Sunday, January 18, 2015

"The Armada" - A poem by Brian Patten

Encouraged by the great Philip Larkin, Brian Patten joined Roger McGough and Adrian Henri to form the Liverpool poets. Their main aim was to make poetry immediate and accessible for their audience. Brian Patten's first poetry collection "Little Johnny's Confession" was published in 1967. Since then, he has published numerous poetry collections as well many books, novels and poems for children as well as prose and drama for stage and radio. He has been described as a highly engaging performer, and gives readings frequently. Over the years he has read alongside such poets as Pablo Neruda, Allen Ginsberg, Stevie Smith, Laurie Lee and Robert Lowell. 

When Brian Patten was asked what poetry can do, his reply was: "I feel that poetry permits us to wake up our memory and association and view familiar things in a different way. If I was to define poetry, I would say, 'One of the many things a poem can do / Is remind us what we forgot we knew'". 

This is not a poem only about loss. Brian Patten goes much deeper, exploring themes such as childhood, the passing of time and the way we conceive the present and the past. What makes this poem so powerful is the truth that resonates in every word. The simplicity of every line, the choice of words, the perfect structure and the lucid awareness of the phrase, in the middle of the poem, defining time revisited.

The Armada (1996)

Long, long ago

when everything I was told was believable
and the little I knew was less limited than now,
I stretched belly down on the grass beside a pond
and to the far bank launched a child's armada.
A broken fortress of twigs,
the paper-tissue sails of galleons,
the waterlogged branches of submarines -
all came to ruin and were on flame
in that dusk-red pond.
And you, mother, stood behind me,
impatient to be going,
old at twenty-three, alone,
thin overcoat flapping.
How closely the past shadows us.
In a hospital a mile or so from that pond
I kneel beside your bed and, closing my eyes,
reach out across forty years to touch once more
that pond's cool surface,
and it is your cool skin I'm touching;
for as on a pond a child's paper boat
was blown out of reach
by the smallest gust of wind,
so too have you been blown out of reach
by the smallest whisper of death,
and a childhood memory is sharpened,
and the heart burns as that armada burnt,
long, long ago.

Taken from Brian Patten's poetry collection "Armada" published in 1996 by Flamingo

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