Featured Poet - Christopher T. George

"I think poetry is a medium that can help us touch the beauty and tragedy in the world as well as realise certain truths about ourselves and the world around us." - Christopher T. George

When I was asked to edit an anthology of poetry containing work from poets influenced by the City of Liverpool, Chris was one of the first poets I thought of. Although he has spent much of his adult life living in the United States, he is at heart a Liverpudlian and poems drawn from his early years in Liverpool pepper his work. However, Chris is not a one trick poet, much of his work is surprising and innovative, and reading the selection made for this feature will confirm that. His Father O'Malley poems are an epic appraisal of a character in all its human facets and from the lines of poetry emerges a whole person. Truly wonderful poetry and a fascinating read. (Jim Bennett)

Featured Poet 18 - Christopher T. George

Tell us something about yourself.

Born in Liverpool, England, in 1948, my parents and I lived for a short while behind Anfield stadium in the 'Pool and I have been a lifelong supporter of Liverpool FC.  My passions are soccer, poetry, history, art, and music.  I am though more connected with the south end of Liverpool, specifically the Aigburth - Mossley Hill area.  When my parents emigrated to the United States in 1955, settling in Baltimore, I was very homesick and missed my grandparents.  My parents very kindly allowed me to go back and live with my Grandad and Nanna, which I did in 1960.  A lot of my poems have to do with my Liverpool childhood.

My poetry has been published on both sides of the Atlantic. I am the Editor of Desert Moon Review http://www.desertmoonreview.com/. I have my own personal poetry site at http://chrisgeorge.netpublish.net/index.htm .  I have written the lyrics for a musical on Jack the Ripper that is to be performed in Charlotte, North Carolina, in September 2005.  I am the North American editor for Ripperologist magazine.  In addition to my interest in the Whitechapel murders, I am an acknowledged expert on the War of 1812 in the Baltimore - Washington area and the author of  Terror on the Chesapeake: The War of 1812 on the Bay (White Mane Books, 2000)

How/when did you start writing?

Before I left England in 1968, at age 20, to attend Loyola College in Baltimore, I had begun a historical romance novel and also a history of Liverpool.  Neither was published but you can see I had the writing bug.  At Loyola, I wrote for and edited the campus literary magazine and started to write poetry and read good poetry through the classes I took at Loyola.  I also attended classes with Sister Maura Eichner, a strong local poet in Baltimore who taught next door at the College of Notre Dame, and several times sat in with the Writing Seminars at the Johns Hopkins University.  I also took classes with Andrei Codrescu at Hopkins and it was through Andrei that I was introduced more to Frank O'Hara and other more modern writers.  Meanwhile, I had separately discovered the writing of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes and both had a great influence on me.  Their tragic story fascinates me.  Also I have studied the life stories of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald and Edgar Allan Poe, all of whom lived in Baltimore.

How do you write? Do you have any particular method for writing?

No, the writing comes by inspiration, by experience and through the extensive reading that I do.  So I don't have a regular regimen that some writers say they have, get up, do two hours of writing at the same desk etc.  Since I have a full time job and am involved in all types of historical and other writing, I fit in the creative writing where I can.

Do you make much use of the internet?

Yes!  I make extensive use of the Internet for communication and research, also for tuning into writing workshops.  As you know, I am editor of the site Desert Moon Review.   I probably owe my present writing career to the Internet, and certainly many of the contacts that I have made in writing and history circles have come through the Web.

Why poetry?

I think poetry is a medium that can help us touch the beauty and tragedy in the world as well as realise certain truths about ourselves and the world around us.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

In regard to getting published, just keep writing.  It will happen.  If you get a rejection letter from an editor, don't take it personally and at all costs keep writing.

I admire my friend Guy Kettlehack's expressed philosophy, that if you don't put great store in the results, and just keep plugging away, you'll get there.

Guy says, "Just love writing the stuff, is my main thing. . . take enough joy in PLAY and you won't care who's watching. . . . Dominoes you didn't realize you'd set up start to fall."

In other words, do submit your work but don't take the rejections to heart, just keep at it, and enjoy what you are doing!


Finally, Chris, I have read and watched your sequence of Father O’Malley poems, of which "His Father's Funeral" is an example, grow and develop. Would you like to tell us about your thinking behind the sequence?

His Father's Funeral

Home from his mission to attend the funeral,
O'Malley sits in the funeral car; his mass kit
jiggles on his knee. The lanes near Sligo glint

sodden with summer rain, just as he remembered.
People stand on the curbside as they pass, the Rolls
bumping along after the hearse. "Nice to see

that Dad was so cared about," O'Malley remarks.
"Dad's been gone so long, as if he'd gone
to another room," his sister Colleen sniffs.

"A richer conveyance than Da' ever rode in life!"
As he speaks, she twists a lace handkerchief.
Mam's face hidden behind her black veil.

The worn black Italian leather case bounces,
surface blotched with dampness from the jungle.
Clinking of chalice, votive glass candlesticks,

the wine bottle, the host box, 60-host capacity.
The limousine scrunches on churchyard gravel.
Businesslike, he draws out his purple silk stole.

"We'll see the old fella has a good sending off,"
he smiles as swans rise from a lake into the sky.

A cycle of Father O’Malley poems appeared in Crescent Moon Journal in Summer 2004.

See http://www.desertmoonreview.com/cmj/summer04/cmj04_series.htm#10


 Let me say up front that I am not a Catholic or even a churchgoer, and that I was brought up in a household in Liverpool, England, that had a suspicion of Roman Catholics.  So, you might ask, how did I ever come to compose a cycle of poems about a priest from Sligo, Ireland, who was on a mission to an unnamed Central American country?  Well, as John Lennon wrote in his 1964 volume of Lear nonsense pieces, In His Own Write, “you might well arsk.” Or, if you will allow me another Beatles reference, it’s a “long and winding road.”


First, although I had been brought up in an English Protestant family, on my re-emigration to the United States in 1968, after spending some years living with my grandparents in Liverpool, having been homesick after my first stint in the U.S., January 1955 to January 1960, I attended Loyola College in Baltimore, where I studied with Jesuit instructors.  I also took poetry classes with the Sisters of Notre Dame next door at the College of Notre Dame, where poet Sister Maura Eichner, a particular influence on me, encouraged me to become a writer.  One of her poems concerns the tragedy of a murdered nun whose body was found in a garbage dump.  I continue to admire Sister Maura’s poetry, with its steely realism while open to both the beauty and the horrors of the world.


On graduation from Loyola College, I was inducted into the Alpha Sigma Nu Honor Society, an organization for honor students who had attended Jesuit colleges.  A number of articles in the society’s magazine, Company, on Jesuit missions in Latin America, today and in past centuries, influenced me in conceiving of a cycle of poems to feature a Catholic priest in Central America that I began in March 2003 with the poem, “At the Bend of the Rio Chuckwalla” which says something about the long held superstitions of the land that Father O’Malley had to battle in bringing Christ to the native people, the Mestites. 


I hope that helps to explain the Catholic and Latin American aspects of the O’Malley series.  So what about the Irish element?


In September 1992, when I was researching a book on the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States, I had to travel to Ireland for the first time.  Several of the top British officers involved in the British assaults on Washington and Baltimore in 1814 were Anglo-Irish.  During this time, I visited William Butler Yeats’s grave at Drumcliff, County Sligo, and was impressed with the inscription on the poet’s slate gray gravestone: “Cast a Cold Eye on Life, on Death, Horseman, Pass by!”  The words resonated with an inscription on a monument back in Baltimore County: “How Beautiful Is Death When Earned by Virtue.”  Near the location of that small whitewashed obelisk one of the officers I was interested in, Dublin-born Major General Robert Ross, was mortally wounded in a skirmish with the Baltimore militia on September 12, 1814. A couple of the photographs I took during my visit to Sligo, including one of the poet’s grave, which at the time had a beautiful spray of orange montbresia next to the gray gravestone, and an image of the swans rising from a marsh may be recognized in poems in the O’Malley cycle.  Specifically, the swans appear before the funeral ceremony for O’Malley’s father, in the next to last poem, “His Father’s Funeral,” and the grave with the montbresia are evoked in the final poem in the cycle, “The Word of God.”


Parallel to my interest in Ireland, with all the lore and history that implies, is my interest in things ancient and primitive.  A number of my poems have spoken to a totemic faith in ancient peoples.  I have written about the ancient whorls on the Calder Stones of Liverpool, ancient carved boulders believed to be the remains of a chambered Neolithic tomb that stood not far from where Lennon lived on Menlove Avenue and to “Strawberry Fields” famous from the Beatles’ 1967 song of that name.  The whorls are also similar to concentric designs in the chambered tomb in Newgrange, County Meath.


The ancient peoples of the Americas also have been of longstanding interest to me, and I have previously written about the pyramids of Central and South America in both nonfiction essays and in poetry.  Although I have never been further south than Key West, Florida, my exposure to the lure of the tropics, lush vegetation, colorful animals and fish, has inspired me, and helped feed into my poetry. 


 Reading the prose of the British master Graham Greene, many of whose novels are set in the tropics, I began to conceive of a series of poems set in an impoverished land and featuring Father O’Malley, a priest from County Sligo, in the Republic of Ireland sent to work among the Mestite people of a certain Central American nation.


As with Greene’s novels, although the characters and places are often fictional, the circumstances are real.  Thus, O’Malley labors in an Indian village at a bend of the Rio Chuckwalla, and has to work along with the members of the oligarchy, headed by the president, General Madragal, a man reminiscent of Juan Peron, and with Archbishop Costa, a man who loves Elvis Presley along with Christ, and Mother Superior Rosario, who in her young days was Miss Los Petos, 1948.  It is a poor land beset by civil war waged by the guerrillas of the September Moon insurgents led by Commissar Delgado.  O’Malley himself is scarred by his experiences in his adopted land—scarred like the worn black Italian leather case of his mass kit as it bounces, “surface blotched with dampness from the jungle” in the funeral car on the way to his dad’s funeral in Sligo.


I am proud to have been able to bring Father O’Malley and his world to life.  I would like to think that readers of the O’Malley cycle will agree with the words of Crescent Moon Journal editor, Mustansir Dalvi, in introducing the series of poems in the Summer 2004 contest issue.  Mustansir wrote: “We, at the Desert Moon were witnesses to their development, and now ‘the imperfect martyr’ Father O’Malley of Rio Chuckwalla, at the edge of the Mestite jungle, is flesh and blood, not mere words.”



Striking Entrance

"Naturally, after a career. . . which spans more than forty years, Redgrave knows something about entrances, exits, and costuming" - The New Yorker, June 27, 2005

For weeks now, I've monitored the trackside
on my rail trek from Baltimore to Washington
to see when the orange trumpet vines burst

into bloom. And now summer heat has zinged
the Bay area, here they are! Growing lushest
in stinky places, processing plant, underpass.

Actresses of common roots! Gorgeous dames
who trip their finery in trackside dumps!
I'll forgive as one smiles as she throttles

a purple clematis. Miss Marple's revenge!

See http://www.scienceu.com/library/articles/flowers/images/medium/trumpet_vine.jpg

I have been working for the last five years as a medical editor in Washington, D.C., a cab, train, and Metro trip that takes four hours out of my day, door to door, so a large number of my poems are inspired by things or people I see along the root, like this work!


The Griot of Guantanomo Bay

By ember-light in an acacia clearing, she hums
an Afro-Cuban lullaby as faces watch in shadow:
blood red Caribs, Conquistadors, Communistas.

Dawn at Gitmo: a parched crescent is lapped by
Caribbean blue; skin-tearing cactus, two rows
of chain-link garnished with razor wire.

No longer just sailor accents of Flatbush or
Biloxi, liquid Spanish of Havana or San Juan;
now the guttural of Kabul, Beirut, Teheran,

of captives in prison orange in wire cages.
She claps in time to gourd rattle, calfskin
drum. She's a news-bringer, praise-singer,

carrying scars for her murdered son.
Ghost guerillas move in the shadows;
chamber click, snake hiss, panther snarl.

Patiently, the griot blows on the embers,
to illumine the future. Underbrush rustles.
A spirit conflagration sets fire to the night

This poem does what I try to do a lot in my poems, bring in a sense of the history and a view of some tragedy of mankind.  I have been struck for some time by the kind of out-of-time nature of Guantanomo Bay, the U.S. base on Cuba which it has been alleged is where abuse of terror suspects has taken place.  The base is on territory that the Americans captured in the Spanish-American War of 1898, yet the rest of Cuba today is persona non-grata to the U.S. government due to Castro's Communist regime.  The Cubans, for political reasons, have been subject to economic embargo while the U.S. has cosied up to the Red Chinese who continue to abuse human rights and arguably are a worse regime than Castro's.  I thought Guantanomo brings together a number of historical strains that I tried to mirror in the poem.  The poem came about after I had read that Guantanomo Bay is a refuge for rare sea turtles to lay their eggs.  About the same time I read that story, I heard about an American griot or African-American storyteller who had lost her son, and I imagined such a griot at Guantanomo.  Ultimately I dropped the sea turtles from the poem but the rest remained.  The poem won second prize in the InterBoard Poetry Competition (IBPC) in February 2005 and also appeared on-line in Triplopia magazine. 


The Ghosts of Cambodia

The old farmer takes us to a temple splashed
with magenta bougainvillea; a carving shows
a royal horse trampling a king's unfaithful
wife to death. Below, a saronged woman
offers rice and plum wine to the dead.

A ruined school is now a shrine stacked
with skulls rescued from the fields;
offerings of fruit and cups of water sit
in the door. He says, "Where the skulls lay
in the fields, they became soft and smelly.

"The water buffalo began to eat them.
If we hadn't gone and collected them,
the buffalo might have eaten them all.

"Nightly, the spirits of the dead startle
us as they call out, 'Bring us water,
it's so hot and crowded in here!'
Still their spirits cry out, taunt us."


The core subject matter for this poem is the atrocities carried out in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot, who came to power in 1975. Time magazine called the genocide under Pol Pot "one of the century's greatest massacres."  See the photo essay "The Legacy of Pol Pot: A Photographic Record of Mass Murder" at http://www.time.com/time/daily/polpot/photo.html

I wrote the poem after reading an article in the Washington, D.C. Examiner  about how the skulls from Pol Pot regime's victims were put in a ruined school by local policemen near Tonle Bati Lake. I later researched on the Web and discovered that there are Angkor Wat-like ruined temples near the lake which led to me adding the opening stanza about the ancient temple. I feel that the old tragedy and the new tragedy speak to each other and amplify the loss and the pain.


Walking to Hilbre

Grandad, you wake forgetting
that we ever walked to Hilbre,
the sand ridges hard under our bare soles,

the advancing tide filling the valleys.
When we reached the sandstone island, we ate
tongue paste Hovis sandwiches, crusts trimmed

by Nanna, thermos coffee, her dark date loaf, but
all now forgotten by you. Your gold puzzle ring glints
in the morning sun. A sandfly annoys

the diamond panes of the leadlight window.
Oh, but now I am being forgetful: a plain
picture window now, the preference

of new wife, Olive. And I'm that fly
attacking the glass. My complex eye
sees everything and nothing.

I run through the waves
trying to reach you; the tide
of memory keeps us apart.

Appeared in the poetry(WORM) 29.  About my childhood in Liverpool, looking back on my grandfather, and referencing a place that is close to my heart, Hilbre Island in the Dee Estuary.


Grandma Potts Had an Unmarked Grave

Every week, Nanna and I would board a green
Corpy bus for the ride to Allerton Cemetery.
We'd get off in Garston by the swimming baths.
She held my hand as we walked to the graveyard.

We insert the posy of anemones in the jam jar
on the grassy grave of the lady I never knew.
Hubby died in a fall down the ship's ladder,
her daughters sent to the seamen's orphanage.

Black wooden box in the cupboard with Nanna's
worldly possessions: "Sara Elizabeth Potts"
stenciled in white on the side. Tomorrow's
aunts' day*we'll visit Nanna's sisters,

two more bus journeys, a green Crossville bus,
a red Ribble bus. I count the red motor cars,
our allies in the make-believe war I fight.
A cold ham salad waits for us at Auntie Mary's.

Appeared in Triplopia.  Another poem about my Liverpool childhood.



You desired to make me your receptacle
for all you knew. No child of your own,
you meant to pass to me your lifetime's
knowledge of history, flora, and fauna.
So you introduced to me by its Latin name,
a rare speckled orchid on St. Aldhelm's Head,
by the side of the hermit's ruined chapel.
Named the swirling birds, cormorants, auks,
as we hiked along Beeny Cliff, the waters
below us twinkling with a million suns.
You prepared the strains of knowledge
like skeins of wool at a spinning wheel,
sheep's wool caught in clifftop barbed wire.
We slid down the shale to Kimmeridge Bay
seeking fossil ammonites and trilobites,
the world's wisdom in a raptosaur's tooth.

This poem is about my uncle, Douglas Matchett, who had a great deal to do with engendering my love of history as well as flora and fauna. The poem appeared in poetry (WORM) 31.


Guernica by Picasso

Even after all these years, the women are still screaming,
fingers transmuted into sausages or sardines
that won't stop the babies from falling.
Body parts mix with those of bull and stallion:
eyes flared, hooves, horns, teeth, faces ripped in two.
The bellows of animals become human.

Here I try to say something new about Picasso's famous painting, and perhaps make a statement about the timeless nature of war's agony.  The poem won second prize in the IBPC competition in April 2003 and appeared in the poetry(WORM) 20


The Monkey on the Terra Cotta Patio

scrambles for peanuts thrown by the old poet.
She sits on her purple haunches, gnawing a nut;
pieces of husk rain onto the red tiles.

The poet sits amused in the sun, a blanket
on his knees, an intricately carved cane by
his side, if he cares to walk, but he does not.

Scents of honeysuckle and gardenia play
in his nostrils. Snow-white peonies
avalanche over the red-tiled walk;

the sun glints in water spewing from
a bronze fountain and on a cherub's cheek.
Beautiful enough to write about, if he still

wrote, if anyone remembers his verse. Once
he was a performing monkey too, dancing
to an organ grinder's calliope, wrote novels

that entertained a certain audience, made a mark
on the New York Times best sellers list.
The honeysuckle is interwoven with poison ivy,

but the hospital staff don't seem to care.
The monkey scratches herself, looks sideways
with expectant eyes at her old companion, whose

still hand rests in the crumpled bag of peanuts.

This one perhaps says something about the transitory nature of this writing life!