HAPPY 100TH, DAD
My Dad would be a hundred years old now if he were still alive, and oddly, having acquired such antiquity, he suddenly seems much closer than he has done for the past few decades, when I didn’t know what to do with the fact that my father was not here, and that no amount of missing him would ever bring him back. Weirdly, that has turned out not to be true. Becoming 100 has brought him to life again. Not in a Michael Jackson ghoul fashion, but as George Barker, the poet who time forgot.
As his daughter, I love him and miss him, and 20-odd years on from when I last saw him, I vividly remember his ridiculous puns, his love of life, and his enthusiasm for fast cars, camp wrestling on TV, and mending things with copper wire and chewing gum. These parts of him have to stay in my memory for ever, but other elements do not; they have new platforms now.
A huge new audience
I found myself laughing so much the other day that I had to stop the car. I listened to my Dad winding up his audience as he read from his poem “The News of The World.” Somewhere in my research for his centenary, I had come across a British Library recording of him reading his poetry, and so, surprisingly, and suddenly, his voice was back in my life and we are in the car together once again, just as we always were.
[Below is the transcription of the recording (above) of George Barker reading “News of the World I,” followed by “News of the World II” (part only), “News of the World III” (part only) and “Consolatory Verses for the Middle Years ” (very short excerpt). Recorded live by the British Library at the National Poetry Centre, London, January 20, 1983.]
This poem is called “News of the World.” Jesus Christ.
Cold, shuttered, loveless star,
Skulker in clouds,
Streetwalker of a sky,
Where can you hide?
No one will take you in.
Happy the morning lights up other worlds.
Bears from sleep
They turn a family of faces
To the house-proud son.
Outraged, you outcast, leading your one-eyed sister to the light
From door to door down the locked zodiac.
Never come home.
If you want utter pretentiosity you can’t get better than that.
“News of the World II”
In the first year of the lost disgrace
Peace turning her face away,
What kind of shit is this? Well, let’s try again.
Let her lie naked here.
It’s called “News of the World III.”
The whole thing is absurd. I sometimes wonder—
Christ! Goddamn poetry. You know what Byron said? “I’d rather be a kitten and cry mew than one of these same ballad-mongers.” [Byron was quoting Shakespeare: Hotspur speaking in Act III, scene 1 of Henry IV Part 1.] There you have it!
“Consolatory Verses for my dear Gavin before the Middle Years.”
Rose I this morning
For the first day of spring and saw was gone
The poor white litter of the bare—
I loathe this thing, don’t you? It’s absolutely ghastly.
Then there are poems, previously unpublished, that emerge on people’s blogs, and there are pictures, anecdotes, essays and stories. In the last months, I have learned more about my father and those whose lives he touched or collided with than I had done in all the years since he died. And I can share it.
Considering that the internet was in its infancy when he died, it is ironic now that George Barker is reaching a huge new audience through Facebook. We, his family, are happy to have a new place to remember him. He may be 100, but he has a big presence, and we want to make it bigger. A new phase for George Barker will be our birthday present to him.
Find George Barker reading his poems here.