No 14 - May 2001
Macrocephalic Stanley Spencer in Macedonia
cannot paint, only draw, to amuse the soldiers
as they crouch day and night in trenches
directly under mountain-mounted Bulgarian guns.
“I was entranced by the landscape--low plains
with their lines of trees looking through trees
to further plains of fields, and here and there
a figure in dirty white. It was not a landscape,
it was a spiritual world.”
He’s a trained nurse, a bather and cleaner of wounded
flesh, a dragger of men on mule-led travoys.
He buries the dead, and tries to find markers for the graves.
‘I slept on the side of the hill...stars overhead...
grass fields, and Lake Ardzan twinkling below...
Quiet, and murmuring of men’s voices, rather comforting.
It was dark when I arrived...I peered into the hillside,
seemed to discern the white objects of bivouacs, or the glowing
object of a tent with a candle or hurricane lamp.
In the Graeco-Turkish village of Kalinova,
Spencer wanders up and down abandoned streets,
feeling closer to home and Cookham comforts, building
a petrol tin hut with “a fireplace and a little mantelpiece
with a chimney stack.” He reads books by the fire--
books about “Michaelangelo and Velasquez, early
Flemish painters,” sent with a box of chocolates from England by a friend.
“Beginning early in the morning I would cook rashers
for sixty men, two each...One day I was reading Paradise Lost and
supposed to be watching a side of bacon that was simmering
in the dixie. I smelled faint burning, but I was too late.
He (the cook) loomed out of the darkness with his black dog,
gave a kick to the dixie and sent the lid flying, and
up rose a column of smoke...”
Spencer swims in rock pools after flash floods,
maculate as a trout, light-speckled, boyish.
All rituals remind him of family rituals,
washing his shirt, eating biscuits or fresh bread macerated with tea.
In his head he paints the right wall frieze of Burghclere:
macilent men gathering stones for a Red Cross
air identity circle and playing “housey-housey”. Pack mules
drink from the stream, while an orderly skips a stone.
After malaria, a foot abscess, a sinus infection--
he is well enough to volunteer for the front,
leaving behind his comfortable hut and simple duties
for night patrols through barbed wire, grenade in hand.
He needs little sleep. He notices wildflowers in bloom--
“primrose, violet, and celandine” --and gardens by empty houses
blooming even under shelling, the “spring offensive
so dreaded in the Somme and at Ypres when mud
swallows up two whole armies, horses and all.
In Basjirli, “the whole range or facade...in its entire
length has disappeared into a long cotton wool snake of cloud...
appearing somewhat like the hem and bottom part
of a skirt of some huge deity.”
The Vardar mountains are his chosen place, to which
he had to return, even at great peril:
“I have just been trying to draw these mountains.
The snow being up them, the ravines are very clear,
and they look like spear-wounds.”
Within these “spear-wounds” in 1921, he paints
“The Crucifixion--three crosses in three ravines
while the crucifiers stand on the table lands and
Mary has “slithered down the escarpment side.”
Malarial fevers cost him his drawings, his kit
left behind, discarded-- but in his mind
the mule hooves trample him, the delirium
of war surrounds him, and the immaculate
mountains are stabbed almost to death.
He sees the war, later, behind his eyes always,
like a mackle--a printer’s blur--a doubling of vision.
- 10th Muse
- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
- Tolling Elves
- Ugly Tree, The
- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The