Monthly Archives: June 2018

Annoying Utterances

Christopher North has said: To me the ten most annoying utterances from the lectern at a poetry reading are:
1. Have I got time to squeeze in a short one?
2. Now let me see if I can find it…
3. Now if I can just get this thing to work…
4. This is one I wrote on the way here…
5. We were asked to write a villanelle…
6. I know it’s here somewhere…yes. Oh no erm let me see…
7. How long have I got?
8. It’s a load of rubbish but I read it anyway.
9. So all you need to know is that a ‘squawk bogger’ is a New Zealand newt, and that ‘ramping in the dolditts’ is an expression used by Romany folk from the Upper Silesia referring to their annual bean throwing festival, and that Durnstadt-terminum is a Village in Bavaria where they make clay pipes – well you’ll see what I mean when I…
10. (Already 15 minutes over allotted time) – ‘…and here’s one that I have to read. It came about after my son’s first session in Rehab – he’s out now and all seems Ok, Hooray! Hooray! And it’s an important poem for me because it was like a coming to terms emotionally with …blah blah blah.
(in an interview with William Oxley in Summer 2014, published in Acumen, September 2014)

I can tick all of these of on my list of readings that I have attended!

CN

Christopher, who owns the Old Olive Press (Almàssera Vella) in Relleu, Spain is a published and prize-winning poet. His first pamphlet A Mesh of Wires (Smith/Doorstop) was shortlisted for the 1999 Forward Prize. Oversteps Books Ltd published two collections Explaining the Circumstances (2010), The Night Surveyor (2014) as well as a joint bilingual collection with Terry Gifford: Al Otro Lado del Aguilar (2011). His pamphlet Wolves Recently Sighted was published by Templar in 2014.

blue house back view

The Old Olive Press (Almassera Vella)

It does add a special quality to being on a writing week at the Old Olive Press when your host is himself a poet. We were delighted to learn that Christopher is one of the four winners of the annual Poetry Business pamphlet competition. His collection The Topiary of Passchendaele will be launched at the Wordsworth Trust on 22 September this year. The title poem has just been awarded the 3rd prize in the 2018 Poetry on the Lake competition. With Christopher’s permission I’m publishing three poems of the new book below:

Last Word

In 1997 it was calculated that that there are fifty languages on the planet with only one speaker still alive. By 2015 there were just eight.

Lost in distant steppes
of somewhere to the East

there is a bank of evening primrose
beside a mud road with

a centre strip of mayweed,
hardheads smelling of pineapple.

The man at the window
has no word for pineapples.

He has a word for the ‘Via Lactea’,
that nightly glows above his roof.

It is similar to his word
for the blur caused by a stone or rain

hitting a puddle of clear water.
He had a word for evening primrose

but has forgotten it;
now they are nothing more

than his word for ‘flowers’.
The flowers have no words.

They only know their mechanisms:
their stretching upwards

their brief flare
and then a falling back to earth.

Sometimes a jet roars across the sky
leaving a tracer line that fades slowly.

He has never had a word for that.

 

From an Armchair

Beyond the range of the King’s photographer
the forest of the meteorite
and its star of blasted pines;

beyond the islands of the Gulag
and the road of bones through endless forest
where winter is norm, lives pass unrecorded,

epics unfold their progress in silence,
towns work through unknown narratives —
all outside the great conversation;

beneath sky-scapes lashed with stars
and the unfolding green of borealis;
through Sakha, Yakutsk and ice crushed bridges

lies Omyakon between frozen mountains,
where they say in winter words freeze
as they leave your mouth to fall forgotten in the snow.

They make a tundra littered with gossip,
cries of love, argument and greeting,
speeches and shouts petrified in depths of ice

until one midday when larch are greening
and golden root makes a brief smile at the low sun,
words fall into air as if from a door flung open

to fill the town like birdsong and running water

 

(From an idea of John Catanach – originally a story from Colin Thubron)

 

Trestles

Wise is knowing how much
you don’t know, have no conception of.

Unravel ignorance. Cover a trestle
with all those things not known.

The trestle groans, add another,
then more, fill a hall, then an annexe,

spread into the street,
become a neighbourhood,

grow to a city, a region,
a country with unmarked frontiers.

Maintain in a corner, dimly lit,
a timid altar of things you think you know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living below sea level

Living below sea level is the title of Kathleen Kummer’s debut poetry collection (Oversteps Books Ltd, 2012), as well as the title of a short sequence in the book. Kathleen and I met at the beginning of the century on a week’s writing workshop with the poet Lawrence Sail. She had been married to a Dutchman and lived and worked for 14 years in the Netherlands, teaching French and German.

We kept in touch as poets and then became friends. When Kathleen moved to Devon to be nearer her two daughters, I suggested she submit her work to Devon publishers. Kathleen only started writing poetry seriously in her late sixties and had immediate success in competitions and acceptances in quality UK magazines.

I’m featuring Kathleen as this month’s poet, with three poems from the collection. That day is the second poem in the sequence. The cover picture is by Shirley Smith, Society of Wood Engravers.

News item

Let it be hard to write this poem.
Let it be hard to listen to.
Its words should lie flat and grey on the page,
ugly, as befits the vocabulary of war.

He had no alternative, said the surgeon,
but to amputate the festering hand
of the baby, nine months old.
Did you, like me, hear the news over dinner

in a comfortable chair, in a comfortable room,
and wonder how you could go on eating,
go on living? But did, having no
alternative. Let that child, I asked –

without knowing whom I asked it of –
still have a mother and family to rock
and cradle it. For how many lullabies will it need
to sleep, how many bedtime stories?

 

ii That day

A kind of delousing: hours later,
I’m still finding rice and confetti in your hair,
but no trace of the cobalt-blue, vermillion
and burnt umber which dappled your face
and your dark hired suit, as the sun streamed on us
through the stained-glass windows. And that cascade of notes
‘Handel’, you whispered. I was proud of you
for knowing and didn’t let on I knew.

Image (6)

Boat on my windowsill

Forgive me for not using the pine cones you gave me
to light the fire. They look good on the hearth
in a wooden bowl. Among them, I found
a piece of bark, two-sided, V-shaped.
On my windowsill, upside down, it becomes
whatever boat I want it to be:
The Oseberg ship, chattels, carved wagon
on board, moored in its burial ground;
a Viking longboat, cutting through
the Baltic and Skagerrak as though they were butter;
a rowing boat, sturdy enough to take me
out to the ships which stand so still
on the firm line of the horizon; in the coracle,
I’d be snug and safe as a walnut in its shell
for the short crossing to the other side.

 

The Old Olive Press

Below is a picture of that olive press. Christopher and Marisa North opened The Old Olive Press, which is their house, as well as a cultural centre, in 2002. The press is located on the ground floor which has a sitting area and a large table seating a dozen. The first floor is at street level and houses the library of close to 4,000 books. Writing retreats are available and the Almàssera Vella is also listed in Alisdair Sawdays’s Spain (Special Places to Stay).

The blue house is at the edge of Relleu, a village in the mountainous area of Alicante province, known as ‘Marina Baixa’. It is the perfect location for a writing retreat, just one hour from Alicante Airport, half an hour from Villajoyosa on the coast; the village is large enough to have a bank, pharmacy, several bars and local shops. The Romans established the village on its existing site at the end of the 1st century B.C.

olive presspool JL

bancal

The olive press, the pool, the terraces (bancals) with olive trees.

I’ve just come back from my seventh visit. I’ve attended workshops with poets Mimi Khalvati, Matthew Sweeney and, in recent years, with the incomparable Ann Sansom. A week there is a winning combination of writing in the morning, a buffet lunch, and plenty of free time to write, read, relax, swim in the pool, or walk. Below is a poem from last year.

Relleu, 2017

The church bells do not have twins.
Bells ring twice, so the men working
in the campo can count the second time.

We’re at Pepe’s on the village square,
seated in two long rows at a narrow table.
Down the cobbled street is the blue house
where a white dog barks into the valley.

Maggie is moving along the table reading
aloud lines from a poem written by all
of us on the edge of the paper cloths.

A little Navarra rosé is left in my glass.
The twins of that paper poem are ahead of us.

Poetry as Survival

Last week on a writing workshop with Ann Sansom I read Poetry as Survival during my free afternoons.  In this book Gregory Orr, the author of many highly praised poetry collections, explores how writing, reading and listening to lyric poetry has enabled people to confront, survive, and transcend suffering.

In the introduction, Orr writes: When I was twelve years old I was responsible for a hunting accident in which my younger brother died.  Two years after this accident, Orr’s mother died suddenly, aged thirty-six, after a “routine” hospital procedure. A few years later, he experienced further trauma as a volunteer for the Civil Rights movement, including being abducted at gun-point and being held in solitary confinement for eight days. Orr then discovered poetry: I knew that if I was to survive in this life, it would only be through the help of poetry.

I gained a great deal from the book, especially the first part. Here Orr uses examples from around the world and from all ages to illuminate how lyric poetry helps us to find solace. Theodore Roethke’s poem My Papa’s Waltz was written in the late 1940s, a child’s encounter with violence. Below is my own poem along these lines, dedicated to my father who died in 1990:

Propulsion

When I was a child I was scared
of him – the biting voice,
the it’s never good enough look.

I saw the crack in the cupboard door,
the oak dining chair with kelim seat
that he threw with his right hand.

Over breakfast my parents
flung cutlery at each other,
then the metal teapot.
Wall-paper stained brown.

Tonight, I sift photos in my head,
see a scared young man
alongside the mother
who preferred his dead sister.

 

Refusal of a visit visa (3)

suleman 3

What Dreams May Come (2015) placed between After All It’s Always Somebody Else Who Dies (2017).

Adeela Suleman writes: My work is profoundly shaped by the way in which violence is performed, experienced and remembered. The more heinous the violence, the more beautiful its memorial.  In contemporary Pakistan death surrounds us, nameless, faceless and countless. In Karachi up to 12 people a day die in gangland and politically motivated murders.

The birds are dead. They make a pattern, a simple pattern that silently repeats itself. Silence haunts you, silence is disturbing. The delicate sparrow is a symbol and their shadow on the wall a reminder of the fragility of life.

After all it’s always somebody else who dies

The headless warrior still stands strong, holds his shield,
grips the tall lance, two narrow ribbons flutter.
Reeds, flowers and grasses part for his feet.
A memorial captured in carved wood stained green,
the colour that pleases the prophet.

Hand beaten and hand beaten from behind, through
chasing and repoussé, the stainless steel sparrows
that tumbled to their death. On the left 420 sparrows,
their beaks and feet touching, all held together.
On the right the same number of sparrows,
a shiny, shiny stillness.

My poem was a response to Suleman’s sculptures. It appeared in Building Bridges, an international anthology edited by Bob Beagrie and Andy Willoughby, published by Ek Zuban in 2017.

 

 

 

Refusal of a visit visa (2)

Recent Poetry School workshops have been held in the Manchester Art Gallery. So, we have been inspired by sample poems as well as the works on display. On the second floor there have been several interesting exhibitions of modern art. Dashing back downstairs I missed the display on the foyer wall – an enlarged copy of Home Office form OV51 Visit (NRA). On the first page the staff have given another reason for the refusal. They doubt that the artist has control over her bank account (the application was accompanied by bank statements, as required).

visa 2

Some personal details have been blacked out prior to posting, but the applicant is born in Pakistan and the work in the gallery is by Adeela Suleman, a sculptor and artist and Associate Professor and Head of the Fine Art Department of the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture in Karachi.

My short “found” poem:

Refusal of a visit visa

Date of refusal decision: 13 September 2017

Furthermore, you have stated that you are single
with no dependents.

I am not satisfied that you have demonstrated ties
to Pakistan that would give you reason to return
there.

a simple pattern that silently repeats itself
               silence haunts you
                                       silence is disturbing

 

Text in italics by Adeela Suleman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Refusal of a visit visa (1)

I’m flying out on Saturday, so can’t take part in one of the women’s processions that are being held in the four political capitals: London, Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh on Sunday. Those taking part will be given a sash in one of the suffragette’s colours – white (purity), green (hope) and violet/purple (loyalty and dignity). Manchester is the birthplace of the suffragette movement. The Pankhurst Centre is just a few miles from where I live.

processions-2018_-courtesy-of-artichoke

Suffragette Procession, courtesy of Artichoke

Yesterday I realised that this top, bought in Holland, is in the suffragette colours! Okay, the green is turquoise.

Pankhurst jacket

The Pankhurst Centre published a booklet – essays, memories – to celebrate its tenth anniversary in 1997. The one poem included was mine: a sonnet of sorts.

A line to Mrs Pankhurst

Leaving space for dreams between
the cooking and the dressing of the tree
Purple White and Green

Counting wrinkles on baubles I flee
to caress the turkey and knock
about the choice: dead or free.

Skimming fat off steaming stock
to start afresh, to say seems equal folly
Purple White and Green I fill my sock.

With another drink I might feel jolly.
Outside fairy lights among a flurry of snow.
I shudder when he pulls me under the holly

and Purple White and Green I know
that maybe next year I will go.