Monday, 10 September 2012

Giles Watson: updated poem for performance


Both kinds of work are ancient labours
Born of sweat, by beauty bound:
The billhook and the aching back,
The hand, the burin and the brain.
Both work a tangle into strength,
A scribble into something more,
Coaxing split stulps into growth.
Both cut the quick to find the form.
Both hack for life, and neither kills.
This bites with acid – that, a blade.
Both leave marks, both are cruel;
Both make life by spilling blood.
Both gouge ways in wax or wood,
Both smell of stubble, burn like thatch.
Leaves burnish both; both are wild.
Both know the health of cutting back.                    
Poem by Giles Watson, 2012. Inspired by a display of engraving instruments alongside the plate for Robin Tanner’s ‘Wiltshire Hedger’ (1928; reworked in 1971) in the Ashmolean Museum, and the art of hedge-laying itself. Whilst the picture shows Tanner's work, the poem must necessarily be dedicated to Samuel Palmer, whose work has inspired generation after generation of English engravers.
A replacement for my poem 'Arrowheads', inspired by Charles Collins's 'Convent Thoughts', which I was to read in the Ashmolean on October 6th - but which is now on loan to the Tate Britain.

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