NEW POETRY: ‘The Last Hamlet of Words’ by John Freeman


For Carol Rhodes, painter


I went into a dozen bookshops in Hay,

that town for the cognoscenti of tomes.

I bought The Poet’s Tongue, edited by

W H Auden and John Garrett,

another anthology edited

by Tony Frazer, and Selected Poems

by Ungaretti, with facing translations

by Andrew Frisardi. I nearly bought

Book Three of Ronald Duncan’s five-book epic

Man, because I’d admired extracts from Book Two.

If I had seen a Roethke I’d have got it,

because of one poem of his reproduced

in Ted Hughes’s Poetry in the Making

which I really like, though other poems

I’ve found by him have disappointed me.

We drove home and I nipped out again for bread

and dropped in at a charity shop and found

a thing I’d seen years before, easy to laugh

or cringe at, edited by Mary Wilson,

My Favourite Poem chosen by big names,

the poems often extracts, none with details

beyond the poet’s name. Half of them I knew.

I stood there reading and glancing through, and put

the book back on the shelf and left the shop

and carried on walking around the town,

but there had been this passage by Rilke

without any clue as to where it was from.

‘Exposed on the heart’s mountains,’ it begins, ‘look,

how small there! Look, the last hamlet of words, and

higher, (but still how small!) yet one remaining

farmstead of feeling: d’you see it?’ Well, I had

to have that, and when I passed the shop again

I surprised a man looking at novels

by reaching past him and removing neatly

the slim, dog-eared paperback from the pile

I’d left it on the top of. There are other things –

a de la Mare and a passage from Byron

I didn’t recognise. Of course, I’ve got their

Complete Poems, but I shall find these things

more readily in this book. You have to be

of a certain age to remember how

Private Eye mocked Mary Wilson and her verse,

what a joke she became. You don’t have to

have much sophistication to see how naff

this concoction is. You have to have the nerve

to find Cinderella among the ashes,

and bear her away with you because her foot

fits the glass slipper you have always with you.

The Rilke was chosen by Prue Leith. All

royalties went to a leukaemia Trust.

I paid 75p to Tenovus,

the cancer charity, on Cowbridge High Street,

and went home to the hamlet of Trerhyngyll.

Copyright © John Freeman, 2015 

11297705_10153080409861977_390739559_nJohn Freeman’s White Wings: New and Selected Prose Poems appeared from Contraband Books in 2013. Previous collections include A Suite for Summer (Worple Press), and The Light Is Of Love, I Think: New and Selected Poems (Stride Editions). Stride also published a collection of essays, The Less Received: Neglected Modern Poets. He taught for many years at Cardiff University and lives in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Banner image copyright © Jo Mazelis, 2015