Kenny Knight (British Working Class Poets)

Kenny Knight

Kenny Knight has published three collections of poetry with Shearsman Books. The Honicknowle Book of the Dead (2009) A Long Weekend on the Sofa (2016) and Love Letter to an Imaginary Girlfriend (2022) He live in Plymouth, runs CrossCountry Writers and works in a supermarket cafe. All three poems are from my 2022 collection.

 

It Was Duck Not Blackbirds That Did it For Me

 

 

It was ducks not daffodils

or five pound notes that did it for me

thunderstorms in the teaching room

and a mad dash home

along Coombe Park Lane.

The streets were dry and I remember

crossing three roads without looking

but there weren't so many cars back then

there were some but not as many

as there were cats

in that book by T. S. Eliot

which I read some years later.

Cats lived out between the fields,

you could see their eyes at night

on the road to Modbury

or sitting on windowsills,

looking wise, looking intellectual

like Egyptian professors.

Cats working undercover,

infiltrating our lives

living rooms and sofas.

 

Out of breath

when I reached our house

I flung open the back door

looking for my mother

who stood alone washing dishes

at the kitchen sink.

She smiled and waved a greeting

her hand a glove of soap bubbles

and in my eagerness to share

I slipped and skated over words

as if they were made of ice

my mind and my mouth

filled with images of rain and feathers.

I had discovered something old and beautiful.

It was ducks not Dickinson that did it for me.

 

Forgetting to wipe my feet

I stepped into the house

stepped onto the doormat

as if it were a stage

a little bit of Lear might have crossed.

Without any preamble

I grabbed a broomstick

making my debut

on the Plymouth Poetry scene

to an audience consisting

of my mother and the family cat

and in the applause that didn't follow

I climbed the stairs to the quiet

of my room where I looked

out the window across the Tamar Valley

and in my imagination

sent an innocence of crows

flying north across the sky

to Woodland Wood

freewheeling across

the years yet to come

before turning west

into the last of the day's blueness.

 

It was ducks not Dylan

raindrops not rivers that did it for me.

It was a ripple of poetry on a pond

a blink of blue eyes

gazing down into still water.

It was nonsense verse

and nursery rhymes

not Hilda or Ogden Nash

it was a seed which grew underground

into a tall and slender bush of marijuana

it was the year I hit seventeen

the year I got serious about making

language out of language

and sometime after that

I recall my mother saying

there was more money

to be made robbing trains

than there was writing poetry

for Faber and Faber

and she was right

but I never wanted

to rob the midnight train to Adlestrop

never wanted to sell

free verse on the free market/

It was ducks not dollars that did it for me.

 

 

 

 

 

Reading Paul Celan

 

 

For Christina Peters

 

 

The surrealistic diner

at the other end of the terrace

pours Christmas pudding

over her Christmas lunch.

Birds fly under the roof of the cafe

a foghorn practices the shipping forecast

a child leaps out of the bushes of memory

seashells pinned to his ears.

For entertainment we listen

to the theme tune from Harry Potter

look out to sea

as the sun shines a yellow eye

over the distant shoreline

of Friday afternoon.

 

We have expensive taste in poetry

we dunk teabags into teapots

reading to each other and the hecklers

of the sky in German and English.

Lottie lays at your feet

a black and white rug under the table

doesn't interrupt the conversation

doesn't bark or tut

in German or English

when a fight breaks out

at the other end of the terrace

in the middle of reading Paul Celan.

 

The sky let's go of its grief

 a soft rain falls

on Lottie's black and white coat

falls on handbags and teddy bears

as the passengers

of a pram parked nearby

skip the formalities of bell ringing

launch into each other with gusto

knocking seven bells of featherweights

out of Harry Carpenter's punch bag

kicking salt and pepper pots

kicking sugar cubes across the floor

juggling spoons in the air

that fall through the air

words that shoot out of bodies

ricochet off tables and chairs

a little bit of off-screen drama

a brief interlude on Friday afternoon

somewhere between Tinside Pool

and a tin of Winalot in Christina's kitchen.

 

The day ages by the minute

by midnight it'll be

the mother of tomorrow

the clocks will go into labour

the prams will have moved off

with their wheels and bruises

the gift of peace

and quiet will return

and we'll turn the page

read some more Paul Celan

take brown and blue photographs

of autumn leave falling

from the lighthouses of the sky

onto the dark landscape

and desecrated heart of the city.

 

After a couple of rounds

the sugar cubists depart

leaving us alone with Paul Celan

and the surrealist diner

finishing her Christmas starter

and dessert in a photo finish

that no-one takes.

 

In another time and place

under the family tree

of a distant autumn

in a heart held together

by sugar cubes and loss

I imagine myself

out on the streets of a city,

a city much like this

which is a gateway

to somewhere else

a city which Louis Aragon

and Maurice Chevalier passed through

some years after Houdini

escaped the river's grip

a city which gave the world

A Curious Shipwreck

the Speedwell and the Beagle

seadog of evolution and Devils Point

overlooking the sea, overlooking yesterday.

 

Sixty feet above the shoreline

to the east of Darwin's great landmark

we practice the art of multi-tasking

translating surrealism into English

drinking tea and coffee

under the shadow of Smeaton's Tower

under the pedals of a big wheel

from some giant bicycle we'll never ride.

Skirting the cold corpse of Christmas lunch

Lottie passes through the lunchtime crowd

like a ghost through butter

the sea moves towards us as if we were

the adopted children of King Canute

engaged in a futile rebellion of deckchairs

outclassed by the moon and the tide

cast as castaways in a parallel

Paul Celan movie someone else is making

making sandcastles out of nothing

out of narrative, out of language.

 

 

On Reaching A Hundred

 

 

                    1

 

 

I don't remember

the Hundred Years War

and neither does the goldfish

but I do remember the night

we met on that Viking cruise.

It was love at a hundred yards.

It was leaf year

the year we vanished undercover

in a bed of magic

the year we made coffee

as much as possible

and not forgetting

those long lunches

we had in Tintagel

around that oddly shaped table

and that waitress at Guinevere's

who'd never heard of Maurice Chevalier.

 

 

                   2

 

 

This old bruise of romance

is my heart

blackened by your departure.

Send me a microphone

and a very long lead.

I've got so much to say.

I need someone to talk too.

How about meeting next week

under some constellation

that's ruled by a fish or a goat.

Venus will be in conjunction

with something or other

which'll make for good conversation.

Let's talk about make-believe.

Let's dropout from the egg and spoon race.

Go somewhere imaginary or stay at home

playing The Psychedelic Sheep of the Family.

Is your favourite progressive rock band

Paradox Lost or Marshmellow Milton.

Do you play the field or the triangle.

Have you ever lived in Hundred House.

Would you like to fall in love

with my telephone number.

 

 

                   3

 

 

I may not be a millionaire

by this time tomorrow

but I'd like to say

to the money spider

crawling across this poem

that my family tree

has roots in many languages.

Two of those trees

are the silver birch

and the monkey puzzle.

The silver birch

is snug and inviting.

The monkey puzzle

is a chatterbox and a flirt

and I'd like to say

standing out here on the breakfast aisle

that I never wanted to be

a part-time supermarket worker

selling corn flakes to the masses

all I ever wanted to do

was make narratives out of fragments

make sure I've got my reading glasses on

when I put a cross in that box.

I'd like to say after all these years

I've still got a crush on the waitress

feeding egg boxes into the cardboard bailer.

And I'd like to say

on reaching a hundred

that I used to have a thing for older women

and I'd like to add

that promises will be made

and promises will be broken

and I'd like to propose

on one knee or another

if we make it back from sleep

now November's here

after burning that telegram

and blowing out those candles

I'm in favour of the future

in favour of splashing out

on a small house

in the wilds of suburbia

a small house in a neighbourhood

of overgrown lawns             

and I'd like to say

free speech and free verse is everywhere

but it won't buy you a ladder

to lean against a tree

won't buy you a lawn mower

or a short cut of loneliness.

take it from last night's lipstick

the 13th Floor Elevators

aren't likely to be getting

anything psychedelic

from Santa Claus this Christmas.

Take it from the Four Marys

blueberries taste nice

so does instant coffee

and clotted cream

especially at the tip

of a silver spoon

and I'd like to say

in regards and sometimes regret

to yesterday wherever it may be

that the heart is a lonely place

prone to tears and sorrow

which needs to be filled

with sunflowers and poppies

and generations of children

the family home of the monkey puzzle

the family at the heart of the silver birch

the allotments of the sun

and the rain and the wind

the seeds and the roots of magic

the need to grow more trees

the need to fill more dance halls

and nightclubs with peace and quiet

and hundreds of weekend romances

dancing ghost-like in the nicotine dark.

 

All three poems were previously published in magazines. It Was Ducks Not Blackbirds was published in Shearsman Magazine. Reading Paul Celan was published online at Litter and On Reaching A Hundred was published in The Long Poem Magazine


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