Poems by Neil Astley
Neil Astley was born in Hampshire in 1953. Before going to University he worked as a journalist for four years, and was living in Darwin, Austrailia, when the city was destroyed by Cyclone Tracy in 1974. After graduating in 1978 with a first in English from Newcastle University, he founded Bloodaxe Books in Newcastle, and is now its editor and managing director. In 1982 he received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors.
Darwin Survivor is his first book of poems. It includes several poems first published in a pamphlet collection, The Speechless Act (Mandeville Press, 1984), which Anne Stevenson (Arts North) found ‘powerful, dramatic, fiercely disturbing’. She called his poems ‘near-perfect’ and described Neil Astley’s world as one ‘created out of a profound sense of incongruence between the act of language and the act of love’.
The pavement meets the house, our bedroom wall
and window, with no garden, not even
a hedge or strip of concrete inbetween.
We hear some drunkard stumbling up the hill
singing his heart out; hear him clear his throat
and half his lungs, and brace ourselves as he
attacks the highest note of Danny Boy -
so near he could be sitting on the bed.
You feel defenceless, naked, grip my hand
as the window shakes, as when those children
shrieking bash at the door, or when a stone
hits the pane but fails to leave it shattered.
Mud they smeared on the windows, lentils poured
through the letterbox: while we laughed at that
we found it hard to get them up with just
a brush; we picked them from our feet in bed,
shook the sheets, and wished we had a Hoover
(to hear the damned things rattle up inside
and disappear for good). And someone tried
to force the door; they’ve drawn a swastika
and carved NF as though those neatly linked
initials were a tribute to their love.
We heard them doing it but couldn’t breathe
until they’d gone. The man upstairs goes out
to work at six, revs up his clapped-out car
and feeds us his exhaust. At nine you find
the street deserted but you know you’re watched,
some curtain twitches as you shut the door;
a neighbour shuffles past with lowered eyes,
and glances back of course. Our own pretence
is not to notice theirs, oblivious
of them as of their kids’ obscenities.
Price £7.95 per copy post free (£5.30 post free to Associate Members)
Cover illustration: Neil Astley in Darwin, Christmas 1974 (photo: David Astley)
Publication: AUTUMN 1988 (64 pages laminated paperback)