Darkness Inside Out

Darkness Inside Out

by Rodney Pybus


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Offering a variety of explorations into different worlds, real and imaginary, beautiful and barbaric, this poetry compilation attempts to illuminate some of life’s difficult puzzles. A journey through a series of vivid encounters—ranging from fireflies outside a Gascony farmhouse and John Wayne sailing a converted minesweeper to a bull terrier listening to a CD and the poet standing atop Table Mountain with his granddaughter—this collection probes and celebrates traditional affinities between memory and language, time and loss. In its closing poem, this book suggests that it is the imagination that can best turn darkness inside out.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847772015
Publisher: Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date: 03/15/2013
Pages: 88
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Rodney Pybus is a former newspaper journalist; a former television writer and producer; and a former creative writing, literature, and media university lecturer. He is the author of Cicades in their Summers and Flying Blues and the recipient of awards from the Arts Council England and the Society of Authors, and a winner of the Peterloo International Poetry Competition.

Read an Excerpt

Darkness Inside Out

By Rodney Pybus

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2013 Rodney Pybus
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-753-9


Leaves from Each Tree

    Veronica Lake

    The earth was small, light blue and so touchingly
    alone ... our home that must be defended like a
    holy relic.

    Aleksei Leonov (Russian cosmonaut)

    They'll take your ashes if you have the cash,
    Capsuled and hammocked somewhere between death
    And immortality ... for a few years only.
    Some trip, precious! – nearly five thousand dollars
    For a teaspoonful to be swept up at five miles a second

    Aboard the latest shiny, shiny Pegasus.
    This is a very dear suspension of dust and
    Disbelief: just seven grammes of your old self
    Circling our poor relic marble every ninety minutes.
    This pinch of powder, this soupçon of you-ness,

    Like the desiccated scurf of the original spurt
    That started your smidgen of history ticking,
    Will have to come back down again,
    Flaring and smoking, all the way down again.
    You can't cheat the snap of oblivion's jaws.

    Littering space with gizmos and garbage
    Has no more hope than trying to write names
    On stone or bronze or water.
    Cruising the whirled beauty of our planet's
    All very well, but what's the point if you can't see

    The brown foot of Arabia or the speedwell
    Blue of the seas? The cloud-swirls like
    Uncooked pavlova draped from Cape to Cape?
    What's the point if there's no fun or feeling? No wonder?
    The corporate deals of Celestial Burial Services

    Playing half-speed Puck with my bone-dust
    And brain-ash are no miracle – what I'd want's to see
    From up there the million places one life's too brief for,
    To play my own games with time and space,
    Like wondering if that little town by the coast

    Of Argentina, down there, across the Plate
    From Montevideo, might have a brightening pool
    Of inland water near ... I'd like to mix up maps and names
    And multiply the shades of Veronica Lake
    (And a fresh Blue Dahlia?), then I'd zoom out like

    A satellite camera or, better still, like
    The imagination, and try to find her face below,
    Emblazoned on a handkerchief of cloud
    Stretching to the Andes, framing her there ...
    And she's staring up at me, Constance, peekaboo.


    These varieties of ignorance, like the levels
    of the manifold earth, pose more questions than you
    or I could shake a stick at – the man from Mull

    buried at Bamburgh after the Romans left,
    vowel changes in Caucasian dialects or the incidence
    of spoonbills in eastern England ... and to think

    that till yesterday I knew nothing or little
    of the provinces of Euskara, three in France,
    four in Spain, a hybrid region of allegation

    and discontent, with all the houses spruced up
    in the same colours in village after village,
    snow-white, dark forest, and drying blood.

    We've heard the claim of Basque to be older than
    all our European tongues and no relation,
    but I knew nothing of its sounding like rapid fire,

    the Rs and Ks and Xs doubling up, clattering, whooshing,
    crackling like old maxims, and I didn't know how green
    were the foothills of their western Pyrenees inland

    south-east from Baiona, rising forests of pine
    and surprising oak, mists wafting through
    like pulled gauze over concealed valleys

    and inscrutable paths that led, seemingly,
    from one country to another – which is an insult
    as deep as soil or syntax to those who belong

    to these Basque lands. And I did not know that,
    over these rich fields and stone outcrops
    that could easily have been another border long ago troubled

    by blood and reivers, I could expect to see vultures
    circling unconcerned by this side or that
    of a borderline unmarked by tree or stone or water.

    Quartet for the Lion

    i.m. Leos Janácek 1854–1928

    Even the greatest beauty of tone feels cold if
    the artist has not the strength to break it –
    or if not to break it, to boil over – even if
    not dying, to burn – even if not to burn, to
    hurry – even if not to hurry, to exaggerate.

    'The sea, the earth', Hukvaldy, 10 June 1926
    (trans. Vilem & Margaret Tausky)

    (i) Leaves from each tree

    Art's no soft touch. They are the disciplines
    of his own fire, these days
    he thrashes the ivories
    till the brightness stops him,
    finger-ends dripping as if
    above the mouth of a broken fighter.

    Yet how he can make silence fall too:
    the leaves from each tree
    to the ground.

    Everything he knows has a voice, and through
    such windows as tone makes clear
    he plays an inspector of souls:
    not just the women snatched from gossip on a tram
    but the robin on the fence-post,
    the cry of a vixen disappearing
    into the wood, one of his hens saying goodnight
    from the garden table.

    He cups his smiling hands
    round every drop of sound: makes light of contradictions
    as, after all, fluid with possibility.
    Every breaking of silence he counts

    as a lovely shock to his ear, brief patterns of fissure
    he will make inventions from,
    and down whatever discordant path
    his notes give voice back to the world,
    he finds phrases so intimate sometimes
    in their soft hammering that they can
    draw out, then shake loose a poised
    insistent tear.
    And his tunes cut like wire.

    (ii) Olga and the others

    Just a few notes at a time,
    she never spoke for long.

    His daughter's voice, even in her teens,
    always took the composer by surprise.
    Her low voice, shy.
    But memory scribbled enough
    for an adagio later
    for Olga, the fresh flowers on her grave,

    and an overgrown path
    in the woods near Hukvaldy.

    Those pale notes now
    are like seeds from the grass brought down
    by the passing blade,

    and seeding, year over year,
    their lovely selves.

    (iii) Not symphoniously, but the Kreutzer

    There are none so deaf ...
    as those blinded by the flashbulbs.
    Out of sight and earshot
    he waits, not biding his years, teaching
    not for a talent's faute de mieux
    pupils with straw in their heads.
    The confident hair of his youth goes white.

    Some filch their sounds
    from where they're told heaven lies,
    their fame levitating
    on the puffs of the crowd's applause,
    crying Holy, holy, holy
    our marvellously abstract art!

    He makes the swirling world
    his own, not so much in the dancing place
    of instruments, not symphoniously,
    but with the voice, the raw song
    and a human hand scrubbing, impassioned,
    at a string.

    He makes of love an off-beat, a guttural sentence
    in a dialect as gentle as butter, and a snatch
    of bird-call hard to bear.

    At dusk he sits under the rustle
    of the trees' approval. And even this
    he could annotate,
    looking into the world, tuning it,
    remembering how it begins: 'It is early spring
    and the second day of our journey ...'

    (iv) Madam, the source

    Is it a path or a stream? I love these lime trees,
    the flowers blown and falling

    that will need sweeping, and the leaves, later.
    We can sit for hours, too easily, surrounded by good ideas

    going brown. Is it a path or a stream?
    Madam, when in 1917 I saw your tears,

    your child in your arms, your husband away
    to war
... It must always come from life, he said,

    refusing a ride back home on the tram, all its Brno names
    rattling away in German.

    The notes don't just sit down on the keys!
    Madam, these letters of mine, these small black notes ...

    Tunes that hit like water. I too need a town with a river
    through it like a throat, and the voices rushing,

    sawing back and forth, bows on the strings. Intimate life.
    He was right, the old maestro, ready to climb the path

    up through the forest, to put his palm to the trickle
    where the river starts: it is so slight but gathering,

    like a child pulling a wooden cart over cobbles,
    like the song of the goldfinch which breaks every day

    through the bars of her owner's cage, like your voice
    through its tears, the shout in the street

    before the bullets and the bloody fighting.
    It all begins in life: he showed me

    how a cadence of love, of pain, speaks and dies;
    how strongly its memory rivers into song.

    Speaking of Angels

    I don't believe in angels
    (even when I can see them lined up more than fifty feet

    above my head
    back to back in pairs as if uncertain about what's to be or not)

    I'm quite impervious
    to the pale curtains they wear for dresses, their gold-plate

    haloes and curls
    and bedtime-story wings like quattrocento Disney

    supposed to make you
    trust the status of their prequels and special announcements

    The ones above me now
    I can see by the clerestory's falling light were once spangled

    in red and green and silver –
    so high up they escaped Cromwell's lads on the rampage in 1644

    and I will admit to
    their faded wooden charms ... but the kind of inspired uttering

    I can take more happily
    on trust comes from the crafty player of a baryton

    that's like a rare enhanced viol
    a cello look-alike with secret strings whose plucked notes as well as bowed

    tell me something
    more persuasive, not to say heavenly, from their steel and gut –

    that what's most sublime
    is what's most human, soaring right up to the startled angels

    and beyond,
    their wings outstretched like transfixed fliers

    (say, silver-streaked
    hawk moths or some other casual migrants)

    as if unable to resist
    this awkward truth, but still gaping in disbelief

      (at Blythburgh Church, Suffolk)

    Cob and Pen

    for Ken Smith and Judi Benson, May 2003

    The pen is back after
    An absence of days.
    Brooding, shuffling, settling ...
    We should be so lucky.
    You know the feeling
    And so do I, though they,
    Cob and pen, know what
    Will come, as we do not
    Who write stuff, I tell myself,
    Walking the dogs past
    Each day her island nest,
    Reed-throne like a green
    And tidy platter. More words
    That once someone like me
    Would have cut a quill
    From one like her, to make sense of.

    (Even now, on the screen, I can
    Tap out into visibility
    'Quill' and 'pen' as if
    To conjure a flight-feather,
    Trimmed and pertinent with ink,
    That might scratch 'Havana
    And back', or in your case
    'Hell and back' – you
    With your grand pen.)

    The cob stands up high
    In fast-running water
    And flaps his great sheets
    At me, with a hissing loud
    Enough to put frighteners
    On a bull-terrier called Poppy.
    Brave cob, look after her,
    This year, next year, and on –
    Your precious pen, and neither
    Properly mute, nor will be.

    So, without any of the old bird/
    Word games, back to work
    In almost too-green meadows
    Where this early-summer morning
    I'd like to fetch you (still penned in,
    Still indoors, isolated
    With the light behind you) some
    Canny ideas that come in drifts
    Like earthy constellations
    Of buttercups ... and above,
    Swifts wheel and hurtle past,
    Black minute-birds that stop
    For none of us. But for
    Your return, your re-entry into
    The no longer trite 'land of the living'
    I wish you both, pen and cob,
    A song-thrush on the shed roof,
    All spotty with tune.

      i.m. Ken Smith (1938–2003)


Excerpted from Darkness Inside Out by Rodney Pybus. Copyright © 2013 Rodney Pybus. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Leaves from Each Tree,
Veronica Lake,
Quartet for the Lion,
Speaking of Angels,
Cob and Pen,
Small Illuminations,
Chanteloube and the Pleasures of the Text,
Mariana Now,
Three Hoopoes in a Drawer,
The Man from Elsewhere,
Bridling at Birdsong,
'Our Friends in the North',
That Other Martinet,
Settle Down,
Flesh Markets,
October Flowers in Prague,
Like Voluptuous Birds,
Reading the Air at Southwold,
Down on the Cape,
View from the Table Top,
Communication Studies,
Economics at 100 Tennyson Street,
Outside the Café Mozart,
Just So Long (As),
Gnomic Aorist,
No End of a Lesson,
Back to the Future,
'Anything Is Beautiful If You Say It Is',
White Grass,
Straight, No Chaser,
Last Reel at the Essoldo,
New Designs from the Autumn Catalogue,
The Peppered Moth, Among Other Things,
Six in Sepia,
A Fig of Consequence,
Darkness Inside Out,
Pepper's Ghost,
S'quim & Stuff,
Still a Way from Good Hope,
About the Author,
Also by Rodney Pybus from Carcanet Press,

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"So pure and sinuous and all of a piece. . . . . Wonderfully graceful . . . words that seem natural and moving at the mind’s speed—like improvisation, but everything spot on."  —Ted Hughes, poet, Birthday Letters

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