Missed yesterday. I’ll try to catch up.
From Kensal Rise to Heaven is a series of snapshots of urban squalor, written in unrhymed quatrains. A description isn’t just a description but a view through the poet’s lenses, a snapshot of his sensibility and opinion.
The “passed deadlines” on old posters must be “disappointed/ to find they still exist”. Numbers for prostitutes adorn the public phone booths, dogs and pigeons rake through the rubbish, the street is spattered with blood from the evening before. The usual black humour is much in evidence. MH describes the repainting of a local Chinese restaurant around a naked calendar girl and finds time to mention that “I see an orange topcoat calls for a pink undercoat.” As for the plague of flat-roofed houses– “some are truncated pyramids, others whole glazed shacks”, the mix of the positive-sounding ‘pyramids’ and ‘glazed’ being entirely undercut by ‘truncated’ and ‘shacks’ (note those thumping stresses at the end of that line too) – a long way from the title’s ‘heaven’ of course. I’m sure there’s a name for that technique…
There is a political dimension to this although it’s never specifically mentioned. This is 1986, Thatcher’s Britain, the age of the yuppie, what was billed as a time of privitisation, the emasculation of the trade union movement, an economic boom and prosperity (soon followed by a bust), but Hofmann’s poem captures how things really were for most people, many of whom – inexplicably – had voted Conservative.
My favourite lines are:
The surfaces are friable, broken and dirty, a skin unsuitable
for chemical treatment. Building, repair and demolition
go on simultaneously, indistinguishably. Change and decay.
– When change is arrested, what do you get?
‘Change and decay’ is lifted from the hymn, Abide with Me – “Change and decay in all around I see. O thou who changest not, abide with me.”