three texts included here are all part of Rileys Selected Poems.
A shortened set (originally from Mop Mop Georgette)
adapts a line from a traditional song from Nigeria, and repeats one Stevie
Winwood phrase and a Lewley Gore line from Its My Party
written by W. Gold, J. Gluck Jr, and H. Wiener. The paintings referred
to in A shortened set are by Ian McKeever. Wherever
you are, be somewhere else (Mop Mop Georgette) is a title
based on the Nintendo Game Boy slogan; the italicised phrases in the poem
are adapted from the old Chyavash, from the play The Peach Blossom
Faz by Kung Shang-jen, and from the ballads Fair Annie
of Lochryan and Sweet Willia and fair Annie in Alexander
Gardners The Ballad Minstrelsy of Scotland, 1893 also
a source of the lines italicised in Knowing the real World.
The title of Outside from the Start is from Merleau-Ponty,
The Phenomenology of Perception: Nothing determines me from
outside, not because nothing acts upon me, but on the contrary because
I am from the start outside myself and open to the world
the connectives of right recall have grown askew. I know a child could have lived, that my body was cut. This cut my memory half-sealed but glued the edges together awry. The skin is distorted, the scar-tissue does the damage, the accounts are wrong. And this is called 'the healing process'. Now nothing's aligned properly. It's a barbarous zone. The bad sutures thicken with loss and hope - brilliant, deliberate shaking patients in an anteroom refusing the years, ferocious to be called so l'll snip through the puckered skin to where they tug for re-aligning. Now steady me against inaccuracy, a Iyric urge to showing-off. The easy knife is in my hand again. Protect me.
Small is the history, and dark. Its purplish valleys are unfurled as the militant trees clash over it together. I'd long in its steep descent to slip past fuss and toughness to escape both well-oiled grief and an escaper's cheery whistling. Tedious. This representing yourself, desperate to get it right, as if you could, is that the aim of the writing? 'I haven't got off lightly, but I got off' - that won't deflect your eyes that track you through the dark. There is the traveller, there the decline and his sex that the journey strips from him. A perfectly democratic loneliness sets out down the mined routes of speaking to its life. So massively, gently, should it go that it might overtake even the neatest Professor of Speed.
The last sun on dark red brick burns violet-black where I wait to get back something in the narrows of the city under its great sides, whose brick or painted walls glow into the paler light above them, a hugely quiet halo formed from the internal heat of rooftops. These seep their day off to the sky cupped very coolly distant
over this tight rim. My heart takes grateful note to be in life, the late heat shaped in bricks of air stuck out, hot ghosts to catch my hand on. The slap of recognition that you know. Your feelings, I mean mine, are common to us all: that puts you square between relief and boredom under the standoffish sky. In this I'm not unique, I'm just the only one who thinks I'm not. Maybe.
How can black paint be warm ? It is. As ochre stains slip into flooding milk, to the soft black that glows and clots in sooty swathes. Its edges rust, it bleeds lamp-black slow pools, as planes of dragged cream shoot over it to whiteness, layered. Or the cream paint, leaden, wrinkles: birch bark in slabs, streaked over a peeling blue. A twist of thought is pinned there. A sexual black. And I can't find my way home. Yet wandering there I may. By these snow graphics. Ice glazed to a grey sheen, hard across dark grass spikes.
Is that what's going on - the slow
replacement of a set of violent feelings
by neutral ones. The hell if so. There has been damage, which must stop at me. I think that's finished. Then the underside
of a brushed wing unsettles things.
I'd cup that powdery trace in mind like a big moth in a matchbox, whirring.
Are you alright I ask out there
straining into the dusk to hear.
I think its listening particles of air
at you like shot.
You're being called across your work
or - No I don't want that thought.
Nor want to get this noise to the point
it interests me. It's to you. Stop.
Am I alright you don't ask me. Oh probably, and in the heart of this light on hills it is for me alone to speak. No triumph. This milky light's a fact and the broad air and the strip of primrose water, a long way down. That red dot is my car, let's go
Or let I go.
- That black dot was myself. I strike you as complete: a late unpacking in life in hope of a human view. After these nights of rain on the mountain the water's running so hard it's marbled white the streams like heavy snow. Deletions are sifting down' onto the study floor - Cut more cut more, mutter my hearing creatures, snouts rooting upward for light. They push to nudge my failures aside and go but what would become of me in the quiet once they were out. Will you be good towards these animals of unease I can just about call them home.
Coffee goes coppery on my tongue today as 'Let's Dance' is hammered out again on the radio. It was my party and I wept not wanting to. 'Mother of children, don't go into the house in the dark'. Letters crash onto the hall floor with their weight of intelligence and
junk. I get up with hope for them, until word may finally arrive.
It is called feeling but is its real name thought?
Moons in their spheres are not so bland as these.
A round O says I feel and all agree.
Walking by many on London streets
in a despair which carries me
I look from face to face like a dog going
in the social democracy of loneliness.
May move instead through a shimmer
around me of racial beauty crying like something expensive which
breaks into eyes sparkling all over skin.
It's that simple
in another town.
No, it doesn't know me
nor this train I'm on.
ex-poet's beside herself:
'Here in the clouded
red, the grey, the burnt oak
forest, the rails shake'.
Safely I'll love it by letter yet skip the 'better
that way' to cancel the doubter's rhyme, trembling.
Aha we are frozen
stiff as young hyacinths
decides to leave green.
drive anywhere with anyone, just to have that held sense of looking out from a container, amiably, stolidly while I'm portered by. Along the ring-road murmurous orange lights on stilts with necks stuck out like herons on the grey slipway, angled above the cars repeating themselves fast and fast as if they were one. When I'm unloaded and stood in dread at home encircled by my life, whose edges do show - then I so want it to run and run again, the solitary travelling perception. Road movie: Protectedness, or, Gets through time.
An ice blue calm,
violently sustained, has got to know a thing about this nation and our being in it. How do I act, then, properly without a sticky modesty in the crammed-fullness of the place too dense for story threads to pierce? I'm quiet. I'm at the end of all opinion. Should I not know where clearness lies. Time has run short and I need company to crack my separate stupidity. I'd thought to ask around, what's lyric poetry? Its bee noise starts before I can: You do that; love me; die alone.
Don't quote the we of pairs, nor worse, of sentient humanity, thanks.
attitudinising, in those three lines. That's what I do. Help me out of it, you you sentient humanity.
I was signed up for a course on earth by two others who left me and left me impossibly slow at Life Skills
at admitting unlikeness or grasping the dodgem collision whose shock isn't truth but like the spine says is no
deception. I hate the word collusion used of love but in the end I wasn't anyone else ever -
that I sweated blood to force lucidity to come as if headlocked by history, to explain I really was -
all that was powered by desperation - the thought of it makes me mortified. Then after years, so-whattish:
The loves are returned to themselves, leaving an out post-sexual.
Unanxious, today. A feeling of rain and dark happiness.
Rain slops into dust caught underfoot in short grit runnels.
Faint news from the wharf peppered on skin in fresh patters of rain.
The evening lightens. A friend's shout blown inaudibly.
See, from the riverside winds buzz new towers of puzzling wealth.
Curved to this view the gleam of a moment's social rest.
Hair lit to a cloud the sunlight lowering first hesitant then strong.
In a rush the glide of the heart out on a flood of ease.
from the Start
does the hard look do to what it sees? Pull beauty out of it, or stare it in? Slippery
heart on legs clops into the boiling swirl as a pale calm page shoots up, opening rapidly
to say I know something unskinned me, so
now it bites into me it has skinned me alive,
I get dried from dark red to dark windspun withered jerky, to shape handy flyports out
of my lattice, or pulled out am membranes arched bluish, webby, staked out to twang
or am mouthslick of chewed gum, dragged in a tearing tent, flopped to a raggy soft sag.
Yet none have hard real edges, since each one is rightly spilled over, from the start of her life.
How long do I pretend to be all of us. Will you come in out of that air now.
Black shadows, sharp scattered green sunlit in lime, in acid leaves.
Hot leaves, veined with the sun draining the watcher's look of all colour
so a dark film moves over her sight. Then the trees glow with inside light.
Hold to the thought if it can shine straight through a dream of failed eyes sliding
to the wristwatch's face, wet under its glass a thickening red meniscus tilting across its dial.
And then my ears get full of someone's teeth again as someone's tongue
as brown and flexible as a young giraffe's rasps all round someone else's story
a glow of light that wavers and collapses in a phttt of forgiving what's indifferent to it:
not the being worked mechanically but the stare to catch just what it's doing to you
there's the revulsion
point, puffs up a screen tacks cushiony lips on a face-shaped gap
with a hair corona, its mouth a navel not quiet, and disappointing as adult chocolate
I'd rather stalk as upright as a gang of arrows clattering a trolley down the aisles
though only the breastbone stone the fair strung weltering
a softening seashore clay steel-blue with crimps of early history
the piney trees their green afire a deep light bubbling to grey
long birds honking across the scrub, the ruffled shore
coral beaks dab at froth the pinched sedge shirring
coppice rustlers, always a one to fall for Cut it, blank pennywort charm, or
punch of now that rips the tireless air or gorgeous finger-stroke of grime.
True sweetness must fan out to find its end but tied off from its object it will swell
lumping across sterile air it counts itself lonely and brave. At once it festers. Why shape
these sentiments, prosecution witnesses, in violet washes of light where rock cascades to water bluer
than powdering hopes of home. A hook's tossed out across one shoulder to snag on to any tufts of thrift:
Have I spoken only when things have hardened? But wouldn't the fact of you melt a watch?
Unfurls no father-car umbrella here. No beautiful fate is sought, nor any cut-out heart renunciation
if only some Aztec god could get placated! But he
don't there's just a swollen modesty to champ at its own breast.
on itself, it sings of its own end, rejoicing that this cannot come about. Because I am alive here.
muscled waves reared up, and scrupulously no hints of mock neutrality were lost.
Containment-led indifference, or conspiracy accounts of generals' pensions, cost
no setback for the partners of democracy who portioned barnyards out to each volost
while florid in the twilight, Nation stood alight above the low dismembered good.
You Are, Be Somewhere Else
A body shot through, perforated, a tin sheet beaten out then peppered with thin holes, silvery, leaf-curled at their edges; light flies
right through this tracery, voices leap, slip side- long, all faces split to angled facets: whichever piece is glimpsed, that bit is what I am, held
in a look until dropped like an egg on the floor let slop, crashed to slide and run, yolk yellow for the live, the dead who worked through me.
Out of their lined shell the young snakes broke past skin fronds stretched over sunless colour or lit at a slant, or saturated grey - a fringe flapping
nothing, frayed on a gape of glass, perspex seen through, seen past, no name, just scrappy filaments lifting and lifting over in the wind.
Draw the night right up over my eyes so that I don't see and then I'm gone; push the soft hem of the night: into my mouth so that I stay quiet
when an old breeze buffets my face to muffle me in terror of being left, or is that a far worse terror of not being left. No. Inching flat out
over a glacier overhanging blackness I see no edge but will tip where its glassy cold may stop short and hard ice crash to dark air. What do
the worms sing, rearing up at the threshhold? Floating a plain globe goes, the sky closes. But I did see by it a soul trot on ahead of me.
I can try on these gothic riffs, they do make a black twitchy cloak to both ham up and so perversely dignify my usual fear of ends.
To stare at nothing, just to get it right get nothing right, with some faint idea of this as a proper way to spend a life. No, what
I really mean to say instead is, come back won't you, just all of you come back, and give me one more go at doing it all again but doing it
far better this time round the work, the love stuff
so I go to the wordprocessor longing for line cables to loop out of the machine straight to my head
and back, as I do want to be only transmission - in sleep alone I get articulate, to mouth the part of
anyone and reel off others' characters until the focus
of a day through one-eyed self sets in again: go into it.
I must. The flower breaks open to its bell of sound
that rings out through the woods. I eat my knuckles
hearing that. I've only earned a modern, what, a flatness.
Or no, I can earn nothing, but maybe some right to stop now and to say to you, Tell me.
- That plea for mutuality's not true. It's more ordinary
that flying light should flap me away into a stream of specks
a million surfaces without a tongue and I never have wanted
'a voice' anyway, nor got it. Alright. No silver
coin has been nailed to your house's forehead you dog-skin among the
fox fur where did you get that rosewater to make your skin so white?
I did get that rosewater before I came to the light
grass shakes in a wind running wild over tassels of barley the sails were of the light green silk sewn of both gold
and white money, take down take down the sails of silk
set up the sails of skin and something dark and blurred upon the ground where something else patrols it, cool, nervous, calling
Stop now. Hold it there. Balance. Be beautiful. Try. And I can't do this. I can't talk like any of this.
You hear me not do it.
Denise Riley's critical books include: The Words of Selves: Identification,
Solidarity, Irony (Standofrd, Standford University Press, 2000), Am
I That Name? Feminism and the Category of Women in History
(London, Macmillan, 1988, and Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press,
USA, 1988, reprinted 1993), Poets on Writing; Britain, 1970-1991
(edited and introduced; London, Macmillan, 1992), and War in the Nursery;
Theories of the Child and Mother (London, Virago, 1983), She also
has eight collections of poetry including Mop Mop Georgette (Reality
Street Editions, London, 1993), Penguin Modern Poets Vol 10, with
Iain Sinclair and Douglas Oliver. Her recently published Selected Poems
(Reality Street Editions, 2001) provides an excellent cross-section
of pieces from her overall poetic production and includes her outstanding
and long out of print collection Mop Mop Georgette (Reality Street
Editions, 1993) in a slightly reworked version. She is currently a Fellow
at the University of East-Anglia.