James Goodman’s Claytown

James Goodman grew up in St. Austell, Cornwall, near the Clay Country landscapes described in Claytown (Salt Publishing, 2011). After graduating from Manchester University with a history degree he taught English in Istanbul and rural north Japan then moved to London in 1998. He works for the sustainable development charity Forum for the Future and lives in Hertfordshire with his wife and two sons. 
“James Goodman’s evocative first collection is warm and inventive, dramatic and ethically-charged, picking its way through the clay country of mid-Cornwall as it tackles the ecological pressures on the natural world. Many of the poems take their inspiration from the scale and force of landscape, finding a unifying beauty in its geology, the maps that describe it and the industries that exploit it for mineral wealth. But this collection also ranges widely in subject, and includes poems on birds, sharks, deer, fish, limoncello, dimsum and the North American Bigfoot. Goodman balances the gravity of some of his observations with comedy and lightness of touch, which all lovers of poetry will find endearing and enlightening.”
“Where you or I might look at a thing, or be in a place, and think no more of it, James Goodman cannot help but write poetry about it. And the poetry is vital and succulent and makes you revel in the lusciousness of words, the deliciously unexpected metaphor, his magical handling of mystery where we thought there was none. Nor is he too earnest for a snigger and a giggle, for there is laughter in there too, and deftly crafted ecstasy and euphoria. For poems replete with zawn and clitter, there’s nobody quite like him. Buy it; read it; and if you’re like me, you’ll love it.”
– Chris Stewart
“These are poems crafted to match the physical nature and power of Cornwall’s post-industrial landscape, rich with awareness of the fractured histories that define this region far off the tourist trail. Cornwall’s mineral, maritime and moorland realities are present here in a vital and present-day idiom, shot through with tough and compelling lyricism. An exciting and thoughtful debut.”
– Penelope Shuttle
Helman Tor
When the old moon smoked itself red,
when it curdled at its leading edge
then burst apart, when it spumed
over Gemini and a swathe of Taurus
and the powder cake cascade
poured down, this sheepshit tor,
this snag in the weather’s tumble
rose up to meet it.
The clitter’s quartz gleamed,
caught the magpies’ ragged eyes.
And below the hill,
beyond the tin-stream eddies,
between the reeling, stunted oaks,
hidden in the grass beside the oily reed-marsh,
a giant puffball, braced with spores, looked up,
the muddy eyeball of another moon.
They bob around in the freezing cloud-forge
miles up in the night, meeting and joining hands,
until their weight is snagged and they fall.
How comforting to drift to ground like that,
in such company, holding each other’s
stellar arms, like sky-divers over Texas
who giddy and spin through the fickle air
and laugh into each other’s crystal eyes.
And how comforting to land among friends
and at the point of impact, wait a while,
not go quite yet, look about and see
who joined the long hug of the gentle hedge,
who gave the granite scratching-post its quiff,
who settled on the bull’s steaming flank
as it stood alone in the middle of the field.
Sap rising
There were cats screwing all over the place,
it was one of those summers.
Hers had disappeared, poor Xerxes
the ancient waddler, the fat-balled tom
who turned up at a dozen houses to be fed
and had as many names. Hence
the aunt-recommended crystal-dowser,
crunched over the map of London
on the recovered-wood kitchen table,
swinging his claw of cheesy quartz.
He wasn’t sure, but a certain street
in Bounds Green provoked a reaction.
They ended up in an allotment hot
with lemon mint and so dense with ley-lines
their arteries were twitching with the force.
She defied first-kiss convention
by sucking his lower lip very hard,
as if there was something in there
she needed desperately for herself—which
she knew at the time to be quite wrong.
Spring, when it came
With time-lapse indecency, the backed-up sap in the unsprung coils of tuber and bulb boiled through stems and fizzed out. Leaves, forced through the sleeves of twigs, gestured for their falcons to hunt down light, which blazed from the birds’ plumes as they returned. Bracken punched its fists through winter’s tarmac. New roots screwed the earth down to its shelf of rock while daffodils cracked into flower, splitting air. Bluebell grass sweated in its welter of glade. Pushed for time, flowers pressed on till dawn, working the dark and the giddy moths. The season changed like a shock of wood-pigeon clearing the trees. A line of wreckage moved up the map in black and white, breaking the frost of November and burying winter. The pomp of its announcement! Leaves were sheaves of fire, trees furled their lozenges of semtex; though winter has strength in depth, deliberating its constitution of darkness, its sunk inches of soil.
You are the engine of the bush
You are the ripple of the moon
You are the spinney’s lonely bell
You are the shooting of the eye
You are an easel made of bark
You are the orbit of the morning
You are the welter of the evening
You are the evening of the sky
You are a footmark in the snow
You are the path between the woods
You are the quickness in the spinney
You are the clearing from the west
You are the falling of the leaf
You are the hira-hira sound
You are a scribble in still air
You are the compass of the threat
You are a shudder in the bush
You are the softening of the branch
You are the grammar of the copse
You are the pebbling of fright
You are a breath inside a breath
You are the shoreline of the rain
You are the target of the air
You are the harness of the night
You are the whistle-maker’s thought
You are the tick-tock song of want
You are the conversation’s start
You are the cause of the dissent
Pertaining to the cod
The story went that in those days a man could reach from his flat-hulled dory, search the heavy water, eyes closed, and pull one out. He could step into a shoal and balance on the fish’s backs, dance on their upturned snouts as more came to the light, surrounding with their opened mouths. A deft-footed boy could run the cod-backs with a message, following their stepping stones to shore, sunshine spinning off the mud-coloured slabs before they could turn and sink. The waves as they broke were a surge of cod, tanked from trough to crest with glints and glassy eyes. The story went that in those days the sea was thick and game as pie, dense with cod-meat, stuffed with plankton jelly. But now we zoom across the thinnest consomme, this clear cold unassembled water, making brief froth in our scouring wake, our 50-knot launch and its silence and noise, its coast-and-flap, coast-and-flap, and deep below us, snow crab blindly prise atmospheres apart, sorting through the debris of those days.
from Claytown (Salt Publishing, 2011).
Order Claytown.
Sarah Howe writes about ‘The Catch’ from Claytown.
Read three poems from Claytown at Days of Roses.

1 thought on “James Goodman’s Claytown

  1. Pingback: What I am trying to say is . . . | Bridget Macklin

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