Monthly Archives: February 2021

Another spring

Credit: Olga1205, via Pixabay

We end the month with a February poem by Kathleen Kummer. I love all the flowers that are included, how the poem touches on that moment of turning. The last two lines carry an extra weight this year.

Another spring

There had been no hint that it was in the air,
no question of even imagining a haze
of green round the trees. What flowers there were
pointed to winter: hellebores, snowdrops,
a few crocuses trembling in the grass,
and the camellias in bloom, ice-maidens,
translucent, quite at home in the cold.
It was February. Coming home in the dark,
I paused on the step to the garden, held back
by the smell of the soil someone had turned
in my absence, moist, as if a god
were breathing on it to warm the earth.
Then I knew for certain that spring was coming,
that, deo volente, I’d be there.

Credit: Couleur, via Pixabay

Turkish Delight – poem

It is a great pleasure introducing this month’s poet. Paul Stephenson and I met eight years ago through the Poetry Business’ Writing School, an eighteen-month programme.

Paul was born and grew up in Cambridge. He studied modern languages and linguistics then European Studies. He spent several years living between London and France, Spain, and the Netherlands. He currently lives between Cambridge and Brussels.

Paul was selected for the Arvon/Jerwood mentoring scheme and the Aldeburgh Eight. He has been co-curator of the Poetry in Aldeburgh poetry festival since 2018.

His first pamphlet Those People (Smith/Doorstop, 2015) was a winner in the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition, judged by Billy Collins. His second pamphlet The Days that Followed Paris (HappenStance, 2016) was written in the wake of the November 2015 terrorist attacks. His book Selfie with Waterlilies was published by Paper Swans Press after winning their 2017 Poetry Pamphlet Prize. Read more at: http://www.paulstep.com

I have selected two poems from Those People. The poems Turkish Delight and The Rub open the pamphlet Selfie with Waterlilies. Here is Paul’s keen eye for the details that matter, his playful language adding an extra dimension to the subject of loss.

Capacity

Seventy litres: in theory more than plenty
for three t-shirts, two shorts, the pair of jeans
you’re wearing. Then the question of the tent,

saucepan, small canister of gas, map and bible
of Thomas Cook timetables – every single train
possibility from here to Ankara. One crisp fifty

thousand lira note, a handful of Swiss francs
and wad of American Express traveller’s cheques.
Foreign currency kept flat, zipped inside a canvas

wallet with Velcro strap, wrapped tight around
the waist. Typical Monday. Your father at work.
Your mother out somewhere. Your lift here soon.

Passwords

I avoid the house I grew up in,
keep away from my mother

and father’s birthdays: calendar
opposites, June and January.

I steer clear of my brother’s
crash, rule out the hot summer

I left school, graduated, went off.
I adopt different characters,

mix upper and lower case.
I do my utmost to never

choose when I was born.
Mine take years to crack.

Paper Swans Press

Turkish Delight

What you do when you get the call is take it,
hear words at dawn before they’re mouthed:
You should probably come now.

What you do is shower and dress, skip yoghurt
and honey, the baklava breakfast, and walk briskly
to the ticket office, hand over your sob story.

Once given a seat today (not tomorrow because
tomorrow is too late), what you do is pack, sit
on a shell-shocked suitcase poring over a tourist map

mentally-cataloguing Byzantine cathedrals
then mosques, till a twelve-seater van for one pulls up
to taxi you with stop-starts across the Bosphorous

into Asia. What you do to kill an afternoon
on a new continent at the international airport hub
is browse briefs and socks, visit the James Joyce Irish pub,

mill about getting sprayed with testers of musk, citrus,
bergamot, think nothing of spending sixty three euros
and seventy four cents on different nut varieties of

Turkish Delight (which is heavy and must be carried),
remember nobody likes Turkish Delight – except him.
What you do till they display your gate is stare out

as dusk descends, count the seconds between
runway ascents, promise you’ll return one day
to be consumed by the vastness of the Hagia Sophia.

The Rub

Menthol my father,
menthol his room,
menthol his bed.

My out of sight father,
my fast relief father,
my warming father.

My dual action father,
my targeted father,
my daily father.

My caution father,
my blood flow father,
my enclosed father,

Menthol my father,
menthol his back,
menthol his beard.

My turpentine father,
my paraffin father,
my eucalyptus father.

My muscular father,
my thin layer father,
my recommended father.

My wool fat father,
my liquid father,
my expiry father.

Valentine’s Day

Credit: Peggychoucair, via Pixabay

Valentine’s Day: a love poem by my friend Kathleen Kummer. She lived and worked in the Netherlands when married to a Dutchman. Poems from her debut collection Living below sea level featured here on 25 June 2018. To celebrate our 20-year friendship, I will be posting more of Kathleen’s unpublished work over the next few months.

Credit: Leo65, via PIxabay

Hiding Place

Like a holy relic rarely exposed,
they lie in a drawer, not handled,
let alone read, for half a century,
their violet ink on airmail paper,
your, my, dried blood on a membrane
which is beginning to flake. If touched,
it would instantly turn to dust. If read,
the dried blood would flow again and burn.

The drawer is hard to close: coarse strands
of pain, regret and grief obstruct it.
I am able to ease it with the memory
of lying with you by the sea, unseen
by those who walked through the marram grass,
throwing up little showers of sand on us.
Nothing has been as soft,
as caressing as the sand dunes that summer.

Fairy tale – a poem

photo credit: Enrique Meseguer, via Pixabay

On a writing workshop last weekend, I introduced Vasco Popa’s The Golden Apple: a round of stories, songs, spells, proverbs & riddles. I have been using some of the riddles and proverbs as writing prompts.

Vasco Popa (1922-1991) was Serbia’s greatest modern poet. Ted Hughes was an admirer of his work and wrote the introduction to his Collected Poems. Popa collected folk tales from many sources. He found a rich inspiration for his own poems in this “eternally living wellspring of folk poetry” which he combined with vivid imagery and a touch of the surreal.

Here are two riddles from The Golden Apple. The answers are at the end of the blog.

With an iron key
I open a green fortress
And drive out the black cattle

A horse with its pack goes into a house and comes out of it, but its tail never goes in.

Vasco Popa

Popa’s Collected Poems inspired my poem Fairy tale. It was first published in erbacce and then in my debut collection Another life (Oversteps Books Ltd, 2016).

Fairy tale

Someone needs to go to
a deep cupboard in a dark room
the others wait outside

The first one becomes
a grandmother with a stoop
then someone else steals
her white lace cap her smile
her soft voice
they go to lie still in a deep dark
bed in a cold room

Then someone else walks a long
way through the wood, across
the saddled serpent under a cold
sheet of dark clouds

That someone is dressed in crimson
already – it will save time
the old one will rescue the red girl
but they will not have enough
bricks to finish the job

after that someone else will get to be hungry
and someone will always be eaten

Answers to the riddles: Watermelon, Spoon.