Friday, 22 October 2010

Philip Hodgins

On 18 August 15 years ago Philip Hodgins died of leukaemia. He wrote wonderfully about rural life and also about sport. However, to (belatedly) mark the anniversary of his death I suppose it is fitting to have some of his poems about death and the world of illness:

Wordy wordy numb numb

Now there's a word.
He wrote it down

It didn't take up much space
you could say it was discreet,
and patient.

He couldn't remember
the first time he'd heard it.
It seemed to have been always there,

like something he owned
as a kind of right or inheritance.
But he wasn't sure if this was true.

He liked the way it rhymed
with breath,
its natural opposite

He liked it for many reasons,
and because of that
he wrote it down many times

in many different contexts
finding that it had
all sorts of meanings.

Later on, when words had passed,
he backed it up
by dying.

One thing

he had always remembered
was the arrogance of health,

those dumb days
when nothing can touch you,
when death is just one

of the familiar short words:
sun, moon, tree, bread, wine, house, love ...
you know them,

each one worn smooth
as a river stone
with the flow of language

and death the odd one out,
not so much worn smooth
as numb.

Better not to think about it then
and come back to it later
when it comes back to you

like an unpaid debt
gathering interest
infinitely greater than what was lent.

More Light, More Light

Sickly sunlight through the closed curtains
that are white but much thicker than a sheet.
Sunlight with all the life taken out of it,
diminished but still there, an afterglow,
like the presence of a friend who has died.
You're lying still and yet you're moving fast.

A nurse comes in to give the drip a shot.
He opens the curtains in a moment of revelation.
The sunlight is revitalised into an opportunist
and instantly takes over the room like a brilliant virus,
filling out even the places you had never thought to look.
Your life is changed. The room is shown to you as it is,
not as it dimly appeared to you all that time ago.
You're moving fast and yet you're going nowhere.


In the corner slumps
a sack of spuds,
brown as its contents

Covered in hernias,
it is hunched over
like an old drunk.

Below the window
freckled with flies,
stands an empty bottle

of homemade grappa,
the kind that creeps up
on you like the devil.

At the far end
of the wooden table
there is an open box

of tissues, one of them
partly standing up
partly folded over

white and triangular
like a stilled yacht
on the horizon

And at this end
lies the finished letter,
its hilarious news

relayed in lines
so wild they could be
graphs of emotion.

(Clive James's excellent article about Hodgins is here.)


  1. I'm ashamed to say I'd never heard of him. Great write, thanks for the introduction

  2. His books are not easy to get hold of. I wonder if Surry Hills Library will deign to provide you with any - or whether poetry is like the reference section as far as they are concerned?