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Veronica Forrest-Thomson

Five Poems:

— Address to the Reader, from Pevensey Sluice
— Approaching the Library
— Facsimile of a Waste Land
— Pastoral
— Le Signe (Cygne)

Address to the Reader, from Pevensey Sluice

If it were quicksand you could sink;
something needing a light touch
soon and so simply takes its revenge.
Slightly west of Goodwin Sands
the land hardens again with history,
resists the symbol.
Chalk requires an allegorical hand,
or employee of Sussex Water Board
who sets a notice here:
and all at once Transformational Grammar
“peoples” the “emotional landscape”
with refutation.
You may hear its melancholy
long withdrawing roar
even on Dover beach watching
the undertow of all those trips
across to France.
Follow the reader and his writer,
those emblematic persons
along their mythic route
charting its uncertain curves and camber;
for to be true to any other you must —
and I shall never now — recover
a popular manoeuvre known mostly as,
turn over
and go to sleep.

Photo of Veronica Forrest-Thomson, by Jonathan Culler, 1972

Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Cambridge, 1972, copyright © Jonathan Culler 1972, 2001

Photo courtesy Jonathan Culler

Approaching the Library

You never would have believed it could be so easy;
it played into one’s hands, the unpremeditated paysage,
as Stevens said, crossing the fen, suddenly confronted
with such expanse of unpretentious waters as visit
our dreams. Elle resta, comme le dit Flaubert,
melancholique devant son rêve accompli.

Poetic diction performed for me two outstanding services:
in confirming that the subject I proposed treating
was a worthy one; and in feeding and clothing me
after I had, in a moment of abstraction, fallen
into Holme Fen Engine Ditch;

It partakes of the clay’s history of human blood
and strife, like Devil’s Dyke, our excursion to which
is hereby premeditated. Thus we are rescued from
the abstract ditch we dig with our fundamental
disagreement about the proper form for a picnic.

It is disturbing to find oneself on a level
with the river, smooth-flowing with pronouns
where we grub, like ducks, for whatever they eat,
in unexpected pools. A drastic diminution
of pronouns in the early weeks of marriage
(lack of third persons, not to mention more banal examples)
leads to this retracted meadow in which comparisons
must be deployed, the meadow she crosses now,
noting its blossoming synecdoches, on her way
to the library, carrying her Heffers Cantab Students
Notebook, ref. 140, punched for filing.

Jesus College Chapel Court

Chapel court,
Jesus College, Cambridge
copyright © John Tranter 2002

Facsimile of a Waste Land

And if Another knows I have a little nut-tree cultivated indoors
I know that in this climate nothing will it bear
despite much watering with sighs and tears.

I know little of horticulture but a silver anguish
supplemented by sundry domestic details not Christmas tinselled
and a golden fear of succumbing to the violet typing-ribbon,

Who only know that in return for the kiss you gave to me,
not here, O, Adeimantus, but in another world,
there is no more noise now I hand you the fruit of

More than a year struggling with the violet and the orange peel
which is so alien to my little nut-tree embedded
in the present context of its final version.

[V F-T’s ] Note: the lines:
“And if Another knows I know I know not
Who only know that there is no more noise now”
were omitted by Eliot from his final version, along with
“Not here, O, Adeimantus, but in another world”.

Pound was fond of using a violet typewriter ribbon.


They are our creatures, clover, and they love us
Through the long summer meadows’ diesel fumes.
Smooth as their scent and contours clear however
Less than enough to compensate for names.

Jagged are names and not our creatures
Either in kind or movement like the flowers.
Raised voices in a car or by a river
Remind us of the world that is not ours.

Silence in grass and solace in blank verdure
Summon the frightful glare of nouns and nerves.
The gentle foal linguistically wounded
Squeals like a car’s brakes
Like our twisted words.

Le Signe (Cygne)

Godard, the anthropological swan
floats on the Cam when day is done.
Levi-Strauss stands on a bridge and calls:
Birds love freedom; they build themselves homes;
They often engage in human relations.
Come Godard, come, here, Godard, here. The halls
of Clare and Trinity, John’s and Queens’
echo the sound with scraping of chairs
and cramming of maws. A red-gowned don
floats by the swan. We must try to explain
to the posturing dancers that this is an image
of human existence; this is the barre-work
of verbal behaviour; this knife in the corpse
that they shove through a window to float
down the Cam when day is done
is Godard, the anthropological swan.

Copyright © Jonathan Culler and The Estate of Veronica Forrest-Thomson 1990, 2001
Included in Jacket by permission of Allardyce, Barnett, Publishers, with thanks

These poems can be found in two print editions:

— Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Collected Poems and Translations, Allardyce, Barnett, Publishers, London and Lewes — Berkeley: 1990


— Veronica Forrest-Thomson, Selected Poems: Language Games, On the Periphery and Other Writings, edited by Anthony Barnett ; postcript by Alison Mark. London: Invisible Books, 1999.

They may be ordered from Small Press Distribution in Berkeley, California.
European visitors may like to look at the Allardyce, Barnett, Publishers website at

Check out this author’s work: Bookstores in Britain, and in the United States

Jacket 20 — December 2002
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