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Rodney Pybus

Our Friends in the North 


They were like -- (fists raised)
'Like what? Go on, then, like what?'
Like something this child could dance to
with such a rhythm,
the words don't matter yet,
                              it's the speech-flow
full-guttering from the back of the throat like
Like what?
Irish, Norse, Scots and burred
Northumbrian, stirred into a dancing reel
rising and falling and rising --
                        so harshly tender, luvver --
before the passion's flattened right out of it down south
Howaay, man, hoy the bal ower heor!
or 'The spuggies are fledged' *
And in the early years it was said
If you are going to talk like that
you can go to the school up the road

(A flat tone is generally best
for menace and threat, with no warm scurries
and hullabaloo of anything like feeling.)
Even then, not always
so canny toon, Geordie
for all the whisper-quiet yellow trolleys
addressed to Two Ball Lonnen,
and before them
the climbing trellised roses of scenty Moorside,
the Great North Road trams, rattling and roofless to sky
Eee-lissen-him--gerr'im! Gerr'it-off-'im-Billy!

I saw a window with a hole
splattered like black mud --
and my stomach melting
down my strengthless tiny legs

What tales can you tell, canny bairn?
                            The first ones, always
in the right language.
And more than a thousand books later I was watching
moving pictures of a grey river still holy to me,
and those lovely garths and wynds climbing ancient from
                                                                the Side of the town
with, above, the Tyne Bridge's sea-green coathanger
and my grandfather's stone towers bulking at each end
That's two per County, like
and the screen's arguing families fell out of focus --
all I could hear through the broken black hole was
Like what? Go on, then, like what?
Like words do when they dance,
like the rhythms that undo
the bindings of the heart,
                    so close to the border
it's easy to forget they were once my own


* epigraph to Basil Bunting's Briggflatts
The title is taken from one of the finest drama series on British TV in recent years, much of it set, like the poem, on Tyneside in the North-East of England
Rodney Pybus
Rodney Pybus has published several collections, the most recent of which is Flying Blues (Carcanet, 1994). He has been associated with Stand magazine since the early 1960s. He co-edited it with Lorna Tracy after the death of Jon Silkin in 1997, until this year when it was taken on by John Kinsella and Michael Hulse, and he changed to associate editor.
He has been teacher, journalist, broadcaster, scriptwriter, television producer, creative writing tutor etc. He was a lecturer at Macquarie University, Sydney, for a while in the '70s, and even earlier than that once worked in the same newspaper office as Basil Bunting.


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