The Poetry of James Sale (My Father)

Hi everyone, it’s been a while since I did a straight blog, as I’ve been busy working on the weekly serialisation of ‘The Door in the Mountain’, but finally I’ve gotten round to another one!

Above is an audio file of my father doing a performance of one of his greatest poems, ‘Present at my Father’s Death’. He performed it and three others on the 31st of August at a special poetry event in Bournemouth, alongside two other great poets. I’d like to say a few things about this poem, this performance, and the story behind it.

Firstly, I accept that I have a completely biased and skewed opinion, as I’m his son. Secondly, that this poem moved me to tears when I listened to it: I wasn’t even there live, but the sheer, cathartic quality of the moment described leaves one breathless. I later found out from a member of the audience that many had shed tears at either this poem.

This poem works so powerfully on the emotions for several reasons. It operates without any sense of melodrama, or even of nostalgia: the lens of the poem is totally invisible. One can look for sneaky tricks to make us feel sorry for him, or his father – the kind of clichés we always detect in TV soaps (‘When you hit her she was pregnant!’ – *theme tune rolls*), but this poem contains none of them. By all accounts his father was unpleasant, but that doesn’t skew our sympathy in the end.

Unusually, in terms of my father’s style, this is a poem in free-verse, and in that is generated its greatest strength, at the end the ‘heart stopped’, just as the last line is cut terminally short. But to say it is without structure is of course ludicrous. There is a structure working behind the scenes, and a plethora of techniques. The alliteration of the ‘b’s at the beginning ‘blind’, ‘babbling’, ‘back’, ‘butter’, ‘bread’, creates a rhythm of familiarity which is then broken with the ‘whiskey bottle pointing down’ – the d sound interrupting the pattern, and generating an ominous note. It foreshadows that his father is going to go ‘down’, in every sense.

The desperation of his father’s (my grandfather’s) final invocation of ‘names’, is brought to bear with the subtle iambic rhythm of the lines ‘taut, hard, bereft of ease / sound without sense or so it seemed’ – in addition a para-rhyme propels the momentum even further. However, this rhythm is terminated abruptly with the final sequence:

‘I had never known them,

or him, I realised, and now I never would.

As he connected far from me, as his heart

stopped.’

This is what real poetry looks like. Tangible, emotional and by all accounts spiritual (whatever your definition of ‘spiritual’ is).

Thanks very much for reading, I just thought I’d share some of my father’s fine work. You can read more of his poetry by visiting his website.

‘Till next time!!!

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