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.


A Last August


In cruellest London where the mail comes twice and ten

a day, the streets loud with horses, windows


rattle with hooves on cobble, the stench

of horseshit shovelled high as the vicar's


coach house. Flies ply

our faces with an angel's urgency


who's burnt her wings

to cinders. In this heat, even the Brixton


whores won't come to your

Brooke Street attic, won't swive


for verses. You choose this August to give it up

for revolution. We're so close to free, yet


so far from compromise – the heart's a sack

to suffocate a nervous hare.


*****


The Resurrection of Thomas Chatterton


If you could be shocked back from eternal

muck – prodigal returned, brother of Shelley's


righteous creature – heaven's maelstrom raging

above Romantic topcoats and the twitching


frogs of Galvani, you may still

dream a child's dream. Now, as you sleep,


the charwoman with the face

of a retired jade scrubs the brick


fireplace and empties the pot where

you heaved last night. An old English


word neither of us can recollect bubbles

like hard cider on the tongue. We slouch


in firelight, and sweet Mary recites

her pregnant prose as you, a newborn monster, rise.



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.