Among my newly-discovered, neatly-typewritten sheets of juvenilia, this poem raised a smile. So cynical for one so young! Or perhaps it's just unflinchingly realistic — an honestly-observed and ironic view of the materialist society I'd been born into, seen through the eyes of an 'outsider' adolescent, with a dominating businessman father figure hovering in the background.
Lexicon of Life
This is the ladder of life
Climb it climb up
Rung by rung
Come on lad
Pull yourself together
Chin up tie straight
Hands out of you pockets
Come and make some money
Some lovely lovely money
Just like me
What no ambition?
And you don't believe in marriage?
Son don't be an animal
And come and join society
What no money?
Then bloody well earn some
And you can be a Capitalist
A Christened Classified Schooled Degreed
Numbered Loved Married Sexed
Hated Conformed Dreamed Resigned
Retired little Capitalist
Just like me
It's clear that I'd been listening to Dylan's All I Really Want to Do and Subterranean Homesick Blues, and probably been reading subversive Beat literature too.
I'm amazed at the passion and yearning in these early poems — and also at the world-weary resignation. But that's youth all over, isn't it? I think many of us felt these extremes between the ages of fifteen and twenty-five, those years of swinging precipitously between unfettered enthusiasm and nihilistic despair. I'm never surprised when statistics show a suicide peak among young people of that age.
The next poem is about my place of birth and childhood, a rather bleak, flat and treeless part of north-west Lincolnshire called the Isle of Axholme — in former times a forbidding marshland dotted with small, inhabited hill-islands.
Isle of Axholme
Hey, brother, I'm back again,
Back to the grass roots and the low hills,
The broken towers and the emptiness,
The weary bus at eight,
The curlew's cry.
Wish me gone and I will stay anyway,
In the silence of the cornfields
Furrowed by the earth wind.
They say the soil is good round here
With a little luck and rain.
The church is still here but older,
Trying to hide her age with a new clock
Black and gold like a cigarette packet.
The river still carries barges
Flowing down without colour.
The hollow sky, the wide arena,
Open up for me indifferently.
I will accept for the moment, but later
I will leave for other parts without sorrow.
Meanwhile you till the land.
This week we are picking the potatoes,
Thirty bob a day plus friends and dreams.
When we are finished I will anticipate
The frigid winter and be gone.
So long, my brother, my only friend.