Our featured poet this month is Tillman Asquith. Tillman was born in Nottingham in 1960 but grew up in Ossett near Wakefield. He had some success as a poet in his early 20s and has returned to poetry in recent times. He divides his time between Brown Edge and South Shropshire. Favourite poets are Louis Macneice, Denis Walcott, John Betjemen, Shakespeare, Eliot and Commonwealth poetry notably Jack Mpanje, Les Murray.
Tillman’s poem Woolley Colliery impressed us all at the last Stanza session. We hope you enjoy reading this and more of Tillman’s work below.
Coal’s dust followed me. Not just me old Father,
Pit electrician, goes round by the gate
Down in the cage to that mining episcopate.
‘Nob’d’y were laikin’ at it,’ his mate said,
‘Scrapin’ down a four foot bloody seam kid.’
Each town had its bastard. Pontefract had two,
Manor was at Wakefield. Half-an-hour’s drive
Wielded a dozen spin turn towers to holes.
Deep burrows, baulkers, blockers, not servile.
Awkward rocks, hiding the bloody coal.
Now shagged out, roll roll the fractured frames
Lurch disabled. No escape around Wakefield
The bastard wapentake came to crack coal’s claim
By claim and counter claim to contract, yield
Fall flat, drifts dry to crap, roofs slope, drop.
Up from Sheffield on the train, it stops
By the M1 at Darton, above the cricket pitch
And barring sight beyond it is a pit.
Racks of screens, coal trucks shunted on track
A spline, rolled back, lined in line filled black
Shifted to Fiddler’s Ferry, Drax and Ferrybridge.
Ceaselessly loading to and at the very edge
Of any bloody use. Trucks stuffed with sludge,
Flat lined now and cleared away.
Woolley only black scars by the motorway.
The opaque lights I saw from bed from window,
The night thoughts, jarred, scored by iron cello.
Collisions, rifts, fissures and metal spars
Stopped caught, never went again, barred,
Rails rescinded. Dusted old man on the shelf
In pennyweight pictures stood standing by himself.
Coal followed me. It wasn’t just my old Father.
THE ECONOMY OF FISHGUARD 1985
Up in Fishguard, spot on the old harbour
Waiting on the Irish ferry, breakfast in a clean
Café. ‘Nice is Dot,’ said the woman
From Solva. ‘Clean.’ Her sister had been.
Recommended. Tablecloths spotted like oilskin,
Tea deep, old style baking,
A backstreet, the clock tuned
To egg and bacon. A man my age,
But far more awake, reads, eats consumes
His fry-up, engages page three after page.
When another enters, easy, the other’s piqued,
Not pleased, bothered, an unfriend, stirs tea.
Slowly. Bothered. The easy one speaks.
‘Working in Whitland and down to Tenby.’
‘Joker,’ The eater says. Not said aloud,
Not seated the other smiles. He is known,
Fishguard’s finest, I figure, frankly Ignorant
But both knew, they knew of situations flown
Away, blown by stupidity and argument.
‘A good job this,’ he whistles to his non-mate,
‘At it twelve month this May, going bloody great.’
Seagulls squeal, adjust and land,
The slightest of suns skims the morning,
Skims two faces. Scheming and
Eddying, each expects both glancing
To a judiciary of two. Tourist traveller.
Usher, clerk, constable, at the counter.
‘What’s this job boy?’ ‘Café’s and clubs,
Milford Haven to Morriston, couple of pubs.
I put machines in. Makes a mint.
‘I’ve p’rundred in. Eight down here.’
‘On commission,’ the other squints,
The sun comes full. ‘At it a year.
Ton a week guaranteed. Double it
Summer.’ Suddenly he slips away.
‘Oh yes,’ his mate yawns. ‘Lyin’ git.’
Rises. ‘Rubbish! Ricky’s way mind.
Seen him at the dole the other day!’
‘That van,’ says the woman behind
The Counter. ‘Nearly new it is.
Tell you sommin else. It’s his!
An he’s got a kid down at Kidwelly.’
Paper read, the doubting one departs
Shakes his head. The van starts
Pushes past the Bay Hotel to the ferry.
‘Bought a bungalow,’ she smiles
‘Making money hand over fist a while.
Now our Ricky.’ No disinterested supporter,
Of course. Grandmother to Ricky’s daughter.
He was King of the Elephant and Castle,
Geoff said he won the Westgate run.
A pint in each of fourteen pubs,
The Sally army were trying to help him up.
He lived, Geoff said, out Snapethorpe Lane,
Come in for the Westgate run.
A pint in all of fourteen pubs
Former engine man at Denby Grange.
But he was right back on the face
Out of his rough face.
Deposed or abdicated,
A non-starter in the fourteen pub race.
Steve, from school, plies tickets at the station
And knows about the Westgate run.
Fallers sleep by the fourteen pubs,
He says folk will do owt for fun.
That is the fate for the King of the Elephant
Clown, Martyr, but sprawled inelegant.
Still waiting to make the Westgate beat,
Sitting aching down on Wood Street
For there are no commendations on the run.
Who cares where it ends or has begun.
Most fall, spent, rolling nowhere,
Appalled that it’s all so unfair.
‘There aren’t enough left to trouble coppers’
Says Steve running Westgate Station.
He doesn’t drink , never has done
I’m his passenger. Making my Westgate run.
He sat at the white French windows
Open sometimes summer, but shut winter,
Shut afternoon, as light fell cool by dusk.
Trusted to the day when in between those two
The wind blew in or blew at, the clean closed window.
He preferred Autumn, leaves flew, rose like his fortune.
By him, the many sleeves of records, and what he called,
A gramophone. Played most, laid out clean from dust,
Fading late over the lake was Dives and Lazarus.
He sat, a chair at the French windows.
His wife, long ignored him, bored of him,
Busy bee, ordered Roebuck, who brought the car,
Wheels without engine, hauled by two horses.
Went to Bishop’s Castle or to Shrowsbury,
She called it – Shrewsbury, the locals, or Salop.
Sought to arrange other’s lives, with other vocal wives
Of fraught unspoken of, cast-off damaged men.
Wilted, unimportant to her assorted committees,
Devising pageants and tours to cathedral cities.
Watching at his window the view is all green.
With wagtails, with Wagner, with Delius,
Yellow daffodils in spring, Serene white wisteria in
Summer. Appearing wistful for once, he recalls the
King of Kings of Ethiopia. ‘chap came, exiled by the Eyeties.
Thin as bloody bamboo the beggar.’ The excluded,
They walked by Walcot lake early evening,
Each day with little to say. And sat by the open window
Later to hear the late birds, thrushes and sparrows.
But ‘enna a village man,’ They said. Undoubtedly
Wasn’t, scouted his lake and played his gramophone.
‘Never even a church.’ He didn’t. He sat, by his French Windows.
Old Den told, he knew. ‘He dinna like catching sight of men
And boys up the Castle Bank.’ Battle of Cambrai, all killed, captured,
‘Seem ’em buried see. Seed ’em dead – mornin’ noon ‘n dark.’
‘Sticks across a bloody park,’ he said, calling once on Den.
‘Died when we a-won the World Cup. ‘Who ‘er playin; he never
Knew.’ Was a rugger man. ‘Scrum half to a line of shadows,’
He said, a reflected row of crosses in closed French Windows.
THOSE PEOPLE, THOSE PLACES
We had cars so we went places.
Places east of town, down posh locals
With faux archways, space for couples,
Place for fine faces in pullovers purple.
We went out we saw your local,
Saw west of Town – Leeds – Sid’s rat run,
The Sun Life Salesman, away team feeling,
The best ale on gas, that Webster’s Bitter feeling.
Keg bitter, the electric future,
Eric behind the bar. Shandy in
Hand, Tony stands a swift round,
Tells a joke the fitter told him, folk laugh second hand.
We had cars, we shot out south.
Ran Skat way saw John’s dark secret
Janet from Lupset, Don Stead’s lass.
John’s stark hand on her red raw red Martini glass.
We had cars and we went places.
Those towns, pit head Yorkshire faces,
And he were quite a lad were John.
But we had our preference, we moved on.
The Jubilee, Job’s temple of drinking
I was thinking I’d see Uncle Aaron
Sinking Tetley’s, the simple art with
Lungs inked ugly with dust, stood with Peter Smith
He said, ‘co-il were ‘ssential,
Central ‘eating. We’d be rait, allus
Work wi dirt, allus work down’t pit.
Bought him a pint. He left us when he’d supped it.
Back at Wrenthorpe, serving scampi,
Janet waiting tables, waiting John,
Don had gone, with the car, she had none.
Knowing we had cars, Janet not John came along.
We had cars and in that time
We had cars and we went places.
Not with John with Janet – Don’s ex-wife.
The White Rose, Red Wine, Brown seeming life.
He was a Cuban
Working in an American Cafe Bar
A Young Pioneer, taken to Weimar
By the local Party
‘The wall it come down,
I come to Köln to make dough
It went kaput so I just up and go
When the big wall fell.’
‘What’s it like?’
‘It’s OK you understand,’
He says. ‘Ich möchte Deutschland.’
Still a goddam Cuban.
Still a real Cuban
He likes Germany. ‘If,’ he laughs
‘You walk in San Miguel de los Banos
Goddam follow you.’
‘Same in DDR,
Stasi boys were like real thugs,’ he says,
‘Little bugs in lights. Them get you everyways.’
Even little Cubans
Got out of Weimar
To Koln, the cathedral, the casino
Left the healthcare, police and Castro.
Still a goddam Cuban.
Always a Cuban
Un día voy a volver a Cuba
‘Go over run a store in Havana.
Work for Chico!’
He’s paid in Euros
But works for Yankee bucks.
‘Serve a lotta coffee in Starbucks
For a Polak boss.’
A former rich red communist
Came to Köln, left Gorlitz
‘He a goddam Polak!’
But Chico’s Cuban
Works hard in an American Cafe Bar
Went back once to Weimar
‘Just for a Party!’
ROCK SPA LAKE
I heard Elgar, from a remark by his daughter
Went to Llandrindod Wells when ill. He rested,
Took the so-called cure of steaming water,
And circulated the Rock Spa Lake. Divested
By work of health, walked with the wan himself low
Stuck, at the Pump Hotel. Gone out of season,
Found the walls of the spring were blue and yellow.
They stank, were squalid, were scratched upon
With obscenities from the vicinity, whilst the visitor,
Hopeless and inglorious, met malodorous inquisitor
Hooded cold like a communicant at compline,
Knee deep in sulphurous and stinking brine.
Following on the Heart of Wales Line
To a town, half known, visited before
I found encased almost as if that brine
Buildings, both hallmark and metaphor
Of the superannuated spa, not alive or dead
Built of memories no one remembers.
In the Temple Gardens the nurse’s neatly tread
Behind the bath chairs bearing lapsed members
Of second rate clubs. Majors in minor regiments,
A few who cannot stand to leave Wales’s borders
Who suffered real or fictional impediments.
Who were wheeled and groaned to doctors’ orders.
Elgar regretted his own decision. His letters
Show singular strain of disdain and sarcasm
Despite his illness and bodily pain. Would Edu feel better
Lady Elgar wonders if he waded in some healing chasm,
Half undressed in a dank, sodden spa town.
Here with men scarcely seen out of their dressing gowns
The near diseased, shiftless, soluble, who disperse
Slowly and die out of mind. He left. Wrote no music
And left for the station, this now perverse
All preserved relic. Any music is silent, frail, sick.
But any undertow of tunes, on the wind, bidden
If and when it blows, if you are there, and listen.