Alison Prince

The Form

Is there water within 30 metres of your house?

The burn swallows the lawn sometimes.
It is running brown today because the rain
has washed a bank away
somewhere up there in the forestry.
When it is well behaved
the heron comes and stands in it
as though in a stone pond at Versailles.

Is your house within 50 metres of the sea?

On the high tide and a south-east wind
it burst over the sea wall last week,
drowning a lorry piled with Sitka spruce.
You need not know that I drove through
a sky as full of tossed water as a fairground ride,
chugging the engine so that the exhaust pipe
would blow hot gas out in some frail defence
against ingress of brine and bladderwrack.
The brakes still squeal but Angus says
they will dry out if frequently hard-used.

Are there trees within 10 metres of your house?

The vast laburnum, you will be glad to hear,
blew down when its load of yellow blooms
proved too heavy in a summer storm.
A wood-turner made a smooth pear from it
with circles of pale heartwood on each side
revealing strange truth from its dense darkness.
You need not know the bird cherry still stands.
Its branches keep the telephone line
from harm in winter gales.

Failure to answer any of these questions
may invalidate your application.

Had I not re-hocked the house years back
I’d bin your form, enjoy again the absence
of this illusion of security. It did me very well
when I owned nothing, and will do well again
when nothing owns me; when I have gone
into the wind and the heartwood
and the outrageous power of the sea.

Born in London, Alison Prince is the author of biographies of Kenneth Grahame and Hans Christian Anderson. She has also written numerous children’s books, as well as being an artist and poet. She is also well known for her children’s television programmes, particularly Trumpton with its popular catch-phrase ‘Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew …’ She lives in Scotland on the Isle of Arran.

Alison Prince on poetry: ‘The way we are being governed now is so grotesque that my writing has taken a new turn. I want to find a way to point up the black comedy of what is going on, while ducking the solemn trading of political views. Poetry, for me, has always been a matter of finding the numinous quality that is present in common, real things, and this is not insuperably hard to do from within the inherent potential beauty of domestic objects and a loved landscape. How to have a smack at absurdity without getting dragged into a boring polemical ding-dong is something quite else, and it interests me immensely. I’d like to be a poetic gadfly, delivering a bite and never hanging around long enough to be trapped in a box and labelled Leftie Protester. Such classification makes you easy to kill, but a quick joke can deliver its point before anyone reaches for the aerosol can. It’s difficult to do, because the balance has to be light and adroit . Self-indulgence is fatally heavy, and fatuity doesn’t deliver enough punch. I can only keep moving and keep trying. There’s nothing more intriguing, and all else apart, it gives me huge amounts of fun.’

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