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
John 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.