Alan Humm – 6 poems

The first time I played with David


…was at the Collingdales.

The studio: a warm, confiding light,

cloth merging into sunshine

in the gloom.

Looms were prosaic blocks

you rubbed together

to make fire.


Everywhere – books.

The house was built on them

in the same way that a mind

constructs itself upon

its memories.

You were always here,

rather than the elsewhere

that my house inspired.

Chopping wood, drinking

elderflower wine,

I learned that time

conspires to keep you

in the places that you love,

aware of every moment in the way

that you feel water round you

in a river. Dave’s fingers glide

along the cello strings; mine fumble

but it’s not the music that’s important:

it’s the house; the thing I’m living up to.

I am flat, or sharp.

It doesn’t matter; call it art.




Men and bright metal and the air,

all burnished gold. Art, see.

The gatefold sleeve disclosed

a record that felt more: more bleak;

more serious – the chords processing

and the voice as frail as smoke.

I had a song about El Salvador.

It didn’t matter where it was;

the point was me: my seriousness.

When Dave played cello,

ghosting me,

his tone was bleak; assured

– a doubling.

I felt the microphone display my voice

like billowing sheets. I felt it.

When I played it back

it was just me,

aiming to please and not to please.

Grit in an echoing quarry;

lost, but not in song.




The park was fathoms deep;

the town’s night-self.

Robert’s road avoided it. It had sly curves; a tilt

too fit for purpose: a slow lullaby.

Nervous at the piano – dull but spry – he used to study me,

stiff fingers playing

what appeared to be a finger bowl.

One day, I put “Respect” on

and I danced,

attempting to embody it.

He moved like I’d thrown fire crackers at his feet

and I was pleased to see the difference,

eager to prove my own night-self

in the ascendant.

“…sock it to me,” in excelsis.


The Duke’s Head


I was too poor

to pay the entrance fee;

had entered when the light

was still half-hearted sepia.

Aspic. I was suspended in it,

while, outside, daylight felt like a fire

that had refused to start;

reflected from the tiny shop

and the street’s sudden narrowness,

it seems, in memory, the colour

of a dying leaf.

People were a relief. You saw yourself,

at last, reflected in the narrowness

of the boys’ eyes; the girls’ pale shoulders;

how they sat there

like the seat was a boat’s prow.

If they sat still,

gilded as carefully as flowers,

it would come,

the thing the music named.


Outside, the darkness curled below

the window, seeming to protect

the things you thought were animated 

and made permanent

by the wildness of your love.

Music Shop

Oh, but it was fun.

The music shop, instruments brimming –

simmering – in a light 

that was like the light of libraries:

dimly, ironically withholding; displaying,

really, how the urge to sing’s

embodied in the swiftness of a curve;

a brassy glaze.

You plug in and there is

that hum: you on the runway;

power an imperative – the will to fly,

the bass making the thrum

of wheels; the drums 

sending you upwards.

Your excitement, multiplied. 

Not that which flies 

but flight itself,

transcending how the shop

is like the inside of a cake;

the song, too: fake Phil Spector

made exciting just by being thrown 

into the air.

My brother stared. He shook his head.

“It’s like the bloody

Kids from Fame”, he said.

Gainsborough Silks

Sun tries the roofs

but still the town is coffined 

in its atmosphere.

Your hair, dull gold (I call it gold),

is doubled in the threads I tease

out in the factory.

I spool, or else unspool, the bobbins

and there is a moment when they rattle; 

come unmoored – I feel it in my chest.

I will not rest, it seems. 

I have the frail, attenuated balance

of a top; am spun between the streetlights

and the hedges, light and dark,

as though I am the two sides of a coin.

They stand in judgement: 

all the houses; the sententious gardens;

streets deformed by shadow 

into grappling hands.

I stood beneath her window

in my stupid hat, a panama,

and I tell people now that I was splashed

by passing cars

but all I did was stand,

my yearning so diffuse

it felt the way a fog looks

when it smothers you.

I ape my own predicament:

hunched at the threads,

it looks as though my body’s

shrugging itself off. 

When I am Floundering

I am the element I flounder in.


Alan Humm