A glint of wolf

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I am very pleased to introduce our September poet: Stuart Quine. We met almost 30 years ago. I hope you love his haiku as much as I do.

In 1998, after a few years of writing haiku in a three-line form, Stuart Quine started to feel that his haiku were becoming a little formulaic and so began to explore the opportunities of a one-line format without breaks or punctuation.. In addition to their aesthetic appeal, one-line haiku echo Japanese haiku which usually, of course, are written in a single, albeit vertical, line. While many one-line haiku contain an implicit caesura given by their syntax, at their best they can be broken in a number of places thereby enabling a multitude of readings. Haiku is a collaborative poetry with writers and readers working together to bring it to completion. Therefore the success of a haiku is not a matter of how well it conveys the writer’s intention to the reader but rather whether readers can enter and occupy it on their own terms.

Many of Stuart’s haiku have been included in anthologies and journals and he is a former associated editor of the journal Presence. He has also had two collections of haiku published by Alba Publishing (available from albapublishing.com ). Sour Pickle (2018) contains 100 one-line haiku and Wild Rhubarb (2019) contains another 80.

A practitioner of Soto Zen Buddhism for over thirty years he regards his haiku writing as a dao and is a member of the Red Thread Haiku Sangha..

 

hidden and unseen the burgeoning life in buds and bellies

through driving rain the ambulances’ dopplering sirens

round midnight moonlight playing on the piano hammers

a short night shrunk to a dog bark and the clanking of the trams

through the haze the headlights of a hearse

lassitude and languor these days without rain

snagged in machair a gull feather unzipped by the wind

distant thunder the old mouser raises an ear

-not yet, not yet” says the tumbling beck

pagan moon in the shadow of her cleavage a tiny silver cross

winter solstice darkness gathers in the unrung bells

birthcry deep in the night a freight train’s lonesome whistle

like the honed edge of a blade keen is the cold

winter moon a glint of wolf in the mongrel’s eyes

under mistletoe on her lips a tang of tamarind

new year’s day only the rain comes to my gate

 

Rembrandt van Rijn

Johnnes W

Rembrandt is always big business in the Netherlands, and especially this year: it is the 350th anniversary of his death. Everywhere there are items of merchandise for sale with Rembrandt’s paintings and etchings. I treated myself to a folder and bought birthday presents for friends. One of those was a birthday calendar. The Dutch have a tradition of hanging these inside the toilet, on the door!

I was raised a Protestant and for much of my childhood we lived down the road from the church where my father was the organist. Rembrandt was beginning to make a name for himself as a portrait painter when he did the portrait of Johannes Wtenbogaert. He was the founder and leader of the Remonstrant Brotherhood and preached religious tolerance. The poem was published in my debut collection Another life.

 
Portrait of Johannes Wtenbogaert, Remonstrant Preacher, aged 76

He stands there and we wonder what he thinks.
His head, resting like a deserted swan
in a nest of fine lace pleats. Did he shrink
even once from God’s black skull cap plan?

In a corner, placed to catch the light,
the book we expect is his bible. No,
those pages curling away from top right
are not yet half full, and only we know

this preacher would live till nearly ninety.
Too tired to protest, he faces Rembrandt
who paints a life-like sketch where we can see
the frayed edge of the limp cloth in his hand.

 

Fishbones Dreaming

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Tomorrow it’s a year since the Irish poet Matthew Sweeney died. He was just 65 and died of motor neurone disease.

I took the photo in 2006 when I attended a week-long course with Matthew at the wonderful Almassera Vella in Spain. He was like a dog with a bone about adjectives, but otherwise warm and funny. I learned a great deal that week.

The poem Fishbones Dreaming features in Writing Poetry, a publication in the Teach Yourself series. It’s packed with ideas and good exercises. Matthew wrote it with the poet John Hartley Williams. They both lived in Berlin for a period and were friends. The friendship clearly shows in the bits of dialogue where they introduce the exercises.

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Fishbones Dreaming starts: Fishbones lay in the smelly bin. / He was a head, a backbone and a tail. / Soon the cats would be in for him.

The refrain is: He didn’t like to be this way. / He shuts his eyes and dreamed back.

The poem uses a gradual flashback technique, with the refrain dividing the stanzas: a stanza about being on plate, next to the green beans, a stanza about being in the freezer with lamb cutlets, about squirming in a net, and so on. Till he is darting through the sea, past crabs and jellyfish.

My poem below was written in response. It was published in my debut collection Another life.

 

Friday evening

He leaves work early,
walks past the pub,
unchaining habits,
dropping an old raincoat
into the Ribble.
Preston is still Preston,
magnificent failure.

If he can walk backwards
to the railway station,
he will catch himself
in the windows.
There is his 40th birthday,
never celebrated.
Here are the empty Sundays.
Swans, a football, his parents, baby sister.

 

Cromer, August – Fokkina McDonnell

Very pleased to have this poem getting a wider readership!

FREE VERSE REVOLUTION

Curved around Cromer Pier a twitching mass of legs, 

sturdy calves, socks, sandals.  Fathers scoop up bait, 

wind black thread onto pink plastic spools.

An old couple, in matching anoraks,

watch a thin man, wheel-chair bound.

He shakily lifts his thermos flask.

I thought of you then and the creaking stair lift,

the plastic roll-up seat, raising her in and out of the bath.

The small wooden cart you made

so she can travel through the orchard

inspecting the new fruit with her crooked hands.


This was published in The Pocket Poetry Book of Love, Paper Swans Press, 2018.

I’m based in Manchester, UK.  My poems have been widely anthologised and published in a range of magazines. My first collection Another Life was published by Oversteps Books (2016) and a second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous will be published this autumn by Indigo Dreams.

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The secret of flying

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I am delighted to introduce this month’s poet.  David Underdown and I met a few years ago on a residential writing workshop.

David Underdown (www.davidunderdown.co.uk) has recently come to live in Hebden Bridge. Though a Mancunian by birth most of his life has been spent in the West of Scotland, latterly on the Isle of Arran where he is an organiser of the McLellan Poetry Competition. His two collections, both from Cinnamon, are Time Lines (2011) and, in 2019, A Sense of North. David Constantine describes his poems as ‘watchful’: ‘he gives us a view from (in his own words) ‘a window / we did not know was there’, he makes ‘a halo round the ordinary’’.

 

The secret of flying


The breakthrough is to stop thinking
about aerodynamics. Concentrate
on the immeasurable pleasures
of floating above roofs
and the open mouths of chimney pots

stems of road budding
houses, the rumple of fields
and, beyond, the dark spot of a copse
or how the river feels
up into its tree-lined tributaries.

And later, after that first step
into space
the art of soaring on thermals
of passing over boundaries
a sense of north.

 

Against the tide

Down here the river has widened,
already flooding salt for half the day,
mud-bound for the rest.
The tides wipe clean
the mazy prints of wading birds.
Below the bridge there’s broken masonry,
the pier where the cobbles stop,
and then it’s willow herb and buddleia
all the way to the sea’s flat-line.

Easy to see why you linger
to watch the gulls circle,
catching the hum from the bypass.
If you could, you would turn
and find your way upstream again
past viaducts and fat meadows,
solid farmsteads set round by trees,
and feel, as the land draws in,
the younger waters quicken.

There, where the uplands open out
you would track each beck
up to its marshy watershed
to understand how it started,
the long journey to the sea
and what alternatives there nearly were.
But the tide is turning,
colder wind roughening the water,
staining it dark, draining it out.

 

Shrine

The narrow path is steep
with scents of pine and juniper that lead you on
to where a lintel at the cavern’s mouth
will make you stoop so low
as to leave the outer world behind.
Enter, and all falls away,
though you, a frail and used-up thing,
and hunched, are still in hope,
for once inside the roof is lofty, almost limitless.
From waves of ancient seas, stone lolls in tongues.
And there, within, no god, but a reminder
of what a god might be: a simple table,
faded cloth, gifts that some might misjudge poor,
small money, keepsakes, herbs as grateful prayers.

To be there for an hour, and still,
is more than some can stand, but do
and you’ll leave naked in yourself
as if unclothed of need, and shuffle out
to blink in new-found light
with sun upon your head.

 

Notes for a solitary walk

For M.W. 1951 – 2014

This morning you are walking for her,
a small thing you can do, on a day
of deep green shadows and granite glitter,
that, if she were here, she would love.

Today, as she is not here,
you will not go the usual way
across the burns through stands of birch
where the dog would flex at the scent of deer,

but further, up the glen where even in her lifetime
the last men were still mining the hill.
You will shin up that shoulder of Cioch na’ Oighe
to see the whole Clyde laid out,

just how, if she had ever had the chance,
she would have chosen to arrange it –
the named near hills and the unnamed hills of the horizons
and the spaces of water between.

You will walk south along your home’s spine
for her to count its line of rocky vertebrae
and marvel at the openness
of all these lands of the West.

You will talk to her of travelled roads
and also of oceans you might have crossed
if there had been time, until,
reaching the lip of Coire Lan,

you will leave the broad path and drop down
below Am Binnein to the White Water
that leads (with no time now to stop)
past home to the indifferent sea.

Father’s Day

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My father died a few weeks after his 75th birthday in October, 1990.  He had a talent for music: singing in and conducting choirs, and playing the church organ for many years. Here is a picture of him as a young man: a somewhat anxious look, wanting to do a good job of transporting my mother and me safely.

The poem Prelude and Fugue was published in the anthology, Poems from the Readaround, Tarantula Press, 1995.
Prelude and Fugue

I enter and dare a glance at your effects –
straight rows of books in alphabetical order
the white board emptied
pens and pencils (four of each)
manuscript paper and a rubber
on the Yamaha
You were filling in the bass line

Music for a while shall all your cares beguile

You kept some organ pipes in the loft.
You were going to build one.
What happened to those when you moved
into the flat?

Sometimes I turned the pages for you
feet darting across the pedals
When I was twelve I left the choir
and gave up singing

Your black shoes scuffed at the side

The Catholics paid best you said
a bonus for weddings and funerals

Rehearsal for D-Day

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Today in Normandy there are several large-scale and almost 300 local ceremonies to commemorate the D-Day landings 75 years ago. A total of 156,000 Canadian, American and British soldiers landed on the five beaches Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah.

Quite some years ago I saw an edition of the BBC TV series Coast. It was about the preparation for D-Day: it was very moving to see the black-and-white film of farms being emptied, civilians leaving their homes, lost tanks retrieved from the seabed. The programme also mentioned losses through mistakes.

The resulting poem Standing in for Utah is in sonnet form. The first stanza came quite easily, but I struggled to get the second stanza to fit the form. The sonnet typically has a volta, or “turn” after the first eight lines. I liked how I managed to include a physical turn in the second stanza! The poem was subsequently awarded the 2012 RedPage Sonnet Prize in an annual competition.

(Photo credit: Th G Koehler)

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Standing in for Utah
They were given six weeks to pack and leave.
Round and oblong tables stowed in a van:
Hannaford the Butchers. Empty farms grieve
for cows, sheep taken by women and men.
Forty-six square miles behind Slapton Sands,
gravel, dunes, the flooded marshes of Lyme Bay.
A cold, still, grey hinterland that stands
in for Utah, the rehearsal for D-day.
Three thousand people, animals, the year
before sent to live in another place.
Now American boys are sheltered here
and dodging live ammo with sudden grace.
How small, the blue Heritage Coast dots on the map.
Distant that April night when Start Bay was a trap.

Operation Tiger was the code name.
One Tank Landing Ship keeled over and sank
in just six minutes, the wheelhouse aflame.
That boat spewed burning gasoline from its flank.
German Schnellboote fired the torpedo.
Rusted-up lifeboat tackle abandoned;
never told how to use life belts, below
seven hundred and forty-nine men drowned.
This is my ship and I am going back,
Lieutenant John Doyle, skipper, who turned,
against orders. Picked up shapes limp and black;
clinging on to charred life rafts, men who’d burned.
Destiny is shaped by random things, often small:
wrong frequencies, second chances, the place where you fall.