Iain Halliday

In Warsaw

In Poems, Uncategorized on June 10, 2016 at 18:28


in warsaw_Fotor.jpg


In Warsaw

What are you doing here, poet, on this

Sunny morning on the third day of May?

Here for the first time by the Vistula,

In a park at the fountains:

A tourist-poet together with

Your daughter, now your guide –

For she is living here.


You know a little of the history

And you’ve seen and felt something

Of the diffidence in some faces

When you apologise, in English, for not speaking Polish.


To get here you walked through the Old Town,

Stopping to visit the cathedral

Rebuilt from the ruins the poet Milosz mourned,

And you saw the parade of very important people

And the cameramen and the big screens in the square

And the armed forces with shining bayonets

And the security men in their black suits

And their shining black sunglasses

And their sanitary distance from the masses.


But here now at this playground fountain in the sun

With its tricks and spurts – now full blast,

Now dormant, now lobbing arcs of water from one

Side to another – the children are laughing

And learning and you and your daughter try to capture

Their and their parents’ joy,

In photographs

And in these words.


For it is a joy to see the young live and learn

And play

Even when truth and justice,

And the constitution on its day,

Are not what they are supposed to be.

It is also a quieter joy when you see in growth

The pain and the shock

And disappointment

All borne and learned,

And soothed.


The young woman in reception

Had recommended the fountains

Enthusiastically in her good English:

No diffidence there.

And though the clouds came shortly after

And it rained and the thunder clapped a bit

And you were as wet as

The children of the fountain,

It didn’t matter –

For you and they, and we,

We are living here.

An audio postcard from the past

In Songs on May 26, 2015 at 10:10


It was the song that came to mind first, but let’s get the photo over and done with. Manchester, 1982 (or was it ’83?). Back in the days when I was camera obsessed and even developed and printed in black and white — the kitchen in the house an improvised dark room, with a Zenith portable enlarger that looked like some sort of adapted Sputnik. Ilford FP4. I even had my house mates pose for photographs, like Clare in this one.
In truth I don’t know what record she’s holding, but it could have been the Billie Holiday album I (we) played so much and which included “Glad to Be Unhappy”. The audio system in the house was an old valve radio switched to “GRAM” with a Garrard turntable, both of which I’d bought in Oldham flea market. I still have the radio and it still works. The turntable, unfortunately, is long gone.
I know that songs always come back, but sometimes they surprise you in _how_ they come back.

Billie Holiday’s version of “Glad to Be Unhappy” on YouTube:

zenith enlarger


In Songs on April 22, 2015 at 09:26

“Mi hanno tenuto compagnia, mi hanno riempito il fiato, mi hanno dato sollievo. A un canto non si può chiedere di più. Per giunta veniva senza richiesta, veniva e basta, come la brezza soffiata da chissà dove che passa sul sudore della fronte la sua carezza fresca.”

Erri De Luca, _La musica provata_ (2014)

“Is any song worth singing if it doesn’t help?”

Wilco, “Wishful Thinking” from _A Ghost Is Born_ (2004)