SORRY I MISSED YOU by Barry Tebb
(or â€˜Huddersfield the Second Poetry Capital of England Re-visitedâ€™)
What was it Janice Simmons said to me as James lay dying in Ireland?
â€œPhone Peter Pegnall in Leeds, an ex-pupil of Jimmyâ€™s. Heâ€™s organising
A benefit reading, heâ€™d love to hear from you and have your help.â€
â€˜Like hell he wouldâ€™ I thought but I phoned him all the same
At his converted farmhouse at Barswill, a Lecturer in Creative Writing
At the uni. But whatâ€™s he written, I wondered, apart from his CV?
â€œWell I am organising a reading but only for the big people, you understand,
Hardman, Harrison, Doughty, Duhig, Basher Oâ€™Brien, you know the kind,
The ones that count, the ones I owe my job to.â€
We nattered on and on until by way of adieu I read the final couplet
Of my Goodbye poem, the lines about â€˜One Leeds Jimmy who could fix the worldâ€™s.
Duhigs once and for all/Write them into the ground and still have a hundred
Lyrics in his quiver.â€™
Pete Stifled a cough which dipped into a gurgle and sank into a mire
Of strangulated affect which almost became a convulsion until finally
He shrieked, â€œI have to go, the catâ€™s under the Christmas tree, ripping
Open all the presents, the central heating boilerâ€™s on the blink,
The house is on fucking fire!â€
So I was left with the offer of being raffle-ticket tout as a special favour,
Some recompense for giving over two entire newsletters to Jimmyâ€™s work:
The words of the letter before his stroke still burned. â€œI donâ€™t know why
They omitted me, Armitage and Harrison were my best mates once. You and I
A whole yearâ€™s silence until the card with its cryptic message
â€˜Jimmyâ€™s recovering slowly but better than expectedâ€™.
I never heard from Pegnall about the reading, the pamphlets he asked for
Went unacknowledged. Whalebone, the fellow-tutor he commended, also stayed silent.
Had the event been cancelled? Happening to be in Huddersfield on Good Friday
I staggered up three flights of stone steps in the Byram Arcade to the Poetry Business
Where, next to the â€˜closedâ€™ sign an out-of-date poster announced the reading in Leeds
At a date long gone.
I peered through the slats at empty desks, at brimming racks of books,
At overflowing bin-bags and the yellowing poster. Desperately I tried to remember
What Janice had said. â€œWe were sat up in bed, planning to take the children
For a walk when Jimmy stopped looking at me, the pupils of his eyes rolled sideways,
His head lolled and he keeled over.â€
The title of the reading was from Jimmyâ€™s best collection
â€˜With Energy To Burnâ€™
with energy to burn.