Steve Ely’s new book takes its inspiration and its title from Incendium Amoris (‘The Fire of Love’) by the fourteenth century saint and mystic Richard Rolle, ‘the hermit of Hampole’. The book offers a vision of pre-Reformation and post-industrial England through the eyes of the trespasser, the poacher, the recusant and the revolutionary, in solidarity with the swinish multitude against the landed power. Contesting language and landscape and addressing issues including carnality, class, scepticism and belief, Incendium Amoris is a peasant’s revolt against the accelerating cultural, social and environmental devastations of globalising capital, a guerrilla-pastoral prophecy of a yeoman-anarchist utopia.
Paterfamilias Rogerus, of Hampole And he that schal falle on this stoon, schal be brokun; but on whom it schal falle, it schal al tobrise hym. Matheu, XXI: 24 A slab from quarry at Stubbs. Hauled from tumbril, tackle snagged, and snapped: it dropped like a hawk – sweet Saint Richard! And rose like a lark, setting itself in place on tomb. Roger dabbed small blood and crossed himself – a cartload of lead, a hairstreak’s wing. Flame fraying to mouldwarp darkness. Beeswax wilting. Choir glowing like a stove. Fen-wolf, distant: compline’s descant.
Therfor thei token Jeremye, and castiden hym doun in to the lake of Elchie, […] wherynne was no watir, but fen; therfor Jeremye yede doun in to the filthe. Jeremye, XXXVIII: 6 Followed the football, fell. Face-down black muck, sucked black water: askr, flittermouse, tade. Hole in Cuthbert’s earth, a small one: Mamma pumping his chest and shrieking to Mary, swiping off worms. The undertaker’s rule: two cubits, a candle for Richard. Lauds, the light extinguished – her dead boy quacking like a duck.
Lord, saue vs; we perischen. Matheu, VIII: 25 Drowned thieving from fish-traps. Gaffed to the bank by punting bargees – glass-eyed, gaping. Swan-complected, scabbed with leeches, oozing like the fen. Maids tore weeds and wailed to Richard. She hiccoughed a frog; eels squirming from her petticoats. In Hampull’s chapel, her guttering candle flared.
Effeta, […] Be thou openyd. And anoon hise eris weren openyd. Mark, VII: 34-35 Sunday disco, Hacienda: mirrorball, Hazell Dean, drink-drive XR3 – searchin, lookin for love. Gary Davies back-perm DJ – oooh. Mandy does/Mandy doesn’t; back-room snooker, potting the brown and the pink. What? Puking by the bins. She sucked her finger and poked it in my ear – better move on down the line.
Nether this man synnede, nether hise eldris; but that the werkis of God be schewid in hym. Joon, IX: 3 Wall-eyed Belle, mad as a sheepdog. The good one, wholemeal partridge; the oddball, starling-blue. Widowed and witchy, drawing looks and slander, walking into doors. She needed a man, and threw herself on Richard: who understood her agony, prostrated on his tomb; her joy as moon-pie split to vision, glossy as a conker.
Ryse vp, take thi bed, and go in to thin hous. Mark, II: 11 Dirt-track junction, snarling quadbikes. Cigs, Lambrini, TLC – Cake Boss, Bride Wars, Tit-job Dreams. Richard in hermit’s habit, advert usurping – seemples! Up she stood, put her foot through the flatscreen. A miracle! Tell the neighbours, he said. She entered the Brookside fun run. That was a laugh. Even the winners were cripples.
For thou, Lord, liytnest my lanterne; my God, liytne thou my derknessis. Psalms, XVIII: 29 Ague from stank, or Satan: in truth, we are infants, knowing nothing. But writhe did my legs like serpents. And vomited. Flesh sweating like cheese. Three days, three nights – alma redemptoris mater – save me. So little the Saint needs: two pounds of wax from Hampole’s hives – the kiss of his fingers, warm as comb-honey.
Thei schulen do awei serpentis; and if thei drynke ony venym, it schal not noye he. Mark, XVI: 18 He drove the cattle from the corn and roared onto the common. Lad blue among anthills, quivering like a windflower. Three days he sweated on his pallet, eyes rolling like cauldron dumplings; until they swore by the Virgin to give thanks at Richard’s tomb. Whereupon he sat up. And the wesil slew the adder in the shelduck’s cave, sucking his goldpots – smashed alabaster, whorled in groping muck.
‘one of the most interesting books of poetry I’ve read for a while.’
Write Out Loud
‘fast becoming extinct due to the poetry moral police of young personality-cult poets who are cover-the-table-legs-Victorian in their bland pronouncements. It’s good to see real poets like Ely don’t care about liberal trends that aren’t liberal at all, but are echo-chamber intolerant.’
Salzburg Poetry Review