Eight Poems of Geoffrey Hann with an Introduction by Adil Jussawalla

August 12, 2010 at 1:09 pm (Geoffrey Hann, Poetry)

 Geoffrey Hann was a British citizen who lived the life of a tramp in Bombay. Large, bearded, shabbily dressed and apparently unwashed, he attracted attention in the streets and was generally shunned at the free cultural events he went to. People generally made a point of avoiding him when he was around.

I befriended him in the 80s and we used to sit and talk in public parks and gardens; sometimes in my flat. A meeting place we both enjoyed was the garden of what used to be called The Prince of Wales Museum. He began showing me his poems and on 16th September, 1986, he gave me a whole bunch of them. We sat and talked about his poems, he told me the little he wanted me to know about his life, his estrangement from his family.

 
He spoke with bitterness. He also told me he was fond of the city of Alexandria where he was born. I don’t know when he left Bombay. I last heard from him when he sent me the address of Hyde Park Hotel in Alexandria.

I liked practically all his poems. I tried to get a few people interested in publishing some of them in little magazines in Bombay, but wasn’t successful. Perhaps I read some of the poems out in public, but I’m not sure.

The poems lay in a file until very recently when I showed them to Dominic Alapat. I’m happy he’s found a space for them where they can be read by others.

– Adil Jussawalla

 

Fire  

Fire over Bombay!

The dreadful drama of the City of dead-end nights!

I’m so glad it didn’t grab the Lawrence Hotel

Because Ellen is staying there.

Ellen is a pearl of great price

The human disease at its almost acceptable;

When you look into Ellen’s eyes

You are in the grip of Maine’s warrior coast –

Dare I say tenacious as a lobster?

Of course I wouldn’t want her any other way

I wouldn’t care for roast Ellen

No, not even with French fries and flambé –

Maine lobster we will discuss in our next incarnation.

No Homeland 

Being a shelterless wanderer

With no country clamouring for my bones,

I must build a different homeland

Rising step by step out of fantasy.

I have crossed the Nile

Knowing nothing of flow or timelessness –

I am approaching Giza –

The Egyptian night is bright as video

In an ancient setting –

Here high drama has been played for centuries

And casts long shadows,

O Sphinx!

Out of your accumulated memories

And buried wisdom:

Give me the strength to raise

Pyramid dreams.

Arteries  

I’m an old man.

Headed for the dustbin –

You might call it a trashcan –

I’m a lemon squeezed dry

And the juice hasn’t been to everyone’s taste

Juice? No, not that kind

The grapes soured long ago

Attic wit?

Hit by the salt

Geriatric hardening of the arteries.

Death  

“Prepare to meet thy doom, the end is nigh!”

The Pale Horse’s laughter ripples in the resilient hills,

Is given back, it is still the music of this world.

Prancing, fear is trampled underfoot.

           Fear is a fatso –

Overweight for your long journey,

The soul’s flight.

I Did Not Love Her  

I did not love the Russian girl

Our guide in Leningrad;

I suppose I did not even like her –

She was too much the Soviet war heroine

With bulging biceps and jutting jaw –

Until she showed us over a church

And pointing to walls studded with bunks, said:

“In Russia we put our churches to good use,

We sleep homeless people in them.”

        Then I felt the hot desert wind in frozen Leningrad.

I loved her.

         Nor did I love the English girl

She was so much the bouncing Anglo-Saxon hockey woman –

I did not even like her.

Until she appeared to suffer a sea-change

As we were picking our way along a Bombay pavement

And she looked at the homeless street sleepers

Then delicately side-stepped, and said,

“I don’t like disturbing people in their bedrooms”

          Again I felt the hot desert wind –

This time in Island Bombay.

          I loved her.  

Fifteen Years is a Long Lifetime 

The pressure is on, heat will out,

Even after fifteen years in the peeling off East,

I’m all steamed up by London –

The eyes set in mobile bone-china tombs;

                                                 Uncaring –

Not a single beggar smirking

Acknowledges my existence –

If I’m grumbling so are the voices I hear

Whining like chainsaws,

Rude mechanicalls.

Of course I’m no Jean Genet;

I’m not armed with that dagger.

On visits to London he stayed in bed

Found masturbation more stimulating than Cleopatra’s Needle.

No, I still circulate in a Senior Citizen amble.

Hope that those sky-searching prices

Button-holing vultures

Won’t drop me from that predatory high-rise

Pensioner dead –

Just a heap of imported bones

That couldn’t make it to a respectable boneyard.

He had the mandatory two,

But these were long ago translated to other planes

And into gibberish languages.

Now he ploughs a lonely furrow

He never sought a teeming burrow

Alone is beautiful.

And sometimes dutiful.

(Sourpuss tells himself)

Given the quality of the terrestrials

(Have they been remaindered?)

When will the ETs save us from ourselves?

And rescue him from a clutch of cousins –

Hostiles not relatives –

Squatters on the edge of his life, edge,

Who yet menace the still precious centre.

They are not the snarling, knife-wielding breed;

But stealthy lungers of bayonets of the spirit.

Almost Over 

Someone tells me that I am bitter –

Just a leaking bag of vinegar.

– Even that my sting is the sting of an asp.

So be it, I was born in Egypt

And can die Cleopatra’s death.

As to crocodile tears, I shed them long ago

On the banks of the Nile –

That was an earlier, easier and more polluted death.

        Lessons? Some I have never learned –

The grace of an ibis with its one-legged stance –

And hence the superfluity of feet –

The homing instinct of the many-rooted banyan tree

– I who am rootless as desert air –

Could I put down an archaeological root in Cleopatra’s city –

Cavafy’s too – Alexandria?

It is fitting that in the coarseness of time

I should exit where I entered –

In my case just a closing of the sand.

– Geoffrey Hann

 

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6 Comments

  1. Ed Hemlock said,

    Dear Adil Jussawalla,

    Thank you for a wonderful piece about Geoffrey. Geoffrey and I became friends in London shortly after you last saw him in Bombay. At the time he had taking to hanging out in old coffee area in the British Museum (now sadly replaced). We visited Athens and Istanbul in 1987 and the following year I visited him at the Hyde Park Hotel in Alexandria that you mention. I have a couple of photos of Geoffrey from this time and would be pleased to scan and email them to you. I have a few more poems if I can find them – you may already have these. I’ve never forgotten his poem about never stabbing the air with a line like “Rose-red city, half as old as time.”

    Regards,
    Ed Hemlock

    • Dominic Alapat said,

      Dear Ed Hemlock,
      I spoke to Mr Jussawalla regarding the photos and poems. I like Geoffrey Hahn’s poems myself, and would be happy to see what you have. Perhaps, we could post them on Woodsmoke.
      If you are open to the idea, do send your material to the Editor. His email id is on the About Us page of this blog.

  2. adil Jussawalla said,

    Dear Ed Hemlock,
    I’m happy to know that Geoffrey has found yet another sympathetic
    reader. I’d typed out a longer comment but my computer failed to
    deliver, so this is a short one. Please do send Geoffrey’s poems to
    Woodsmoke, as Dominic suggests. That will enable us to read more
    of his work.
    Thank you, and with my best wishes,
    Adil Jussawalla

  3. Sarah Young said,

    Dear Adil and Dominic.

    I would like to contact either of you regarding Geoffrey Hann, can you please let me know an email address on which I can get in touch. I work at a school in Scotland and believe him to be one of our former pupils.

    Regards
    Sarah

    • adil jussawalla said,

      Dear Sarah Young,
      I regret to say that Geoffrey died many years ago – in Alexandria, think –
      and he never gave me his email address; I don’t think he had one.
      However, Martin Buckley, a British writer who knew Geoffrey when he was
      in India, wrote about him in a travel book – the title of which escapes me.
      I have no details for Buckley, but if you manage to trace him via the Net,
      he may prove helpful. I very much hope you succeed in finding out more
      about Geoffrey.
      Sincerely,
      Adil Jussawalla

      • Sarah Young said,

        Dear Adil

        Thank you very much for your reply, i had guessed he would have been deceased, given our records had him aged 103! I actually came accross Martin Buckley’s piece before yours however am unable to locate any details for him, i will continue the search though!

        Many thanks
        Sarah

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