Four poems from Julian Stannard’s The Parrots of Villa Gruber Discover Lapis Lazuli

I first heard Julian’s work when I read with him at The Shuffle a couple of years back, and I’ve been a big fan since. His latest collection, the wonderfully titled The Parrots Of Villa Gruber Discover Lapus Lazuli, is out from Salmon. Inventive, witty and surprising, his poems are always a pleasure to read – as these four amply demonstrate…

Cosimo’s Gift


Cosimo’s given another bulk-buy book of photographs
full of orange crevices and weird geological formations
and thinks This is my gift to England.
He likes to say he’s got a friend in what he calls Titanic City.
Most people think That doesn’t sound so good
and when no-one’s looking they give their testicles a pat.
All those orange crevices and crazy rock formations.
Is Cosimo hinting at suicide?

Cosimo gets another bulk-buy book of glossy photographs.
He walks to the Post Office in Kroton
and says, I’m sending this to my friend in Southampton.
The woman who handles packages nods – Molto bene.
It’s a heavy book and the postage comes to thirteen euros.
The woman glances at Cosimo’s groin.
Eventually the book leaves that forgotten city of the south
and fetches up, almost mystically, in another.

The book’s at the sorting office in Shirley.
Without reason a postman picks it up and chucks it to a mate
who chucks it to another who shimmies and sells a dummy
and breaches the Welsh defence to score a useful try.
Cosimo’s book of geological weirdness is already a success.
The fever of the moment over, it’s placed back in the basket
of Urgent Deliveries where it sinks down to the bottom.

A few days later the package is prepared for the outside world.
A corner of the book has punctured the yellow envelope.
A postman puts it into a red bag and climbs onto a bicycle.
A cobweb of grey is folding over the city, the postman’s whistling.
He slips past the Pig N’ Whistle and coasts down Landguard Road.
An inchoate melancholy drifts out of the Bail Hostel.
It’s now twelve thirty, the perfect time to deliver a parcel.
The parcel too wide for the letter box, he rings the bell.

And being a postman he rings twice:
still no answer so he places his ear against the glass
and listens rapturously to the gift of silence.
Ah well, he says, back to the farm my rooster
and he pats Cosimo’s book before lobbing it into his bag.
Cobweb of grey’s folding over the city, postman’s whistling.
He slips past the Pig N’Whistle and back to Shirley.
Melancholy winks at the Monkey Puzzle Tree.


I sit on the sofa and thank God for England
I sleep and wake and work I sleep I work I work I wake.
I seem to be walking along the Rio Grande.
Weeks pass. I ring in sick and that’s because I am sick.
As Marlow was sucked into his quest for Kurtz
I begin my journey down Shirley High Street.
The tat, tat, tat’s turning into a burst of gunfire.
The church of Saint Boniface takes no prisoners.

Cosimo’s book of monstrosities isn’t in my thoughts.
This type of communication comes from a wife or a lawyer.
If it’s the lawyer I’m addressed as Egregious Doctor
and invited to present myself in a foreign court
to answer charges of a vaguely nuptial nature.
If it’s a wife she writes in the style of a ransom note:
a weird macaronic display of languages and letters
whose refrain is constant  Sei Un Pezzo Di Merda.

A light wind’s rattling my bones and tossing my hair.
The temptations of the Polish shop are resistible.
Will I get my Bourbon lily?
Twelve-thirty at the sorting office: my life has bobbed,
my life has bobbed, I’ve lit my candle for Lycidas.
I’m in the queue for minor prophets
and my passport photo suggests The Red Brigade.
The postman sighs Cosimo!, Oh Cosimo!

When I see the package he crashes into reality.
I should’ve realised my collection of photographic books
was inadequate, that the wonders of the rock are infinite:
Wonders of the New World, Wonders of Our Planet
Wonders of the Appalachians, Wonders of the Gannet.
Whatever the focus of the wonder there’s a vast canyon
and a subliminal message, Don’t jump, don’t jump, Ok, just do it!

I could buy some synthetic hair, I could visit the pornographer.
The temptations of the Polish shop are resistible.
Cosimo’s book’s my shield, my root, my sticking place.
I’ve been spared the obiter dicta of a crazed wife.
It’s still a while before I reach the outer hub of decency
so I walk with Cosimo into the Forest of Calabria.
He’s brought a tripod, several meatballs, a bottle of carrot juice.
He has an astonishing vocabulary when it comes to trees.

After meatballs and a morning of tree talk
I’m rather hoping a lone wolf might slink into the frame
partly because it would be more interesting than a tree
and partly because it  might bite Cosimo in the foot.
When we’re not talking about trees we’re talking about fish
and when we’re not talking about fish we’re talking about
LA VIA DOLOROSA . Cosimo’s crackling with Weltschmerz.
He’s thinking of building a hut in the forest and living in it.

Oh Cosimo, what did you do yesterday? I cookèd fish.
Oh Cosimo what have you done today? I cookèd fish.
Oh Cosimo what will you do tomorrow?, I cookèd fish.
Oh Cosimo, Cosimo, what will you ever do, ever do?
Fish, fish, fish. Have you never seen La Dolce Vita?
And the photographs, when will you take the photographs?

When I’m not cooking the fish,  I suppose.
It’s easier to die than to remember but I am remembering.
He’s got a car, we’re in it, driving past the Temple of Hera.
There’s the light of the moon in the swoon of the waves.
If we travel further we’ll reach the city of Sybarus.
The afternoon is upon me but there’s no evidence of heat.
Aargh, I think there’s an arrow sticking in my head.
When I get back to the flat I rip open the package.

It’s not orange or brown or red, it’s blue.
It says To my dearest friend, a hug of joy!
If you love the sea, you’ll love this book.

A Post-Modern City In The Fog Which Is Now A Modernist City
          And Therefore Unreal

How wonderfully mashed-up and serene a fog-bound city is.
The anomie of bourgeois glitter, a metropolis of piano-tuners
now that the grand piano has turned into a coffin.
A city of fugues and Schubert’s fantasy of corpses:
Ich liebe, Ich liebe  the gothic spasms of the soup kitchen
whose stock is made from the bones of elegant boutiques!
The cobbled streets of immigrant quarters and Liverpool Street.
Buildings of glass like ships at sea carrying the money curse
and the helmsman lashed to the tiller, the albatross more bat than bird.
These shirts are beautifully pressed and scented
ready to wrap themselves around the torsos of the rich
but now the rich are a little less rich and the shirts
are resting under the blue light of a sleeping shop which declares
Reductions of 50% and even 80% and Buy Two Quality Shirts
and you can swagger up Brick Lane and visit the studio
of Tracy Emin who’s forsaken Margate’s heart-stopping beaches.
How riveting to stand on the rooftop of Das Kapital
and see the world as we’ve come to know it disappearing under
a whirr of blades and hysterical faces…
Someone’s written KEEP WARM  – BURN THE BANKERS
but I think a guillotine might be quicker.
You buy a ½ price suit and walk through the city
but the city doesn’t see it because the city’s only a shape in the fog,
the brothel-meat thrown out with the brothel.
Unreal city’s wounded like a real dog and I follow it
down Folgate Street to The Poet, where we drown ourselves.

Villa Giovanna

Welcome to the Sailors Chapel and Reading Room
where there’s an array of bibles
& evangelical currents are blowing down the corridor.
We could talk about the spirituality of seafaring
or we could lie down and sleep, our beds now still.
When I wake I’ll put on those red slacks
& walk to Principe and then onto Via Balbi
where I’m sure to meet Signora Balbi:
Salve Signora Balbi, salve!  Salve Giulio!
I’ll step into the Faculty of Foreign Literature
& walk up to the loggia which is holding off the sun:
I’m going to talk at length with carissimo Sertoli
because he’s turning into Marcello Mastroianni.
Look, he’s getting out those lethal cigarettes.
But I’ve not smokèd for two whole years!, he says
(now rather sadly putting them away). He pats my arm:
Giulio, I have a strategy & he takes out an elegant stick
of liquorice & begins to chew & he takes out another
which he hands to me and says, It’s not so bad,  is it?
not  – mind you  – as good as the camel
but something nevertheless to put in the mouth.
We are chewing liquorice on the loggia
casting into the past, our cloud of disbelief
& now when there’s a hiatus in our liquorice talk
I notice a shadow throwing itself across the loggia
& see the illustrious Bacigalupo striding forwards,
an expert on Wallace Stevens, he too is wearing slacks!
Liquorice and comity. Elegance and intelligence.
Ho preso due piccioni con una fava!
I continue past the Church of Annunziata
next to the Liceo Classico where my son learnt Latin
but stumbled over Greek. And Via Lomellini, Via San Luca,
Piazza Banchi, Piazza Campetto (ah the shop that made
my wedding rings…) & the church of San Matteo,
church of christenings & bonbonniere.
The old lean priest is standing in the piazza.
Sin is beautiful, he says, sin has many gaudy wings
& without it I would be out of a job and he winks
placing a hand on my shoulder and pointing up
to The Miracle of the Ethiopian Dragons by Luca Cambiaso.
I push up through the Salita Archivescavato
Migone the wine shop is there on the corner!
& onto the Questura in Piazza San Matteotti.
City of sweat and city of debt.
I’m looking at the left flank of the Doge’s Palace
the white hips of the Doge’s Palace
& I’m climbing the stairwell of denouncements
to greet the carabiniero who arrested me
for  crimes in Villa Gruber.
It’s hot now – caldo, caldo, caldissimo.
See how the sweat leaps from one onto the other
see how the ragazzi are wearing their occhiali scuri
the swinging cocks of the vicoli:
the Duomo and Via San Lorenzo. Left Bank of the city:
Salita Fava Greca, Piazza Sarzano. Oil tankers,
Via San Bernardo, kiff and marocchini:
my back to the tower, eyes seawards like Poisedon
why not ascend to San Nicolò, the quickened air beyond?
I take the funicular to Via Preve
& walk down to Villa Giovanna.
I’m in the shower, the blue-tiled shower room
I’m scrubbing the sweat off myself
Oh listen! My liver’s playing a little tune
& there’s a white towel, almost a beatitude
& the city’s turning into Havana with Scottish castles
& Ruth’s on the terrace holding a melon
I’ve never seen such a voluptuous thing!
Come, eat, she says, I have cooked.

Do You Have To Live In Paris To Be A Flâneur?

I’m walking down Shirley High Street.
Could someone come and get me now?

Read more from Julian here

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