Ian Parks was one of the National Poetry Society New Poets in 1996. He was made a Hawthornden Fellow in 1991 and has taught creative writing at the universities of Sheffield, Hull, Oxford and Leeds. His collections include Shell Island (2006), The Cage (2008) and Love Poems (2009). A selection of his poems appears in Old City: New Rumours edited by Carol Rumens and Ian Gregson. The Landing Stage (Lapwing Publications) was published in 2010.
“A real poetic gift: pure poetry written as though coming ready-made from outside him.”
– John Powell Ward
“A poet working big themes and moving in new directions.”
– Ed Reiss
“This is a poetry which is universal, profound and as natural as breathing.”
– David Cooke
“Park whispers his exquisite verse in precise awe of the ghosts which he transcribes.”
– Tim Roux
The coldest winter of the war.
You had no option but to spend it here
on the Humber mudflats, manning the big guns.
From the far side of the estuary
you watched the bombers come,
swivelled a searchlight to the sky,
tried not to think of what was happening
beneath that deadly rain –
the blitz that levelled Hull.
Next day you led a detail that was sent
to pull the bodies from the wreck.
You didn’t speak about it but I knew
that things had never been the same.
Tate & Lyle sustained a direct hit:
a stream of molten sugar running down the street,
brimming your boot-tops, blistering.
Pointless, I know, but when you died
I travelled to that spur of land,
raked up the rusted residue of war,
found a random pill-box, crawled inside,
peered through the narrow concrete slit
to see what you saw: grey dawn, churned up sand,
a wide deserted beachhead opened out,
sea birds at the tide-line clamouring
and under that the silence that surrounds
a non-event – the horizon not delivering
destroyers, transports, ships;
an invasion waited for which never came.
The Making of the English Working Class
No dignity in labour, no release,
no recompense in heaven, no reward.
Only the fact of working hard:
our mothers and grandmothers going down
to scrub the floors of rich men, sycophants;
our fathers and grandfathers setting out
to sink the mine shafts, cut the straight canals.
It was written on the windows and the walls,
set down on scraps of paper in the night.
They heard it in the wind that blew through squares
or whispered in an alley after dark.
It was born in upstairs rooms of smoke-filled bars,
forged in steelworks, cobbled yards. They knew it
when they saw it and they wanted to be free.
There were speeches, broadsheets, pamphlets, poems,
incremental stirrings in the dust,
Ruskin’s vision failing to come true.
Recover their lost labour. Restore their aspiration
and reclaim their fallen pride. Give it a new
and unfamiliar name. Call it liberty.
The birds have flown –
and all that absence signifies has gone
in the upward glance
cast after them into the air,
leaving us to the earth
and the dovecote standing foursquare
on the dark green lawn.
The crumbs I spare
are scattered on the ground.
All the gentleness you own
can’t tempt the fickle doves
to take bread at your hand;
no word of mine will bring them down.
However much we look for them,
however much the shadows spread
across the stricken land,
however much we turn to other loves
a hidden instinct brings them home
in their own time not ours.
Until they do we learn to live
with what their loss implies;
a setting sun, an emptiness,
uncertainties we share
as silences resound inside the dome.
The print of lipstick on a slender glass
at midnight in a cellar bar,
a blinded veteran begging at the gate.
An arched stone bridge, an empty square
where tanks rolled in one morning
from the east and never went away;
where someone with a name that I forget
struck a quick match and turned himself to flame.
I had so many dreams when I was there
the things I dreamed of and the things I did
are indistinct. The dreams were all the same.
I needed someone to translate
while I invented meanings of my own
and, like a lover, hung on every word.
The city was brittle, broken shell
and in it’s narrow streets I found
a question posed on every passing face.
All this was in the no-time that occurred
after the iron curtain fell,
before the wall came crashing to the ground.
In all the rented attic rooms
the paper lanterns shine.
White moons, they hang suspended
from the artificial beams.
Seen from the street
they burn with compromise.
I’d like to know what happens in the shade –
the dim recesses
where they fail to reach;
blurred corners that extend
outside the limit of their range.
They should be strung
from oriental trees,
reflected in the waters
of an ornamental lake,
floating to the surface
like drowned faces in our dreams.
I don’t pretend to understand
who put them there or why.
The lanterns smoulder and ignite,
making known darkness
suddenly more strange.
from The Landing Stage (Lapwing Publications, 2010).
Order The Landing Stage.