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Poem Of The Week: 'Frank O'Hara Five, Geoffrey Chaucer Nil' By Geoff Hattersley
Steve Whitaker, Literary Correspondent
Geoff Hattersley
Frank O'Hara Five, Geoffrey Chaucer Nil

I think on the whole I would rather read
Frank O'Hara than Geoffrey Chaucer, and
this fine, non-smoking morning could well be
the right time to try out a new (uh hum)

poetic form. It's the funniest thing:
I am here, thirty years of age, having
put booze, and all sorts of, say, 'dubious
substances' behind me, now sweating it

all out in a small, constipated room
with a plump tomato of a woman,
conjugating Middle English verbs. I have
developed a line, a very brief line,

in gestures of friendliness, and in my
trousers an idea is taking shape...


Geoff Hattersley's peach of comic timing is a lesson in how to condense suggestion into a sonnet, with a killing coda wrapped in a final couplet. Retailed in an ersatz mood of airy briskness which contradicts the narrator's impatience with his lecture-room setting, the reader could be forgiven for equating the reflections with a bored schoolboy's.

But Yorkshire-born Hattersley successfully captures a fully adult experience shared by many. The desire for escape which provokes sometimes funny, sometimes outrageous, sometimes savage introspective imaginings, is a desire we've all felt. And here, Hattersley's own becomes a revelation in the best sense. We learn, as the poem progresses, that the narrator has left several other, once defining, lives behind: the ex-smoker's 'fine, non-smoking morning' is clearly not; the 'sweating' out of the past's litany of self-abuses is anything but 'fine'.

Out of the purging, however, emerges the impulse to create. A past life as stale as the act of conjugating Chaucer's 'Middle English' is offset by the presence of Frank O'Hara. Roué, life-affirming avant garde poet who was dead at forty, O'Hara is a sensual affiliate who represents a kind of alter ego for the narrator's desire for urgency and change.

The poet is learning. In amongst metaphors of constriction and enclosure - the 'constipated' room may be a sly reference to one of the side-effects of drug abuse as much as a prelude to the mental 'enema' of release - he finds the beginnings of a 'very brief line' in 'creative' communication.

It is with some irony that the 'plump tomato' of a female teacher is the likely object of his newly-forged 'identity'. The casual misogyny is blind-sided by the fact of his own self-laceration; the idea 'taking' priapic 'shape' is no idea beyond the questionably carnal.

Hattersley's poem is highly self-reflexive; his narrator's nonchalant tone lies on an arc of the poet's own, more serious, impulse to question. And his open-eyed cynicism is nothing if not honest to intuition, and probably experience.

Also by Steve Whitaker...
Any Change? Poetry In A Hostile Environment Ed. Ian Duhig
Poem Of The Week: 'The Peace Of Wild Things' By Wendell Berry
Down In The Hibernaculum: The Hedgehog Handbook By Sally Coulthard
A Poetics Of Fragility: Autumn And Winter At Settle Stories
Poem of the Week: ‘Awaking in New York’ by Maya Angelou


Poem Of The Week: 'Frank O'Hara Five, Geoffrey Chaucer Nil' By Geoff Hattersley, 13th May 2018, 23:24 PM