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Promoting Creative Writing in Scotland

 

Poet of the Month

 

 

Lord Gawain Douglas

 

 

Lord Gawain Douglas was born in 1948, the younger son of Francis, the 11th Marquess of Queensberry, and the great grandson of John Sholto Douglas, the 9th Marquess.   This was the same Queensberry who formulated the Queensberry rules of boxing and who hounded Oscar Wilde to prison on account of the playwright's relationship with his youngest son, Alfred Douglas.

 

The story of Oscar Wilde and Alfred Douglas is often told from the Wilde perspective and Gawain's great-uncle, Bosie, is generally thought of as the bad boy who ruined Oscar Wilde.  In truth, very little is known about the remarkable poetry that Alfred Douglas wrote or of the true nature of their friendship and the real devotion they had for each other.  In his talk, 'Oscar Wilde and the Black Douglas', Gawain tells the story from the other side, his family's side.  He sheds light on that extraordinary dynasty, the Black Douglasses, from which he and his great-uncle are descended.  Suicide, murder and pillage were endemic to this lawless, arrogant clan which Oscar Wilde described in his famous prison letter to Bosie, as 'The mad, bad line, from which you are come'

 

Gawain, who is a performing poet and musician, has devoted a great deal of time to publicizing Alfred Douglas's work.  He has also made a profound study of Shakespeare's sonnets out of a wish to make them more widely appreciated, and in memory of his father, Francis Queensberry, who was a distinguished reciter of these poems.  More recently, Gawain has made an especial study of the works of T.S. Eliot, particularly The Waste Land and the Four Quartets.  He was recently invited to perform Eliot's Quartets in the prestigious Port Fairy Music Festival in Australia.  Alfred Douglas would have turned in his grave; he detested T.S.Eliot!

 

Gawain has produced two cds of poetry by Alfred Douglas and Shakespeare and, more recently, a collection of his poetry entitled ‘Fortuna’, has been published by Alma Books.

 

 

 

Poetry runs through the generations of the ancient Douglas line. There was Gavin Douglas, a sixteenth-century bishop and one of Scotland’s most famous Renaissance characters and poets, and William Douglas, who wrote the words for the song ‘Annie Lawrie’. Gawain’s father was a famous amateur reciter of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and his great uncle, Lord Alfred Douglas, was recognized by Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw as one of England’s outstanding poets.

Gawain has continued this family tradition, in the belief that it is a priceless heritage which it would be very easy to lose. This collection, Fortuna, is a distillation of his poetry from the last thirty-six years, from the earliest poems, written on Osea Island, Essex, aged twenty-two, up to the present time. Candid, profoundly personal and at times formally experimental, these poems are never less than engaging and more than worthy of the Douglas name.

 

 

A selection of poems from Gawain

 

 

The Place of Poetry

 

I live in a big white town house, in an Edwardian square by the sea in Kent.  It has pleasant gardens with tennis courts and croquet lawns and a nice club house.  I often go there and play tennis in the summer, and every day winter and summer I go to the pebbled shore and gaze across the waters.  Mostly they are grey and dull and one could be anywhere; sometimes they are blue and sunstruck and then I'm in the best place in the world.  I have a kind wife, and children who've all left home, and I go to work every day and come back late and eat and drink rather a lot.  And that's my life really.

 

But oh!  I nearly forgot; at the top of my house there's a further floor, a sort of attic which is always locked and which has a hidden key.  Most of the time this key is very difficult to find.  Sometimes I even forget it exists.  Then one day, puzzled, walking up the stairs perhaps, or in a brown study, looking out into the rain, I'll see it shining somewhere beckoning me.  Then I'll pick it up quite naturally as though it's been there all the time, and climb the stairs and unlock the door to that other place; the place where poetry is.

 

I cannot tell you any more about it or what it means, or how it came about.  Your guess is quite as good as mine.

 

 

 

Sound Sense

 

In the chord there was

Silence.

 

She found it with surprise

Having long understood that

 

Sound expressed meaning

Her sense of beauty.

 

Touching it, almost

By accident

 

She touched the law

Of opposites

 

Found the void

We seek

 

Wonder

Behind the tone.

 

 

 

 

Friendship can be a puzzle.  Why it comes, where it goes.  I mean, why is one suddenly and unaccountably no longer friends with someone?  Why the fragmented, ‘convenient’ nature of modern friendship?  Perhaps I speak just for myself, but is not true friendship a very rare thing?  One of my best friends is my son, and this poem, ‘The Bend’ describes a walk I had with him which seemed to put a seal on our lives. 

 

 

The Bend

 

Some walks never end

Like this one.  Look! As

We follow the bend

Trees wave like seaweed

In the sky and the

Great fist of the wind

Seizes the valley

Trying to find us

And winkle us out

Into our future.

 

But it won’t, we are

Secure here in this

Glade of permanence.

Nothing changes here,

We have been walking

For ever on this spot

Just on the bend

Of the moment…

 

But the

Road winds uphill and

We come to the edge

Of the trees.  Beyond

Wind separate tracks

Of our two lives.

 

Turning we walk back

Through the woods and talk

Of things we know and

Love, and reach that bend

Again.  I won’t forget

You here, this place

And in this time

My friend.

 

 

 

One thing is certain, the Human Race will end.  Our art, architecture, music, poetry; just as if they had never been.  Perhaps, as we are always being told, we will hasten that end, perhaps we will be blown up, perhaps we will slowly frazzle under a dying star.  Whichever way, we will bear the camel hump of guilt around on our shoulders.  To be human is to be guilty it seems.  But will have some notice of our demise, and birds may well be the harbingers by going on strike!

 

 

Bird Strike

 

A message went across the lands, the seas,

Stop!

 

Across the kingdoms, the democracies,

Dictatorships, the cruel and the kind,

 

The Pope’s house, the Sultan’s home,

The believers and the unbelievers.

 

Stop, stop, stop now, do not sing again.

 

A ripple of wings, a tsunami of bird-thought

Circled swifter than death’s kiss this globe

Of ours

 

And the dawns went silent and

There were those who lay in half sleep

 

Who wondered at this new sound of silence,

Turned into their troubles, slept again

 

And there were those who had lost their souls

Who heard neither sound nor silence

 

And slept, and slept.

 

But anyway

 

This marked the ending of our time.

 

                                 To WW.

 

 

 

My home town is Walmer in Kent and on Walmer seafront, as on most urban seafronts in England, there are numerous benches facing seawards.  And on those benches elderly people are often sitting, relaxing, having a picnic or staring out to sea.  And on those benches are usually inscriptions, a typical one being…

 

 

 

In Memory of…who enjoyed this View

 

I am become a benchman now.

I used to pass unglancing

Or with disdain those warriors

Whose faces are a mirror of the sky

Whose eyes reflect the universe

(Look closely and you’ll see the stars).

Purposefully striding nowhere

I used to think—have they nothing

Better to do than sit, is that their life?

Thermoses, sandwiches?

 

I did not see beneath their pallor

Their drab coats and sweaters

The radiance of October burn

The passion for the sea

The yearning for the south,

So deep, so far, so near.

Nor could

I see.

 

But now

I am become a benchman too.

Look through my eyes and

You will see the stars.

 

                                                             

                                                                                    WalmerBeach

 

 

  

Everything has a centre, a point, a heart, and the heart of this collection is the poem ‘Fortuna’ after the Roman Goddess of Fortune, who gives her name to the book.  The poem speaks of the Skaldic sense of inevitable ordeal, and the good fortune and renewal of love that can come to those who work their way through.

 

Fortuna

 

Out of all those mornings

All those nights

Which were part of years

But longer in themselves

Than years...

Something has come

Something unexpected.

Out of greyness, cold,

Impossibility, the days

Whose only hope was night,

The nights which watched

The days to come...

From something unspeakable,

A struggle that saw no light,

From darkness, yes darkness,

Has grown a flower.

 

I love you.

 

 

 

 

Most poetry that is on order, as it were, poetry required for specific occasions, doesn’t work (as numerous laureates have attested).  Stilted and unsure.  But this poem, written for a celebration of Paul Patterson’s clarinet concerto did.  His music, like Aldous Huxley’s mescalin, opened the doors of perception for me.

 

Response to Paul Patterson's Clarinet Concerto, 2nd Movement.

 

We have deeps here, yes, in this cavern, opening

 

into sky, water?

 

Sky also can be deep,we

can travel downwards into sky.

 

We have song here, yes,

but what is the singer singing about...

We know but we don't know

In some ways we don't want to know

It would be better not to know

maybe.

 

Why unbuild a palace made of peace?

 

A cough at bar 33 did not interrupt but belonged

to this.

 

The thing about this music is that

it allows.  Look

 

it takes you by the shoulders

and says stop, just stop for once.

 

A double bass arrests

reminds us of mortality.

 

So he's a bird this chap

a slow and ancient bird.

He flaps heavily

absorbedly above

dominions.

 

At the end a vast crescendo as he lands and his wings flutter into pianissimo after flight.  It rains then. Or is it just after the rain, and we hear only the last drops falling on the sea?

 

He sings a final tune.  “Tell me why is the sky so blue?”

 

But this is your cavern also.

Why don't you write upon the wall?

You will leave no other memory.

 

 

 

 

Back to the drawing board

 

Ok, if I was God

This is what I’d do

First pluck out the traffic signs

Then the motorways too.

 

I’d have a good old Godly fit

Like Jehovah of old

Rend asunder the bank vaults

Melt down and reclaim the gold.

 

I’d blow up all the factories

The churches and the towers

Replacing them swiftly

With birdsong, trees and flowers.

 

And lastly I’d eradicate

A virus I called man.

Daft experiment.

Make another plan.

 

************************* 

 

Words become

difficult

strange

dry

 

                      a course without water         a room with no door

                         they                                               

                                    are                                      enclosed

                                              not                                thick

                                                    what                    turbulent

                                                             they            confused

                                                      

                                                         say               deafening

                                              

                                                 they                     deadening 

                                          are                           

                                   not                                    They kill

                         what                                            with noise

                    

                                                                    they sound anymore

 

                                                          they have become unwords

 

                                  we have to thin them

                                           out

                                           prune

 

                                   find light

                       between the letters

                                   tone

                       beneath the sound

 

in the desert wandering we found them moonlit under cliff by tree fireside

questions formed burned into the future now in the city we lost them by roadside

pavement or river grey, grey, grey, on telephones and screens they died

 

those first words

 

 

 

 

The Poet Utters

 

The poet coughed.

It was true he had nothing to say

But felt somehow he ought to say it.

He coughed again, and his face

Assumed the questioning look of

One of those Japanese mushrooms

One sees in better Sainsburys.

His mouth formed a perfect replica

Of a chicken’s arsehole.

‘If’ he said, ‘If only’, and looked

Towards the window sadly.

It was raining.  It was enough.

Everyone was moved and

Somehow he had said it all.

 

 

 

A kind of haiku to Jim Ferguson

 

Good night

Jim boy noo

Ye’reinourhearts yeken

 

 

All poems on this page are the copyright © of Lord Gawain Douglas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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