Zachris move too close to the shaft. I move closer to the head even though chains clang dull metal against the febrile radula. Here runs a clear underground border a fistulation toward Mare Imbrium. I thrust the muscle latch toward the machines that throb there in the wound. What evil can happen to you what evil can happen to you here near heavy waters. In the smithy the Daude choir's tortured tracks shrieking against sharp spits. Chitinstaffs, porphyry, cold coal crystals. And my stiff hands cupped, and my stiff hands cupped around the surface of your black cranium.

I Dovre skifferkvarn

Manövrerar kroppen över djupa fällor, över vattenfyllda hål och öppna brunnor, över djurets blöta päls med skräck i ryggens hets. Vassa grenar slår och snärtar blodbarr mot min fingerhud mitt ansikte av blå enamel mot nakna nässelfibrer. På andra sidan smältverket vid randen av den dunkla sjö där ser jak Zachris komma schaktet allför nära. Jag rör mig närmare mot huvudet trots kedjor klanger matt metall mot den febrila radulan. Här går en tydlig underjordisk gräns enfistelgång mot Mare Imbrium. Jag stöter muskelfästet mot maskinerna som bultar där i såret. Vad ont kan hända dig vad ont kan hända dis här nära tunga vatten. I smedjan Daudekörens pina skenor skriande mot skarpa spett. Kitinstavar, porfyrer, kalla kolkristaller. Och min stela händer kupade, och mina stela händer kupade kring ytan av ditt svarta kranium.

Aase Berg, from Mörk materia (=Dark matter) (Bonniers,1999), with English translation by Johannes Göransson (from Remainland: Selected Poems of Aase Berg, Action Books, 2005).

This was Aase Berg's post-apocalyptic second collection of poems (in Sweden, the book is often regarded as in dialogue with Harry Martinson's 1956 sci-fi poem Aniara). Born in 1967, Berg is one of Sweden's best-known younger poets. She has now published seven collections, she also writes for the national newspaper Expressen.

One of the ideas I took from reading around this poetry is about a two-fold conception of nature: one side facing towards us, acculturated and interpreted through culture; and the other side facing away, the "dark matter" that exists in crushing solidity but beyond identification and beyond the possibility of acculturation. But it seems important to add that in Berg's poetry nature is not separate from the body. She is not a landscape poet; everything is within.


Name of a village, region and mountain massif in central Norway. (I think I remember reading that Berg has Norwegian ancestry, but I might be mistaken.) The famous Grieg tune known in English as "In the Hall of the Mountain King" is really called "I Dovregubbens hall".

The meaning of the source-word dofr is disputed but the best guess is that it relates to a deep cleft or gorge.  In this poem, it's apparent that the journey is into the earth.

skifferkvarn ("slate mill")

In Swedish the line between standard vocabulary and coinage is fuzzy: the agglutinative nature of the language naturally tends to produce coinages and re-coinages, and Berg's poetry makes heavy use of this. This particular word had been used (rarely) before, for example in a history of artificial fertilizers to describe a gypsum-crushing machine. In this case the important thing is perhaps the crushing of form and identity (the distinct thin layers of slates; books, screens, images; the picturable, the nameable).

Mare Imbrium

The largest crater on the moon (it's the Man in the Moon's right eye); resulting from a catastrophic planetary collision 3.8 billion years ago. The collision was so traumatic that its effects can also be seen at the diametrically opposite point, on the moon's dark side. Berg's poem is strongly aware of geological time-spans. Other poems in the sequence refer to Lemuria (hypothetical ancient continent) and Purgatorius (the original primate genus).

Daudekören ("Daude choir")

Daude is a Norwegian variant, especially in compound words, to the standard word død ("death").

Brief biography of Aase Berg:

Three other poems from Mörk materia, with English translation:

A selection of other poems (Swedish only) from the period of Berg's involvement with the Stockholm Surrealist Group, including six from Mörk materia .

"Sälformen släpar skinnet -- om naturen i Aase Bergs tidiga diktning"
Interesting dissertation (in Swedish) by Johan Attfors about nature in Berg's two earliest collections,  Hos rådjur (=With Deer) and Mörk materia  :

Johannes Göransson's excellent essay "'Antibody': Aase Berg's Grotesque Poetry and the Swedish Welfare State", in Transnationalism and Resistance: Experience and Experiment in Women's Writing ed. Adele Parker and Stephenie Young, can (mostly) be read here:

Aase Berg

[Image source: http://www.]

Two Poems by Frankie Basweld

transfers here

so het and not
even able to
watch the news
for another
round of illuminations
dead line a trudge of
this place you took
to be your own
is either a
fortress or a
grave sight
making sickly
and with
out clear defence

man at
the sleeping business
man at
the back hear
what I say
what I guess
what I say
what I hear
you guess what
what I say

channel already
wind swept
acute pressure your stop
that silence how about
that moment or
amount obscured
squeezed and pressed
along to your stop
tell that to
a factory reset
and finger
print partial

what will they be

when the speaking stops

Hail and Ride

fine you
want to
talk ab
out it
so let’s
talk ab
out it
how ev
ery bro
is in
love with
a cop
or a
crat and
how this
thing is
for their
health liv
ing life
through these
in time
with all
its let
ters grow
ing to
thick nubs

there is
no saint
for this
there is
no neat
on the

the hand
that ails
you stead
y and
set it
to work
in the

there is
the love
of old
with his
firm grace
and voice
of pages
ing there
is some
thing like
that affirm
ed in
the wa
ter or
blood of
this bus
iness frowned
at its
tion a
as plain
and un
as you

we have
all marked
that card
of con
tion we
have all
ly togg
led  that
switch what
was it
of yours
to be
gin with
what busi
ness was
it of

there was
an end
and now

Two Colonized Sonnets by Sonnet L'Abbé


Some say that it was a conspiracy, that fault lies with Grayson for plugging that bitch’s dorky game, that the wanton Quinn traded ass for good press. Others named Sarkeesian as harpy they’d most like to disfigure. 4chan pysched itself a lynch mob. Touting ethics (ahem) in video game journalism, trolls made extreme sport of bombarding their fellow gamers with hacking attempts and threats of assaults. Gamergaters loved the idea of a feminist conspiracy. The image of vindictive, plotting feminists hatching “communist” machinations (not in smoky rooms, but in the lefty, vaulted halls of disgruntled academia) to destroy macho gamer identity motivated haters. They resorted to harassing women, giving the finger to safe space. They profaned the Depression Quest developer’s name, gutting her basic sense of safety, doxing the “social justice warrior” so that she fled her own domicile. People bullied Wu as well, suggesting her kids would be murdered after she was choked and raped at her home address. Even a year later, tormentors continue hating, sending Wu their fantasies about slicing her genitals and defecating into her mouth. How can such ruthlessness be translated? Anonymous douches will forever troll forums, expressing things they’d never murmur in daylight or to a woman’s face. Always flamers will abuse comment. The images of hate: what cliché! My sonnet suffers, repeating such worn, flaccid fabrications. No poetry can lyric lifelike a bully’s ambition, or metaphor the feces they would have us ingest. Literary books can’t translate hate’s boring words. Manly gazers play games, fight realist fights, shoot virtual people. Cheerleaders are welcome, especially if they count as women the industry loves. But developers without penises wield the strength of virtuality, like leviathans boys are trained to behead. Brutality does not stop the girl-love that, like a feminist pansexual Cthulhu, rises from the subreddits. As Yuggoth sprouts its zombielike fungi, the minecrafty feminine rises; Mother Hydra games oospores into the wet dreams of Super Mario Brothers.


Hooboy, what a hellish week. Give me aww imagery: kittens in knitted radish hats, charming baby capybaras wrestling celery from bunnies, kittens in furry costumes that disguise them as purple koalas, furry costumes on ferrets that style ferrets into little ferret-lions. Gifs of capybaras wearing cowboy hats, ferrets squeezing themselves beneath doors, attractive penguins fearlessly twerking their tails, knitted pairs of socks unhanding a panda. Tiny human babies are also effective: I can aww hard at two month-olds dressed as caterpillars, metal babies rocking Sabbath “Paranoid” onesies, babies-as-green-vegetables, wary newborns who peer out from Batman swaddling. Give me baby ferrets this time curled in palms, or venturing blindly from a water glass; give me tumblrs of lambs tenderly nestled with micro piglets. Show me tarsiers emailing,  auks stumbling, bichons growling from their rich moms’ Birkin carriers. Please, that I might bear in good spirit the ways entitled old men unburden themselves, post gifs of athletic black prima ballerinas’ sick jetés, winding women, more winding women shaking booties as feminist intervention, the epic eyerolls responding to some dude’s ceaseless oratory, the talk-to-the-hand flips, the ab fab duo slurring dahling, the First Lady asking: turnip for what? Beyoncé’s made Lemonade out of some men’s bunk; let her black ops meme hope formations, however ephemeral, into my social enduring. Some fathers’ dominions feel ruined; support for some trumped up troublemaker ascends. The image’s pleasures wait on them, too: here’s Obama in photoshopped thobe; here’s unicorns and rainbows ironically photoshopped over a jewy Bernie Sanders. Dems and Republicans don’t mean to unite over tiny baby feet held by muscly Adonis-men, or gifs of dalmatians wearing antlers. But there’s something about a dressed-up llama; it cheers the absurdist and believer. To save myself, on loop I’ll keep playing that sublime videowhere around the living room glides the cat, wearing the shark’s fin costume, riding a roomba.

Alan Halsey and Kelvin Corcoran

Two poems - click on the links to download the full poem as a pdf:

The Choir Included Some Familiar Faces

"The choir were not as one about the history
of the singing alphabet..."

In the Days of Lee Harwood

"A trail of bookmarks, a trail of postcards..."

Tranströmer's Thoreau

by Michael Peverett

Funnel Chanterelles (Craterellus tubaeformis)

[Image source:]

Five strophes to Thoreau

So another has left the heavy town's
ring of voracious stones. Crystal-clear salt is
the water that comes together round all true
                         escapers' heads.

Up a slow vortex silence has climbed to here
from the middle of the earth, to put down roots and to grow
and with a leafy crown to shade the man's
                         sun-warmed steps.


The foot kicks thoughtlessly at a mushroom. A thundercloud
grows big on the rim. Like copper trumpets
the tree's bent roots sound a note and the leaves
                          scatter frightened.

Autumn's wild flight is one's own light cape,
its flap-flapping, till once more from frost and ashes
comes the flock of calm days to bathe its
                          claws in the spring.


Believed by nobody is the one who saw a geyser,
who escaped the stone-lined well like Thoreau and who knows
like him to vanish deep in inner greenery,
                            wily and hopeful.

Runmarö cottages

[Image source:]


This is my quick translation of one of Tomas Tranströmer's early poems (published in 17 Poems  / 17 dikter, 1954). Previously I've always read Tranströmer in Robin Fulton's translations, but now that I'm reading the Swedish I discover that Fulton's translations are often quite free and sometimes not so clear as the original.  Of course my own translations are always the clearest!  Though in this case I will probably confuse readers with the "steps" at the end of the second stanza: I'm thinking of external wooden steps up to the veranda of a summer cottage.

And that's what I think Tranströmer had in mind too. Many of the images here relate to the common Swedish summer departure from the city into nature, and the poet himself is the "another" of the poem's opening line.


Interesting discussion of the poem by Henrik Gustafsson and Niklas Schiöler in the Thoreau Society Bulletin, Fall 1998

They also supply translations of the three additional stanzas in the original 1951 version of the poem (they were positioned as 2, 6 and 7). Tranströmer realized his poem could get along better without them.

I don't really agree with their symbolic interpretation of the thunder and the wild autumn, nor with their over-interpretation of "stenad brunn" in the final stanza as a stagnant well. Google searches confirm that the phrase merely specifies a well lined with stones, which is how most Swedish wells were made in the past. But the water in a well, though not fast-flowing, oughtn't to be stagnant. For me the main point (aside from recalling the city's "voracious ring of stones" in line 2) is to suggest the difficulty of clambering out.

Yellow Foot Chanterelles (Craterellus  lutescens) and Funnel Chanterelles (Craterellus tubaeformis)

[Image source: This image was taken on Runmarö, the island on the Stockholm archipelago where Tranströmer had his summer cottage.]

Tranströmer himself saw geysers in Iceland in 1951. Geysers are very rare phenomena, there are only about 1,000 worldwide.

The poem is characterized by an insistent crossover of images that doesn't necessarily follow the prose sense. (For example the ascending vortex and the man's wooden steps in Stanza 2.) In the fifth stanza it's difficult to ignore the connection between the geyser and the stony well of the following line. Momentarily, we glimpse a Thoreau exploding out of the city-well with a geyser's force. But only momentarily. The verb "flytta" in the following line (to move, leave, depart or flit) is far from explosive. Quietness is re-established. Significant actions, we learn, may often be quiet ones. So, of course, may trivial ones.

More distantly, both this geyser and this well make connections with the spring of stanza 4 and the crystal-clear water of stanza 1. The latter, I think, is the icy, only-slightly-saline water of the Stockholm archipelago. And I think the image is of someone swimming, the waters merging round his head rather than over his head.


[Image source:]

Thomas Good (1901 - 1970)

by Michael Peverett

[Image source:]

From Thomas Good's poem "Chronometer" (published in 1944):


Give me the mid-ocean of a dream
I’ll settle with Apollo
Till the flood of fear, the false equation seem
Vanished in a mirror sandwiched in the dunes.

We have left you, earth to groan, cancelled your riper song
With the tinkling of bones, the inverted stones
Of impalpable wishes, shapeless shells
Of stubborn homes, fleeced fields, phallos of the petrol-pump
To be mined, and divined, and defaced like a skull in a mask.


But the cool instance of a forgotten glove
Moaned in the crazy oven of my hell
No one could lift her through the mustard-clouds
Across the foreshore of the insulated infinite
Or leave her nailed where the god impaled
Ripens the greengage hours.

Fancy painted a thrifty courtship, post-card praise
Love’s barter in the oast, her laughing premium paid
With never a yes or no to say, buds and berries of positive days
An almanac happiness, in violent sepulchral ease
The book tossed away for a boy, in a cesspool of sense, on a dungheap of joy.

Better beget in the peak of the hour, near the weeds grow the flowers
Than in a chapel of fools slouch away from the too fertile worm
And to live on a spring, for a whim, not to stink with a too moist outhouse happiness
Ignoring the breeze of a birth and the bellowing breasts.


Wolverhampton-based Richard Warren's valiant researches into the obscurer reaches of British art and literature, 20th century vintage,  have thrown up another distraught gem in the work of Beeston-born Thomas Good, a 1940s poet who reminds me somewhat of Peter Yates, who I wrote about recently. But Good is less controlled,  more unpredictable.

These two short extracts from the 24 stanzas of  "Chronometer" give an idea of the breadth of  content allowed into the poem, the navigation so perilously close to the edge of losing us completely, the sometimes thrilling sensuousness of "greengage hours", "moist outhouse happiness", "bellowing breasts" etc.

Typical of the era are its unfettered judgmentalism (both condemnatory and self-condemnatory), its disillusioned world of "fools" (a term much-used in those days, now less so), and its peculiarly exclusive focus on male experience.  And, characteristic of '40s poetry in particular, lots of unlocated use of "the" ("the flood of fear", "the mustard clouds", "the insulated infinite").

You wouldn't guess it from these extracts, but "Chronometer" mainly springs from thoughts of the South of France, then under Occupation (Nov 1942-Summer 1944).  (Good and his family had moved to near Aix-en-Provence in 1937, hoping to relieve a fresh onset of Good's recurrent nervous anxiety. They returned to England near the start of the war.)

That war-time background is overt in e.g. "Let the almonds and the vines of Prussia bend and bleed / In reparation" ; though it's of course rather a perverse way of putting it, Prussia not being known for its vines and almonds. The poem doesn't do war reportage. Perhaps it even disdains so small a topic. What it laments is not so much war as modernity.  The poet's anguish about Provence is confessedly absorbed into Good's own personal-universal psychological journey, "his wound a turgid jewel in the brain"; quite a bit of the poem is slightly-reshaped autobiography. Good has been called an uneven poet, and "Chronometer" comes to rest in old-fashioned apostrophe ("O France, O England.."), a very long way from the arresting thicket of syntax in its opening stanza:

I have an inkling that the taste of forgotten lemons
Skins unsalvaged, returning near the ebb of summer-time
Now the dioxide fastens my sorrow, conjures a city, shapes a song
From a crucified chaos opens a circle, deflects the borrowed wheel
Of futility, which even the partially blessed are said to feel.

(Though even here, the thought did cross my mind that inside every extraordinary poem there's an ordinary one trying to get out.)

But still, "Chronometer" is a motley kind of triumph, its torrent of askew images enlivening pretty much every stanza; it's a poem you want to keep on re-reading.  And here, in 1944, Good was already trying to deal with a pressing issue that now affects most poets in a globally-conscious world. Culture happens here, war there. Yet the poetry cannot operate in happy ignorance. (We know, for example, that Aleppo is happening now.) The poet's mind is strung to a distant conflict but without real involvement and therefore without resolution. Or is there a defensible way of articulating how our own psychological or spiritual experience bears on larger movements of violence and suffering?

A Selection of Thomas Good poems:

Profile of Good's life and work:

Accompanying blog post:

Thomas Good's "Carrion":

A poem by D. S. Marriott

Eskimo (after Wiley)

And once again this wedge is my
hypothesis, for what is denied isn’t
a true beginning, and what you
see below isn’t an answer,
or a final step, but truth’s living
flesh being hacked to pieces.
But then that’s poetry’s falsehood.

And at the end of these words
I will ask you endless questions
for hours and hours on end
taking turns to write or yell
accusations, and I will tell you
the proof of what happened,
and with this confession
you will be unable to contradict
or resist me, or turn back from the rim
of remembrance, and thus return to the dim
constellations of memory.

And you will forget what you did,
and I will take you to
the grey zones where all the bones are buried.

A hunger should be cold
cut with shards of catastrophe.
A tsunami that simply refuses to die where bush fires
go out, and tidal waves recede,
waiting for the rescuers to arrive. It’s the end of virtue;
a slag-heap of the endlessly perishable,
a lake where thought itself, neither slough nor swale,
drags us down into darkness.

Because every ‘might’ve’ should be hard, relentless,
as indifferent to the surrender that wants no part
as to the desire that asks for it
for they are both the same
I will show you what happened
the night before your innocence,
when what might have been
was just one of those days when truth is forfeit,
and what happens is itself already damaged,
and it’s hard to decide whether the most guilty
is the one who runs away,
or the one who spends every day 
in thrall to the sanctuary of forgiveness
because he’s already erased all traces?

Go on then go on then, try me if ya name’s man.
And once again truth is held up as a threat,
and I will look at you
during a pause in the interrogation,
and soon it will be your turn again, and there will be
no restraint in the cells when the little one wanders away
and black as death the conquest.
And I will hear your screams again,
and during the beatings
the words ‘I wasn’t there, I wasn’t there’
will return like skiffs already covered over by banks of chromatic rain
in a vast sea of heartlessness—
and your lips will seek another hearing,
and you will listen to the tapes silent, but horrified.
And the wish not to be pagan,
head bowed, wrecked by humiliation,
sent scuttling back to the island
and to the waters that should never
have been stepped in, and the body
which all year long has been the source of the sun’s empty interrogation,
and you will admit to the dead no sacrifice.

And I will ask you once again,
and you will look at me and see
my pupils burning with sunlight and fire,
and your eyes looking at me will see
why sacrifice of the dead is the only thing that matters
even though all that will be saved are dungheaps.
And all of us blinded as we head back to the blue,
the ice-fall and snows,
the avalanche and glaciers that bury you also.

Man knows he will never escape
and so walks on the beach anonymous: was this the intricate, blank sun?
Will the guards look after me, bring me lunch, as I am,
or are they just waiting to leave again? The bars
are overflowing and dangerous, each incident must be met with a chill
forbearance in the noonday sun, then massaged
as flaccid, dingy outlines net each pilgrim.
Only then does everything pass down to extinction
down there, as each journey opens with hope, and thought
enters the great, carnal round of beginning, sun-blinded,
its naming programmed in neon, your confession an epic
that takes in the whole world, now, but a homecoming,
a reunion, with no one to sing the story or knit its arrival.
And even the oracle rages for its lack of vision
to bet on the thing that never happens but always will.

Slowly it dawns, in the clubs and lobbies.
The sun is fate. The clue lies in how it takes shape in the kiosks
the glare of immortality, and none the wiser for seeing it.
And the thought that life is but a shadow
falls like guano across the most famous landmark on the island,
but it was only the body of a dog petrified once more
tales of what happens, and the fear of what fails to etched into our travels.

The police take up their places. Near but far and always waiting
to explore every inch of the island, looking for temporary truths amid the locals,
finally all those inebriated with thoughts of death & glory.
And a new song emerges from all the rapturous things on earth,
the bars, the cafes, the grey stucco houses and storefronts
the sanious delirious bruise of an island, and all the waves
versions of waves flattened under the sea’s immense weight.
The tides taking us farther and farther out,
where we flounder, lost in what we will & don’t know, that no sea dispels.

Peter Yates: "The Explorers"

Border of the Mud Desert near Desolation Camp, 1861. Painting by Ludwig Becker

[Image source: . State Library of Victoria, ID H16486.]

post by Michael Peverett

In the locale of  Peter Yates' “The Explorers” the hands on the clock don’t move, but the compass needle does.

Explorers moving through the vivid lands
Of moveless time: inebriated urge
Towards the dreamed Americas, the end
Where last magnetic rays of sunlight bend
Till vertical and horizontal merge
In final contact, touch of ungloved hands.

The axis in the mind projecting hope,
The folded mountains and the cobalt sea
Emerge; shadows of sunlight on the rock
Seduce the senses, wind the moveless clock,
Give birth to wishes, fears; the will to be
Immortal, and the twitching fingers grope.

The compass moves, glint of the Phoenix eye;
November and the melancholy wind,
Snow on the marbles tombs: elastic flesh
Expands, consumes; fakes with its fuse a flash –
The image, vivid, flickers in the mind,
The vibrant, beautiful, exciting lie.

These are the first three of twenty-nine stanzas. The stanza-form is, by Yates’ standards, simple; six five-stress lines rhyming abccba. There are only a few internal rhymes (tombs, consumes). There are harsh chatters of prolonged alliteration, like a burst of machine-gun fire. The “iambic” flow is a constant in all his poems. Each of these stanzas gathers a sense of purpose towards the middle, when the rhymes are closer together and we feel we’re “getting somewhere”, and then loses it, reaching its firm full stop with a feeling of dissatisfaction. The form makes each stanza seem self-contained and isolated from its fellows.  

Progression is by noun-phrases. Nouns are preceded by the definite article, though this is somewhat disguised by elision of particles (for example, in the first stanza we assume “the inebriated urge”, “the last magnetic rays”, “the touch of ungloved hands”). Nevertheless, the appears 155 times in “The Explorers”, and a/an just six times. What’s going on here? When we read “the vivid lands” our faces are held down, coerced by the poet’s imagination. But when we read (as above, in the third stanza) “a flash”, a familiar context is implied: we are referred to the world outside the poem in which we have seen other flashes; this is but one of them. Yates makes very sparing use of that context in his early poems. You might like to know that the next time we run across a, it is “a stifled cry”, and the next time “a shriek”. These three faint animal interjections are pitifully crushed by the engine of the poem.

“Snow on the marbles tombs” may be a misprint, but don’t be too sure; tombs may be a verb. Verbs have a tendency to seem like nouns in this moveless operation. Several stanzas (like the first) manage without any direct verb. But one verb – “move” – is insistent.

Again the compass moves; the visions pass
and burn like spectral fevers in the eye.
The thunder speaks, the fatal axis moves,
Recedes, slips off its safe and formal grooves
To where gigantic mirrors multiply
Only the total being of their glass.

O wanderers, betrayed by swamp and slime,
Receding from alacrity of youth
To move in lonely circuits of the brain
Down pensive passages, propelled by pain
In search of moments motionless with truth,
Adrift, lost in the wilderness of time.

Explorers moving through imagined space
Led by equator’s never ending line
In search of pyramids and plangent curves;
Creating new sensation with the nerves;
New instruments to heat the blood’s decline;
New formulas to hide the ego’s face.

Explorers sinking in bewildered blood
I watch you through my lenses, see you move
In search of final islands, and that place
Where lost and rigid parallels embrace
With kiss and crackle of electric love
The separate polarities of good.

Insensate time: clock without face or hands,
Revolting torso with the abstract eye
Made hideous by hate, I see you move
In moveless moments in which secret groove
Towards what formula or frozen lie
Only the lucid madman understands.      

                                                            (Stanzas 7-11)

What, then, moves? The explorers, the compass, the mind’s eye; the poet’s mind and the reader’s eye. 

They move through a dense thicket of repetitions, deterring progress. The poem does the opposite of providing a mimesis of journeying; it provides, instead, a non-progressing obstacle. There is nothing to drink; it is the explorer’s own need that inebriates.

But voyagers on gleaming parallels
Still reach towards the image in the mind... 

(Stanza 16)

“Gleaming” gives us a sense of relief. Like the “kiss and crackle of electric love”, it falsely suggests something drinkable, and also something speedy – the gleam, as it were, shoots ahead of the voyagers. But this is deceptive relief under a burning sun. Consider that arresting phrase in Stanza 2, “shadows of sunlight”.

“The Explorers” continues Yates’ long quarrel with thought, and is a toxic mindscape. Nothing is fixed there (we have already seen the November wind), and much else comes within its compass; including, with some reticence, war-time Britain.

            And in the towns, where death becomes an art...             (St 21)

But Yates keeps his focus on the tangle of the self:

Where being is itself the subtle crime                             (St 25)

His own mind, no doubt one of the hungry explorers too, snags on non-progressive images of futility:

And speedboats with no destination move
Tracing their foaming circles of false love                       (St 28)

So much for speed. Through much transmutation, Yates’ poems remain fixed on their object, and this idea is still lurking forty years later in the slow barge of the memorial to his wife:

Metaphor burns me with the edge of dreams.
Love holds in need, by net of names
The intricate and simple, grief and joy,
Green water rippled by a swan.

A hand, a shape, a scarf of hair -
Pure drunkenness of open air!
I follow where the dead have gone
The hidden path once printed with your name.

You wander in the dark
Beyond the comfort of my arms!

Through scalding tears of reverie
I watch the lion sun with blazing mane
Creep from his cloud, and slowly pace
The secret meadow where we used to lie –
He draws across your flickering lake
The Yew tree’s shadow like a sombre barge.

(In Memoriam E.Y.)


[Peter Yates was born in 1911. I hope it is fair to consider him (though such considerings always involve a falsifying diminution) as a poet of the forties. At any rate, his first two collections were published by Chatto in 1942 and 1943, and gained some attention. In many ways they will seem to be characteristic of the era (in Britain); “The Explorers” is from this period. One further collection appeared in 1951; he also published two verse plays, which were staged. Petal and Thorn, a low-key selection of old and new poems published by Peter Ward, appeared in 1983, and that’s what I’ve been reading. This is all I know about his career as a writer, but the inescapable impression is that he was talked about in the early forties as someone with “promise”, a “poet to watch” in the words of Stephen Spender. And then time went by and, gradually, he wasn’t. The blurbs carry less authority. If Graham Greene is only quoted as saying (of The Assassin) “in his minor characters and prose scenes Mr Yates shows himself a dramatist of great promise”, then one is bound to guess that Greene had serious reservations about the verse part of the play. The modest later poems were I imagine written for Yates himself.

There is a brief comment on his work on p. 192 of A. Trevor Tolley’s The Poetry of the Forties (1985).


“Peter Yates (1914 - ) was born of British parents in India and educated at Sevenoaks School and London University. Before the Second World War he lived a wandering life in America, Sumatra, and …” (Ian Hamilton, The Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry in English, 1996). Unfortunately, my library doesn’t have a subscription, so I can’t read the full article. This sounds like our poet, though the date of birth doesn’t quite match my information.

There are online references to a Peter Yates Selected Poems titled The Garden Prospect and published by Jargon (in Kentucky) in 1980.  I think this might be a different poet (born in 1909 according to one online page).

The relatively well-known British architect Peter Yates (1920-1982) is someone else. So is the British director Peter Yates (1929-2011) (Bullitt, The Saint).

And I think it’s another Peter Yates again, a Californian, who wrote articles and books about contemporary music (e.g Twentieth Century Music, 1967) and organized some important concert-series in LA. ]


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