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.
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.
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.