Monthly Archives: May 2020

Missing Manchester …

Manchester_Art_Gallery_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1748756

I am settled in my caravan in Holland, enjoying the warm weather and making the most of the peaceful environment before the camp site opens 1 July when it will be the high season.

 
But I am missing Manchester and, in particular, the monthly writing workshops with Peter Sansom of the Poetry Business These have been held at Manchester Art Gallery. It consists of three connected buildings, two of which were designed by Sir Charles Barry. The main building is Grade 1 listed, while the Atheneum is Grade II. A modern extension was added in the beginning of this century.

 
During the writing workshops we have the opportunity to be inspired by the permanent collection – works of international significance and Victorian art. The painting Albert Square (1910) by the French impressionist painter Adolphe Valette hangs in a central foyer. Valette lived in Manchester for a period and really caught the damp and wet conditions. My poem is included in the pamphlet A Stolen Hour (Grey Hen Press, 2020,

 

Albert_Square_Manchester_1910,_Valette

 

Albert Square

I am not that cellar man pushing 

his barrow loaded with crates of wine.
I am not the horse with its head
stuck into a nose bag, nor
the coach driver resting his
right knee on the plate,
nor the men with bowler hats
conversing by the railings.

Up there is the Town Hall
covered in a velvet coat of soot.
I am the greyness of the oil paint,
the rippled rain reflecting
the cellar man’s rounded boots.
I am the smog and the smoke,
half shielding these statues:
politician, mayor, consort.

Palmistry in Karachi

 

Elsa F

Imagine my surprise and delight when, in January this year, I received an email in Dutch from a fellow poet! Elsa Fisher had read and liked some of my poems. We started a correspondence and were going to meet at the end of May. It’s a great pleasure to introduce this month’s poet who has ‘a clear eye and an ironic ear’.

Elsa Fischer was born in The Hague, Holland. She has lived and worked on four continents and, later in life, studied Art History in Canada and at the Sorbonne. Always a lover of poetry, she joined a poetry workshop after her retirement.

She has two published pamphlets: Palmistry in Karachi (Templar Poetry, 2016) and
Hourglass – Poems from the retirement home (Grey Hen Press, 2018). Other poems have been included in a range of magazines and anthologies. She is currently preparing for a third publication.

Elsa lives in Bern, Switzerland, in a lovely retirement home (where some of her poems are set). She likes to point out that she does not belong to the Woopies (well-off older persons) but rather to the Yelpies (youthful energetic elderly persons)….

I hope you enjoy the range of these poems, with their sharp observation, humour, empathy and poignancy.

 
Palmistry in Karachi

“…the old days when we were still young,
naïve, hot-headed, silly, green. A little bit’s
still there…”              Wislawa Szymborska

 
At twenty I danced the tango
in Karachi at the saried begums’
Red Crescent Bazaar with a gay
attaché who had that rhythm in
his blood and where a sketch
of my profile by a local genius
fetched handfuls of rupees.
I shook hands with Ayub Khan
and Fatima Jinnah, ignorant
of who they were and that
he would have her killed.
There was my near-drowning
in the Arabian Sea and a wicked
camel race along its shore.
And I’ll tell you this: I lost
my innocence in Karachi.
To an Italian born without
toenails and his palms
with no lines so that you,
my friend of little faith, claim
he could not have existed
and that I’ve made it all up.

 

 
Seedpods

 
I love how your wisteria seedpods exploded in the night,

love to hear drops falling from where someone waters geraniums

early in the morning as I am writing at the wrought-iron table,

its rusty flakes cutting into skin and I remember how, in another life,

they caught my mother’s dress as she sat down to tea under

the glycine, my first French word, and for a startling moment

I hold this image called up by smells of soil and fleshy leaves,

by all this art nouveau abundance.

 

 

In the beginning are my hands
after Andy Goldsworthy

 
they are my skin-cut tools
cracked as dried earth.
I trust them, they lead me.

I listen to the passive witness
of stones, their dialogue with trees,
learn how they rely on each other.
I need the energy of peat – the melt of mud
and mineral feed and sheep’s piss on canvas.
Above all I love my icicles – reconstructed,
glued with my spit or draped like lobster
claws and oysters on a plate of river ice.

I square black-rooted bracken stalks
thorn-pin chestnut leaves into floating
snake ribbons until surfaces open up
and nature itself becomes the object found.

I go into its internal spaces, lie spread-eagled,
feeling the pull, feeling the rain.

 

 
Safe

Like ducks waiting for the cull
we line up at the doctor’s,
baring arms for the flu jab.

Once you stood like this, in an orderly row,
mouth wide open to receive the sugar lump
that the school nurse had carefully dosed
with the life-saving drops of Dr Salk’s vaccine.

To be protected from the fate of that boy,
fitted with braces, who sat for years reading
as we messed around with bats and balls in PE.

A nurse helps with the sleeves
and we return to our coops.
Safe for another season.

 

Trespassing

I’m digging out my winter things.
And watch from behind the slats
how he opens a wardrobe, takes out
the bridal gown for her to hold,
then gently crowns her with a garland.

On a small table lie the bric-a-brac
of a long marriage. Masai beadwork,
a glass paperweight from Venice,
the matryoshkas.

He gives her a moment,
then puts the gown carefully back
on the coat hanger, smiles as he lifts
the garland with its faded ribbons
from her hair. A whiff of Chanel.

He makes sure she’s comfortable
on the walker and wheels her away,
switching off the cellar lights.

I stand for a while, getting used
to the dark, arms heavy
with scarves and shoes.

Music

Schimmel sideways

 

Looking in the Cloud for a picture of a frog I came across a photo of my piano: a white horse (Schimmel). My friend Marianne who left me the old caravan had a digital piano here. I took that across to the UK and started having lessons with John who came to the house.

The next year (2009) I even took the Grade 1 examination. Turned up at the venue to find bemused children staring at me. I passed, just short of a Distinction. As a reward, I got  a proper acoustic piano. Found this lovely Schimmel with a warm European sound.

Horror! One day I lifted the lid to see a moth appear from between two white keys. Yes, a proper infestation. Fortunately, the wonderfully eccentric tuner, also called John, managed to take the piano apart and deal with that. I continued with lessons. But I was too anxious to go for the Grade 2 or Grade 3. When I moved into the flat, so did the piano. On its side, still a mellow sound. I sold it a couple of years ago. It went to a good home …

The poem Music is from my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous, published by Indigo Dreams Publishing (2019).

 
Music

There was always music going on in our house,
live music, piano and song. The organ was
down the road, past the Catholics’ houses.
We were Protestant then, some of us, anyway.

There was always music in our house.
Bach on a black piano and Brahms
Mein Mädel hat einen Rosenmund.
My mother, the diva, practising before
her weekly lesson with the best alto
in Holland, who kept a pet monkey.
My father, with his piano hands,
shaking his vigorous black hair.

In our house there was always music.
More often than not it would be
minor chords, discordance, long
silence above the empty bar lines.

Moment

 

Clingendael 2

Photo credit: Ted Koehler

The warm, sunny weather this week has helped me to stay more in the present. I’ve been for walks in the nearby estate of Clingendael.

Clingendael estate has a 17th Century manor house which is home to the Dutch Institute for International Relations. Since the 16th Century the gardens have been remodelled, from the original French design, to the popular English landscape style. Now you can find a rose garden, splendid azaleas and rhododendrons, and a walled fruit garden. There are some marked walks, cycling paths, and canoeists and rowers can travel through by water.

However, Clingendael is most famous for its Japanese garden. It is the only Japanese garden from around 1910 and is, therefore, of great historical importance and a state monument. Marguerite M, Baroness van Brienen made several trips to Japan by ship to purchase the lanterns, statues, bridges and the wooden pavilion. Because of its fragility, the Japanese garden is only open eight weeks of the year, from mid-May to early July. Because of the Corona-crisis, it is closed. Here you can view a short video clip that The Hague city council put on their website.

Clingendael 3

Photo credit: Ted Koehler

 

My poem Moment from my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous was inspired by a poem with the title This Moment by the Irish poet Eavan Boland who died recently, aged 75, after a stroke. Her poem, with its short, choppy lines starts A neighbourhood/At dusk and is an excellent example of how a short poem can give us a snapshot of time, the night and temporality. You can read the original poem here. It is deceptively simple, but Boland uses several poetic techniques to achieve the effect, such as alliteration and repetition.

 
Moment

A suburb at dawn

People are turning back
from dreams
into their own lives

Frost and spiders,
shrubs cradle themselves.

One side of the road is black.
One row of houses a yellow pink.

A cat wakes up
to the footsteps above,
secure in his oval basket.

Frost fades,
spiders stretch,
ferns unfold in the sun.

Illness

flag-1275831_1280

photo credit: Michael de Groot, Pixabay

 

I was evacuated within hours of being born: an un-exploded bomb from WW2 had just been found in the hospital grounds. My mother and I were despatched to the nearby town of Haarlem. After a bike ride my father found us there in an old people’s home.

May last year I posted about the small memorial on the Waalsdorpervlakte in the nearby dunes, how the sound of the bells reached me, sitting inside the caravan. You can read more here. This year there will only be one person ringing that large Bourdon bell tomorrow evening, and the wreath-laying ceremony by the monument on the Dam, Amsterdam will also be scaled down.

Liberation Day, the 5th of May, is celebrated on a large scale only every five years. This year, 75 years on, would have been a major event and a Public Holiday. Flags will be flown, for sure.

 

Moensplein

 

The poem Illness is from my pamphlet A Stolen Hour which was published in March this year by Grey Hen Press. Because my mother’s father owned an electrical shop, we had a small black-and-white television soon after they became available. You can see the house still has that balcony. I like how in the poem the personal and the public are combined.

 

Illness

I’m sure it’s May 1956. Grandfather still runs the electrical shop,
but his wife is in hospital. Next month German tourists
will park their cars in resorts on the Dutch coast.
I’m sure I can smell the smoke from the butcher’s next door,
but I’m ill in bed, can only see pink trees above the balcony.

I’m curled up, a sniffy nose and my ears blocked,
but I can’t turn my face away from the place in the dunes,
a pile of boots and shoes. There must have been butterflies.
These twenty men marched out of town, the execution.

I can see myself at the ink-stained desk, a grainy photo.
Then the photo starts moving, shakily, away from the light.
I’m ill again, but not in my bed in my bedroom, because my mother’s
mother is there in her best dress, lying still. Downstairs
the front room curtains have been drawn.