A weekly highlight of A Leap in the Dark is the first public reading, by Michael Hughes, of the latest canto of Jonathan Gibbs's long-form poem Spring Journal, an emerging work-in-progress that charts the course of the current crisis. It is an uncanny experience, to be part of an audience that is living through the time-line of events navigated by the poem, and to share with Jonathan his personal and public take on what the hell is going on. Here, with his kind permission, is the latest canto.
Sun shines easy, sun shines gay
On shuttered bookshop, cakeshop, market,
On lido, casino and penny arcade,
On Trafalgar Square and its sleeping lions,
On the gastro pubs and the tapas bars,
On the pavement queues and the pavement traffic,
With the glance to the eyes and the masks and scarves
Pulled tight across the nose and the mouth.
Half my life I’ve lived in this city,
Working my way around a way around words
In newspaper offices, a small university
Teaching ways arounds words to a gaggle of students;
Hemingway, Chekhov, Woolf, the usual round,
The comma splice and passive voice,
And to hear a new poem read aloud
In Monday’s class: “I really like what you’re doing.”
But life was comfortable, life was fine
With a partner, family and career,
And all of this learned, from sine to cosine,
In the calculus novus of the self in the world.
The croissants were fresh, the parties were fun,
The walls were painted in Farrow and Ball
Things were done, undone or half-done,
And nobody cared, for the days were young.
Nobody niggled, nobody cared,
The soul was cocooned by the interest rates,
That were, and remain, historically low; the soul was unprepared
But the television flickered reassuringly on the walls and ceiling.
We drove around Kent in an MPV –
Margate, Whitstable, Dungeness –
Yelling along to ‘Echo Beach’
And ‘Gimme Sympathy’ and ‘Life on Mars?’.
And sun shone thinly, sun shone dense
On cherry tree and raspberry cane
And foxes lolloping over the fence
With raddled tails and eyes of augury.
We slept in Egyptian cotton, we cooked with Spanish wine
We transferred the balance and paid no mind
To how the sum of debt inclined
And hummed with the hum of background radiation.
We were safe outside the dotcom bubble,
Were married three days before 9/11,
Bought a flat, then a house, with minimal trouble,
Lost nothing in the crash but our sense of balance,
And today have salaried jobs to keep us afloat:
It’s the generation behind
Who missed their spot on the boat,
Or were pushed out, rather, as the boat left the harbour,
And the harbour was mined and set ready to blow;
Let them sift through the wrack and the dreck
Of the future we mortgaged and held in escrow,
They’ve time enough to reckon their zero hour losses.
But roads ran easy, roads ran gay,
As we followed a road atlas clear of the city
For a well-earned, well-heeled weekend break
West to Bath or the Brecon Beacons,
And diesel, which praise God was cleaner than clean,
Was less than a pound to the litre,
And the leaning car unrolled the endless green
Of England’s rental rural history.
But that was then and now is now,
The car stands idle at the kerb,
The country’s for the country, the town for the town,
The brow of that hill, the dip and curve of that valley,
The tranquil shade of that bluebell wood
Is a memory held close under the tent of the bedsheet,
And the sun, like a thing only half understood,
Pricks the air in places, it grows purple, and fades.
And the crisis hangs before us
Like the flipside of a memory,
And the theatre resounds with the lamentation of the chorus:
“The right steps at the right time, guided by
The best scientific advice”; yet here we are
With 32,000 dead, and more not counted, and
More to come. No matter how low you set the bar
We have not reached it, we’re nowhere near.
And we curl up on the sofa for the National Theatre Live
The soaring Twelfth Night, the clanging Frankenstein,
And we welcome new babies for Boris and Carrie, and Elon and Grimes,
And wave to asteroid 1998 OR2 as it passes.
And once again
The crisis is denied, with lies piled on lies;
Our press is four fifths rank, its stain
Will not wash out with mere tears and shouting.
And here we are – just as before – safe in our skins;
Glory to God for VE Day
Put out the bunting and bang on your pans,
Call it winning, then go down fighting.