Ian C Smith – An Intaglio of Words

P Ian Smith LE P&W Vol 1 2019

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Poems by Ian C Smith

Ian C Smith’s work has appeared in, Amsterdam Quarterly, Antipodes, cordite, Poetry New Zealand, Poetry Salzburg Review, Southerly, & Two-Thirds North.  His seventh book is wonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide).  He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island, Tasmania.

No Joke

All along the cell block sang the lawyer to the cop.  The old lag’s mimicry echoes in here, voice flat, adenoidal like Dylan’s, threat loaded with false jocularity disturbing my reverie of A-list dealing days, that lush intellectual glamour, my domain high above Market Street, leaning on my balcony wearing a crisp white shirt, sleeves rolled just so, listening to distant sirens, ambulances, cop cars prowling the night canyons of the glittering city, looking down on poor sods whose lives run into dead-ends.

Fuckfuckfuck I mutter, sweat sour, reflection in stainless steel blurred, a fallen star, boring months, years, stretched ahead as good, or bad, as finished.  Over.  My erratic schooldays, the ballooning differential between brainpower and behaviour, kindled my father’s favourite cark and care comment re fees; Flushing cash down the lavatory, remembered now, pissing, desultory, alone yet not alone.  I blew bigger sums, actually, I tell the swirling water, than you dreamed of.

My neighbour, this tone-deaf troubadour of trouble, warbles There must be some way outta here; me, brainwave bankrupt to find this way, inflexible hierarchies being such, my last, dumbest, deal is done. Passion, ignorance, concupiscence.  They bludgeoned Fat Carl, another high-profile snitch, brained him with a barbell.   

Two Women

She publishes Portrait excerpts in the Egoist, anonymously sends Jim an allowance.  Worshipping at Literature’s pulse, she ignores her lawyer’s warning about fraying capital.  Agog with curiosity, Jim identifies her.  She apologises for her initial secrecy, responds to requests for increased help.

Jim and Nora splurge, courtesy of Miss Weaver who aloofly resists the flak she cops, a maiden English lady accused of funding the writing of unintelligible filth.  Savings wither but not her love for Jim.  Visiting him in Paris she catches the bus while he, drinking and tipping, does taxis.

Jim whines about expenses so she pays: hotels, fine clothes, family illnesses.  Friends rage about her vanishing money.  He posts explanatory letters with extracts.  Unsurprisingly, Finnegan baffles her.  Eventually he repays her by cutting her dead, leaving her as one of literature’s footnotes.

Jim’s father’s death releases sobs withheld when his mother died and ever since.  Finnegan triggers a critics’ free-for-all.  Lucia reveres this father some say is mad.  Spoilt in several languages but at times neglected by parents obsessed with each other, her eyes are startling blue, bright as paint.

Poverty, extravagance, praise, vilification: her father’s fame excites and unsettles.  Tutors come and go, none wearing a halo.  Lucia’s need is to be brilliant, or to marry, but she can’t marry Jim.  Her bizarre bursts of temper tweezer him, mindful of brothel infections in his youth.

She hurls herself at young Sam Beckett but Jim’s genius attracts the poet, not her.  Sam thinks her mind is Jim’s run amok, careering from one topic to another.  Blamed for wooing her, he sees she is lost but her blinded father can’t.  When told of Jim’s death she says: That idiot!

That Untravelled World, Gleaming

I read Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning, rapt, hooked, yearning to walk out, too, needing some best years of my life to remember.  Minimal skills, even less education, bank balance a posh phrase for zero, in the grip of the gap between family obligation and imagination, I studied.  The first writer, T.S. Eliot, a challenging beginning to what I have now wrought, smote my heart.  I sensed those claws scuttling across ancient ocean floors while days flipped over.

Finding a way to burst clear of factories, blast furnaces, I reached Tahiti’s voluptuous volcanic skyline, Adventures in Paradise’s cinematography on TV, Gauguin’s concupiscent coloration in art biographies, research of every book on the Bounty mutiny I could find, plus its movie magic, albeit skewed, in mind.  Then I fell ill.  In Papeete a charming French doctor’s antibiotics rescued me following comical multilingual communication, she amused, switching languages, me ham acting.

Paul Theroux jiggled my wanderlust, place ever more vital in books squished into those outside pockets of backpacks smugly treasured during times of delay.  Travellers read.  On the N.Y.C. subway in a train dubbed The Beast for its dangers, I counted five languages being read heads down avoiding eye contact in one carriage, recalled V.S. Naipaul’s first stop there after leaving Trinidad as a teenager, lacking money to tip a cabbie.  On that first flight peering down at the sea prompted his memory of a poem by Tennyson whose monument I later reached high above the scudding drift on the Isle of Wight.

Seeing Dover’s cliffs I thought of Matthew Arnold.  Thomas Hardy’s writing desk and D.H.Lawrence’s narrow house of childhood among literary shrines visited, I also tarried in verdant Vermont near Solzhenitsyn’s hideaway in exile after his triumph over gulag confinement, swear I met characters from Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News when my ferry reached fog-enshrouded Newfoundland Island.  I trawl movie credits for acknowledgements of writers whose accounting beguiles, for their cinematic kickstarters, going back so far as Virgil and Homer, those diarists of epic nomadic adventurers, sniff hoarded superseded maps for free return trips.

An Intaglio of Words

Jim discourses in bars, cadges money, buoyed by an innate sense of superiority.  That intellect, the prodigious reading, cocky belief in his destiny and genius, makes admirers, and enemies, of his peers.  Chastity divides women into camps.  Decent means thighs closed and clothed.

Brothel life fascinates, sexual reek, the wanton, knickers easily downed, whips him into scatological ecstasy.  Not of his class but carnally shrewd, Nora spins tales of her peasant childhood.  When she reaches into his trousers does she think of biographical text?

Booting convention up the arse they elope unwed, into exile, to Zurich, Trieste, where their haphazard hand-to-mouth ways would make a bankable movie script now.  She sticks by her man, forever imprinted.  Dubliners crowd his mosaics of the past, recorded forever in an intaglio of words.

To solve the damned problem of money Jim finds backers for his grand idea, bringing movies to the Irish public.  In Dublin he fits seats in vacant premises.  This time his meteoric imagination fails.  His choice of movies abysmal for a genius, the venture collapses, backers scarper.

To raise his spirits, and his cockstand, he exchanges letters with Nora in Trieste as he suffers box-office flaccidity.  She begins an epistolary sexual marathon, vividly writing what she wants done to her, exciting an orgy of moist lewd responses like a text for a pornography manual.

In private, the failed cinema entrepreneur does his best to prove his critics correct, writing of barbaric degrading debauchery, but so does his wife, and they gorge on it.  This intercity precursor to phone sex, their inky couplings, satiates them.  Jim dreams post-coital dreams of Molly Bloom.

His stories offend in different ways, scaring the bejeezus out of publishers.  The scandalous stripping of sacred taboos, raw pasquinades, scald even the printers.  He banjaxes Ireland, insults the English king, suffers fits, ulcers, and eye problems, and complains to the newspapers.

His plan to canvass Dublin’s publicans, a literary pub-crawl with a publisher to sweet talk them so they won’t sue, stirs pettifoggery, and, in turn, his paranoia.  Envious fellows, back-stabbers like him, spread stories of Nora’s liberties, crazing him cruelly with sexual jealousy.

Using a suitcase lid on his knees as a desk he composes his gallimaufry of those streets into Ulysses in their Swiss bedroom.  By night he carouses with cronies, vexing Nora who is bored by artists, neglect, exile.  When Sylvia Beach finally publishes the epic, Nora, who never finishes it, sells her signed copy.

© Ian C Smith