Between the River and the Star
by Tony Maude
($19.95, (7″ x 10″) paperback, 168 pages with 23 photographs and color illustrations by the author)
“Tony Maude’s poems are the expressions of a travelling man, of a man who spends much time on the earthly roads of Ireland, Britain and mainland Europe but also on the unearthly roads of the imagination. The voice is that of a sensitive observer, antennae tuned to catch the unusual, the unexpected, the magic in the people and places he encounters. He has a spontaneous feeling for natural things (a hill, a river, a season) and for natural people (an elderly lady or a small child). Indeed, the poetry often speaks with the whimsical, honest spirit of the child and, in doing so, shoots out sparks that have the power to re-ignite the same untrammeled spirit in the reader; or in the listener, for these poems really take off when spoken aloud and even more so when performed. As he himself declares in “Occupation,” Tony Maude is also a singer, a musician and an actor: other selves whose presence can be felt. The poems express no impatience to reach the destination, no urgency to achieve a goal. Showing an openness to the gifts of the moment, they spring from the journey itself and celebrate the fleeting, the not-to-be-possessed.”
—Dr. Peter Bennett – Hanover University, Germany.
“He uses poetry as a dowsing rod in his, it must be said, ‘cheerful’ search for the sense of things.”
—Franziska von Busse ― review in Westdeutsche Zeitung.
“Poetry plays a large part in the proceedings, but at the core is his uncanny ability to see inside a mood and act accordingly”
—Time Out, London.
“A lovely poem…has left us all breathless.”
—Belfast Community Radio.
“The work of a poet who can write a good song.”
“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”
Having said that, here are a few facts, a bit of background, a word or two in my “…own person,” to introduce this book. I owe that to Little Red Tree Publishing for kindly persuading me, after many years of pencil-sharpening and chewing, to finally put these poems on a page. Such a poem is only “half a poem” according to Dylan Thomas and, in tune with this notion, I have spent the aforesaid many years, learning by heart and performing those ones that it seemed would feel at home in “A Show.”
I was born in India, a hill-station seven thousand feet above the sea and beside a boat-skimmed lake with, in the background, blue and strange-shaped mountains. Not a bad place to greet the World. My Dad was an Army-Man, and the nomadic life we led put me ashore at boarding-schools in green and pleasant parts of England… and, at the first of these, when I was eleven, my career as storyteller and poet began.
After “Lights Out” in a dormitory of ten or so beds, with a very fine view over Surrey and Sussex to the South Downs and their promise of the coast beyond, I would tell stories to my fellows. A serial that went on night after night ― I can’t imagine how I managed thus to spin it out! “My Life in India” was the title, and seeing that the family had left for England shortly before I was two, my memories must have been scanty, if indeed I had any. The truth is that these stories were all based on those my grand-mother told me: picking fruit before breakfast and coming face to face in the mango tree with an awakening and uncoiling cobra… or… the time when a circling eagle crashed down and went off with one of the kittens. All this was just before I came across Shakespeare, on an outing from the same school: Julius Caesar at Guildford Theatre. The play held my interest well until, towards the end, Mark Antony tells us: “This was the noblest Roman of them all…” a speech which ends with “…that nature might stand up and say to all the world, this was a man!” These words acted as introduction, became companions, said “Come along,” thus handing me a key to the secret garden.
Just before I went to university, I found myself in Paris on the way back from hitching down to Spain. A concert at Olympia ― the great theatre of “La Chanson Poétique,” whose songs I loved then and still do: Georges Brassens, Jacques Brel, Anne Sylvestre… Barbara. That night, however, they had guests from abroad: The Everly Brothers, supported by Peter, Paul and Mary. I’d heard the latter’s sweet and harmonious versions of folk songs but that night they introduced a song by a “new, young songwriter from the USA”—during which, came the words: “ain’t no use in turnin’ on your light Babe, the light I never knowed… ain’t no use in… I’m on the dark side of the road…”—this was another “noblest Roman” moment. That “…dark side of the road” was to me, a revelation. In this way, Paris (France!) ’63, I was introduced to Bob Dylan.
Dylan Thomas, I already knew: “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” for one thing, which my Mum and I watched on TV and were taken utterly in thrall. These landmark experiences kept coming and must have made me decide: “I’d better start writing things down myself.” It all began for Thomas, he said, with Nursery Rhymes – how, before he understood their meaning, the very sounds of the words captivated him. I’d agree, but after sounds came Stories and with them an added sense of Poetry:
My old Auntie Stella,
May God and all the Angels bless her,
Was the first person to say to me
The word, what she called “Poi-etry:”
“The Knights of the Four Winds,”
Gonsalves was the man:
Serpents, Damsels, Oceans, Snows…
And then she went on to read me:
“Wild Animals I Have Known” and
“The Trail of The Sandhill Stag*,” that’s
Poetry! Handfuls of words like-dice-thrown,
That look you in the eye and say “Listen… listen!”
*by Ernest Seton-Thompson, American conservationist.
I went to Oxford University in ’63 to pursue my love of language and literature “officially.” It was also then that I began writing songs for Cabaret Shows, with many a later-to-become-famous artiste, including some of the Monty Python team. Every time I go back, I’m amazed by the beauty of the place, and equally troubled by the feeling: what a shame I couldn’t appreciate it while I was there. Just the other day, looking up at my “rooms” at New College (Kris Kristofferson also went there), I noticed a small and exquisite stone carving beneath the Gothic arch of my window: a medieval piper, with cloak and hood who must have always been there. I couldn’t believe that I’d missed him during all those years! Although I suppose,
In the rough and tumble of those days,
I may well not have seen him but
On some Summer’s or Winter’s night,
How can I not have heard him play?
Once released from the academic life, I moved to London and began playing, singing and writing songs. I was involved with running a show from 1968 to 1976, at the world-famous Troubadour Club, Earl’s Court, with Nigel Barker, poet and songwriter. “Everyone” has played there: Bob Dylan, Paul Simon… you name! Tom Paxton came down one night and regaled us. It was there I met and became friends with many of the musicians with whom I was to work and record thereafter: Paul Millns, who produced my first two albums and plays inspired keyboards on all three for “Autogram,” Germany. Shusha, who recorded my settings of Elizabethan poets on various successful records, Tony Bird who amazed us all: his guitar style, his voice and songs overflowing with the beauty, the sadness, the sounds and the colours of Africa, and not least, the publisher of this book, who was then part of the brilliant guitar duo “Linnard and Hughes.”
During this time, I wrote the occasional poem – have a look at “Christmas Cheer in Dryburgh Road, Putney.” (page 70) This follows a strict rhyme scheme (unusual for me!) and is dedicated to John Betjeman. My poems were then few and far between, being too busy as a singer-songwriter. Year after year, I toured on the continent—Germany and Holland at first and later in Italy—always at the wheel of an old Ford van: “You mean you drove this here, all the way from London?!” “I did… and I’ll be driving it back there again!!”
I’m no good at dates but I know this one, it was in 1988 that I “seriously” began writing and performing poems. The poem that started this new lease begins: “Written for Ben on his Birthday.” With this poem “Without Surprise” (page 28) and one or two others, I tried my luck in the London Poetry Clubs, and was amazed that I was offered a booking in the first one I went to. Subsequently, I performed throughout London and beyond as the “main guest” and for this I was occasionally paid!
It’s actually no surprise that the breakthrough poem (above) is steadfastly based in the Natural World, as are many others in this collection – it was Auntie Stella, again, who taught me:
In the voices of the forest
Firmly to believe
And that “Poi-etry” is to be enjoyed!
There was a school anthology we used called “Poems for Pleasure.” I’m sorry but “What else would they be for?” As Feste, the clown sings in Twelfth Night: “We’ll strive to please you everyday…” And this has been a trusty guide in my attitude to “The Business of Poetry.” In this sense, a poem is like a joke – you can’t enjoy it if you don’t get it.
Some enlightened person had left money to pay a different writer every year to come to my second boarding school and read us their work. One of these was John Betjeman and his evening far out-stripped the others. It was a Performance, a Tour-de-Force which began with a magnificent “ice-breaker” ― for the whole story, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for Volume 2, as the poem thereon is still in the making. That evening was another landmark, another “I see!” Another “So, That’s the way!!”
I often think of poems in terms of what I call “Village Hall.” I imagine—I or we—have been booked to entertain all and sundry this very evening. The place will be packed ― people from all walks and of all ages. The show will go fine if we speak from the heart, with music and drama, some tears/some humour, take them on a journey, make it clear, push the boundaries so they go home happy and come back next week/month/year… for more.
A wonderful poem by George Herbert begins
“When God at first made man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by…”
I once won a “recite by heart” competition with this as set text. I can still remember most of it, especially the phrase “glass of blessings” i.e. man’s qualities crammed into a glass, ready for God to bestow as he wished. This made me think of the “Glass of The Arts” and Poetry’s position in it. Recently, I heard a radio programme on Dance and the spokeswoman described her calling as the “Cinderella” of the Arts ― in terms of funding, interest, and support. In a way, she may be right, when you think of the cash poured into opera, classical music and theatre, not to mention “The World of Fine Art Painting!” However, if Dance is the Cinderella, what’s Poetry then? The Ugly Sister? The mouse in the corner…?? Try to imagine the Sydney Opera House changed to Sydney Poetry House! However, I suggest that there are many more people with a small part of their souls reserved for perhaps just one poem, or maybe just a line… than are those familiar with even the most famous Puccini aria… Here is an example.
“At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We shall remember them.”
Taken from “For the Fallen” by Robert Laurence Binyon
This line was suggested by an elderly member of a Poetry/Music workshop in Ireland and acted as a key for other members of the group to “remember” close-to-their-heart lines and poems.
Here I should add, with some respect towards those who run the show, that I have found poetry to be largely the domain…
Of Old People and Children,
For instance, the poem “NO WEBS” (page 27)
Was first published in the garden.
I wrote the so-called Proclamation on
A sawn-off piece of skirting-board and
Hung it on the apple tree. Many “Humans”
Passed that way, all well-established adults—
The poem was neither read nor noticed by a soul,
Till: enter, wide-eyed, Freddie from Cornwall.
He was ten or eleven and the first to mention it,
That goes for the spiders an’ all, for whom
It was written, not one of them
Paid a blind bit of notice! With this piece
Of evidence I… rest my case.
As regards the title of this book, “…The Stars” speak for themselves but from an early age I have been vociferously speaking for and about “The River…” When I was seven, a refined and kindly old gentleman ― Major Stanley-Clark, used to take me for walks along the River Wey: summer evenings, setting sun, herons, swans, bits of fishing-line or “is it a spider’s web?” that must have been when it all began. Here are a few highlighted references to rivers from the poems in this book:
“the black-ink glinting water” (the Rhine in Winter, page 84)
“wandering weeds and bubbling beads philosophy… polish your stones and whistle your tunes… and take it easy.”
(the river Wey in all seasons, page 54)
Some years ago, I visited Stratford—the home of William Shakespeare—paddling downstream from Warwick along the river Avon. One night I went to the famous theatre by canoe, from the camping site, half a mile upstream. The play I saw was a walkabout through the town and surrounding fields, in which the audience was encouraged to buy huge “medieval” tar torches to help light the procession’s way. At the end, people discarded them in a scattered, giant-matchstick bonfire. I took one, still burning, tied it to a cross-member in the canoe and paddled “home” along the Avon.
Sending shadows and shards of gold
Skimming over the dark water,
Into the overhanging foliage
And up to the summer’s night stars
A fine river runs across County Clare—the Fergus—it winds its way through many a lake and out to the Atlantic at Clarecastle. I was once swimming alone by an old stone bridge and was spied by a swan, which had cruised up through one of the arches. With seven cygnets downstream, he or she was furious to see this intruder and came towards me, wings beating and spitting fire.
Having just emerged from the water, dripping and naked, I stood my ground and said: “Ok, Ok, I understand, but these waters are to share, this is also my river.”
Had I not become a man,
I might as well have been a swan,
Living happy ever after.
Between the River and the Stars.
You will no doubt notice that I have used a good number of quotes from others in this introduction. This I consider to be essential to show what inspired, what pushed the boat out and trumpeted the sense of “not alone.”
Here, to finish, is a quick true-story, which in part sums up my “life as a poet.” Forgive me, but to fully understand this you’ll have to refer to the last poem in the book ahead: “Answering Dad Back” (Page 126).
At one of my shows in a Belfast Psychiatric Hospital, which included this poem, a young man approached me at the end of the gig. He had a faraway expression, which, before he spoke, came suddenly into focus. He looked me in the eye and with somewhere between a smile and a frown, said simply: “…and managed to write it down.”
“So what have I achieved?
No feat of great renown but
I’ve seen the visible world
on a winter’s dawn
to write it down.”
London, England 2013