Sunday, June 21, 2015

GRINNING JACK ~*~ Brian Patten

Johnny learns the language

YESTERDAY
         in order to explain myself
 I locked myself away
with an old alphabet,
with the hand-me-down phrases for which
I had no use but to which
I was already addicted.

Yesterday,
while considering how absurd it was
that everything has a name
I discovered that the mayfly
was weighed down by a single vowel.
Under the threat of not being understood
I began to understand
how words were the nets in which
what I was floundered.

Mother,
you come with your bowl of words,
fat words, puffed up with kindness.
And father
you come with your silences in which
words sneak about like thieves.

I am learning your language.
“Loss” “Defeat” “Regret” ---
Without understanding
You would have these be
the blueprints for my future.
(Grinning Jack)


This poem beautifully and poignantly encapsulates the idea that what we are is defined by our language & how we, in trying to escape it’s net, slowly realise that the threads wind round our very DNA, that the language we imbibe as babes in arms forms the chemistry of our adult self and escape is not an option, at most all we do is redefine.





Brian Patten is a poet that has long been a…… No I won’t say long been a favourite, but has long formed part of how I define myself as a lover of poetry.  

He is one of those poets that for a reason I cannot answer, just makes me shiver and shiver at some elemental level. 

I was a latecomer to his poetry, not really discovering him until sometime in the early 1990s, through the anthology Collected Love Poems (first pub’ 1981) this book went all over Germany with me, became a talisman that I carried from job to job, became a way for me to define a stage of my life and a key to break free from it and move on to what would prove to be my future.

And heart is daft
WITHOUT understanding any pain but that
    which inside her anyway is made,
this creature singled out creates
havoc with intelligence. And heart is daft,
is some crazy bird let loose and blind
that slaps against the night and has
never anywhere to go. And when a tongue’s
about to speak some nonsense like
“Love is weak, or blind, or both” then comes
this crazy bird, pecks at it like a worm.
(Collected love Poems)

This book was also one of the very first books of poetry featured on this blog, way back in 2010 and I stated that “This is a book full of beautiful images, of wide eyed wonder with the sheer beauty, terror of the collections subject matter.” .......

Grinning Jack (first pub’1990), is made up of poetry spanning three decades of Brian Patten’s writing. The poems are drawn from and replace a number of earlier collections - creating a companion volume to Love Poems. The poetry in Grinning Jack takes us on a journey from those childhood moments in some playground, through the wonder and angst of adolescence and ends with an adult lamenting the loss of close friends. This is a tale of growing up, growing old and growing disillusioned, but it is also much more than that, as Charles Causley once said of Patten he;

"Reveals a sensibility profoundly aware of the ever-present possibility of the magical and the miraculous, as well as of the granite-hard realities. These are undiluted poems, beautifully calculated, informed - even in their darkest moments - with courage and hope."

It is this juxtaposition of the fantastic with the mundane reality of existence that runs through his poetry, where one moment magic is revealed to be the prevalent force inhabiting our world, and in the next for death to raise his macabre hand reminding us that for all that is of wonder, the flipside is blood and guts, the entrails that make up the stark reality, the apparent meaningless that life sometimes demonstrates.

The necessary slaughter
THERE WAS a bird come recently. When I went into my
room
I saw it balanced on the open window.
It was a thin bird, I dreamt worms for it
And in the morning it was fatter
And the next night for the worms
I dreamt rich soil, and then other creatures,
those that could not fly but now had ground on which to walk
all came and waited round my bed.
I dreamt for them what they needed,
The bird the worm, the fox, the hen, etc., etc.
Right up to the two-legged creature.
Sadly the more they came the more
I had to dream for them each other’s murder
Till my dreams became a planet and that planet called
The necessary slaughter


Brian Patten, wrote a prose poem entitled “Prose poem towards a definition of itself”,

“When in public poetry should take off its clothes and wave to the nearest person in sight; it should be seen in the company of thieves and lovers rather than that of journalists and publishers. On sighting mathematicians it should unhook the algebra from their minds and replace it with poetry; on sighting poets it should unhook poetry from their minds and replace it with algebra; it should fall in love with children and woo them with fairy tales; it should wait on the landing for two years for its mates to come home then go outside and find them all dead.

When the electricity fails it should wear dark glasses and pretend to be blind. It should guide all those who are safe into the middle of busy roads and leave them there. It should shout EVIL! EVIL! From the roof of all stock exchanges. It should not pretend to be a clerk or librarian. It is the eventual sameness of all contradictions. It should never weep until it is alone and only then after it ha
s covered all the mirrors and sealed all the cracks.

Poetry should seek out couples and wander with them into stables, neglected bedrooms and engineless cars for a final Good Time. It should enter burning factories too late to save anyone. It should pay no attention to its real name.

Poetry should be seen lying by the side of road accidents, be heard hissing from unlit gas rings. It should write the teacher’s secret on a blackboard, offer her a worm saying, inside this is a tiny apple.

Poetry should play hopscotch in the 6 pm streets and look for jinks in other people’s dustbins. At dawn it should leave the bedroom and catch the first bus home. It should be seen standing on the ledge of a skyscraper, on a bridge with a brick tied around its heart. It is the monster hiding in a child’s dark room, it is the scar on a beautiful man’s face. It is the last blade of grass being picked from the city park.”


I believe he achieved this and more through his words. He is a poet that has meant a lot to me, has become one of a small selection of poets that define how I see poetry, has become, I guess, a signifier pointing a way for me to define my relationship with the world/word, and as stated above – we may not escape the language imbibed whilst young, but we can find means of redefining our relationship to it, and to me personally this writer, was one of my means.




Brian Patten was born in 1946 in Liverpool, and grew up in a working class neighbourhood, now long demolished. He left school at fifteen, becoming a junior reporter on The Bootle Times, where he wrote a popular music column. One of his first pieces included a report about McGough and Henri. At sixteen he edited and produced the magazine underdog, which gave a platform to the underground poets in Liverpool at that time, and which went on to print the work of international poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Andrei Voznesensky. 

He made his name in the 1960s as one of the Liverpool Poets, alongside Adrian Henri and Roger McGough. Their main aim was to make poetry immediate and accessible for their audience, and their joint anthology, The Mersey Sound (1967), has been credited as the most significant anthology of the twentieth century for its success in bringing poetry to new audiences, and is now a Penguin Modern Classic.

His first solo collection was Little Johnny's Confessions 1967, published when he was twenty-one years old. Since then he has published numerous collections, including Vanishing Trick (1976) Armada (1996), which includes some of his most striking poems, focusing on the death of his mother and his memories of childhood. Penguin publish his Selected Poems and Harper Perennial one of his most important books, The Collected Love Poems. Brian Patten's poems have since been translated into many European languages.


Cosmic misery
IN THE MORNING I get up and there is nothing to do
   I tell myself it is only temporary

In the afternoons I am bored I dislike what I am
I tell myself it is only temporary

In the evening I meet a woman I no longer care for
I tell myself it is only temporary

At night alone confused I listen to my heart beating
I tell myself it is only te
(Grinning Jack)