Poems by Jeff Hilson

I first visited the US in the summer of 1987 to visit a university friend and after a brief stay in New York City we traveled to coastal Maine where his family had a summer house. From there we hired an enormous car and drove through all the New England states. I was utterly seduced by the landscape and set about writing about it. Looking now at these poems they are the outcome of an undirected and, frankly, haphazard education in poetry, a mishmash of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop filtered through Seamus Heaney and Philip Larkin, the only postwar non-US poets I had been exposed to at school (oh for an English education). If only someone then had turned me on to James Schuyler and Fairfield Porter instead of Amy Clampitt and Edward Hopper! Postgraduate study of Olson and, later, Zukofsky went some way towards rectifying things and during the nineties I listened attentively to alternative British and US poetries at London reading series such as SubVoicive, East/West and Platform. I didn’t begin writing with any real intent until joining Bob Cobbing’s Writers Forum workshops in late 1999. I was thirty-three years old.

My first real book, stretchers (2006), is formally not a million miles from the later sections of Zukofsky’s “A” (long skinny poems with scant attention paid to ‘poetic’ niceties such as line endings) though its particular disjunctive modulations probably owe more to Stein than to Objectivist poetics. The examples I’ve included here, however, are not altogether representative of the text as a whole whose title, I should add, is a steal from the opening paragraph of Huckleberry Finn. My next book, Bird bird (2009), forty-one prose poems ‘about’ British birds, has something of the New Sentence to it though with an attendant lyricism I find it hard to shake off, and happily. In The Assarts (2010), a book of sonnets, is to date my most explicit attempt to grapple with, as a British poet, my debt to US poetry. The topography of the poems is mostly British but if the twentieth-century sonnet is an American form (as has been suggested, not entirely erroneously), then these are American poems. Edwin Denby, Ted Berrigan, Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley, Ebbe Borregaard, Piero Heliczer, Joseph Ceravolo, and Stephen Rodefer (not to mention of course the un-American Sir Thomas Wyatt) are all in there somewhere and I’m really very glad.


From stretchers

… something beginning w/
(down bert) the cheaper
the sofa the (down bert)
her hands on a dish her
right hand a final so cold
in the frigidaire (33 is
but her stances thin
& pretty as a found bell
as a small click (easy chair)
& the yellow sidewalks
goofassing in the wee hours
constantly killed granite
a way-turned light marked
“lockers” file rapists rising
a cop coming “combination
sweaters” the latticini in c
(reaching de witt he turned
off the gas (down bert) is it
a nose or a hose what ship
are you on (landing those
hands & our bringing girls
of knotty pine (thats good
because you are a dull
mugger now in a slow arc
(seriously I really am
mugging again up to the
curb ing ting cinct wildly
now (if I was a badly
framed mugger thats all)
and then he said nylons
gone forever ping-cats what
cats ping-cats ever cracked
you must be bert she said …




… besides poetry he flops
over on us (poetry nak) w/
my eye my little dam fuck
protest ok rexroth many
many thanks I just left so
much for li’l’ ol’ bones
no one prints ’em
slacknesses fit that single
gross poster (also that I
am very attracted to the
maintains which is fucking
dull it says nothing about
isabelle et marie as gin
relations says ann to him
(you spot carbona that
allusion to stout wires in
piles just so so taken is ply
ie me ie poor e ie fuck ’em
through these poems (this
is just to say I rented it
off dec sliding south-east
(how the docks like bon
voyage like in little dam
boats to london makes the
gig hideous just sliding into
such strips as flatness
bareness dam married chair
kicking is the bug (fuck that
phrase honest content
o to o to be o to be old
mans organs in aluminum
lakes of d & c …



From Bird bird

Oenanthe oenanthe

Found it on a ramble, comma, sometimes dense, sometimes lax. A weaver a comber a weaver a reeler. It’s very overcrowding cold & the carpeters are top, top, they’re the new bread. Sorry found it on a bramble. On the other hand a hone bee. Even overarching they send out canes & then the wheatear cometh then my slight niece & everything’s tails, wood & that, true bunnies jumping, comma, faggots shaving down. Saps such a novel scene & then it’s all so overreaching. Pause. Nearly spoiled it with the carpeters they’re so cheerful as the plough goes under & turneth up the wheatears’ wreck.




Corvus corone corone (carrion crow)

Who would collaborate with me now jim dine’s dead, the artist jim dine. Oh my honey he probably died though and was gone away like the heavy crow in the morning or, because of comparison, like the rain coming up. After this I ran out of the empty house of folklore. I heart this house. I think it’s raining, raining in my heart house. Didn’t it on the hydropiper & the hydropiper’s son? They’re realer than the heavy crow whose tiny bushy throat smells. A heavy crow can have a tiny throat. I want jim dine dead or alive. Marries nancy minto & they move to london in 1966 or 1967 it depends who you believe.




Grus grus (common crane)

These then the isles we were blown from, to, from. From this melancholy trade & back to caulking, boring, back to old boats & the sea. Cracks is a dangerous sign see as is slacks especially dune-slacks. Cracks where the cranes lived old & wet the cranes down in the deadwood. There the front crane told a story to the back crane how he slipped on a cranesbill in a dune-slack. It was a short story. The little yellow pansy story surely? Surely they lost each other in the tall hard grass story? Surely the cranesbill grows mainly on the plains? O spica-venti! O campestris! O inarticulata!




Pica pica (magpie)

This is an idle tale all hat & thumbs & another one for money. So check the pipes of thy boat boat boat. I’m out now its my birthday better its my bye-bye. Then again I run around. The sprig to the wire & the wire to the ground. Then again I turn. Jenkins comes & we all say “ah” or “gee” & I love him for a whole year & he tells me something new (by the way the oldenburg girls go in the sonnenschein). Gee there’s jenkins leaving. The other birds follow & he keeps them flying in his hiding-place & to carry his hay & he comes no more his feathers have been rubbed off in the sonnenschein. The turning bird too is everywhere else. Neighbour yr gutterbox. I, have, a, very, english, joy.



From In The Assarts

   (for Tim Atkins)

If I say a little about the timber
sorry I am become all flora interruptus.
I am tiny & exotic.
I am incapable.
I got the painless mumps
but I got you babe where we are
up in this famous ancient tree.
On my early map look over
there is our anti-highwayman trench.
Let’s gamekeep our own wood.
You be holly I’m a nut.
Later in the common market he died
not being shy storming
her world where he & forgot beautiful old rhyme.





So long Mr I done my sums &
I need no more ploughs.
Once one is the only one I know a man I flee from.
He adds up to this & this.
X & Y I flee from
what they did I don’t have to be in the Middle
A picnic is this plus this.
To put in it a stolen trout.
My favourite place is to be in the middle
of the road.
Oi, if, I, say, you, it is not enough Mr
I done my sums
& I need more plums.





My moat has an elaborate diver. Not so.
He rises & sinks just like a boat
which is full of coney holes
I made o, o, o, by being so fly.
I filled it up with new eau,
so much so, my moat is mentioned in Milton’s odes.
Now my moat is dry.
Now my moat is dry
my diver is my driver. He drives me
to country shows not in a bateau
where we look at deer but being so shy
I return always without a doe.
No my boat’s so full of holes because
my boat's so full of moles.





I fucking love you months
January & February happily
together March & April
on their own & the smaller ones
May, June & obvious July.
August is very rare
we have to ask what happened
to August in September &
delicately. October there is
nothing to be said for
which like all fashions changes.
Months can be used to remember
like November November I
fucking love you sonnets