Tag Archives: Ian Parks poems

Ian Parks’s The Exile’s House

Ian Parks was born in Mexborough, South Yorkshire, in 1959 and was one of the Poetry Society New Poets in 1996. Described by The Chiron Review as ‘the finest love poet of his generation’ his first collection, which received a Yorkshire Arts Award, was published in 1986. Others followed: A Climb Through Altered Landscapes (1998), Shell Island (2006), The Cage (2008), and The Landing Stage (2010). His Love Poems 1979-2009 was published in 2009 and a selection of his work appears in Old City: New Rumours edited by Carol Rumens and Ian Gregson. He was made a Hawthornden Fellow in 1991, spent 1994 on a Travelling Fellowship to the USA, and went on to research Chartist poetry at Oxford. His poems have appeared in Agenda, The Liberal, The Observer, The Independent on Sunday, Poetry Review, Stand, Magma, The London Magazine and Poetry (Chicago). Featured regularly on Peony Moon, his next collection, The Exile’s House is due out shortly from Waterloo Press.
The Exile’s House
Precarious, on a cliff above the sea
     the exile’s house is improvised
from objects found while walking on the beach.
     His crime, it seems, was speaking out
against a harsh, repressive regime.
     Displacing dust, he moves from room to room
or gazing at the sunset, sits and waits.
     The place is chained and anchored down
with ships in bottles, figureheads.
     The ghosts of lovers breathe against the glass;
a trace of silver where they came and went.
     An open door, a broken blind,
a rocking-horse dismantled on the floor
     with flying mane, distended eyes.
Under a lantern like a paper moon
     at a table ringed with stains
he drinks and watches as the night dictates
     words of resistance, lines of dissent.
All night the ash was falling.
Invisible, it drifted down.
Carried on the wind
it settled on our skin
and windowsills: a film –
a covering so thin
we didn’t notice it at all.
Somewhere far north
a vast eruption
shook the ground;
smoke plumed and billowed,
smothering. And yet
we needed to be told
that slow and silent
in our sleep
it crept above
our cities and our towns.
We woke to a new landscape,
cancelled flights,
our sense of distance
suddenly compressed.
I took your ashes
to the riverbank
and there under
that gathering cloud
I poured them out
and scattered them.
Since then the skies
remain obscured
but the dawns
have been sharp-edged
and more intense;
the sunsets radiant.
Not the rain that Edward Thomas heard
beating on the roof of his tin hut
but heavy-sheeted, unrelenting rain
that drives across the landscape that he loved.
To have that sort of rain you’d need
to change the places that it falls upon –
unbuild the office blocks and shopping malls,
tear down the children’s playgrounds, roundabouts
and disinvent the electronic chip.
You’d need to clear the motorways,
break up the concrete car parks,
make them ready for the plough.
Let the rain rain unimpeded on
the nettles and the curled up ferns.
For that you’d need to change the hearts
and ears of those it rained upon;
make sensitive the tap-root and the soil.
Not the rain that Edward Thomas heard –
the rain that rinses as it falls.
This rain has acid in it and it burns.
The Wheel

The pithead used to dominate the town.
My dead forefathers came and went,
were buried in the shadow cast by it.
I passed it on my way to school,
heard its revolutions in the night.
If the pithead was the place’s heart
the great wheel was its soul.
And then there was the slow dismantling.
The slagheap was grassed over: it became
an innocent green mound where cattle graze.
They hauled the winding gear away
and sold the chain for scrap
then took the giant wheel and clamped it down,
reminding us of where we came from
what we did and who we were –
a monument of rusting metal spokes
that radiate from hub to rim
for kids to climb on, point at questioning.
Some day we’ll come with picks and dynamite,
dislodge it from its concrete plinth.
We’ll drag it from the valley floor,
aim it at the cities of the south,
set the wheel in motion, watch it roll.
Expecting my reflection
there’s another face I see
suspended for an instant
in the early morning light.
Waking in the summerhouse
I pull the curtains wide
to find her white and ghostly
making for me, wings outspread.
She skims the headland
hunting, swooping down
to catch a living thing;
an unsuspecting vole or mouse
and doesn’t notice me
here at the window taking in
her momentary span.
It seems she’ll fly straight through
and break the glass. Instead
she banks abruptly
as her eyes draw close to mine –
a second’s contact, looking in
before she rises, disappears
above the sloping roof. She comes
from out of nowhere after all
or from some somewhere out of reach,
arriving with her otherness
and making clear to me
I’ve looked my last on youth
and what it brings:
an after-hush in the long grass
and this dawn-brought visitant
alive above it, hovering
between the day and night,
bringing from the place where she was sent
her oval timeless face
and flawless wings.
from The Exile’s House (Waterloo Press, 2011).
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On a million nights like this

Ian Parks
The plot is complicated
but all its tangled threads
have found their resolution here.
The end is all we need to know.
It’s midnight on the waterfront
and all the ships have loaded up
their cargoes and have gone.
The hotel lights are lit:
a hundred rooms with a hundred beds
identical with blinds.
An interface of fire-escapes
supports it from outside.
A bright façade distracts us
from the narrow alleyways
where trash cans spill their overflow
and rats search out a meal.
Somewhere a storm is gathering.
Out there in Hudson Bay
it swirls unseen, unnoticed.
The city streets absorb it
for a moment then let loose
a sudden lethal downpour
that shimmers in the heat
and bounces off the sidewalk
where she steps purposeful, intent.
All we know about her are her heels,
her black silk stockings with the seams.
The desk clerk reads philosophy
and doesn’t notice her,
is distant and obsessed
by the problem of evil
and the fact of other minds.
She comes in through revolving doors,
making her usual entrance as she smiles,
unpins her dripping hair and shakes it free.
And we’re left wondering how it feels
to be someone like her,
someone who melts in from the night
without a future or a past,
without a clear identity
but sure about her purpose and her poise.
Men in the vaulted lobby watch her move,
put down their unread papers,
place drinks back on the bar.
Just then a yellow taxi picks him up
outside Grand Central Station where he waits.
He lifts a paper from the stack,
is down at heel and needs a shave.
He has the worn, familiar look
of someone we’ve all seen before.
The final train is juddering
as it swerves off to Harlem
hot with jazz. She taps her watch
and lights a cigarette.
The pianist is playing just for her –
a melody that lingers and goes deep,
much deeper than before.
She doesn’t know it but it will become
a universal theme, a tune
replayed by lovers
on a million nights like this,
requested by lone barflies
as they have one for the road
or whistled on the way back home
by men to their new girl.
But now he’s skirting Central Park.
The driver is loquacious and he knows
the places to be seen in
and the places to avoid;
the dark protruding belly
of the city’s underside
where, he says, it’s safer not to go.
He pauses on the steps.
Will she remember? How could she forget?
They had a past together after all,
embraces in the damp exotic south
where passports count for nothing
and there are no questions asked.
He has no way of knowing
but the first words that he speaks
will take on an existence of their own,
repeated out of context
on a million nights like this
when some lost lover stumbles, lost for words.
Impressive, but she doesn’t notice it,
distracted by dark corners,
shifting eyes. Can anyone be trusted
in this sharp ambiguous world
where threat is ever-present
and its secrets are all hid?
And then there are the details:
raised eyebrows, potted palms,
the glitter of a wedding ring –
suggested, unobtrusive
as she takes the battered envelope
and slips it in her bag.
We know that something more
than looks have been exchanged
as the bell-boy taps his shoulder,
says he’s wanted on the phone.
What happens next?
We’re left to guess. A life
impelled by answers
and the questions they impose:
false leads, lost threads, dead ends,
a trail of clues that have gone cold,
the gaps they leave for us to fill
with their intensity.
Things keep disappearing
and then turning up elsewhere.
The lights are neon blue.
We’re lost in it, its variousness
and the thousand things now happening
which the camera doesn’t see.
from The Landing Stage (Lapwing Publications, 2010)

Ian Parks’s The Landing Stage

Ian Parks

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
Coastal Defences
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.
Paper Lanterns
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).
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Ian Parks: Five Poems

Ian Parks

Ian Parks was born in 1959 and was one of the Poetry Society New Poets in 1994. 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 1979-2009 (2009). His poems have appeared in Trespass Magazine, Stand, Poetry Review, The Liberal, The Independent on Sunday, The Observer, Poetry (Chicago) and have been broadcast on BBC Radio 3. These poems have been written since the publication of The Landing Stage earlier this year.
It must be all of forty years
and still I think I’ve found the exact spot:
the spa the colour of wet sand
and rock-pools strewn with bladder-wrack.
An ice-cream melts into the crevice of my hand.
I pick my way among the rocks,
the giant pebbles bleached and pocked.
This is where my parents stopped to kiss –
a quintet playing thirties jazz,
old men in faded deck-chairs listening –
my mother flustered as I turned to look.
The spa is held in place by scaffolding.
I blink at the sun and shade my eyes.
There are no landmarks on this empty beach.
There is no safe way back.
Listen: the sound that you can hear
arriving faint and distant
over the rooftops and the washing lines,
through open windows, under doors –
over the student in her hammock
who tilts her book and sways
in the almost-imperceptible breeze,
over the attics and the red brick walls
and terraces inclining into shade,
the pub yards baked and emptying
four thousand miles from Memphis
where the creeping Mississippi
deposits its own delta as it slides into the sea
in the hour between sunset and the dark
when boys dive naked from a concrete rim
into the man-made lake
despite the warning sign;
as households stop and listen to the news,
when cats are stirring under cars
and the parks are closed and chained
and pensioners lean on their spades
in well-kept gardens dried out in the heat
and the murmur of it travels to your ear
across the hinterland that lies between,
the patchy fields and new estates
with rail lines cracking, unrepaired
while babies wake up for another feed
and the watered plants exhale
in the never-to-be-repeated oneness
of an unremembered afternoon
that fixes us and lets us go
unfolding, intersecting, holding back
in the final shush of stillness before rain
while England pauses, counts her dead
is Ian as he cups his hands and plays.
I had a question for her so I went
through convoluted alleys to the place:
no sacred grove of olives but a mill
abandoned when the Textiles died.
Reached by a narrow staircase
with a missing step, the top floor
opened on the sky, exposed.
Each city has an underside –
a burnt-out region to avoid
where streets are unlit and no one goes.
And there I found her,
curled and drugged and shivering
on the mattress where she dozed.
Not as old as you’d expect
for someone so acquainted with the world,
when she reached her hand out
and the moonlight fell on it
there were no wrinkles puckering the skin.
I gave her nothing but a crumpled note.
She cast her glass beads on the floor.
Her answer came in riddles
as if what I’d asked was no easy thing
but a question with no answer
and no language left for it.
Escape was easier than I thought.
I needed no directions and no guide.
Instinct led me to the upper air.
I climbed onto the rooftops
and looked out: the spires
and domes and minarets
reclaiming their identity from night,
the dawn a yellow slit.
What you gave me were the gifts
you brought back from your island in the west.
Is this how you made your choice –
walking the shoreline, looking out to sea,
discerning where the man-made bank
of shells and broken crockery
might loom unseen under the waves;
where ballast cast and jettisoned
makes its slow progress, turns and shifts?
We talked of great migrations,
how the far horizon called to them,
receding always at the point
where they dropped anchor, came to rest.
The sound of all of that was in your voice.
Take me to the tide-line. Show me where
the Spanish ships were wrecked,
point out to me the crosses and the graves,
the landmarks of that barren land.
My mind is filled with things new-found,
recovered, brought back from the edge –
things shattered and fragmented,
smoothed by the ocean into chalk;
of how I almost lost you to the tide.
I empty out the box and touch.
I close my eyes so I can see:
the woman on the island stooping low
to gather these lost pieces in her hands
is you with your unlooked-for gifts allowing me to be.
Beach Hut
It’s thirty years since I undid the lock
to spend a rented summer under glass –
a space no bigger than my bedroom now,
the skylight slanting, sunlight through the planks.
Blue meant a day for swimming in the sea;
grey for reading till the weather cleared.
One room where everything I needed was to hand:
bare floorboards, faded rug, sand in my hair
and in my jeans. It was a year of rioting,
of running battles through the city streets,
of looted shop-fronts, shattered glass,
cars overturned and burning in the road.
The rumour of it didn’t reach me there.
I spread my sheets, slept on the floor,
hung a rusted oil-lamp from the beam,
convinced the answer could be found
in solitude and in the distant sound
of waves as they came rippling to the shore.
The place was a ramshackle wreck
held up by a lick of yellow paint.
At night a big ship loomed against the sky
and from its bright and polished deck
someone I imagined lit a foreign cigarette
and smoked it slowly, leaning on the rail.
Just once I saw a torchlight flashing back.
But mostly it was dunes, resilient grass,
the dog-eared books I read then threw away –
the narratives I didn’t want to share.
The days grew shorter. Cold set in.
The beach huts emptied. I grew bored.
Rain drove in every morning from the sea.
I packed my rucksack, caught a train,
sped inland through a landscape changed
to find the world not waiting anymore;
back to the city with its new façade
and the headlines I’d ignored.