Sunday, October 22, 2006

The Zero

I'm a bit tied up this (long) weekend, so instead of posting something remotely relevant I'm going to excerpt from To The Moon, In Seven East Steps, the volume of my poetry and prose - proetry? - that Titus Books has in its lack of wisdom decided to publish (look out for a launch in the New Year, featuring Will-Joy Christie and Richard Taylor as well as yours truly).

To The Moon includes a capsule biography of New Zealand's semi-legendary 'mad red vicar' Roger Rountree and a riveting account of my excavations in the archives at the Brynmor Jones library in Hull last year, as well as 'normal' poems like 'The Zero'. Here's the very nice blurb that Jack Ross has written:

Scott Hamilton's poetic territory seems to me to lie in some vast tangled region roughly between early Auden (The Orators) and mid-to-late Smithyman (Inheritance, Auto/Biographies).

Scott's heroes, like Auden's "helmeted airman," are forever setting out on some doomed quest to explore the hinterland -- or is it the human psyche? -- it's hard to decide. These largely abstract quests draw their substance from a kind of doomed school-story/ Boys Own ambience.

On the other hand, his more recent delvings into the mythopoetic past of the North Island of New Zealand clearly take their inspiration from Smithyman's layered archaeological anatomies of Northland. The King Country is Scott's principal stamping-ground; the result, in poems like "1918," a compassionate sense of a shared, living past that continues to work through all of us. Scott's sympathy with and deep knowledge of contemporary poetics is complemented by an equally passionate political commitment. The humanity of his work stems in large part, one must conclude, from this feeling of revolutionary outrage.

The Zero

It was easy. He avoided the other boys, ducking into the bogs like a smoker and missing his train, and the next train, and perhaps the train after that. He crossed the overbridge, waited a whole quarter hour, then caught the half-past ten. Sitting in an empty carriage, beside an open window, he watched the suburbs slide by in their arbitrary order: Manurewa, Papatoetoe, Otahuhu, Mt Wellington, Orakei...Sixteen stations, on the northern line. What would he do about the uniform? If it was incriminating, it might also offer excuses. He was running an important errand, passing a message from the Phys Ed instructor at Kings to the Headmistress at St Cuthberts, he had a tooth to be pulled at eleven o’clock, he had a cancerous uncle to farewell at Grafton Hospital. Nobody noticed him, as he crossed the Newmarket overbridge, hurried through the flowering gardens of the Institute for the Blind, and skirted the edge of the Domain, where the bare oaks were still softened by mist. Inside the museum, a crowd of schoolchildren – King’s Preparatory, the accents and uniforms told him - surged up and down stairs, pursued by a fat old Master. He waited for them to disappear, then climbed the marble steps carefully, listening to the echo of each of his footsteps for traces of nervousness. She was waiting, as she’d agreed to wait, in the Hall of Remembrance, beside the Wall of the Dead. He pulled a poppy from a niche of marble titled MAX CHAPPLE 1923-45, and pushed it into the buttonhole of the duffel coat she was wearing to hide her uniform. They kissed, and he managed for a moment to squeeze her left elbow, but a dozen little bullies had stormed the Hall of Remembrance, shouting and giggling at their echoes. It was she who started for the room - the large room, out the far end of the Hall, where the Zero waited for them. He’d admired the plane before, of course – two and a quarter years ago, to be exact, on a visit with his parents and that leaking uncle, who had come down from his farm at Broadwood to die uselessly on the seventh floor. There’d been the reprimand, then, for touching the snubbed silver of the Zero’s nose, and the rough edge of its wing – there had been other people, other older people, in the room, and his sudden enthusiasm, so unexpected after weeks of insolent depression, had confused and exasperated both his parents. He had been ordered to the cafeteria, to buy a sandwich and shred it for Uncle Angus, who needed a breather. He had eaten his muffin slowly, furiously, jealous of his parents’ possession of the plane, and disgusted by the war talk of a father who had served his country in a Reserved Occupation. ‘Jap crap, really. Nothing, to our Spitfires – shot ‘em out of the sky, our boys did.’ Now she was smiling - at his impersonation, or at his desire to impress her with scorn? ‘They’re coming’ she said quietly, as the echoes of schoolboys filled the Hall behind them. He was staring out the window, plotting a course, following that snubbed nose over the rooves of Parnell, across the grey lid of the harbour. By now the school, his school, would know. He imagined the phone call, his mother descending the stairs two steps at a time, and her quick tears, and the House Master’s kindly voice. ‘Are you ready?’ The words seem to come from far away. They had talked about it, resolved upon it, so many times already, that the execution seemed almost unnecessary, an afterthought at best. She patted his bum, as he climbed onto the wing and lifted the cockpit’s glass cover. There was room, of course, for the two of them, and she insisted on sitting at the controls. In a moment the engine started, drowning the squeals of the children and the hoarse shout of their Master. The plane gathered speed quickly, the windows broke silently, and in a moment they were gaining height with a speed that surprised him. Villas and gardens were greys and greens, and the harbour was grey, or silver, or blue, depending on which way he looked. All that water was the rough pelt of some wild beast - he was shouting, smiling at his conceit. He looked down the east coast, away from the city, and saw a range of mountains rising, covered in blue forest. Now the wind was beating the sides of their cockpit, rocking them gently, like the harbour rocks a rowboat on a sunny day. She smiled slightly, as he grasped her hand in fright, and he noticed for the first time that


Blogger Richard Taylor said...

Great stuff Maps -the politcos never comment on poetry - perhaps 'poltical people' - with you as an exception - lack souls? Perhaps their obsession with the rather tivial reality of things - (given) the truth that the "now" of all is to be seen 'sub specie aeternitatis'; the ruling phrase we require here - & all things pass - Tibet and China included - I also like the sybolism and the metaphors etc used here and the surreal rolling around with the "real" - but 'the rough pelt of some beast' - ha! - I have deja vu (false? but I am sure I read it somewhere ? hmmm) ) but the best writers steal (T. S. Eliot) - the others imitate.

10:20 pm  

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