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George Rawlins: two poems

The Death of Chatterton by Henry Wallis

George Rawlins writes:

These poems are from a book-length sequence that reimagines in fifty-seven sonnets the life of the 18th-century poet Thomas Chatterton. At age sixteen, Chatterton invented the imaginary persona of a 15th-century poet he named Thomas Rowley and tried to pass off the poems as the work of a previously unknown priest to the literati of London. When that and other attempts to help his mother and sister out of poverty failed, he committed suicide at the age of seventeen. Decades after his death, he was credited by Coleridge and Wordsworth as being the founding spirit of Romanticism.

Red Cliffs

Like limestone priests the Bristol

cliffs shed their burdens beneath

a deadpan heaven. What answers to this

vertigo? The only thing between you and that

narrow gap: a will to create whatever

in yourself you must, just

as the coffin maker shapes heartwood

to its end. Above your

dilemma, amid sacred

ponds and mulberries, a cloud

breaks out. Magpies call above the king's

gaunt hunter whose eye tracks a winsome

doe as she surveys

the moor, stinking with passion.


1770, London

Midsummer we'll savour a blackbird pie, crusted

with bitter herbs for the fly-happy banquet

of suffering. We can nick our daily

from the shopkeepers on Shakespeare's

Row sweeping the commons, who can't spare

a nod. After a night feeding the Puss

and Mew, we're wakened by the Jennies groaning

over crushed glass that crusts the ruffled

blouse factory walls off St Pancras. Spindles

rattle cobblestone into our soles

as we traipse to the Pickled

Griffon, abreast of amateur dandies fresh

from haberdashers, wigs lustrous

as chandeliers to light the faces of the factory dead.

George Rawlins received a BA from Ohio University and an MFA from the University of California, Irvine. He has recent publications in Chiron Review, The Common, New Critique (UK), New World Writing, Nine Mile, Plainsongs, and Sanskrit. He lives in California. His poetry collection, Cheapside Afterlife (April 2021, Longleaf Press at Methodist University), reimagines in fifty-seven sonnets the life of the 18th-century poet Thomas Chatterton.

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