June 20, 2010

Peter Cater

Peter Cater [England]

Peter Cater was born in Hampshire in 1955. His early years were spent in Paris, Germany and then in Kent, prior to gaining an open scholarship to New College, Oxford, to read English in 1973. While there he began to take poetry more seriously, and a handful of his first mature poems were published in university magazines. As President of the Poetry Society he encouraged a wider appreciation of Eastern European poets, including Miroslav Holub and Zbigniew Herbert. Subsequently, he spent six years in Wiesbaden, Germany, where he combined teaching English with the development of his linguistic ability to the point where he could read in the original Kafka and Paul Celan, both formative influences.

After his return to the UK in 1986, he took up a career teaching English literature in London, which continues to the present. His more recent work is informed by his passion for music and the visual arts, again with an emphasis on Slav culture, but also by a response to landscape, particularly the unique atmosphere of Dartmoor in the South West of England, with its fascinating and enigmatic pre-Roman archaeology. Other places which have a bearing on his poetry and outlook are Prague, Moscow and St Petersburg, frequent ports of call when not getting away from it all in the Slovenian Alps. A number of poems, largely from his Oxford years, were recently published in Green Integer magazine, thanks to the encouragement and advocacy of the Munich-based poet and academic Richard Dove.

Winner of the PIP Gertrude Stein Awards for Innovative Poetry in English

Prague Diptych
Strahov, St. Vitus, a vertical language
makes light of the evening. Overhead Europe
lets fall on the Old Town’s upturned faces
(does the city keep faith with its own skies?)
red gold and ashes, an earnest regard.
Light turns to water as in your voice
a story tells its fortune, future tense
to body forth its visions unconfounded
by clocks and bells, by all their clamour raised against
the Founder-Queen on Vyšehrad, prophetic
in her future myth.
The Winter King, he melted on White Mountain
and left behind a name as in the folk tale,
a name – and twenty-seven severed heads
to keep a watch, their vigil ever
fixed and frozen in all weathers.
Two houses. Now at their coming together
a house with two suns, the conjunction
at once of a disc on fire
to show and a radiant face to bestow
on the city its gold: a chalice
for the ashes of Jan Hus; for us
these shadows cast
as epitaph, this silence in cupped hands.

II Kafka-Motif

Alchimistengässchen. Exile welcomes
the Everyman home – to lose himself further
as only he can
in a foreign body, an alien tongue
with its insect-inflections; to hang
on the world’s every word
for the clue, though certain to be denied,
for the clue which, spoken, unravels
this labyrinth, its intricate play
of tissue and gristle, of held and exhaled
(your unquiet breath the cry of the jackdaw);
certain, though tried, to be denied judgement,
this is the world, the word it amounts to –
a prison-house turned inside out. A vision
of itself the castle rises
as the eye does to a weatherbeaten sky.

Reprinted from Green Integer Review, No. 10 (November-December 2007). Copyright ©2007 by Peter Cater.

Figures in a Landscape

For Ros Stockwell

Light is the lie of the land and time
its word to keep at once the going hence
to those who are to watch and also there
of old you drain the eye of warmth terrain
long passing into dearth averted from
the look on which it lights or when
the devil drives him out Poor Tom
a-shiver forked and bare poor
creature of earth on uplands crossed
at peril creased by burn and scar

Of the place and to the hour call hither
from scar and burn the weatherbeaten spirit
Marwood at a word of mouth to scour
though disaffected the sulphurous pit
that breath drawn hereabouts might charring
reek its supplications to the air

might wear to naught or congregated wear
to a sly resemblance the face of the heavens
Circle lens and focus at
first light then sight discloses
flushed with pigment
earthen ochre red
the figment of a human head lips sealed
ears stopped the eyelids sewn together
and cradled in the bone a world
created and cremated in its image

Awoken it is brightness or on waking in the ashes
is this leading hamstrung to and fro but then through lashes

Now buried light revives to open on
the dream that labours in its underworld
to shape the likeness of a human head
a life-in-death mask scored and whorled
with horsehair mane and infant’s caul
By one who was to serve me taken up
to the high places, there to be let fall
and falling wake from lustre
to hollowness and thunder in the air

(how all rolls back but this, left hanging in
the last of breath which it is his to draw)

or when the soul apprenticed to its bane
was seen a walking fire upon the moor
or mired in the flesh was seen, a flame
about its fleshy lips,
from which there issued cries of moorland birds –

there my offences found me out and bound me
with a rusty chain; there the curse
unpursed its many mouths
that charity might be withheld from one
whose last is brightness spreading on the air.

The track has lost its footing to be taken
for one who stumbles with a blind man’s compass
by ditch and rut in water to the knees
yet humble to appease his salt tears shaken
from sins that weep their causes out of mind
Bloodlines in their lightless reaches bring
a cry to birth, some ghost embarking on
the world which is to cast its creature out
with no more than a sack of skin (the worm
will moisten in its wormy bed) soon scarred
and burnt to call his own, a shudder
where the love should be and such a name
as will not answer when the air grows thin – his breath
(your breath beside itself) now leaves you
with a creature’s selfish care
to lodge where no light reaches.
Sundered thus,
what exequies will serve? Ahasuerus
in ecstasy most wretched bound upon
his fiery wheel, as effigy
forever turning to his long transgression.
Borne in upon the sense, a pulse compels
these voices to disclose the night’s expanse
(these such as rising nightly in our throats
call forth its sometime radiance), to summon
beast and bird and forest star,
scalewing whirr about my ear (up there
the Zodiac a wheel in frozen motion);

constellate the forest floor with earth-
born angels in the circle of their stealth
and there await the word – our light-
bearer even now with Heaven restored –
that would athwart a proper name be heard
in this misshapen hour to issue from
the beast laid on her back in dustmouth psalm.

Thorn in soft tissue and splinter
of bone, next borne aloft on hooks your kill
will no more winter in the heartdark lodge
nor stir when once the earth returns
but on the sudden as a cry
be torn throat first and breath from breath –

all this and also this the star has brought to birth.

Copyright ©2010 by Peter Cater.

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