Poets to come! orators, singers, musicians to come!
Not to-day is to justify me and answer what I am for,
But you, a new brood, native, athletic, continental, greater than before known,
Arouse! for you must justify me.
I myself but write one or two indicative words for the future,
I but advance a moment only to wheel and hurry back in the darkness.
I am a man who, sauntering along without fully stopping, turns a casual look upon you and then averts his face,
Leaving it to you to prove and define it,
Expecting the main things from you.
About this poem
Introduced by a variety of writers, artists and other guests, the Scottish Poetry Library’s classic poem selections are a reminder of wonderful poems to rediscover.
Mark Francis on ‘Poets to Come’:
Perhaps strangely for a choice requested by the Scottish Poetry Library, I have selected an American (the American?) poet.
This poem to me has always been a simple eloquent clarion call to arms for poets and artists. A call to look forward, not back, to look at the possibilities not the constraints, a reminder that every generation has the potential to advance beyond that which has gone before. This to me is as important to America stumbling out of the civil war as it is to Scotland and today’s generation of poets, musicians, artists and Scots.
Despite his stated desire to create poetry and writing ‘altogether [American], without a trace or taste of Europe’s soil, reminiscence, technical letter or spirit’, I think a line can be drawn from our own father of verse, Burns, through to Whitman, and from Whitman where? To Ginsberg, certainly, and the rest of the beat writers and all points foregoing and subsequent.
Like Burns he spoke for the people in their own language, using the words and patterns of speech of the common American citizen, and he found a way through words to unite humanity with nature. Like Burns he has been assimilated himself into the literary tradition of many countries.
America, over the years, has acted as a sponge of so many influences and been able to regurgitate these influences to create peculiarly American art forms.
In music, slave songs, religious songs and European folk were assimilated and thrown back to us as blues and then Rock and Roll. As in music so in writing. Whitman has taken influence from classicism, from romanticism and lyricism and created a uniquely American style, which has become relevant and important to our global and parochial cultures.
In one of the last editions of Leaves of Grass Whitman wrote in his introduction that ‘The proof of a poet is that his country absorbs him as affectionately as he has absorbed it’ . Something which he has achieved on the grandest scale and something that myself and all my fellow travelers aspire to.
Mark sings and plays guitar in Saint Jude’s Infirmary. Saint Jude’s Infirmary are sometimes Peter Pan, sometimes vampyres. They have cheated adulthood. They have martyred childhood. They are genuine artists, they are base and stuff their rider in their guitar cases and drink it in bus shelters. They are as tight as a terrorist cell. They despise each other with a cold hearted passion. They want to play as soft as falling snow. They want to make bang like Neanderthal. They read Dylan Thomas for his grace. They read The Daily Record for the football. They are from Edinburgh, Scotland and play slow and brutal poetry. The songs are of sad eyed remorse sung by throats cried hoarse. The girls sing sweet, the boys sing coarse, the girls weave honey, the boys pick sores. Having spent a scant 18 months recording their second album, they are preparing to once again enter the fray. This time around they have Ian Rankin and Jack Vettriano working with them. Ian has contributed lyrics and spoken word to the album closer, ‘Foot of the Walk’, and Jack contributed a unique painting – a self portrait inspired by single ‘Goodbye Jack Vettriano’ from the first album – for the cover. When he visited the studio, Jack inadvertently stumbled into the vocal booth, and ended up narrating a few of Grant’s poems, which have put to music and included on the album. Release details have still to be confirmed, and the band is currently cloistered in rehearsal rooms honing their songs.