Sunday, 6 December 2015

William McIlvanney.

         Just heard, William McIlvanney died aged 79, they announced his death as "crime author dies", I never read any of his novels, though I'm sure they were brilliantly crafted, but loved his poetry. He seemed to be able to get into the heads of so many characters, his poetry could distil what it is to be human. I find it difficult to pick out one that stands out from the others, they, to me, are all up there on the high altar of wonderful poetry.
     My small tribute to William McIlvanney is this verse V, from "Initiation" in his book, "In Through The Head"
My father's personal Midian was The Strike,
Say 'nineteen twenty-six' and watch his eyes
Bruise still with images of boot and pick.
Beyond the room's bright warmth he heard the cries
Of children starving and the feet of men
Subduing anguish to a measured walk,
You didn't interrupt his anger when
He brought up gouts of blood in his talk.

'Sam Harris hanged himself',''Ah've see a wean
Whose staple diet was a dummy tit.'
'The batoned bastards beat up unarmed men.'
Not an economist's view, He didn't find
The key that locks pain safely in a law.
Raw facts still looted comfort from his mind,
Broke into his indifference. He saw
Only the cold, blind heaving ranks who crushed
Into the closing justice of their time
Only to be rejected. Pictures strung
Out of his mind unbroken, newsreel rushed
Straight from the scene of an historic crime;
The pit-cage talk before fierce hopes were hung
On a slender thread of unity; the bands
That grouped lean jowls round any bone of news
To sharpen hope's teeth on it; big quiet men
Who rotted with their pockets round their hands;
The shame of looking at your children's shoes;
Soup-kitchens; five fags shared among ten;
At countless corners the spontaneous wake
Held by silk-mufflered men for self-respect.
Hearing him talk you came to realize
That history is what time leaves in men's eyes,
The shape their thinking takes. His was a fate
Coined in the twenties, already out of date
By the time the thirties ended or before,
Survivor of an unofficial war,
The scars he carried made him not quite fit
To enjoy the subsequent peace or understand
That this was all the gain their fight had brought.
He did not recognise the promised land.
You might, of course, have cited this bright room,
Full bellies, clothes, as what their guts had won.
But that was an impertinence to him,
Whose dream had seemed as certain as the sun.
Were bingo, the telly, hire purchase cars
As a measure of their sacrifice enough?
Later, in casual talk or busy bars,
You seem to hear a distant ideal sough,
Cry of a Dodo haunting the pleasant day,
Recalling the need to care, a debt to pay.
Thanks William, for your window onto humanity.
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