Monthly Archives: April 2015

Pendragon Lectures (V)


A Pindaric Ode


In my last post I wished to demonstrate that the true raison d’etre of poetry is to spread proper morality throughout humanity. The Poet-Saints of India are a fine & longevous example – such as the sagely Duda Dayal – who often broke through the restrictions of Caste to preach social & religious reform though the medium of song. For myself, as a fellow believer that the poet’s path should be one of a didactic nature, I spent most of yesterday composing a new poem on a topic which I feel quite strongly about. Just as Sidney states that a poet should use an ideal character as the model for his teachings, so we modern poets must utilise the unideal to ward off our children from the many pitfalls of the modern state. These I saw & conversed with in abundance all across my previous city of residence, Edinburgh, which was not the setting of the seminal mid-nineties film, Trainspotting, for nothing. The cheap heroin that flooded the city in the 80s & 90s has had a profound generational effect, & three decades later the consumption of Skag in all its forms is rife throughout Scotland’s capital, & especially in Leith, its old port.


A heroin addict in Leith
A heroin addict in Leith

During my sojurn in la ‘Firenze de la Nord,’ with some discomfort I witnessed a number of promising youths have their lives destroyed by this most wickedest of demons; & never having taken the drug myself often wonder’d how it could exert such powerful a force over the human spirit. Thus yesterday, established well-away from Edinburgh’s seedy underbelly, & given freedom to reflect on the matter in the upmost tranquility, I began to write a few lines. These slowly took the shape of a Pindaric Ode, a wee tour-de force into which I could consisely pour a decade of observations & frustrations. Of the form, John Potter in his Archæologia Græca, writes; ‘it was customary, on some occasions, to dance around the altars, whilst they sung the sacred hymns, which consisted of three stanzas or parts; the first of which, called strophe, which was sung in turning from east to west; the other, named antistrophe, in returning from west to east; the other, named antistrophe, in returning from west to east; then they stood before the altar & sung the epode, which was the last part of the song.’

The result I find pleasing, a little aggressive, yes, but Heroin Addiction is something that cannot be treated with kid gloves – ask the long-suffering parents & partners who are forced to endure the tortured wails & infernal screams of their loved ones as they writhe in their shit-caked, sweat-sodden sheets, withdrawing in their cell-like rooms. This, I am afraid, is real-life – & is something that is these days ignored by our poets of the first rate – if indeed these exist –, our poets of the second rate, & by the majority of our poets of the third rate. There is something not quite middle-class enough about such a theme, & unfortunately today’s poetry publishers would never dream of touching such a hot potato, instead diverting the reading public’s attention to… let me for a moment take a random book from my shelf… ah! it is, NEW POETRIES III : AN ANTHOLOGY edited by Michael Schmidt 2002… to… The Radiator in Your Room (Caroline Bird) / Big Blue Sofas (Linda Chase) / The Calligraphy Shop (Ben Downing) &… well, you get the picture.


Yesterday’s creation also conforms to my newly-forged concept of poetry, that is we have come full circle in the Art & are faced with something of a blank page. It’s basically a case of, ‘Let’s Play!’ lets muck about a bit, see what happens & have some bloody fun for once. The form I have chosen for the occasion is an ancient one, created by the Greek poet Pindar in the 5th century BC to celebrate the victors at the earliest Olympic Games. This is what I call the MOULD. The MEASURE, however, is as modern as it gets, for it is essentially Free Verse, only Free Verse captured within the confines of a tercet stave. Purists on both sides would balk at such a concept, but it is only in such a spirit of re-unification that poetry may gather its forces & move forwards as a stronger being for the betterment of mankind. Overall, however, this hybrid form of mine, this blend of old & new, remains a Pindaric Ode, for it is the structure of the MOULD which pre-dominates the determination of a poem’s form.

Time swings, things change, & nothing is truly impermanent, so in the spirit of those Poet-Saints of India, let us hope that a future reader of my new ode will find a phrase or two embedded in their consciousness with enough alacrity that whenever they are offered a ‘hit’ of heroin, they will point-blank refuse & declare rather bluntly that those fools who stooped to offer them such a filthy, soul-destroying drug, are nothing but…

Junkie Fucks

A Pindaric Ode





The bees weren’t safe. 


What happened to them


Wiped out by a combination of tiny parasitic mite called Varroa Destructor… I’ve seen it happen all over the world. We call it Colony Collapse Disorder.



I : Strophe


He tried to tear the horror from himself,

Searching in the sockets of his eyes with needles

Till they burst blood  Euripides


      There’s a Junkie Fuck

         Everywhere you look

                                         : in Leith


Great Junkie Street


Zombie-crowded cash-machines


Kids like, ‘Where’s-my-crack-pipe?’

Grinnin’ into school

Thinkin’ he was cool


  ‘Im never injecting,’ he blusters upsetly

Blazin’ about his Best Friend’s funeral :

At the Wake… to ease his grief… shoots up first time!


His crack-whore ‘Wudya,’ works the Leith Links’s edges

A posh-painted Picture pick’d up by drunk dockers

While her daughter chews straws at McDonalds


Her looks are fading, she turns to friends

Getting them hooked so maybe they’ll pay

For these needles fresh ‘besties’ dare share


           There’s a Smackie Kunt

                  Always on the hunt

                                                : in Leith







When I think aboot the future… I’m nae in it. I can see my mither & abiddy I ken, I can see them a’… but I cannae see me

Morna Pearson


             There’s a Junkie Worm

                  Every corner turn’d

                                                  : in Leith


The Skag is a slippery, shrieking Beast

Cunning as Fox, strong as Lion

Foul as farting Pig


Don’t listen to what they say, but how they say it,

Bullshit Defence Mechanism takes control

Insiduous serpent contorting thought


As poppy seeds to thick’ning branches grow

This crude oil-slick that brings each death-rush on

More hardens & more blackens punctured veins


How the hell can ya call it glamorous?

When glamping means begging up the North Bridge

Contemplating suicide in torn, soggy shoes


Viledom’s finest scourge Leith Walk

Piping, ‘We are young… We can handle it…’

‘…We could drop it just like that.’


But when they join the clucking Cold Turkeys

& Methadone Monkeys in gibbering clinics

It’s more  { { p e a c e f u l } }  just to try it one last time


       There’s a Bag-Head Prick

                      Itching itself sick

                                                 : in Leith


heroine pic3





I’m rather afraid that we’re going to get tough.

The gentlemen of Britain have had e-bloody-nough!

Tony Harrison



                There’s a Junkie Fool

            Shuffling past yer school

                                                 : in Leith


I was twenty-one once,

Busking down Bournemouth

Boozing wi’ beggars


I’d follow’d ‘em into a nappy-dirty yard

Watching ‘em cook up their hard-earned stuff

& said, ‘I’ll have a go,’ in all innocence


  ‘You don’t wanna try,’ said Feathers,

Do I not?… alright…’ three days later

I found him overdosing in his tent


I took his gut-stroke wisdom with me

Tossing Junkie friends from my life

Tough-love, but sanity follow’d


Never babysit a Smack-Head!

If you show signs of weakness they will take

& take & take & lie & take & steal & take & scrounge


& take & take & lie & steal & take & scrounge & take &…

…when you’ve stopp’d giving they’ll turn round & hiss,

                        ‘I thought you were my friend?’


                     There’s a Junkie Fuck

                   Lonely, Soul-less, Stuck

                                                       : in Leith


Matt Dempsey

Pendragon Lectures (IV)


Sidney’s Ideal Poet

Even among the most barbarous and simple Indians, where no writing is, yet have they their poets who make and sing songs, which they call “Areytos,” both of their ancestor’s deeds and praises of their gods.
Sir Philip Sidney


It has often been my pleasure, upon being asked the question, ‘what do you do?‘ to answer with confidence that I am a Poet, for I love the way a bonnie lady’s ear will perform a slight twitch on first hearing the word. Unfortunately, far from their vision of a romantic, sonnet-wielding frantic & beautiful lover, there is an actual meaning behind the word. Most Poets are indeed excellent lovers, granted, but what does it actually mean to be a poet?

First, a poet’s soul must contain a symphonium of music, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in his Biographia Litereia, writes;  The man that hath not music in his soul can indeed never be a genuine poet. Imagery,–(even taken from nature, much more when transplanted from books, as travels, voyages, and works of natural history),–affecting incidents, just thoughts, interesting personal or domestic feelings, and with these the art of their combination or intertexture in the form of a poem,–may all by incessant effort be acquired as a trade, by a man of talent and much reading, who, as I once before observed, has mistaken an intense desire of poetic reputation for a natural poetic genius; the love of the arbitrary end for a possession of the peculiar means. But the sense of musical delight, with the power of producing it, is a gift of imagination; and this together with the power of reducing multitude into unity of effect, and modifying a series of thoughts by some one predominant thought or feeling, may be cultivated and improved, but can never be learned. It is in these that “poeta nascitur non fit.”

These musical gifts would then be used by the poet to startle his peers, who would then in wonderment listen to his words. Before long this natural; dynamic elevated the poet to the position of teacher, who would define the universe for them, inventing gods & teaching them morality en route. Of this Edward Kelly, in his prologium to Edmund Spenser’s Shephearde’s Calendar, tells us (after Plato), ‘the first inuention of Poetry was of very vertuous intent. For…some learned man being more hable then the rest, for speciall gyftes of wytte and Musicke, would take vpon him to sing fine verses to the people, in prayse eyther of vertue or of victory or of immortality or such like. At whose wonderful gyft al men being astonied and as it were rauished, with delight, thinking (as it was indeede) that he was inspired from aboue, called him vatem.’ The Vatem, or Vates, is what the Romans considered a divine seer, whose task it was to raise up men’s mind from the mortal moral morrass & enlighten them with their heavenly-assisted visions, to improve public virtue through divine inspiration. A couple of years later, another Elizabethan poet, Philip Sidney, added;

Among the Romans a poet was called “vates,” which is as much as a
diviner, foreseer, or prophet, as by his conjoined words “vaticinium,”
and “vaticinari,” is manifest; so heavenly a title did that excellent
people bestow upon this heart-ravishing knowledge

'Apology for Poetry'

These words are contained in the Apologie for Poetry, with which Philip Sidney became the first in a long line of English poet-critics. Written in 1580-81, but printed posthumously for the first time in 1595, it is in these 60-odd pages that exists the best description of what it is to be a poet. He wrote the Apologie after a personal attack on him & his beloved art by Stephen Gosson, whose 1579 treatise, the School of Abuse, sets about;

Conteining a plesaunt inuective against Poets, Pipers, Plaiers, Iesters & such like Catterpillars of a Commonwealth! Setting up the Flagge of Defiaunce to their mischeieuous exercise & ouerthrowing their Bulwarkes by Prophane Writers, Naturel reason & common experience

Perhaps Gosson had a point, for in the Apologie Sidney himself complains that, ‘England, the mother of excellent minds, should be grown so hard a step-mother to poets.’ Sydney’s indeed remonstrates against the squallid depths to which the art amongst the English had degenerated since the heady times of Chaucer, almost two centuries previously. His point is, however, that its not the art that was at fault, but the artists. Using the ancient poets as his models, Sydney hopes to redefine the image of what the Muses & their Ministers actually were. For me, such a bold & beautiful statement holds an impressive resonance in these our modern times, for as we shall see, the vision of a poet as portrayed by Sydney (& thus the ancients) is a far cry from the impedantic disrespect of poetry which litters today’s pages.

Of the Apology, JC Collins writes, ‘a better introduction to the study of poetry could scarcely be conceived, for not only does it put poetry in its proper place as an instrument of education, but it deals with it generally as only a poet himself could deal with it, with illuminating insight, with most inspiring enthusiasm.’ To Sidney, the raison d’etre of poetry was to ‘plant goodness even in the secretest cabinet of our souls.’ Little poetry these days comes near to even touching our true divine spark within us all, which has seen a neglect into its overall respect across the human plane. As I said in my first post, these lectures are intended to reset the clock, so to speak, & to do this we must get back to root, to identify the original kernel of the poet. To do this, I shall leave you with a selection of passages from the Apologie, which I hope shall elucidate Sidney vision of an ideal poet in a more palatable fashion.


Amiri Baraka
Amiri Baraka


Poets are Fathers in Learning :

In the noblest nations and languages that are known, hath been the first light-giver to ignorance, and first nurse, whose milk by little and little enabled them to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges

Let learned Greece, in any of her manifold sciences, be able to show me one book before Musæus, Homer, and Hesiod, all three nothing else but poets. Nay, let any history he brought that can say any writers were there before them, if they were not men of the same skill, as Orpheus, Linus, and some others are named, who having been the first of that country that made pens deliverers of their knowledge to posterity, may justly challenge to be called their fathers in learning.

In the Italian language,the first that made it to aspire to be a treasure-house of science, were the poets Dante, Boccace, and Petrarch; so in our English were Gower andChaucer; after whom, encouraged and delighted with their excellent foregoing, others have followed to beautify our mother tongue, as well in the same kind as other arts.

Poet as Creator

Let us see how the Greeks have named it, and how they deemed
of it. The Greeks named him a Poet,which name hath, as the most
excellent, gone through other languages; it cometh of this word poiein
which is  ‘to make;’ wherein, I know not whether by luck or wisdom, we
Englishmen have met with the Greeks in calling him “a maker”

Only the poet, disdaining to be tied to any such subjection, lifted up with the vigour of his own invention, doth grow, in effect, into another nature; in making things either better than nature bringeth forth, or quite anew; forms such as never were in nature, as the heroes, demi-gods, Cyclops, chimeras, furies, and such like; so as he goeth hand in hand with Nature, not enclosed within the narrow warrant of her gifts, but freely ranging within the zodiac of his own wit. Nature never set forth the earth in so rich tapestry as divers poets have done; neither with so pleasant rivers, fruitful trees, sweet-smelling flowers, nor whatsoever else may make the too-much-loved earth more lovely; her world is brazen, the poets only deliver a golden.


Fashions Ideal Models

Poesy, therefore, is an art of imitation; for so Aristotle termeth
it in the word Mimesis; that is to say, a representing, counterfeiting,
or figuring forth: to speak metaphorically, a speaking picture, with this
end, to teach and delight

It is not rhyming and versing that maketh a poet… but it is that feigning notable images of virtues, vices, or what else, with that delightful teaching, which must be the right describing note to know a poet by

…to bestow a Cyrus upon the world to make many Cyruses; if they will
learn aright, why, and how, that maker made him.

…brought forth so true a lover as Theagenes; so constant a friend as Pylades; so valiant a man as Orlando; so right a prince as Xenophon’s Cyrus; and so excellent a man every way as Virgil’s Æneas?



Directed to the highest end of the mistress knowledge, by the Greeks called architektonike which stands, as I think, in the knowledge of a man’s self

This purifying of wit, this enriching of memory, enabling of judgment, and enlarging of conceit, which commonly we call learning

The final end is, to lead and draw us to as high a perfection as our degenerate souls, made worse by, their clay lodgings, can be capable of.




Poetry & History

Aristotle himself, in his Discourse of Poesy, plainly determineth this
question, saying, that poetry is philosophoteron and spoudaioteronthat is to say, it is more philosophical and more ingenious than history. His reason is, because poesy dealeth with kathalou, that is to say, with the universal consideration, and the history kathekaston,the particular. “Now,” saith he, “the universal weighs what is fit to be said or done, either in likelihood or necessity; which the poesy considereth in his imposed names; and the particular only marks, whether Alcibiades did, or suffered, this or that:”

if the question be, for your own use and learning, whether it be better to have it set down as it should be, or as it was? then, certainly, is more doctrinable the feigned Cyrus in Xenophon, than the true Cyrus in Justin; and the feigned Æneas in Virgil, than the right Æneas in Dares Phrygius; as to a lady that desired to fashion her countenance to the best grace, a painter should more benefit her, to portrait a most sweet face, writing Canidia upon it, than to paint Canidia as she was, who, Horace sweareth, was full ill-favoured.

Poets just don’t think like Sidney today – none of us really have the designation to create didactic poetry, right. But then again, we would never produce such masterpieces as Sidney’s sonnet sequence, Astrophel & Stella, Shakespeare’s dramatic rendition of the Wars of the Roses, or Spenser’s vast & gorgeous garden of stanzas that is his majesttic Faerie Queen.  The first was intended to teach the Elizabethans about petrarchian love, the second was meannt to cement the Tudor dynasty’s place in British society, while the latter was desigend as an epic education in morality. That, I suppose, is the problem with modern poetry, with so much infomation available at the click of a button, for no-one feels like they should be able to teach people very much.

Instead, poetry should no longer deny its original object, & remember that it is the Art’s particular ability to captivate the best words in their best order in order to amaze the audience. It is through this position of intellectual grandeur that mankind may still be taught. It is about the time that the bar got raised : no-one is absorbing long forgotten or as yet undiscover’d foreign forms; no-one is pushing back the boundaries of the art with conviction; no-one – god dammit – is inventing. We have now a sterile pond where bubbling gasses gloop to the surface – cut off by some man-made landslide from the waters of the Parnassian streams.

Modern Poetry
Modern Poetry

To rise out of the muck, a poet should instead be a teacher. Knowledge these days is epic, multiplying almost as quickly as the big bang. But poetry’s advantage is its concision,  & with it an inherent ability to so arrangements words so beautifully that people actually enjoy the experience of learning.  Now i’m not saying the following is beautiful but it was an earlier exercise of my youth, but the point is Iv’e stored some very important information in some rather cute-ish lines.


If you have an egg to boil
Heat water up by kettle coil
Then let it bubble in a pan
& add the egg & boil to plan –
A runny egg takes minutes three
Served with soldiers & cup of tea
A hard boil’d egg nine minutes paced
Add mayonnaise & salt to taste

To make a curry hot & tasty
fry your veggies odors free
mix some meat in if you like
fleshy ham to fresh caught pike
Milk & tomatoes make the sauce
Good curry powder puffs the force
Add other seasonings to taste
Then stew awhile, no need for haste

 Not awarding-winning stuff, granted, but useful. Anyhow, that’s all for today’s lecture, but I shall leave you with the close of the Apologie, which sees Sidney at his most cockiest & eloquent best;

Since the ever praiseworthy poesy is full of virtue, breeding delightfulness, and void of no gift that ought to be in the noble name of learning; since the blames laid against it are either false or feeble; since the cause why it is not esteemed in England is the fault of poet-apes, not poets; since, lastly, our tongue is most fit to honour poesy, and to be honoured by poesy; I conjure you all that have had the evil luck to read this ink-wasting toy of mine, even in the name of the Nine Muses, no more to scorn the sacred mysteries of poesy; no more to laugh at the name of poets, as though they were next inheritors to fools; no more to jest at the reverend title of “a rhymer;” but to believe, with Aristotle, that they were the ancient treasurers of the Grecian’s divinity; to believe, with Bembus, that they were the first bringers in of all civility; to believe, with Scaliger, that no philosopher’s precepts can sooner make you an honest man, than the reading of Virgil; to believe, with Clauserus, the translator of Cornutus, that it pleased the heavenly deity by Hesiod and Homer, under the veil of fables, to give us all knowledge, logic, rhetoric, philosophy natural and moral, and “quid non?” to believe, with me, that there are many mysteries contained in poetry, which of purpose were written darkly, lest by profane wits it should be abused; to believe, with Landin, that they are so beloved of the gods that whatsoever they write proceeds of a divine fury. Lastly, to believe themselves, when they tell you they will make you immortal by their verses.

Thus doing, your names shall flourish in the printers’ shops: thus doing,
you shall be of kin to many a poetical preface: thus doing, you shall be
most fair, most rich, most wise, most all: you shall dwell upon
superlatives: thus doing, though you be “Libertino patre natus,” you
shall suddenly grow “Herculea proles,” “Si quid mea Carmina possunt:” thus doing, your soul shall be placed with Dante’s Beatrix, or Virgil’s Anchisis.

But if (fie of such a but!) you be born so near the dull-making cataract
of Nilus, that you cannot hear the planet-like music of poetry; if you
have so earth-creeping a mind, that it cannot lift itself up to look to
the sky of poetry, or rather, by a certain rustical disdain, will become
such a Mome, as to be a Momus of poetry; then, though I will not wish
unto you the ass’s ears of Midas, nor to be driven by a poet’s verses, as
Bubonax was, to hang himself; nor to be rhymed to death, as is said to be done in Ireland; yet thus much curse I must send you in the behalf of all poets; that while you live, you live in love, and never get favour, for
lacking skill of a sonnet; and when you die, your memory die from the
earth for want of an epitaph.

Pendragon Lectures (III)


The Chaunt Royale

When Denis Diderot wrote, ‘Poetry wants something enormous, barbarian and savage,’ he was alluding to the infinite possibilities of poetic forms. One of these in a particular is a big ‘un, but has a such  natural feel, the ‘Chaunt Royale’ shoudl be seen as the Queen of them all. It’s heyday was in Northern France during the 15th century, with a revival of interest in late Victorian Britain. The form consists of 5 eleven-line staves (mini stanzas), & an ‘envoi’ of five lines to close – a total of 60 lines. I looked at the Chaunt Royale about a decade ago, & found the 11 lines a little too complex for the English artistic temperament; dropping a line from the staves to make them like those wondrous wee 10-lined staves of Keats’ Odes.  The results were pleasant, with lots of possibilities for rhyming patters within the 10-lines, including Blank verse, I also noticed that as the poem was divided into 5 parts – like a Shakesperian play –  I thought each Chaunt Royale could be as a mini-play, & poured the dramatic muse into its mould.

Denis Diderot - clearly on laudanam
Denis Diderot – clearly on laudanam

I would wager a good ninety-nine percent of the world’s poets would not have heard of the Chaunt Royale, which is a shame as it allows the poet to become Shakespeare for a moment – fifty five lines of bombastious dialogue are much easier to pull off than, lets say, composing a Hamlet. My only work with the form was an 8-part ‘Chaunt Royale Grande,’ which told the story of Bonnie Prince Charlie & the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-46. Here is Scene 6 …

SCENE 6 - Drummossie Moor… it is a rainy morning… The British cannon are pounding the Highland Lines

Come see the Pretender in the distance,
His rascally & ragged rebel bands,
The Irish… & there look! the flag of France
At last those fools are fed into our hands!
From Lancaster, Carlisle & Falkirk Moor
He slipped my net, I thought him rather shrewd,
But this, a broken field of boggy moor,
All credence lacks, his choice seems rather crude,
& should, methinks, have shut up in the town…
Now ve princes contest the British crown!
Lord Bury
Most noble Duke, as I surveyed the moor
Close to those blasted pipes of shrieking skirl
Above me passed the first shots of the war…
& as you hear our answer is aswirl
Their lines harangued by wind & hail & sleet
With cannonballs theirs is a sorry lot
& hastening th’onset of their defeat
We rain upon them thick shards of grape shot
But wait! what is that roar? at last they charge!
Our guns shall seek the measure of their targe!

They watch the battle

Sir, now your men in mortal combat meet,
All is confusion, noise, concern & heat
On the left the thickest of the fighting
Barrel’s brave boys on their broadswords biting
But of this day the king will never fret
Those heathen fall beneath infernal fire
Or spitted on an English bayonet
& on the right their charge shows no desire
Strict discipline & guts rip thro that shield
This godless place becomes their killing field

Orpheus to my ears! the fleeing shout
& come to a decision the matter
Tis strange to see the nation’s bravest rout
Those boasted broadswords not as they flatter
Not since Lord Noll had they such a thrashing
Let Lord Ancram pursue them with the horse
Hold no quarter, slaughter, sabres slashing
& extirpate that race as fighting force
Destroy clannism, burn their homes & grain
So these wretches shall never rise again!

Great tidings sir, when London hears the news
The oldest wines shall happily be drunk
The Bonnie Prince & all his bonnet blues
Into the freezing Moray Firth hath sunk
The flower of the highlander lies strewn
Upon this ghastly field & down the roads
Shall ride many a merciless dragoon
All to the weeping streets of Inverness
So far we have counted a thousand swords
Now raise a cry for Britain & God bless

The crucial battle has been fought
The tartan torn & strewn
The fleeing rats so easy caught
VENGEANCE shall cut the Celtic throat
Beneath a weeping moon


What has happened is that modern poetry has detached itself from a tradition going back thousands of years, beyond the Egyptians & even the Sumerians. But like I’ve said before, is it not the right time to, if not banish completely, at least demote Free Verse from its domination of the page, recognizing it only as a mere medium through which we can translate one’s mimesis. Let us instead enrich the poetical sensibilities of both ourselves & that of the entire Zeitgeist. Any old fool can chuck a few words  down on a piece of paper in slap-dash fashion, but if you can pull off a half-decent Chaunt Royale, you can consider yourself a ‘proper’ poet.  You may still write better in Free Verse, but the fact you have a Chaunt Royale in the bank means wider horizons, & a clearer view of the art form as a fully composite & universal being.

Pendragon Lectures (II)


The Shakesperian Sequanza

872 AD : Colga mcConnagann abbot of Kynnetty, the best and elegantest Poet in the kingdome, and their cheefest chronicler, died.

The Annals of Clonmacnoise




Of all the poetic forms we moderns have inherited, it is the pretty little fourteen lined sonnet that offers the poet keys to the kingdom, so to speak,  for within its myriad possibilities lie the secrets to the esoteric nature of the art. As these lectures progress, I shall reveal these wonderful mysteries one-by-one, but for now let us examine what should be the goal of all prospective sonneteers.

Ever since the Tuscan poets brought the sonnet out of Sicily, there has been a penchant among certain poets to place their sonnets in a sequence. Of these, the English senate has declared that Shakespeare’s collection of 154 sonnets is the finest, thus it is perfectly natural to use this model as our benchmark.

It is clear from a reading of Shakespeare’s sonnets that his sequence is actually a collection of seceral sequences, written over the span of three decades. Published in 1609, we can trace at least one of them to the early 1580s;

Those lips that Love’s own hand did make
 Breathed forth the sound that said “I hate”
To me that languished for her sake.
 But when she saw my woeful state,
 Straight in her heart did mercy come,
 Chiding that tongue that, ever sweet,
 Was used in giving gentle doom,
 And taught it thus anew to greet:
“I hate” she altered with an end
 That followed it as gentle day
 Doth follow night, who like a fiend
 From heaven to hell is flown away.
“I hate” from hate away she threw,
 And saved my life, saying “not you.”


In 1971, Gurr proposed this sonnet was actually written for Anne Hathaway, noticing a possible pun in ‘hate away’ & hathaway, while ‘and saved my life’ was a phonetic match to ‘Anne saved my life.‘ The editor of Gurr’s essay, FW Bateson, suggets that phonetically, ‘in Stratford in 1582 Hathaway & hate-away would have been a very tolerable pun,’ & Shakespeare really did love his punning. With Shakespeare’s name appearing elsewhere as ‘Shagspere,’ pronunced with a short vowel like the ‘a’ in cat, we can see how the Warwickshire vowel lengths were interchangeable, & how Hathaway could easily have become Hate-away. If Shakespeare is writing this sonnet to Anne, we can see how he had developed a teenage crush, after which he ‘languished for her sake.’ Was this indeed the very ‘woful Ballad / Made to his Mistress’ Eye-brow,’ that Shakespeare alludes to in As You Like It.

William Stanley
William Stanley


Other sonnets in the sequence are written to William Stanley. Leo Daugherty, in his brilliant book, ‘William Shakespeare, Richard Barnfield & the Sixth Earl of Derby’ declared that he had made ‘conclusions of some enormity,’ & actually ascertained the identity of the Handsome Youth;

A few years down the road, & increasingly mindful of Haines’ caution to Buck Milligan that Shakespeare’s sonnets are, ‘the happy huntingground of all minds that have lost their balance,’ I nonetheless came to conclude from the evidence I accumulated that not only was Barnfield’s Ganymede the sixth Earl of Derby, William Stanley, but also that Barnfield’s published poems from 1594 (including over twenty homoerotic love sonnets) were in dialogue with some of Shakespeare’s own homoerotic sonnets to his Fair Youth… we hardly have reason to be very surprised if, after all, Shakespeare’s beloved & revered male addressee might turn out to be William Stanley 

If Shakespeare did accompany Stanley, then one of these amorous encounters could have been played out with the Dark Lady of the Sonnets, of whom Aubrey Burl writes; ‘After so many centuries and after so many people have searched the records for her identity, to those seekers she has remained… the mysterious woman of darkness.’ Things can never be so cut & dried as this, however, & a simple read-through of Stanley’s Garland, a ballad describing his travels on the continent during Shakespeare’s ‘lost years,’ throws up a natural candidate;

Sir William was taken prisoner,
And for his religion condemn’d to die.

A Lady walking under the prison wall,
Hearing Sir William so sore lament,
Unto the Great Turk she did go,
To beg his life was her intent

A Boon, a Boon, thou Emperor,
For thou’rt a Lord of great command ;
Grant me the life of an Englishman,
Therefore against me do not stand,

For I will make him a husband of mine,
Whereby Mahomet he may adore ;
He’ll carry me into his own country,
And safely thither conduct me o’er.

The Lady’s to the Prison gone,
Where that Sir William he did lie ;
Be of good chear, thou Englishman,
I think this day I’ve set thee free ;

If thou wilt yield to marry me,
And take me for to be thy bride ;
To take me into thy own country,
And safely thither to be my Guide.





These events are said tohave taken place in Constantinople , today’s istanbul, & if Leo Daugherty was correct in identifying Stanley as the Handsome Youth of the Sonnets, then it is in the ‘half-year’ or so after he was released from prison that he found himself in the company of a Turkish noble lady who had fallen in love with him. This story contains elements of the ménage a trois between Shakespeare, the Handsome Youth & the Dark Lady, & all that remains is to place Shakespare in Constantinople at the same time, where he would have marveled at the Turkish Lady’s non-Aryan beauty;

In the old age black was not counted fair,
Or if it were, it bore not beauty’s name;
But now is black beauty’s successive heir,
And beauty slandered with a bastard shame:
For since each hand hath put on Nature’s power,
Fairing the foul with Art’s false borrowed face,
Sweet beauty hath no name, no holy bower,
But is profaned, if not lives in disgrace.
Therefore my mistress’ eyes are raven black,
Her eyes so suited, and they mourners seem
At such who, not born fair, no beauty lack,
Sland’ring creation with a false esteem:
Yet so they mourn becoming of their woe,
That every tongue says beauty should look so.


The back-story as provided in the Garland is a perfect fit for that found in the sonnets, from which we must presume that a Stanleyan Grand Tour seems not only possible, but probable. Returning to the sequanza, we can then see the Rival Poet archetype found in the sonnets as Richard Barnfield, dating these particular sonnets to the early 1590s. The picture I am painting  is of a Sequanza being a collection of sequences, an overall umbrella in which to place the similarily-themed & formed writings of a poet. In the same fashion, following the plan of the Divine Comedy, a Dantean sequanza would consist of 100 cantos, subdivided into three books of 33 cantos & started off with an introductory canto. The Shakespearen sequanza is more of a metaphysical beast, less linear than the Dantean, it works with archetypes, onto whose essence a poet’s particular mood &  style may pin his creativity. With Shakespeare, I believe the ‘Handsome Youth’ archetype was used for both William Stanley & Henry Wriothesley, the young Earl of Southampton to whom he dedicated Venus & Adonis. Similarily, when creating my own Shakesperian Sequanza, The Silver Rosewhich you can read here – I comblended the love sonnets I had written to various women into a paean to an idealised female figure I named Sally Cinnamon.


Love’s Dawn

(for Elinor Dickie)

My love, as our love is spreading wider than the morning

Together, with waking day, in the wake of night

Let us settle in silent ecstasy

Observers of cities below                            Watching

From this high advantage                          Developing

On heath, up hill,                                Enveloping moments

As one                                          For like a flight of swallows lift

On ocean winds, above the isles                                      We touch

Soft spirits sail higher                                      Eyes comitting

Pleasure beckons                                        Mercurial kisses

We smile                     As kitten paws a mellow mouse

The lion roars inside these feral souls

& we are born again, the music of the morn

Accompanies these  energies love’s mysteries supply




 (for Glenda Rome)

you         are

poetic     clever








o baby

I love







(for Katie Craig)

Come with me to my bed, so that in love & sleep we may learn to trust one another Circe – The Odyssey Book X

As every maid Odysseus posess’d

Pinn’d Telemachus, home now, to their breast…

I want to wake beside you every day

Tell you I love you, ask if you’re OK

Give you a kiss if you’re going to work

Or hide if you’re menstrual & going bezerk

For ye are the one thing I crave here the most

Ycamped on the crest of this ocean coast

Where under me sea nymphs whisper your name

& above glitter stars with your eye-light’s flame

As an eagle glides by me as deft as you do

All these & this singing reminds me of you

For you are the music that livens my drumming

    Be patient, my love, I am coming…




The first of my Silver Rose sonnets were written in 1998, with the last being etched indelibly only last year. Inbetween I had written literally thousands, some in epic sequences & some were simply individual ones that flew into my mind. A few years ago I realized that to place 154 of my sonnets in a fresh sequence would be an excellent thing to do, & after doing so I have slowly preened & pruned the bush, adding any new sonnets that ‘made the grade,’ which inevitably meant the weakest sonnets would have to be removed. Finally, at the close of last year, I felt the sequence had been brought to perfection, & if any sonnet were to be removed, the whole sense & structure of the sequanza would suffer. In short, the Silver Rose was complete.

My personal immersion in the sonnet form has coincied roughly with my own bardic training, & because of the merits I have discovered of the sonnet in teaching me all aspects of the art, I believe that a Shakesperian sequanza should be placed upon any curriculumnof the new bardic school – perhaps to be read out towards as the bard approaches graduation to his happy classmates. For those poets just setting out, if you are going to write a Shakesperian Sequanza, you must write your first sonnet – & keep writing them over many years to come. Record your life through its little lens, & as you approach your twentieth year of training, really work hard on creating your very own sequanza – you really only get one chance at this, for you only get one life & only the very best of this life’s sonnets should find their way into your collection. Good luck!

Pendragon Lectures (I)


Ye goon to Cauntebury – God yow speede,
The blisful martir quite yow youre meede!
And wel I woot, as ye goon by the weye,
Ye sharpen yow to talen & to pleye;

Picture 697

Eighteen years ago this week, I found myself in a modern cell of a studentesque room, high over the rooftops of Portsmouth, England’s fairest port. In the distance I could make out the masts of HMS Victory, & about me were scattered the first few tomes of my rudimentary poetry library. A few months previously, at the back-end of 1996, I had discovered that I was, in fact,  a poet, the circumstances of which propelled me some years later to compose the following sonnet;

Old Town Barnsley, nineteen-ninety six
Pushing back the bound’ries of the corners of my mind
Cultivating the way of the artistic essences
Even kinda dabbled in a little wyrd occult
Read the esoteric life of Aleister Crowley -
Smack-addl’d mystic of Sumerian lore -
& beginning to write – all the energy within me
Focused upon the page… creation… literature
& my breath, O frail spark, was changed forever
An intellectual girlfriend at the time saw my glow
Gave me her edition of the complete WB Yeats
Starry acolyte of the order of the Golden Dawn,
& as eagles rose from my fermenting imagination
Led by the light of a true Gaelic bardsman
I found I was a poet after all

Since those heady, vernal & rather joyous days – I was only 20 at the time – both my capabilities in the poetic spheres & my library have grown somewhat. On a personal level, I am only a couple of years shy of completing what to Julius Ceasar was a course of training in the Bardic Arts. In his Gallic Wars he states; ‘Reports say that in the schools of the druids, they learn by heart a great number of verses, and therefore some persons remain twenty years under training.’

Little did I know when I set out on my own poetic path that my spirit was that of one the Celtic bards, but over the years I have had many flashes of insight that have all but confirmed that this is my true calling. A great deal of this has been my work with Clio – the muse of history – for to the traditional Celtic poet , & indeed the poets of other more distant lands, such as the Izibongo of Africa, their work consists of both praising their chiefs & chronicling the history of the tribe. One of the last examples of the practice were the bards of the Earls of Thomond, who in the 17th century produced praise-poems & genealogies for their noble sponsors.


Despite a recent resurgance in dressing up as Druids down Wales way, the true British Bardic Colleges are long gone. To redress this,  I have had to become both my own pupil & teacher, which has led to the initiation of these lectures. With only two years left until my graduation, so to speak, I thought it would be prudent to re-assess all the poetical studies I have undertaken these past two decades, & at the same time set some kind of universal benchmark as certain poets find themselves compelled to do from  time to time (Sydney, Shelley, Arnold, Elliot). As for my blog, for these next two years I shall be exclusively working on these lectures – my life & travels may at times creep into the text, but in essence my posts shall be completely devoted to a personal dissertation in the poetic field. The final result, I believe, & if I pass my own stringent course of examination, will be my accession to some kind of druidical status : not the mistletoe-chopping, virgin-sacrificing type, but a modern-day version who may influence social matters through the word-weavings of his pen. The title obtained will be that of a Pendragon, whom in Ceasar’s words; ‘Of all these druids one is chief, who has the highest authority among them.’

To assist me in the endeavour, I am slowly gathering in my library down from Scotland – the first installment arriving a couple of weeks back from East Lothian, being a couple of hundred  books & my old computer. Among the collated tomes is the very excellent Selected Essays of TS Elliot (1917-1932), which are something of a similar project to my own. Elliot was the last meaningful poet to write extensively on the art, & interestingly enough his essay-writing began exactly a century before my own shall end. Elliot, & his pal Ezra Pound, were the heralds of the modern poet, who muscled the iambic pentameter off the page & opened up the infinite array of possibilities latent within Free Verse, which for myself found its perfect pitch in the American Beat poetry of the 50s & 60s. Since then, Free Verse has rather waddled along like a duck out of water, & I believe that the art of Poetry must in some way be reset, that we have come full circle.

Picture 522

The same sentiments are etched into my copy of Elliot’s Essays – I do not know when I scribbled them down, but it must have been sometime after the 20th November 2003, when I was due to return it to Brixton Library. My guess is 2006, for it was in the winter of that year, approaching the half-way point along the Bardic path, that I completed my first batch of poetical essays, on the Sicilian island of Maretimo. Whenever exactly I made the above scholia, they form a perfectly apt prologue-cum-manifesto to what I hope to achieve these two years coming;

I have perfected poetry on a personal level & now wish to project that mastery onto a wider field by selecting the choicest fruits from the orchard… by founding a school to study all previous poetry as ‘classical’… to form a launch-pad for any future evolution of the Art.

Poetry has drawn full circle & is complete. The twentieth century adventure is over, there is nothing more to be gained from persisting in the all-conquering modes we utilise. We should now concentrate on the poetry of life & propel it into such poetic devices as we have created over the ages.

Seven centuries ago, the heraldic war-shields of the English were slightly altered, with the leopards being changed into lions. In the same fashion, it is time that the poets of the world transform themselves into nobler, more powerful beast, that they shall once more be respected as the equals of kings. For this reason, & one of self-determination, I have commenced this protracted journey through poetry & its accompanying literature. I do not know how many posts I shall write, but I do know when they shall end – mid April 2017. In due course I hope to establish a new agenda for poetical intercourse, which shall draw massively on the past, but also project well into the future. There are poets out there as yet untrained & as yet unborn, & it is for these that I commit my own erudition into indelible words. For them I shall offer these fine words of the 20th century Polish poet, Czeslaw Milosz;

On a steep street somewhere a schoolboy comes home from the library, carrying a book. The book has a title: Afloat in the Forest. Stained by the fingers of diligent Indians. A ray of sunlight on Amazon lianas, leaves spreading on the green water in mats so thick a man can walk across them. The dreamer wanders from one bank to the other, the monkeys, brown & hairy as a nut, make hanging bridges in trees above his head. He is the future reader of our poets

Czeslaw Milosz
Czeslaw Milosz