Finest: Steve Xerri – “Voice Memos”

Steve Xerri Finest

Voice Memos

i

south-west edge of the common
dodging knots of walkers
I come to where the culvert
opens its gullet into the stream –
hart’s-tongue ferns and violets
doing their usual on the sloping banks,
jar necks and twisted metal spars
protruding from the muddy bed

where the past is being washed away
in clouds by the flow or it may be
the future laid down skin
by filmy skin in a chronology
beyond human reading

ii

in this copse thickly green
with feathery wild chervil
and dog’s mercury, I stand
among creaking trees, see
a Coke can wedged in the fork
of a trunk, breathe close air
zingy with fox, and scent
a backdrop of aircraft fuel
from the hangar a half-mile off
running engine tests under a veil
of microscopic droplets

I could be a recording angel
with no idea what has him here
walled up by traffic noise
in this patch of woodland,
and you reader the monitoring
god whose steadicam I am

iii

back at home, ants are walking
a new line in the kitchen,
a live premonition of their black
forms continuing to march, to make
some kind of antenna-touching
sense to each other, as these letters
crawling the paper become unfathomable


“I am particularly chuffed to be invited to contribute to Ben’s ‘Finest’ series, since his acceptance of three of my poems for Clear Poetry in March 2017 marked my first successful foray into trying to get work published – an endorsement that did much to confirm me in the decision to give writing a major role in my life, which has brought me great pleasure ever since.

“The poem I have chosen, ‘Voice Memos’, appears in my Oystercatcher Press pamphlet, Mutter/Land, and is also one of the texts which will feature in a forthcoming sound & word project with my ingenious friend, the composer and musician Terry Burrows.

“I am not sure it is important that the piece has its roots in real experience (a walk on the local common following a much-trodden personal route which has been my lockdown escape into something almost rural) or whether it matters by how much the raw stuff of memory was manipulated. For me an important task for the poem was to get beyond the moment’s epiphany – not rejecting the lyric impulse to describe encounters with natural world, but also wondering what place that kind of daffodil-counting has in the broader context of industrialism and the ecological collapse under which most of us presently live.

“The other reason for choosing the poem is that there are things in it (I won’t go into detail because what reader will thank the writer for attempting to force a focus on the poem once it has escaped into the world?) which surprised me by arriving fully-formed almost before I had given them any thought. Whether you put it down to the Muse, the action of the unconscious or a chance gift from the language, the sensation of the emerging poem being less under your control than you think can be a bit of a thrill.”


Steve Xerri (https://stevexerripoetry.co.uk) was Canterbury Festival Poet of the Year 2017 and has appeared in numerous print and online magazines including Acumen, Atrium, Brittle Star, Clear Poetry, The Clearing, Envoi, Fortnightly Review, Ink Sweat & Tears, The Interpreter’s House, One Hand Clapping, Picaroon, The Poetry Shed, Poetry Society Newsletter (Members’ Poems), Raceme, Stride Magazine and Words For The Wild. He won first prize in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly competition in August 2019, has been shortlisted in competitions run by Fish Publishing and Cinnamon Press. His first pamphlet, Mutter/Land, was published by Oystercatcher Press in 2020.

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