Biography of Paul Farley
Paul Farley, FRSL (born 1965) is a British poet, writer and broadcaster.
Farley was born in Liverpool. He studied painting at the Chelsea School of Art, and has lived in London, Brighton and Cumbria. His first collection of poetry, The Boy from the Chemist is Here to See You (1998) won a Forward Poetry Prize (Best First Collection) in 1998, and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize. The book also gained him the Somerset Maugham Award, and in 1999 he won the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. From 2000-2002 he was the poet-in-residence at the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere.
His second collection, The Ice Age (2002), received the Whitbread Poetry Award. In 2004, Paul Farley was named as one of the Poetry Book Society's Next Generation poets. His third collection, Tramp in Flames, was published in 2006, a poem from which, ‘Liverpool Disappears for a Billionth of a Second’, was awarded the Forward Prize for Best Individual Poem. The same year he also published a study of Terence Davies' film, Distant Voices, Still Lives. In 2007 he edited a selection of John Clare for Faber's Poet to Poet series. He has also written a great deal for radio, and often writes more widely on art and literature.
As a broadcaster he has made many arts, features and documentary programmes for radio and television, as well as original radio dramas, and his poems for radio are collected in Field Recordings:BBC Poems 1998-2000. He makes regular appearances on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Review, Front Row and BBC Radio 3's The Verb. His book, Edgelands, a non-fiction journey into England’s overlooked wilderness (co-authored with Michael Symmons Roberts) was published by Jonathan Cape in 2011; it received the Royal Society of Literature’s Jerwood Award, the Foyles Best Book of Ideas Award 2012 and was serialised as a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week. His most recent collection is The Dark Film, which was a Poetry Book Society Choice in 2012. In 2009 he received the E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts & Letters. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 2012.
He currently lives in Lancashire and is Professor of Poetry at Lancaster University.
Paul Farley Poems
How good we are for each other, walking through a land of silence and darkness. You open doors for me, I answer the phone for you.
Funny to think you can still buy it now, a throwback, like shoe polish or the sardine key. When you lever the lid it opens with a sigh and you're face-to-face with history. By that I mean the unstable pitch black you're careful not to spill, like mercury that doesn't give any reflection back, that gets between the cracks of everything and holds together the sandstone and bricks of our museums and art galleries; and though those selfsame buildings stand hosed clean now of all their gunk and soot, feel the weight of this tin in your hand, read its endorsment from one Abram Lyle ‘Out of the strong came forth sweetness' below the weird logo of bees in swarm like a halo over the lion carcass. Breathe its scent, something lost from our streets like horseshit or coalsmoke; its base note a building block as biblical as honey, the last dregs of an empire's dark sump; see how a spoonful won't let go of its past, what the tin calls back to the mean of its lip as your pour its content over yourself and smear it into every orifice. You're history now, a captive explorer staked out for the insects; you're tarred and feel its caul harden. The restorer will tap your details back out of the dark: close-in work with a toffee hammer.
FOR ST JEROME
Guardian of the date-stamp and card catalogue, keeper of knowledge, and a staff notice-board pinned with drunks and men who lick the atlases, go with me while I Tipp-Ex-out the bogies and spray Glade in the newspaper section. Curmudgeon, teach me how to smile while fining the sinners who have lately been in hospital, who were struck dumb by lightning, or forgot. Teach me to bear their crumbs and bookmarks with the fortitude for which you are not famous: the bus tickets, postcards, rashers of bacon and once - give me strength - a knotted condom. Gatekeeper, watch over books on loan; their months of purgatory spent in bath steam or under beds. Watch over those abandoned on bus seats or park benches. Heal the torn. Take them back from houses with the measles. Inform Environmental Health at once. And teach me to work with an abrupt demeanour, And the martyrdom of the index, which was yours; to speak out in the silence of your feast day whose widespread celebration is long overdue.
LIVERPOOL DISAPPEARS FOR A BILLIONTH OF ...
Shorter than the blink inside a blink the National Grid will sometimes make, when you'll turn to a room and say: Was that just me? People sitting down for dinner don't feel their chairs taken away/put back again much faster that that trick with tablecloths. A train entering the Olive Mount cutting shudders, but not a single passenger complains when it pulls in almost on time. The birds feel it, though, and if you see starlings in shoal, seagulls abandoning cathedral ledges, or a mob of pigeons lifting from a square as at gunfire, be warned it may be happening, but then those sensitive to bat-squeak in the backs of necks, who claim to hear the distant roar of comets on the turn - these may well smile at a world restored, in one piece; though each place where mineral Liverpool goes wouldn't believe what hit it: all that sandstone out to sea or meshed into the quarters of Cologne. I've felt it a few times when I've gone home, if anything, more often now I'm old and the gaps between get shorter all the time.
I I want you to imagine, in your late capitalist's mind's eye, a stagnant fly-blown lake under an African sun, the smell of the sea just beyond (this at least should come easy being the universal saltwater of all your childhoods). Armies of ants on parade in the poor weeds and grey sludge of the ages, dismantling the scene in their own time-lapse movie, skeletal cats picking over spoil, boneyard mongrels marking their range by the water's edge before moving on. I want you to imagine all this, because once I was Carthage and still am in name, though like some poisoned inland sea my horizons have shrunk to a port that handles zero tonnage, an import and export that evens the scales up at nil, not counting the old rope and plastic bottles that come knocking with the tides, not counting the rusted tins that drift in, not counting the ants shifting clay forms and Carrera marble from my ruins, or the guide who conducts his own private dig for unscrupulous tourists who think nothing of removing a coin from its context (if money ever has such set contexts), of taking a Roman penny with an obverse of Augustus out of the country, to reach the cold northern latitudes in the holds of Lufthansa or Aeroflot, in a fraction of the time it once took under oar and Ursa Major. I was Carthage, but nothing much comes or goes in this afterwards; all that's left of a thousand years of dockyards and shipsheds are a few shapes the soft earth has found indigestible, for the tourist to squint at, consider, weigh up, reconstruct imaginatively, as I am asking you, listener. From this silted salt lake I once pulled the strings of the known world. Lovers looked out from my sea walls into powerful distance that bound them knowing that I was a true centre. They pulled tight their merchant purses. They drank from clay pitchers - under glass now in nearby museums. A museum will go some way to help in your excavations, but what stories lead on from the razors and combs and amphora and ostrich egg masks are the details of millions who passed through, then into the ground. Standing over a scale model in its sea of flat glass acts out a dominion of your time over mine, looking down on my circular dockyard apotheosis; looking down as from a great height, in a way I can never have known. A map might be easier in helping you build on my wasteland: my trade routes once lit up the coastlines in thousands of oil lamps, a Phoenician outline of Africa in the antique night, spreading westward and hugging the shore, a luminous tracing that brought in and foundered sea creatures, signalling for their mates. I can still taste the distant metals like blood in my harbour mouth, the tin and the iron and the copper which don't come here now but leech down the well-furrowed sea lanes, my phantom nerve endings. Carthaginian and Roman and Vandal are blinks in my brine eye, In each of their eternities: to me they rise and fall as sea swell. Credit me, listener, with such a long memory, as more than the sum of my parts, more than archaeology and soft sump, more than ground fought over. Aeneas stood here once with a mind to call it quits and cut loose, so the story goes, my port in his storm to his girl in every port. The jets tilt and bank heading north for their carrier hubs in Frankfurt and Moscow, without so much as a second thought for me in my modern darkness, their starboard wing lights blinking in an element I knew nothing about. Some things have endured: the peaks of Cap Bon across the bay form a backdrop to nothing much doing these days; the stars rise to guide nobody from my mouth and on course for the Pillars of Hercules - but these things give me a sense of myself, as the winds do, strong at the turns in the year, which remind me of cargoes and freights in their seasons, gross tonnes that passed through as sand through an hour glass, until history, like the idea of magnetic north so long in the discovering, moved slowly away from here, like a great ship embarking out onto the future's broad main, and this is the fate of all ports, even yours, listener. Listen to me. I was Carthage. II They left by the back door, caught the first train for Euston, they watched the city pull away and open country take its place; they left by bus and charabanc, by motorway that began anonymously then rose on pillars to meet my boundary; they left in droves or dribs and drabs, and if they hadn't shown as planned, their so-called friends went on without them; they left by any means, stowing away in First Class toilets or under tarpaulin on big artics; they left without paying the bill and did a runner for the rest of their lives; they left like silent cinema, in twos by moonlit rail, see-sawing up and down; they left like Beatlemania and pulled their hair; they left in such a hurry kettles stood warm on stoves: they left behind such textbook clues; they left on jet planes and they didn't know when they'd be back again, like in the song; they left like in the Book of Exodus or were just going outside, and may be some time; they left me looking like the Marie Celeste; they left by side entrance, they left scraping the manhole covers back above their heads or pulling up a rope of sheets; they left without so much as a goodbye or a kiss my arse; they left on eggshells, closed doors quietly behind them, or they threw the kinds of parties where washbasins get ripped off walls; they left behind important legacies, their names, or nothing but a nasty smell; they left in flood of tears or couldn't wait to see the back of me; they left the day the word ‘city' became standard instead of ‘port'; they left in the clothes they were standing up in; they left, but it was alright, they'd be back; they left knowing there was no going back even though ‘the door is always open'; they left because the engine of the world was running outside; they left to serve apprenticeships or marry badly; they left to serve some time and, liking what they saw, they left again; they left, and mighty wind blew in their wakes, or a litter devil span along a street; they left, and it was called a haemorrhage by a spokesman for the Office of National Statistics; they left, and what am I, some kind of mug who's tattooed with a giant exit sign?; they left and spat, or left so effortlessly they didn't know they were leaving, and wouldn't see the likes of me again; they left early and said: ‘we're leaving early'; they left to feed the brain drain and the casual labour market; they left, and didn't have a decent word to say about me in their new worlds with big skies and four clearly defined seasons; they left because Australia needed them and they were overqualified; they left because they might as well, just for the hell of it, because everybody else was doing it; they left without a hope, full of high hopes; they left and then regretted it with anyone they met, they left and sung about leaving in bars across the world; they left big buildings looking stupid in the gorgeous light they'd left; they left thousands of square feet of empty warehouse space for rats and mice to occupy in the dark years; they left under a cloud; they left and earned the keys to the city of were given pauper's funerals; they left and the whole street came out, or no-one cared; they left under their own steam, and I'll tell you this for nothing: they left, but none of them who did the leaving left by sea. III Rotterdam calling. City of light. North Sea traffic. Candlepower. No time to reflect. I work all night. Straight to the point. Container port. Almighty hub. Words fail me, so I speak in code: the radar blip And flag flown do the biz. Can't stop. There's barges in and barges out around the clock. Containers are your building blocks, my skyline, our Boxopolis that tessellates and hardly makes the same shape twice. City of light. What's in the box? I knew you'd ask. Just look around the room you're in, listening to this: half of it's been through Rotterdam. Shirt on your back, shoes on your feet, dinner in your oven, oven in your kitchen, the plugs in your ear, the air freshener barnacled to your dash, the petrol in your tank, the watch you wind or lift to your eyes' horizon line, the lead in your pencil, the sizzle in your sausage, and, of course, this radio you've tuned in. At some point back along the line I've said hello and goodbye to them all and will see them again, in another form. I contain the dreaming western world Remaking and remodelling itself. Look at the building blocks themselves: a sea container falls into place with a hollow sound like nothing else, and they rise in abstract avenues eight deep in places, labyrinthine enough to require A-Z. strange greens and reds: the marine palette you'll find is the exact opposite of domestic space, but fashion sense is far from my mind. These are the colours of banknotes, of making yourself understood. Words give no clues to what's inside: Genstar, UBC, Seaco, And Dream Box (which is a favourite of mine) given how the leaden light of day never inundates, so the light of the mind can be given play, though idle souls in fluorescent jerkins and overalls are rare in docks busy as a hive in spring. The words will give no clues though some shipments advertise themselves to the nose: wandering a terminal can be like walking through a Javanese wood turned geometric under a Dutch sky; the pepper notes float out of place the ghost of somewhere far away. This is as nostalgic as it gets. (OK. I will allow one display case of knots in the Maritime Hotel.) We have no old rope. We have no bananas. We have no classical tropes. Or if we do, they are all safely boxed up, all the same to the mighty grabbing device, to the quarter kilometre barge. City of light. On the captain's face sat before the radar binnacle, a greenish glow. On the civic bridge a blade of halogen. On the trucks festooned in it that come and go. And will I dim? Experts predict only a general brightening, and so the decadent poets wait off in the future, or watch the boats for now, while it's all still happening, and wonder why they love their names, and build things in their dark bow wakes that go like this: Marlene Green, Atlantic Trader, Flinterstar, Antilles Janet, Heading Home, Iver Expert, Galaxy, Innuendo, Arklow Sally, Sayonara, C'est la vie . . . IV Ports rise and fall. The stars climb from the eastern sea. The balance sheets all even out. The sand wipes clean. Nobody comes here now except to dig deep down. The nights are still and dark. There is no sound Beyond the constant waves' profit and loss sheets. I was Carthage, tall and handsome as any city, but the world has passed me by. The maps have been redrawn and you can see how it might have been for Dido, left standing while her life shipped out, moved on for home; which sailors know lies off ahead and elsewhere. The earth seems scorching to their feet. This will last forever, Or as long as there are seas and men to sail them. But I was Carthage, tall and handsome. Remember my name.
Funny to think you can still buy it now,
a throwback, like shoe polish or the sardine key.
When you lever the lid it opens with a sigh
and you're face-to-face with history.
By that I mean the unstable pitch black
you're careful not to spill, like mercury
that doesn't give any reflection back,
that gets between the cracks of everything