Monthly Archives: August 2018

Giraffe

Seren Books had a brief 50% discount offer, so at the end of July I dashed to the website to make a purchase. In the library at Ty Newydd I’d seen a copy of In a different light, Translations into English of fourteen contemporary Dutch-language poets. Scrolling I suddenly spotted a picture of a giraffe!

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Bryony Littlefair was the Winner of the Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition. Seren Books published her pamphlet last year. In her testimonial Myra Schneider says Her work, with its unexpected imagery and juxtapositions, is witty, ironic, frank, and poignant. Giraffe is a striking debut collection.

There are some intriguing titles: The year she asked for a scrubbing brush for Christmas; Poem in which not everything is lost; Visitations of a future self; The meaning of employable.

The tone of the poems is conversational, but Bryony has a clear eye for the detail. Dear Anne Monroe, Healthcare Assistant celebrates the “quiet beauty” of NHS nurses in Archway where the light is piss-yellow and everyone is angry. In The sadness of giftshops we see the owner’s thin, teal scarf, smattered with small white horses and the way she writes down everything she sells on a plain sheet of A4.

I enjoyed reading Bryony’s pamphlet, including the memorable poem Maybe this is why women get to live longer.  Here is a woman in a wrap dress/and brown hair tied loosely at the nape/of her neck, slack as an otter’s tail.  This woman is listening to a man with the thick/tufty eyebrows of a politics professor -/permanently raised, as if hung by them/to a washing line -.

The title poem is the last poem of the book, placed opposite Sertraline. It was previously published in Popshot Magazine, and I appreciate Bryony’s permission to share Giraffe with you.

Giraffe

When you feel better from this – and you will – it will be quiet and
unremarkable, like walking into the next room. It might sting a little, like
warmth leaking into cold-numbed hands. When you feel better, it will
be the slow clearing of static from the radio. It will be a film set when
the director yells cut! When you feel better, you will take: a plastic spoon
for your coffee foam, free chocolates from the gleaming oak reception
desk, the bus on sunny days, your own sweet time. When you feel better,
it will be like walking barefoot on cool, smooth planks of wood, still
damp from last night’s rain. It will be the holy silence when the tap stops
dripping. The moment a tap finally starts to make sense. When you feel
better, you will still suffer, but your sadness will be graspable, roadworthy,
have handlebars. When you feel better, you will not always be happy,
but when happiness does come, it will be long-legged, sun-dappled:
a giraffe.

 

Mirror poems

mirror

A poet friend gave me the collection The World’s Two Smallest Humans by Julia Copus as a birthday present. Copus is said to have invented the specular (mirror) poem form. However, the word palindrome comes from the Greek, meaning “running back again” and palindrome or mirror poems have been found in Sanskrit language and way back in antiquity. But, it was Copus who gave the form the new title and she has written several of such poems, where the second stanza repeats the first, but in reverse order.

The title of the poem is Raymond, at 60. It starts The 185 from Catford, the 68 from Euston -/those same buses climbing the hill long into the evening. The last line of the first stanza is: that first time she’d taken him down to watch the buses. The first stanza of 20 lines is a journey through time with Raymond in a hospital ward. He kisses his mother who has just died, and this takes him suddenly

back on Broadway, crushed to her breast, in a gesture
that meant, he knew now, You are loved. There he was, with her

The second stanza, perfectly mirroring, is therefore also a journey: this time in chronological order, with Raymond setting out, aged eleven, or twelve.

By the time we have read the first stanza, we have the story, the information. So, the second stanza will not be a complete surprise. Small changes in punctuation are permitted in the second stanza, but it far from easy to ensure that the second half of the poem is alive, has emotional impact. This poem works because of the death, the mother-son relationship, rich and telling detail.

In the recent Ver Poets Competition one of the shortlisted poems clinging on in the badlands by Steve Pottinger is another example of a specular poem:

The beer is good when you’re sitting in the sun.
I can only tell you that
the work has gone to China or Taiwan.
We’re a precariat now, bolting up memories.

The poem is an effective and moving account of changes, the end of manufacturing. All this were factories, once, making locks by the million: Yale, Union, Parkes’s. Steve has dealt with the challenge of making the second stanza “fresh” by keeping the poem relatively short – 22 lines.

The poem by Victoria Gatehouse Weathering the Tent (from her book Light After Light) has the same length as Raymond, at 60. Perhaps there is an optimum length for this type of poem? Anyway, it’s still summer, we’re not packing up that tent yet!

Weathering the Tent

Tonight, we pack up the tent –
a corner at a time, our familiar routine, folding
the canvas we weathered twenty years ago,
cocooned in green dimness, listening, listening
until finally, that drip drip drip on our faces
as we lay on the groundsheet, numb-backed
from the cold, every one of your roll-ups
lighting me up, a catch in my throat;
over our heads that slow expansion,
fibres growing into one another,
meshing until watertight.
Tonight, kneeling side by side,
we press forward to quash the billow,
releasing breaths of earth, smoke, gabardine.
All creaking resistance, this fabric,
you and I cursing, our guy-roped hands
holding out for old creases.
All these years of practice and still
so many attempts
to force another summer in the bag.

To force another summer in the bag –
so many attempts,
all these years of practice and still
holding out for old creases;
you and I cursing, our guy-roped hands
all creaking resistance, this fabric
releasing breaths of earth, smoke, gabardine.
We press forward to quash the billow
tonight, kneeling side by side
meshing until watertight,
fibres growing into one another;
over our heads that slow expansion
lighting me up, a catch in my throat
from the cold, every one of your roll-ups,
as we lay on the groundsheet, numb-backed,
until finally, that drip, drip, drip on our faces.
Cocooned in green dimness, listening, listening –
the canvas we weathered twenty years ago,
a corner at a time, our familiar routine, folding.
Tonight, we pack up the tent.

 

Yorkshire Day

A suitable day for checking up on the Northern Poetry Library project: a series of poems in the new 821 form. I posted about the competition a few weeks ago. The picture is of Fountains Abbey, near Ripon, North Yorkshire.

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The first canto of poems is up: poems about Liverpool, drystone walling, the journey North, a poem titled Notes made on Hadrian’s Wall by Catherine Ayes, and Ghost Crossing by Harry Man which has been Commended in the competition, and starts:

Making an enemy of the wind, a crow
backtracks on its own trajectory against

Two poems have just been added to the second canto and you can follow the growing sequence on https://poemsofthenorth.co.uk