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,
our sense of distance
I took your ashes
to the riverbank
and there under
that gathering cloud
I poured them out
and scattered them.
Since then the skies
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 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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