V

dedication
by prevention
from veneration by/words/by
the practice of prevention. Deceived
(among other things) by the circle of belief which
cannot fall
but is a small stone dropped
through the pitch abyss like
one’s own death falling
one’s own death falling and
prevention by crawling
under the eighth
small stone
the fall of death
which is deemed infallible
foreseen = prevented?

VI

Not death is prevented death
Nor can be
except by practised divination of the book
which is prevented/which is not, but
on the festival of Corpus Domini
Michael Scott, the Magician
chose/was chosen
to fall when
he could have lowered/or not
his bare head

IV

Benvenuto da Imola at the court of
Frederick II at the court of
Michael Scott, the Magician, one could have
been foreseen/fallen, and then
would come the circle
come the circle come among other things
he treats of
(yet is fallen)
and he, lowered under the eighth stone would seek
to prevent.
To prevent himself
from dedication to a natural history
(of practised festivals)
in whom he did not believe

III

always in the cap is bare
divined to be bare
dedicated to the cap which is
under bare
not to believe
one must fall from aloft
and circle under
to foresee the cap
(then deemed
infallible) to fall
Between
the bare cap and the skull is
the festival and the raising up of
that which is to be venerated
(if it is not to deceive) to prevent
this disaster
Entering a church
fell by deception

II

divination by the falling stone
veneration by the falling stone
at this deceived festival
to which
circles the stone, divining
and conveying divinity though not
to the deceived
Veneration of the
Corpus Astrology, then deemed falling but
infallible, killing by bringing to life
a lowered divinity

That’s probably quite enough for now; a third of the poem over, gone, read, discarded, savoured, retained in the circulations of memory – how do we know (how do I know) where it’s gone? How do I know where Michael Scott has gone, or where this poem begins or ends, what these interpolations might be, how they might affect, transform the poem (if it is a poem). We live (I hope, and so did MS) in a world of magical transformations.

And so – on to the first section:

I

in whom he did not believe

there is escape under this small stone
escape under this iron hood
escape with the skull of the
body of the Lord
escape from the Lord
in whose court
in whose skull
you have foreseen escape
from the circle of prognostication
which is the iron circle of escape
under which
hooded
is the lowered body of the Lord

Well, that’s one part in six over! Unfortunately, as I reread it, I can see that there’s too much semi-digested T.S. Eliot, but what can be done now, now that we seem to accept that the published version of a poem is final and conclusive? A weird conceit, isn’t it – oddly masochistic, really, as though something wishes to preclude us from improvement.

A long time ago – in another lifetime, it sometimes seems – I wrote a poem about Michael Scott the Magician. This might be it. Or, it might be part of it. The whole poem, as I recapture it now, appears to be in six parts (over-eloquent, no doubt) as well as an extensive epigram. Here is the epigram:

Michael Scott, the Magician, practised divination at the court of Frederick II, and dedicated to him a book on natural history, which I have seen, and in which among other things he treats of Astrology, then deemed infallible … It is said, moreover, that he foresaw his own death, but could not escape it. He had prognosticated that he should be killed by the falling of a small stone upon his head, and always wore an iron skull-cap under his hood, to prevent this disaster. But entering a church on the festival of Corpus Domini, he lowered his hood in sign of veneration, not of Christ, in whom he did not believe, but to deceive the common people, and a small stone fell from aloft on his bare head.

It’s interesting, isn’t it, to be able to talk within a poem, to share speculation on, for example, the exact (but no doubt double) meaning of the word ‘veneration’, or the precise size and indeed shape of this ‘small stone’, and whether it was meant directly for MS himself (now known to us only in the form of ms, manuscript, texts reciting his life and times …)

On Sunday 1st July, I’m doing a joint reading at the Ledbury Poetry Festival with the first Bristol City Poet, Miles Chambers. For me, this will be a challenging occasion: Miles is a highly engaging performance poet, who crafts wonderful things out of the daily life of Bristol – among other things! But he and I have done a reading/performance together before, so I imagine we shall both enjoy it, and I hope we’ll find lots of things to talk about, as well as reading. Do come along if you can – Ledbury is a wonderful festival, and of course there are plenty of other things to do and hear. Oh – and if you haven’t yet got a copy of my latest pamphlet, Bristol: 21 Poems, you can find one at the Hamilton House bookshop, Stokes Croft in Bristol – they will charge you £5, but it won’t come to me. It’s all in a good cause, namely the saving of Hamilton House, vibrant community arts centre as it is, from the potential depredations of developers.

Banno the Magnificent has strangely proved his worth, especially to Bruna, who has been longing for female company since we made this vast and unaccountable trek into the hinterland, sighting dissolving cities, encountering inexplicable phenomena that became dust and sand as we approached them. So Banno conjured before us a girl of consummate beauty, her slender shoulders unclothed, but her eyes snapping with bright intelligence. As always, we scarcely knew what to say, other than that which might seem brutish. We all knew we were face-to-face with the innommable, but that tied our tongues even further. Bruna – dear Bruna, whose lasciviousness knows no bounds – commented on the remarkable fragility of the girl’s clothing, as though she could remove it, or items of it, by sheer force of will; but even Bruna. who has been known to move blocks of solid marble with a twitch of her famous eyebrows – so redolent of Frieda Kahlo – realised her impotence before an elegance such as this. ‘If there were cold showers in the wilderness’, she said, ‘or even mitigating circumstances, I could go on’; but never mind – she will, she will.

On Saturday I shall be speaking at the Cheltenham Poetry Festival on the art of political poetry. If any of you out there have any good ideas as to what this public yet all too recherché art might be, do let me know. In particular, I am concerned with whether the poet of the page is now clearly a superseded item behind the performance poet – actually, I’m not interested in this in itself, but rather for what it might tell us about the condition of literary ephemerality. Nothing can be retrieved; but nothing can be finally deleted. Our own memories wizen and atrophy; the memory of the machine appears in one sense indomitable, in another utterly at the mercy of the power supply. What, I increasingly wonder as arthritis sets in and my muscles creak, is my power supply? Am I (whatever that is) in a curious kind of co-dependency relationship with my own body? If I think so, would my body agree?

It came to one or two of us (there seem to be more and more of us every day, although some, we suspect, are only copies) that perhaps this ‘gift’ was in fact Banno the Magnificent himself; but we viewed this supposition with a jaundiced eye. The man appeared to be less a gift than a kind of lesion, an unwholesome gap in the universe gifted (yes, ‘gifted’, we all said at once in one of those mutual cries that immediately seems utterly without meaning) with little more than the word that bites, the sign that tears. Yet each evening we find ourselves attending his show of miracles; the fact that we can see the mechanism of each one (he appears to make no attempt to hide them) does nothing to diminish our easily provoked delight.