Skip to main content

Norman Jope - Three Prose-Poems

Norman Jope

At Ease In The Urban Forest

On a Thursday evening, enveloped by imaginary fronds, I ghost-step the side-streets of King’s Heath and Moseley in a nostalgic daze. It’s so hard to deny that I’m here again, crossing from the Jewel in the Crown to the Prince of Wales, on a Thursday evening towards the end of the Eighties with the Potsdamer Platz in ruins and the end of history still unheralded. Moeen Ali goes past me in a pushchair and, of course, I can’t predict his cricketing exploits. I’m with the counterculture, passing on spliffs not quite inhaled but the smell sticks to the roof of my mouth. The city remains uncanny… it’s a red-brick forest in which I can keep on walking without reaching the end. With Balti after Balti, I measure out weeks whilst taking refuge in a studio flat with a black-and-white TV and a record player with boxy speakers. Someday this will end is a thought that never occurs. Thirty-two years ahead is a thought that never occurs. I am at ease in the urban forest, feeding on scraps of information. And then I wake up in my sagging chair and am thirty-two years older. There’s no way back to those red-brick streets and the unknowable adventures ahead.

Pyroclastic Footage

There’s no way into the movie from here. One of the lads is leaning against the façade of a closed-down bank – I work this out from the sign that reads ʹBank Chambers 1898ʹ – and appears to be holding a cigarette in his right hand. He wears a sky-blue top, with a logo that I can’t decipher, and a navy jacket. His companion, assuming that they are known to each other, is crouched in a doorway beneath a blue-and-white checked blanket. That’s all I can tell, no matter how dark or strange their stories.

It’s hard to discern the time of day, although ʹessentialʹ shops are open – Nifty Crafts is closed, but buckets and plastic stools outside Bargain World create a zone of garish surrealism. In Tower Square, opposite a Town Hall with a Star of David window under reconstruction, a man stands at the entrance to Coral counting his fingers. Further on, another man in droopy trousers clutches an oatcake from a nearby shop and stares at the camera. There’s no way in here either. They’re trapped behind glass, as soundless as fish.

I suppress an urge to get on the last train this evening – although it has almost certainly left – so that I can be in Tunstall tomorrow morning in person, checking if all these characters are still present. Risking capture myself, on a permanent Tuesday morning in the poorest part of the Potteries, behind the same glass wall that I stare through now.

At least the sign on the window of Muscle Hustle – clearly the go-to shop for bodybuilders - is unequivocal. ʹCome in for a free consultationʹ it says. ʹAchieve your goals and feel amazingʹ. So how can I resist? But there is no place for me here, and the silence of these images compels me to silence.


To think that it was really me, on a Saturday morning in February 1984, travelling to Nottingham from Leamington Spa for the second Saturday in a row to watch football. Last time it was Forest, this time County. I change buses in Leicester and travel north on a long straight road across the Wolds… open country, mile-wide fields, no settlements to speak of. Nottingham appears as suddenly as a mirage… passing the cricket ground, I cross the Trent and disembark at the southern end of the city centre. So what is to be done in Nottingham? The Mushroom Bookshop with its Situationist pamphlets. The view from Nottingham Castle, Arthur Seaton a middle-aged man in a cap by then. Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem… a quick pint in a cave carved into the rock. Then the match itself, in a Victorian stadium with barrel-roofed stands, a lingering aroma of rust and pitch and randomized security fencing. Bizarrely, Watford win 5-3 after going two goals down in the first ten minutes. The crowd are civil and sedate, unlike at the boisterous City Ground. Even in an age of football thuggery, I could cheer the opposition and only be tutted at. After the match, I walk through The Meadows and return to Leamington on the bus, stopping off in Leicester for imam bayildi at a Turkish restaurant near the intersection of the principal streets. Another day in my life concludes with a walk to my rented room in Quarry Street, as really me as I am really me this evening.

This is also the day on which I cross Maid Marian Way and come within a second of being hit by a fast-moving car whose presence I hadn’t registered. Thirty-seven years, one month and thirteen days of after-life since have brought me to this page, this day… to this precarious frisson of relief that I will struggle to shake off for the rest of the evening.

Copyright © Norman Jope, 2022

Popular posts from this blog

Review - High and Lonesome: Three Books: Crozier, Prynne, James

Andrew Duncan High and Lonesome : Three Books: John James, Striking the Pavilion of Zero, J.H. Prynne, High Pink on Chrome ; Andrew Crozier, High Zero (Shearsman, 2021; edited Ian Brinton)  The reason why these three books from 1975-6 and 1978 are being republished together is straightforward. Crozier had named a work High Zero , and when I interviewed him in 2003 he conceded that it referred to High Pink and Striking the Pavilion of Zero , and that he had used lines from those two works as keys to develop the High Zero poems from. Publication together allows one to read across and recover a part of the composition process. High Zero was published in 1978, later than the two poems it is a response to. The founding moment is The English Intelligencer , in which all three of these poets took part. This was an attempt to recapitulate the development of Charles Olson, up to about 1950; he was seen as both the continuator of Pound and as having thought profoundly about geography. T

Essay - Whatever Happened to the Poetry Manifesto?

MARTIN STANNARD WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE POETRY MANIFESTO? Recently I tried writing an essay that had the working title 'Why the Meaning of a Poem is the Last Thing You Should Think About'. I felt like I had something to say. It began like this: I can't help but remember what my old angling tutor used to say: “Be careful when you open a can of worms." Of course, he didn’t say any such thing, and I never had an angling tutor, but writers, and perhaps especially poets, can say anything and get away with it, because . . . Actually, I'm not sure why. I'm not even sure if it's true. If it is, it shouldn’t be. And I'm not sure about that, either. I think it's probably best if we accept a certain degree of uncertainty and subjectivity and other words that suggest everything is open to argument and get on with this. Just because something is open to argument doesn't mean it's wrong. Later (about 3000 words later) I decided I was on to a loser.

Review - "Bright Angel Proof" by Nick Power

Charlie Baylis Bright Angel Proof, Nick Power (£10, erbacce press) In the spring of 2016 a writer from the small Northwestern town of Hoylake, Nick Power, took a trip flying around America on budget airlines, soaking in all its big ticket tourist attractions and gaudy glories. The trip, and Power’s poems about the trip, come together to form Bright Angel Proof , a collection which evokes beat generation myths of a mystical America, but behind the lines Power knows that the beat generation era is done and perhaps was never really there to begin with. Power is too late to join the ranks of Ginsburg, Kerouac et al but at least he suggests that he might have something to say, which is more than most contemporary poets. Power attracts attention as a kind of modern Burt Lancaster, an adventurer of compelling (North) West Coast vibes and easy going company who, like Lana Del Rey, has ‘feathers in his hair...c hurning out novels like Beat poetry on Amphetamines.’ Power’s companion on the