CHINA CLAY RLF podcast on influences
NO POETRY in COLLECTED (RLF) on rewards
CONFESSIONS OF A LAPSED CLASSICIST (in COLLECTED)
BOB ENNOBLED: BOB DYLAN AND THE NOBEL PRIZE (ENGLISH)
– appeared in ENGLISH ASSOCIATION Fellowship e-Bulletin
WHY I WRITE (RLF)
YEW TREE HOUSE (RLF)
DEAD-HEADING THE COSMOS (LONDON MAGAZINE)
INTERVIEW IN ACUMEN MAGAZINE – January 2013
By kind permission of Patricia Oxley, Editor of Acumen.
Interview appears on pp. 13-20 of the downloadable PDF)
Of all the poems I have written so far, ‘Recension Day’ is the one which has been anthologised and reprinted most often. I cannot clearly remember writing it but I do recall that when I had finished it I wondered whether it was a poem or a song lyric.
Around 1990 or so, I sent it among a batch of poems to The Observer and had an enthusiastic response from the poetry editor who was keen to print the lyric. I seem to think the editor was Kate Kellaway and the poem soon appeared in The Observer. After that I thought no more of it. About a year later, I sent some more poems and was told that ‘Recension Day’ had prompted one of the biggest postbags they had received for a poem but that they had lost my address. Here was the small remainder of what they could find of the letters addressed to me. Oh well. It was the first real inkling I had that this song-like poem has some kind of wider appeal or resonance.
The poem duly appeared in my next collection Taking Liberties published by Enitharmon in 1993. It has since been anthologised in Forward Anthology of Best Poems for 1994, Poem for the Day (1994), Being Alive (Bloodaxe 2004), Penguin’s Poems for Love (2009) and 100 Prized Poems (2016). It was read, kindly, slowly and eloquently, by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac on American Radio in 2000 and it has been requested on Radio 4’s Poetry Please. It was featured along with his comments in The Poetry Pharmacy by William Sieghart in 2017 and then in the Daily Telegraph. It also takes the fourteen-line slot in a recent e-anthology called The Vanishing and edited by Shae Spreafico for Elsinore Books.
I have often recited the poem at readings and so I should now know it by heart. A friend who lives in Italy was astonished when an English acquaintance recited it to him word perfectly. It was all most gratifying but I have written much else besides and I sometimes wish that some of my other work had received greater or similar attention.
Once, a band emailed to ask whether they could set it to music and attached a sample of their songs which I so disliked that I refused permission. But the arrival of the Internet and YouTube means that copyright is harder to control and the poem now seems to have adopted a new online life of its own. Someone calling himself Tom O’Bedlam performs it aloud on YouTube and apparently the Poem Elf of America has lodged its last four lines in a tattoo parlour window near Ft Lauderdale and photographed the result. The poem obviously speaks to and for people in ways I could never have predicted.
I suppose I can’t really complain because even more than huge royalties we poets value real and appreciative readers in an age when the supply of poems far exceeds demand. Sometimes, I’d be grateful if more of my poems sang their way into anthologies and other minds but that too is out of my control. So here it is again flying its flimsy copyright symbol.
Unburn the boat, rebuild the bridge,
Reconsecrate the sacrilege,
Unspill the milk, decry the tears,
Turn back the clock, relive the years,
Replace the smoke inside the fire,
Unite fulfilment with desire,
Undo the done, gainsay the said,
Revitalize the buried dead,
Revoke the penalty and clause,
Reconstitute unwritten laws,
Repair the heart, untie the tongue,
Change faithless old to hopeful young,
Inure the body to disease
And help me to forget you please.
© Duncan Forbes
September 2019: To my surprise, a friend sent me a screenshot of Rachel Johnson’s tweet on Twitter which presented a scan of the complete poem in Poem for the Day. Under the heading, ‘It is Recension Day’ she tweeted the poem in apparent repudiation of her brother Boris’s Brexit policy. The tweet and indeed poem have garnered numerous likes alongside some weird responses.
And even more recently, the poem has been requested a book about death and dying called Life. Death. Whatever, edited by Louise Winter and Anna Lyons and due to be published in these times of the coronavirus in April 2020 by Green Tree (Bloomsbury). I was asked for WAL (World All Language) rights which had to be explained to me and so I would be interested to see the poem in French or Swahili, for example. Anyway, I like to think that the poem may now have a life of its own.