Today is an Essex day, and I, Jay Cool and would-be author, find myself in a Waterstone’s bookshop on a University campus. Okay, so Essex is a good-long distance West from Shropshire, and I’m claiming to be a Salopian. But, in this world of quick moves and fast travel, equipped with the tools of a modern world (a croaky Dacia Sandero), I get around at some speed (if you discount all the stalls and stops along the way).
I’m not here to make a purchase, just out for a browse – to peruse the bestsellers and check out the competition. But, nonetheless, my feet jog me over to the poetry section. I’m still not likely to buy anything, because there’s no way that any bookshelves an Essex will have found a space for any Salopians. And, being only a touch obsessional, I’m only interested in the muses of Shropshire.
‘I’m here! Here! Like you, I made it to Essex. Like you, I wanted to see the world (the UK), so I’m here. Pick me up!’
The voice that calls is instantly recognisable. Familiar. Like the comforting, if also somewhat irritating, tones of a brother, a cousin, a father, a grandparent. A voice from the centre of my superior temporal gyrus; and its making a bit of a racket.
It’s a Salopian.
I have no choice.
I buy the book.
‘Poets of the Great War: Wilfred Owen’ edited by John Stallworthy.
Seeing as I’m trying to convince every Academic that ever lived, or is still living, that they ought to take me on as a PhD student before my middle age becomes old age, then it really is true that … I have no choice. ‘You need to prepare a synopsis,’ stated the last academic’s email. ‘It will take at least a couple of months of research!’
I’ve been obsessing about Salopians and about being Salopian for the last umpteen years – and that’s not enough?
‘To be a creative type is not the same as being a critical type. Are you sure you want to spend three years studying ‘The Lives and Works of Salopian Authors?’
Hmmm …. I ponder. Am I sure?
‘You are sure!’ declares Wilfred Owen. ‘I am sure that you are sure that you want to pick me up and read me, to analyse me, to get to the essence of me, and to emulate me!’
Okay, okay, Wilf! I get it. I’ve bought you haven’t I? You cost me £10 of my overdraft. Is that enough?
I find a dark and shady place (difficult during the hottest temperatures on record since …. some time or other), and I start at the beginning:
The ‘Introduction’ (pages vii-xxi).
I’m an attentive-hypodermic syringe. So I lap it all up and, within tennish minutes I learn that Wilfred Owen is:
All of these are traits that I can personally relate to, so I read on:
I identify with the whole half dozen (can a ‘half’ be a ‘whole’?).
My reader only has to look Jay Cool up on YouTube to be witness to a demo of the latter trait. As for Wilf’s extensive knowledge of anatomy, deposited into his open-topped brain by John Keats, then get your surgical gloves lost in my ‘Tin Head’ poem (http://crazyscribblers.blogspot.com/2018/06/tin-head.html); whilst looking for mention of a fellow poet’s ‘brain’, ‘chin’, ‘leg’, ‘hip’ and ‘wand’ (1). So, anatomically-speaking, then I’m pretty well clued-up.
More similarities roll in, as I learn about Wilf’s apprenticeship, as lay assistant to the Vicar of Dunsden. And about his growing distaste for Conservatism; a distaste that led to Wilf doing a runner, as he ditched the vicar’s Sunday sermon, in favour of a cycle ride up the road to Marlow. The poet Shelley, had once lived at the other end of Wilf’s cycle journey, (Wilf lived at A and Shelley at B). Shelley’s atheistic ghost must have been mightily hacked off by his fan’s interruption to his Sunday morning lie-in. I can hear him now:
‘Who’s that p***t ringing his rusty bells at my cottage door? If it’s that darned vicar, again, get rid of him, Mary!’
Just like Wilf, I’ve: been apprenticed to a man of the cloth (being a Vicar’s daughter counts doesn’t it?); I’ve rebelled – forfeited Sunday morning services, in favour of bike rides to check out the local lads (having spent my teenage years in Immingham, I can’t boast to have found any of note – sorry, lads (I’m sure you’ve all grown up into handsome examples of middle age)).
And, just like Wilf, I’ve apprenticed myself to a dead poet.
Unlike Wilf, whose childhood self was bound to Master John Keats, I cannot boast to have also been apprenticed to a living poet. But, hey, one can’t have everything – can one?
”Carol Ann Duffy, Poet Laureate – did you call?’
The ‘Introduction‘ by John Stallworthy, goes on to give details of Wilf’s enlistment to the war effort. But, the outcome of that hardly needs playing out in detail here. We all studied ‘Dulce de Decorum Est’ at school and, if I focus on that now, I’ll be in tears before I’ve even started.
So, rather than start at the end, I’ll start at the beginning (then I’ll head for the middle, and skip back to the front again).
On a first reading of ‘Sonnet’, a poem penned by Wilf on a pilgrimage to Keats’ house, one image in particular stands out to me: ‘Purple grandeurs‘ (line 2). Like myself, Wilf’s favourite colour is purple. This offers definitive proof that cousin Wilf is a now man! Death is just a physical phenomenon. Before one strand of DNA passes out, several more are born. Something of Wilf is here now, here within me, and something of Wilf seems to know exactly what I am wearing. My hat is purple and the effect is – more than grand!
‘Emerald-green’ and ‘Sky-blue’ (line 3) shades are added to the splodges on Wilf’s canvas and it is at this point, I realise that Wilf has – and, indeed, for some considerable amount of time – been stalking me! Wilf has seen my favourite trousers:
I’m so in love with the colours of Wilf’s poetry, that I go in for a second reading. To fully appreciate the flavours of good cuisine, it is important to chew slowly, and to savour the flavours – not just to rely on the visual senses.
Wilf’s abstract painting is immediately transformed
a graveyard scene.
Turns out the that the ‘Purple grandeur gloom’ is like the purple net curtain in a fairytale princess’ bedroom – a net curtain that blocks out the colours of the night, and sends the princess off into a deep sleep:
Three colours have a know the Deep to wear;
‘Tis well today that Purple grandeurs gloom,
Veiling the Emerald sheen and sky-blue glare.
(lines 1-3 of ‘Sonnet’)
And my ‘Purple grandeur’ takes a further fall, when the clouds gather in and the English drizzle turns into a downpour:
Well, too, that lowly-brooding clouds now loom
In sable majesty around, fringed fair
With ermine-white of turf: to me they bear
Watery memorials of His mystic doom
Whose name was writ in Water (saith his tomb).
(lines 4-8 of ‘Sonnet’)
Things have really taken a turn for the worse! Was Wilf on my heels for the entirety of my April week in Shropshire? Was he there, when I sludged around the swampy burial grounds of my ancestors? Was he standing behind me, looking over my shoulder when I came across the plaque bearing his name in Oswestry.
Does he know me? Is there a little bit of a Wilf in me?
Now, please, those of you with psychic powers – look carefully at this photograph:
Was the spirit of Wilf with me in Oswestry?
Then examine this pic:
Did Wilf depart with me here, when I took my last snap of Oswestry’s ‘lowly-brooding clouds’?
Or was Wilf still clinging on when, later in that week, ‘with hushed breath’ (2), I went in search of my many-Great-times-over cousins in Dawley?
|‘While mournfully trail the slow-moved mists and rain,’ (line 12)|
|‘And softly the small drops slide from weeping trees,’ (line 13)|
|‘Quivering in anguish to the sobbing breeze.’ (line 14)|
Is cousin Wilf still with me, here in Essex, on a University campus?
So thoroughly depressed am I now that, I, Jay Cool, Blogger & Poet Extraordinaire, decide that it is time to lighten up the tone of things around here.
So, with that goal in mind, I now gift to you, to my devoted reader, my greatest and most recent poem – inspired by (if not, in its entirety, plagiarised from), my ancestral-cousin-to-be Wilfred Owen (still working on finding out where and if my muse links up to my family tree).
And here it is – my ‘Sonnetto’, my gift to you:
Most colours I have known my head to wear,
Now wilt, and fade, like falling fare!
I fight, to: hide, my impending doom;
To shield my eyes, from your grave stare.
With fringe, once red, now brown and dull,
That turns and greys, with ends that stray
Splintered ashes, turned white, now fray.
My fringe falls down, by graven pull,
A sight, for sure, some guys would say
But, because I’m me – I feel okay!
Most colours I have known my head to wear,
Wise men, so young (most old), do swoon
As I fight, to hide, fine lines (so soon!).
Copyright owned by The Silly-Savvy Salopian (genetically-dispossessed cousin of Wilfred Owen, and self-appointed Poet Sonneteer of Suffolk, Shropshire & Staffs), July 2018
As you can read for yourself, I have been inspired by, and have improved upon and updated the original version of ‘Sonnet’. Strictly speaking, a sonnet (and I know this because, like my doppelganger Wilf, I once had a stint as a English tutor) ought to have fourteen lines – and, yes, my sonnet does have fifteen lines. But, as Poet Sonneteer, I do have a certain amount of leeway. And being self-appointed, I can make up my own rules.
In the tradition of my muse, I know that this deviation from the norm is acceptable. In the poem: ‘O World of many worlds’ (p.9), the great Wilf himself writes very derisively of those who systematically obey orders, who allow themselves to be reduced to’ points’ and ‘Wheels’ (lines 5-6). Points and wheels that dance in unison; passive tributes, who feed into the ‘loud machinery’ (line 5) of the powerful.
My Grandfather Cool, and all of the Great Grandparent Cools who came before him, grew up from seeds that were sown in the middle – the Cool family of Myddle in Shropshire. But Grandfather Cool had an adventurous spirit – he took control of the machinery that controlled him, took over at the steering wheel of his traction engine, and drove on out of there.
And I? Jay Cool, granddaughter of the aforesaid? I am a ‘meteor, fast, eccentric‘ and ‘lone’ (line 25), as I step out of line, to venture forth on my own journey.
A ‘Lawless’ journey, a ‘passage through all spheres’ (line 26); a ‘passage’ through the lives, locations and literary works of my Salopian ancestors; on a quest to find ‘a centre of mine own’ (line 8).
I journey on …
Copyright of text and photographs owned by Jay Cool, July 2018
(1) Who is the fellow poet? I wouldn’t dream of revealing his identity (his name is Ricardo Scribblero, and he hails from Clacton in Essex (a location not anywhere near as well-know for it’s literary talent, as my homeland of Shropshire!).
(2) I had been ‘hushed’ up by my Sprogs, who ordered me to ‘Shut up!’ en route to Dawley; when, keen to spur the Dacia on to it’s destiny, I serenaded it with Sheeran’s ‘I’m in love with the shape of you!’ I quote this incident to provide further evidence for my claims of musicality. Sheeran and I, like Wilf and I, have a lot in common: ginger locks (change the ‘have’ to ‘had’ in my case); husky tones; and a lack of conscience when it comes to the pitfalls of plagiarism.
Poets of the Great War: Wilfred Owen, selected by John Stallworthy (Faber & Faber, 2004).
Websites referred to: