Peter Cowlam

Edward Dorn, a Philippic (Ed, you have thieved my pen)

‘Those of you who wish to leave will not be given
a refund….’

By things I mean only fictive things, whose quality
I cradled in the gloam of political exile, where with time
On my hands I redraw a distant brake, which in my notes
I have marked ‘rural divagation’. A new house, at the fringes
Of a snow-capped moor, is also the one luminescence
Of my compass. The point being I am holed up
In the studios of Dartington. So – I shall regenerate
It all (those fictive things), in the cyan streaks
Of an afternoon light, under a brusque,
Distempered, late November sky.
                                           That sky
With its concave line has crossed the rainbow
Of my windowpane, and wings the assortment
Of my workbench.

                             Thing one, as bibelot,
Is a book of Confucian oracles, dog-eared at the page
Where it last gave advice – which was: ‘minor success –
Better for the small bird to fly low, where its song
Can be heard, than to fly too high.’

                                                       Thing two
Is bibliophilic (right note, Kinbote) – one little poem
From ‘Night Rote’…

          From mammoth hunts and Odysseys
          And Oriental charms
          To the Italian goddesses
          With Flemish babes in arms.

                                             Thing three
Is for a future of bibulous Fridays, bought wholesale
At the Château des Gunes – is a case of Haut-Médoc.
It’s said its heady bouquet has approached the condition
Of birdsong—

          Wine, the nightingale, that yellow cheek
          Of hers incarnadine.

                             Four, is bibliomantic,
Not strictly my territory, and neither just another dampish
Book: an Englished Qur’an, retained to those certain
Strictures a quartet of October guests had opened it to,
All hortative, and prophetic, Ed—

          …those who err
          Follow the steps of the poets.

                                                Five is bibliographic
(A catalogue of Attic declamation), while six
Is photographic, from the annals of family portraiture.
Behold an infant smile. A radish-coloured duffle coat.
Or just off-focus to the left, a triad of silver birch.
That nimbus of golden leaves – that’s their glitter
On the backcloth of a limpid-looking sky.

                                                                   Seven, I shall
Have to clear my thoughts for—

                                                       Seven, Ed,
Is, or was (for now I must merely recall) my mountaineer’s pen,
Which in all the high moral vantages the Occident allows
Has leaked its italic blues through several disguises.
Instance i) the crossed account payee per printed cheque;
ii) handy tool of scholium or emendation;
iii) my signature, whose graphic loops, all under
A back-and-forth flourish (hand is dextrous),
Have imparted the private ghost of me – this through
The bowels of my pen – to the fibrous surface
Of a thousand public documents.

                                                       I cannot now allow it
Some other poet’s hand.



Dorn Patrol

I shall give you my non-geographic address,
As a round, tapered tower, which in flat-earther terms is a point
Of intersection, or viewed aerially is a pearl, patched
To a quilt by a previous civilisation (aloof race,
Think you), and now tending the leeward vertex
Of a triangular building plot – scalene in fact.
So to speak it restores, cartographically, that lost
Autocracy, which in my other life – that journey
In the valleys of Babel – is denied.

                                                       Summit is domed,
Flagged, and crenellated – a protected height. From here
(And I repeat) – through the ground lens of my telescope –
I chance the entire wilderness of other people’s lives,
As a blue, crayoned survey. Am able to identify
The inked or pencilled borders of most
Other countries.

                              Tower incidentally is ivory,
And a clever deceit (that’s its plain architectonics),
With an all-round fenestration, plus internal veined
Effects in pink (simulating feldspar).

                                                       It is usual,
Either from the workbench (those summary objects, Ed),
Or among the many thin ethers cavorting in the data lab
(All that information digitised) – it’s usual to decline
All invitations to party.

                                     And yet. I have this need to attempt,
Through a hall of grammatical mirrors, a reconstruction
(That fateful night, a cold clutch of moon-silvered keys
Left hanging in the door). May you recall, Ed, October 31,
AD 1996 – invitation I did succumb to.

                                                                 These are
My tools—

                    i) that fictitious continuum, the past
(In part for Proustian recall);

                                             ii) the pictorial
Re-integration of otherwise unknowable bit patterns,
Origin half a dozen remote sensors (all analogue),
Transmitting asynchronously. The plan,
As a final destination, is a range of electronically
Generated weather charts, since I cannot remember
Precise wind speeds, or can know (to cite one other
Example) the chance configuration
Of isobars;

                      iii) the third in my trio of maps.
This, as transparency, is free from everything, and yet
As foil for the horizontal plane of historical events,
Renders (not so amazing) coherence;

                                                           iv) an alternative
Pen. This one thinner nibbed.

                                                  Work begins,
Against the interdict of commonsense, in the cone
Of my desk lamp.

Short Lives in a Canopy of Stars

October 31, 1996. Wind speed: [to be calculated].
Moon: either full, gibbous, or crescent. Stars: a canopy.
Dorn, Edward, on tour. Tonight his travelled caravan
Is in Bridgwater.

                              Finally my car arrived, a newish
Marine-blue Škoda, shrugging off the dust in the creases
And contours, or the mesh of dirt tracks. Or was this only
A wrinkled relief map, a burnt ochre country to the foot of my tower
(In whose door, as I hitched my coat, I left my keys)? I counted three
Other passengers.

                              Our arrival, in its wooden salute,
Betrayed – and all via the currents of silence – some usual
Conspiracy. One abstraction these mute passers-by
Are always expected to form is the polite English audience.
These of us thrummed the rough timber bench tops,
Set up in a makeshift refectory – a flagged floor,
A corbelled fireplace, a halberd on the chimney
Breast – place in whose lambency of orange light,
With fructifying sparks (huge maw, that grate),
The reading eventually recurred. I shall not quote,
I shall paraphrase (shall paraphrase).

                                                            His stocks,
Bonds, and his jobbers, Sam’s ticker-tape systole,
Starlets in starshine, the flag a universal flagellation,
‘Sing the body invective’ – HANG IT ALL, EDWARD
DORN! – that drawl, I mean that drawl: a bellow-cheeked
Sousa having already wowed ’em. I should like therefore
To return to one simple question: What is it, Ed, you mean
About our English Reformation?

                                                          A weave bound
Up with Wall Street ecclesiastics, and a half-past-time to sell.
So shall we solemnly blame Henry VIII for modern inflation
(All down to property, the boom and bust). This whole wreck
Of postmodernist polycremation. Connect something with nothing.
An index. Lost – have lost our simplified index. What we do need,
Ed, I think you may have touched on this, is reform – that’s to say
A secular point of leadership for each and every creed.
I really do mean this (would like to volunteer,

          For vanity, saith the adman. All is vanity.
All also is a life too short (as a hanger-on, so eager
For your autograph, has said).

                                                  Then, Ed, didn’t you sign
Your books, with my pen – a loan that became an embezzlement,
Point I remembered only on finding my door key doored
(Is a rhetorical question). I climbed my winding stair
(That tower, ivory), then having taken up, then folded that map
On my workbench – into halves, quarters, finally
Sixteenths – I tucked it away in my coat, dissolving
That whole fabricated world, so that here – here
I say am I – flushed at the cheek, holed up
In Dartington, and certain to meet
Another kind of dawn.

PETER COWLAM runs, with three others, a small indie press publishing their own and other authors’ books. His brief stint as a commissioning editor saw two issues of The Finger, a journal of politics and culture. His last novel, Who’s Afraid of the Booker Prize?, is a satire on literary celebrity. His next, Across the Rebel Network, will be released later in 2015. His poems and short stories have appeared in a range of journals and litmags, most recently Danse Macabre, The Brown Boat, The Criterion, Valparaiso Fiction Review, The Four Quarters Magazine, Ink, Sweat & Tears, The Liberal, Eunoia Review and Epicentre Magazine.