Adrian Slatcher writes poetry, fiction and criticism, and lives in Manchester.
The Maze was written in summer 2009 in Norwich in the second of 3 visits to the “Worlds” festival of writers organised by Writers’ Centre Norwich. With Worlds 2011 starting this week, I thought it would be good to put it online. Its a great week, and anyone who can get to Norwich is recommended to do so! Each year the writers go on a visit to a local literary spot, and that year we went to Somerleyton Hall, which some readers will know from Sebald’s “Rings of Saturn”. The American poet/anthologist Cole Swensen had just joined the group and I dedicated the poem to her. This photograph by Martin Figura at Writers’ Centre Norwich captures the moment of the poem. The poem appears in my pamphlet “Playing Solitaire for Money.”
The Maze (for Cole Swensen)
Do poets seek out the labyrinth?
We had zig-zagged across the lawns of Somerleyton Hall.
It was no sombre Sebaldian journey, this visit.
The house was a baroque jungle of aristocratic kitsch.
Stuffed bears from the baronet’s shooting party.
The last Crossley carpets from a Halifax mill.
Here was the English class system in its repeating lie
Like the mirrors at each end of one room
Reflecting endlessly back on each other.
Here was the arriviste hiding his history
In the well-worn disguise of the English lord.
But we took a breath,
And marvelled anew at the garden’s shades,
Deep greens from the rain-heavy spring
Offset by sunbleached yellows and browns.
The maze was planted just a short step from the great house,
A little secret garden for the children;
Well-tended privet, thick emerald hedges.
We meandered aimlessly through the shaded labyrinth
Like jungle explorers, or, more correctly, like poets.
At the centre, a raised gazebo,
That retreated from us as we moved nearer.
On turning the last corner German teenagers rushed past
And at last we saw the summit – and reaching it
Raised a fist for poetry!
We looked out past the hedgerows and over the gardens.
The maze closed around us, as impenetrable as metaphor.