Vision Field: Four Poems by Jeremy Reed

By Jeremy Reed


Jeremy Reed is one of Britain’s most imaginatively intense writers and a visionary in the definitive meaning of that word. A poet in all he is and writes, he is a prolific chronicler of consciousness as it unfolds on different planes, and in relation to personality, place, history and culture. Writing, for him, is literally indivisible from being. His many books – auto/biographical fiction and non-fiction, poetry, essay and extended reflection – seek a form of language that can speak with equal authority to the concerns of the present moment and the ceaseless urgencies of human be/longing. He is in that sense a profoundly cinematic writer, and his work has taken on the radical imagistic and narrative implications of the moving image far more than most. His newest title, The Grid, a speculative fiction about Shakespeare and Marlowe and set in a future London, is published by Peter Owen this Autumn.

Avedon's Burroughs Portrait

The face is anatomically exact,
a stripped, forensic, near exhaustion shot,
seer and seen acutely locked
into a frame;
the St James’ tie like a silk river run
from a deep collar, pocketed, ice-blue,
fitted, TM Lewin, Jermyn Street shirt.
The suit’s gun grey: the left hand casually
stops at the navel, like it’s a lotus
he’s apprehended opening out inside.
Bill looks smoked-out of a fortressed bunker,
a reptile surfaced to sun on a log
beside a muddy Amazonian pool.
He’s like his books extraterrestrial,
stoned by a deep river melancholy,
the left eye raised above the right,
fractionally 2cm up,
the eyes occupying separate identities,
the right seeing in gold, the left in green?

He’s a chemical lab, dependencies
written into the genial, down-mooded
resignation of a look cooked
by opiates, circa Cities of the Red Night.
He’s like an endgame that won’t terminate,
a prose-czar bottled in Jamesons,
a mug shot captive in a whiteout space,
dejected, the lines on his face
so grainy they’re testicular.
He works at it, the concentrated style
that’s cool, but loaded like a Luger.
He stares at his reversed image
in Avedon’s lens. He’s used up
old world stock, hanging on in time,
a man downloading his genes into text,
his novels and celebrity
insignificant to the post-shoot drink,
the full-on Jack Daniels that’s coming next.


Bloody Mary

Red icebergs shattered in a glass,
auroral tiara with cracked pepper
Tabasco in the undertow:

it tastes hot, but it’s really cold,
like feelings we can’t separate
from loving someone, all aspects

slippery as goldfish in a bowl.
A vodka in a scarlet dress
stagy as Ute Lemper,

its temper’s unpredictable
like Wasabi and Habanero
or Worcester sauce tangoing tomato

with a sharp taste of leather.
It’s not a gunshot to the throat,
more a slow burn that separates

into component tastes, the lime
gets tweaky if unmollified
by mid-ballast horseradish.

It’s a capricious, husky thing,
a ruminative, slow hand trick,
you get to know at gut level,

the vodka underpinning it
raised as raw firepower in the blood,
a CIA agent policing the cells

with a kick like a cobra’s hood.
An ex pat mixed it first at Harry’s Bar,
spiked the membrane with a celery stick,

got a red brick crust on the lip,
and knew he’d done it, felt the bite hit in
and raised an eyebrow in silent applause.


30 Bedford Square

for James Lasdun  

Your cluttered office, 30 Bedford Square,
the 1980s like a champagne cork
impacting an abrupt trajectory –
you looking like James Dean, your hair
structured like his, but wavier,
cool with the lived-in flash prerogative
of 25? You were my star-turn editor 
who wrote like Nabokov, each line compact
with sighting an optimal metaphor.
You read my drafts in red Silvine notebooks,
the light brokering rhomboids on the floor,
and taught me how completion is the art
of reappraisal, and a poem needs
maintenance, like a fast Jag, overhaul. 
I’d come in Wednesdays, diesel in the air,
cooking with carbons on Tottenham Court Road,
into an island, Bloomsbury’s solid wealth
there like the Woolfs’ and waiting to explode…
Cape was the Maschler epicentre, wired
to virtuoso fiction by his dare,
his astute entrepreneurial frisson 
juiced by panache and overreaching flair…
I learnt the little of my art from you
and how immediacy refined by care
fine tunes a poem’s breath, its diaphragm.
Our work complemented each other’s trick
of turning sensual imagery into
a visually liberating energy 
raying out brightly like a jeweller’s star.
I lived on tranquillisers – Ativan
metabolised to acute addiction,
tubed in from Regent’s Park, the underground
riffy with menace in my panicked nerves.
We read Marvell, and his update, Thom Gunn,
and started novels with the same firepower
the cheetah feels in bringing down its prey. 
We drank on Dean Street: the French House furore,
hoping we’d smash the club that Burroughs called
Brit Literature, with its thug minders on the door…
You left for New York. I went underworld,
l’enfant terrible
, drug damaged, crawling through
four years of residual strung-out withdrawal… 
Today I’m steadier, and feel your pull
attract like gravity in what I write,
sitting out on crumbling back steps, the sun
filmic as glycerine in September,
chasing a poem, the red wine I drink
accelerating chutzpah through my veins, 
and go inside to read your new e-mail –
you’re out in pristine wilderness with bears,
summer beside a mercury poisoned lake?
you boating through clouds, ruminative, alert
to writing possibilities, and how
visceral trout respond towards nightfall
bulleting flies in the red afterglow, 
while I return to brash tobacco plants,
their sweet-scented white flowers, and stay outside
trying to get the intractable right,
polish a phrase for you, as time well spent
attentive to detail, and surrender
to lazy radiance, and work with it,
the slow, amazing honey-coloured light.

Book Catalogue

Rain, and the sound’s like reading Baudelaire
on empty Sundays. No. 260.
Shakespeare, William. The Sonnets. CUP
(1966), rept. 1981. Wrps, 274pp.
Derek Jarman’s heavily annotated working copy…’
Tea and orange polenta cake
punctuating domestic agendas:
my neighbour sits watching Godard
in a white studio, gentian T-shirt,
her face a pink carnation with red lips.
I watch her like a movie, push her hair
to platinum sculptures, then pour it back.
‘Used in preparation for "The Angelic Conversation"
(1985), his film based on Shakespeare’s sonnets.
In this preliminary selection…’
Rain nurtures my potted fritillaries,
revives memories of clueless Sundays
in Amsterdam’s American Hotel
spent reading Baudelaire to reprised rain;
me shaking from withdrawal. The harbour in the sky.
‘The filmmaker’s made annotations in two different
colour inks alongside sonnets on 22 pages,
varying from a simple asterisk
to suggestions…’
                               I play the Coil soundtrack,
and watch the rain pull out. My snake-headed
fritillaries have purple python skin:
my neighbour’s doing costume changes for the mirror.
A diluted orange sun
fires up my decision to buy the book,
signed ‘for Coil, Derek Jarman
Phoenix House, December 1981.’