Spitalfields Market: Robert Yates

In a clearly hungover morning, the London air horribly limpid, walk

Down describable streets past news-stands where kneejerk articles write themselves.

                 (Wanted: graduate recently addicted to amphetamine for mind-

expanding opportunity. Must not mind having a crap job.)

                 Go to Spitalfields market, an embassy of civilisation in the East End, and anyway, it's nearer than Camden.

But I didn't see any Huguenot weavers, just kids making mastubatory gestures at a passer-by, who tells them to go back to India.

                 Go inside to look at a broken violin; shelves of 1971 Michael Moorcock paperbacks: a bench for my falafel; records from when London was a happening place, man.

                  TV cameras at Whitechapel: I point out to dog turds.

                   Spare some change: buy my last Big Issue: got a travelcard to spare: what a friend I have in Jesus: if my husband was still alive he'd deck you: have you been in an accident in the past five years, sir: what the fuck are you looking at, you cunt.

H.P. Lovecraft

"The oldest and strongest emotion of Mankind is fear and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown."

Lovecraft, "Supernatural Horror in Literature"

We have just missed the 116 th birthday of revolutionary horror writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft.   He was born on 20 th August 1890 and died on March 15 th 1937.

Lovecraft was not like most genre writers.   He made no bones about his disdain for mainstream literature and did almost nothing to ingratiate himself with the literary establishment.   His particular foe was modernism in whatever form it took.

Ironically, by applying his nihilistic world-view to the horror story, he revolutionised the genre.   In Lovecraft there is no absolute good or evil: no demons, no vampires and usually no protection against the indefinable horror.   The fear in his stories comes from humanity's utter insignificance in a cold, indifferent universe.   In his best stories Lovecraft suggests rather than shows, playing on the reader's fear of the unknown.

Late in his career Lovecraft invented a loose pantheon of horrific deities, the so-called "Cthulhu Mythos" (not a term ever used by Lovecraft.)   Personally I think this was just a phase he was going through, like his dull fantasy stories.   His more impressive creations were the town of Arkham, where several of his stories are set, and his fictitious occult tomes like the Necronomicon, from which he quoted tantalising extracts.

Lovecraft's style is an acquired taste and it is easy to quote overwritten passages out of context.   Stick with it and you may find that the effort is worthwhile.   The best introduction to Lovecraft is a collection of stories entitled "The Haunter of the Dark", which contains most of his best tales.   Penguin have also published Lovecraft's stories in three anthologies, annotated by pre-eminent Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi.


She sits quietly

waiting foe dawn,

she is a restless sleep, she is a cuckoo's song,

she is the lady-in-attendance to

someone's crystalline heart,

she, the crystal herself,

reflects dark light

from the depths of all sorrow,

mirage of stumbling pain, she

absorbs sustained miracles, delayed deaths

and successful cures, a cure herself she

hardly moves, her silent lips tremble

her long hands touch the one-who-tires

from seeing the sick and the fleeting

all day and all the same,

to her it seems larger than life to watch

him breathe her breath

in and out as she sleeps

recovering his dreams about the distant

provinces of sky, as she,

attentive, keeps his heavy hair

from falling into his nightmares

of hermeticism, where she

takes off her clothes and closes her eyes

once every thousand years




(An open letter to John Hartley Williams who accused

me of making "an exhibition" of myself during my

poetry reading at the Novi Sad International

Literature Festival in Serbia and who complained to

the director of the Festival that my action was

"inappropriate" and "provocative".)

Dear John

I'm inspired by Joseph Beuys, not by John Heartless


I'm inspired by poets, not by prissy maiden aunts.

I don't need your sobriety, your ever-ready smile, or

your even keel.

Is it not odd that on the very same night you were

talking about England becoming a police state -

affecting a libertarian's horror - you still couldn't

see the social relevance of a poet reciting a poem in

a Serbian Military Police coat?

You are the police. What kind of a poet is it who

complains to the organiser of a festival about the

reading style of another poet?

You'd probably have called the police yourself if

you'd seen me in Dunavski Park reciting a poem to the

Errol Flynn-like bust of the great Serb poet Branko.

A Serbian father and his daughter stopped their

playing, came over to where I was, and listened. When

I'd finished, he said: "Thank you. Branko was a strong

man." Then his daughter said: "Thank you." Both of

these people evinced more poetic spirit than you.

The poem I recited to Branko is the same poem I

recited in the coat. For what it's worth, "Off-Duty"

is a prize-winning poem that was selected by Roger


CITY/POEMS ON THE BUSES and by Kate Clanchy as winner


(These names don't impress me but they might impress

you). It's a poem about an imaginary policeman...

Clearly, you weren't listening.

But who needs your permission, when I had Branko's?

Two nights previously when I was out on the town,

showing off the coat, and generally giving Novi Sad a

good laugh, all you could say - in a traffic warden's

tone - is that you were fully expecting me to end up

in prison.

Already a spoilsport, already an authoritarian,

already making arrests...

Some English poets seem willing to settle for

headmastery rather than mastery. You're a typical


(The above category does not include brilliant spirits

like Tom Raworth, Jeremy Reed, John Constable, Maggie

O'Sullivan, Christopher Twigg, John Gibbens, Geraldine

Monk and others who are models of how a poet can

thrive on the margins rather than at the centre).

Who needs the THOU SHALT NOT of the pedagogue?

What's my punishment, sir? Detention? Lines? Leather


Well, here are my lines.

Unlike you, I'm not afraid to make a fool of myself.

It's good theatre - and I've worked in some of the

best theatres in England with one of its greatest

mavericks: Ken Campbell. He inspires me too.

It's you that doesn't know what I'm doing, not me.

Joseph Beuys made "an exhibition" of himself in

galleries all over the world, not just in his works

but in his "actions". I've often transposed Beuys's

idea of "the action" from the art-world to the


I believe in "actions": what the American philosopher

Hakim Bey calls "poetic terrorism" and "ontological


In England it's well-known that the official poetry

circuit is a racket in which nothing

subversive/radical/anarchic is permitted and where you

can't say boo to a goose.

In protesting about my performance you are expressing

the puritanical and deeply anti-poetic sentiments of

that false - and collapsing - economy. (Good luck with

your Backward Prize nomination...)



etc. VERBOTEN...


(Yes, I know you are an exile from Ol'Blighty and

resident in Berlin, but what reputation you have has

been built up in the wasps' nest of the discredited

English mainstream).

I care as little for your opinion of Niall McDevitt as

I do for your opinion of Frank O'Hara.

All you're trying to do is subvert the subversive.

Trying and - as you can see - failing.

And for the sake of what? Table manners?

As if I can't see through the umpteenth attempt by a

safe-pair-of-hands poet to sabotage my work with dirty


And of course you found willing support amongst your

fellow Englishmen, Matt Thorne and Philip Tew, at

whose talk on the Contemporary British Novel I savaged

their associate Blinko - for his anti-timelessness

edict - and declared that "No one is more contemporary

than Kafka". (Blinko sounds like blinker...)

Let the English complain. Do you think if I'd worn a

beef-eater and bearskin that the Serbs would have

protested en masse?

(Nothing against the English, per se. I'm an

Anglophile and an Anglophobe in equal measure - like

most intelligent Englishfolk. But when I see English

Ps and Qs, decorum and ettiquette rearing their ugly

heads in the international playground, I see red.

England's Two Nations Rulebook is as irrelevant to me

as the Torah).

As for Sweeney - with whom you are thick as thieves -

nothing will induce me to admire a poet simply on the

basis that he has published books with reputable

companies, won reputable awards, or earned a reputable


What is poetic is more usually disreputable: Brodsky

the "parasite", Blake "the unfortunate lunatic",

O'Hara the "goof and gossip"...

Jovan Zivlak - who understands

internationalist/avant-garde strands in culture - has

assured me that the Serbs were not offended by my

gesture and enjoyed the fun and games.

The moral of the story is: if you can't inspire a

younger poet, at least don't discourage a younger


In the long run, you're the one who's made an

exhibition of himself. You're the old fart, the blue

meanie, the Blakean elder clipping the wings of the


Didn't you listen to Dylan when he said: "Don't

criticise what you don't understand..."?

Yours Inspirationally



You carry my body from the storage room

  and display my ribs on butcher's hooks

    in the clear glass windows.

            Early in the morning,

  preparing for the day's business,

                   you fillet my back,

   pulling my spine out in

             one fluid movement.

       You break open a vertebra

  and dip into the cold gray matter

                of my spinal cord.

       You savor it's creamy texture

on your tongue, melting like

               lemon meringue.

     The corners of your boston bitten lips

          curl up into a smile.

  Later that evening you lock the doors

       and put my thighs in the freezer

when the silver sunset reminds you

            of my star-kissed flesh   

   under the flannel afterglow.

       You take my heart from the glass case,

wrap it in white paper and tape

   and carry it home in your pocket

             to your wife, your exquisitely crafted life

       complete with children you so dearly love.

    She greets you with vacant eyes and  

a kiss on the cheek and makes

            heart stew and over dinner

the children say that it tastes funny,

     your wife doesn't eat a bite or mutter a word,

but you, you politely chew on my heart

    and ask for seconds, telling them

               it's dear.