Lockdown Latitudes – poems

I am delighted to introduce this month’s guest poet Steven Waling. I first met Steven over 30 years ago after I’d moved to Manchester and joined the local poet’s group. Manchester Poets is the successor to South Manchester Poetry Group, started in 1978 by Dave Tarrant and still going strong!


His brief biography says ‘Steven Waling lives in Manchester and is apparently a stalwart of the Manchester poetry scene. His latest books are Disparate Measures 1: Spuds in History, and Lockdown Latitudes.’


From his most recent book Lockdown Latitudes I have chosen three different poems. Steven ‘writes overlooked life into vibrant presence’ says Scott Thurston. It is this quality I particularly admire and love in Steven’s writing.

Photo Credit: Steven Waling



Jesus Strolls Down Market Street

All he wants is new underwear and a coffee in Starbucks, time to himself to phone his dad and see he’s looking after himself during the lockdown. He sees they’re back again on the corner of Piccadilly Gardens and Market Street, shouting his name like a weapon at random strangers. He sneaks past, hand in front of his face. He’d like to shout in their faces, ask them what the hell they thought they were doing. Not that they’d recognise who he was, and anyway, these days he just gets embarrassed, avoiding the hassle of conflict that won’t get anywhere. Everyone ignores these men in old-fashioned suits sweating in the heat, lifting holy books like clubs to beat the sinful air away. So he goes to buy his pants, dashes into Primark before they clock him. People don’t, he thinks, realise how shy he is. He’d much prefer they found him by accident, when they needed him. Like later in the coffee shop: some old lady confused because they don’t take cash for drinks any more. Someone pays with his own card and when she looks up, they’re gone

Back to his bench to sleep with the pigeons

Snow Moon

Night stands at the tram stop
over head the moon a

soluble aspirin slowly dissolves
into the big black night goes

nowhere the spider in my right
eye is flashing again I walk

past the street they’re planting
non-aggressive trees spindly roots

spring flowers berries in autumn
that won’t disrupt the neighbourhood

kids kick the moon down the road i
wait for light rapid transit late

due to police incident keep my
distance from the moon its snow

face bending over the quick brown
cat crossing the tracks quick quick

Links to Steven’s books below:

Some Roast Poet – Manchester Poetry Magazine and Pamphlets (wordpress.com)

Steven Waling – Lockdown Latitudes (leafepresspoetry.com)

Tulips from Amsterdam

Credit: Kang-min Liu,  Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license


Today is dovetailed between yesterday’s National Tulip Day and Blue Monday. Nationale Tulpen Dag is an initiative started by Dutch tulip growers 10 years ago. On the third Saturday of January, about 200, 000 tulips are placed on the Dam Square in Amsterdam. These free flowers start the tulip season. This year people will be handed two bunches and are asked to give one to someone else – share the happiness.

Credit: WCoda on Pixabay


Research seems to have pinpointed the third Monday in January as the worst day of the year. There was some easing of the lockdown here in The Netherlands. However, the hospitality and cultural sector are still closed. I’m leaning more towards being blue …
Here is my poem about tulips.

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

They’ve not yet reached one of the tulips,
the central one of this display.
You can imagine a window, if you like.
Five parrot tulips lean towards the light.
Degrees of purpling. The ants appear
half-way up the bulb-shaped vase.
I’ve left the thin pencil lines
indicating a flat surface.
Look closely and you’ll see this vase
should tumble, fall or slip.
Three fingers’ width, water level
in the glass. Greying water extracted.
The tulips were a present.
You can count the ants, if you like.

Note: This is the title of a watercolour painting, donated by the (anonymous) artist to Manchester Art Gallery. The poem was published in my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2019).

Miniature French Suite

Credit: fsHH on Pixabay

It’s a rainy weekend here in Holland. So, I’m writing the blog piece for this month’s guest poet: Steve Waling. That reminds me of this poem which I wrote on a short workshop with Steve. And it was in January 2011 that I heard the countertenor Andreas Scholl sing in the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, UK. It’s such an experience seeing and hearing your heroes live!

Miniature French Suite

Allemande

Do you mind if I borrow your man?
The old one with the beard that has
sparrows nesting in it. It’s only
for the Open Gardens weekend.
He needs to wear something
beige-brown, corduroy and I’ll
provide food. Tell him to wear
a cap or a southwester – something
to keep the fledglings dry.
He can hum to them. It might rain,
it could snow, warm boots.
Rameau or Telemann, I don’t mind.

Sarabande

Rameau or Telemann, I don’t mind.
A countertenor can’t be that choosy.
A voice like that is a rare find
but keeping it alive and strong taxes
me and my agent, bless her.
She tells me to let go of worries
and fears. It’s her domain to get
me engagements, book flights,
the new portrait and such.
She says a voice like mine is a horse,
that needs to be whispered to,
not broken in.

ErikTanghe on Pixabay

Gigue

I’m warming up in an empty church,
on a grey Sunday afternoon.
It’s winter, the radiators gurgle,
the conductor is late.
I let my eyes wander in order
to keep my thoughts at rest
but now they take flight,
filling the gallery, the arches
and the painting of the old one
with the beard that has
sparrows nesting in it.

(published in Another life, Oversteps Books, 2016)

Gratitude and Forgiveness …

Happy New Year to you all.

Twice a year, early July, on or close to my birthday, and on New Year’s Eve, I sit down and write a gratitude list. Being alive and kicking: always the first item. It’s a practice I got from the classic Creative Visualization by Shakti Gawain. I have the 1982 Bantam edition, with that special yellowing-pages smell.

The Dutch couple below made the paper. Most days they put a gratitude note in a glass jar. On NYE with a glass of wine and music in the background, they take items out and read them to each other. Of course, it’s often the small things: the colleague who did your work when you were ill, a kind note from someone when you needed it, a hug, waking up with a body that’s just doing its job, a walk in the forest. Ah yes, that was a special moment they say to each other.

Two more things I am grateful for are the acceptance by Broken Sleep Books of the manuscript Remembering / Disease. Here are the names of other poets and writers with a book out with BSB this year.

Matthew Stewart publishes an annual list of Best UK Poetry Blogs on his site Rogue Strands. I was chuffed that this blog is one of five ‘top notch newcomers’. You can read the full list here. Matthew lives between Extremadura, Spain and West Sussex. His collection, The Knives of Villalejo, is published with Eyewear and a recent Poetry News Book of the Year selection.

Here are two short prompts. In the current issue (27) of the online poetry magazine Allegro, editor Sally Long, the opening stanza of the poem by John Grey caught my eye. For Gratitude I’ve chosen the opening stanza of Joy Harjo’s poem Perhaps the World Ends Here.

Forgiveness

The woman with the forgiveness
is out there in the world somewhere.

Gratitude

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

Adopt a Christmas tree

Adopteer een Kerstboom


This week I saw a feature on tv about various adoption schemes here in The Netherlands. One of those, Adopteer een Kerstboom, now has 3,000 people who have adopted a Christmas tree. There is a waiting list: it takes five years for a tree to be tall and big enough for adoption. Each tree carries a metal tag with a number, so that the adopters know it’s their tree. Many people have given their tree a name. They pay a small deposit on collection in November from one of 13 locations, and trees are returned in January when they are planted back in their slot. The fee goes up a little each year the taller the trees get.


I think it’s a great scheme! Season’s Greetings to you all. Thank you for following my blog and for your comments. A short seasonal poem:

I’ve never been to that desert island
though the removal firm sends me
a bill each month for the books I left there.
I’ve never been to Iceland for that green light,
nor Lapland for those dogs and sledges,
but I have kissed Father Christmas.

W G Sebald – poem

This week it is 20 years since the writer W G (Max) Sebald died, aged 57.
Propolis, the publishing arm of Norwich-based The Book Hive, published Ariadne’s Thread: In Memory of W G Sebald (2014). This memoir was written by Philippa Comber. She met Sebald in 1981 in Norwich where they both lived. They hit it off and became friends.


Philippa and I met in Manchester late 2004 at a series of poetry workshops and we hit it off too: both practising psychotherapists with several shared interests. I remember Philippa telling me she was planning a visit to the German museum dedicated to Sebald to read the letters that she had sent him over the years.


Sebald died in a road-traffic accident near Norwich. According to the coroner’s report, he had died of a heart attack before colliding with a lorry. Memory, loss of memory, decay, exile are the main themes of his books with their unique blend of fact, recollection, and fiction.

Knowing and not knowing

I know I mustn’t eat grapefruit as it interferes
with the effect of the medication. I don’t need to know
the Table of Chemical Elements, though I do know
that a few elements have recently been added and
Rutherfordium is one of them.

I know and remember the view of the Wash and the silver
ribbon of the Broads as the plane turns. I don’t know
the names of narrowboats and yachts, but I do know
that the beach huts in Wells-next-the-Sea are on stilts.

I know someone who was a good friend of W G Sebald
and that her letters to Max are archived in a museum
near Stuttgart. I know where I was when I heard on
the radio that Sebald had died: the A17 heading for Norwich,
just before a round-about.

Speak to the Earth – poem


I am delighted to introduce this month’s poet: Jean Stevens. We have met several times over the last two years on writing workshops – all on Zoom.

Jean Stevens’ poems have been widely published in magazines and newspapers and broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and Radio 4. She is a past winner of Leeds Libraries Writing Prize and was shortlisted for the Bridport Prize in 2020. Her most recent poetry collections are Speak to the Earth (Naked Eye 2019) and Nothing But Words (Naked Eye 2020). Her forthcoming collection Always Too Many Miles will be published in 1922, also by Naked Eye.


Jean has worked as a professional actress and dramatist and her stand-up comedy script won the Polo Prize at London’s Comedy Store.


The collection Speak to the Earth is in five sections and I have chosen one poem from each.


Night safari

At the Singapore Night Safari, animals roam freely in moonlight
in environments replicating their lives in the wild. Visitors and animals
are separated only by the slimmest of man-made divides.

I walked the rainforest’s moonlit trail
and found myself among leopards.

They were lean, honed by hunting
and hunger and, as flesh and muscle
ebbed and flowed, I saw
down to the beat of blood
and the almost liquid bone.

Their skin was a print of their own
dark paws walking on sand,
their flanks were brandy and treacle,
brown ale held to the light.

I knelt by the narrow divide
and a leopard lay opposite,
mirrored light in his midnight eyes.

He didn’t blink and I was held
till he stretched and showed his claws.
I turned to the man who stood next to me.
We’re nothing he said.

Hefted
Hefted : accustomed and attached to an area of upland pasture.

It’s cloistered in the depths of the valley
inside this old house, where cellos
have left echoes in the stone,
poets’ words are carved in the beams,
and the bones of cattle lie under slate

but one day I will follow the hefted sheep
out of here through clear northern light
to climb the far hills and beyond to where
there are no buildings, no roads, no noise
except the battering of the wind.

Drama school

Drama schools are fond of sending students
to the zoo to study the behaviour of beasts.
It’s what people laugh at when they speak about
the ‘luvvies’: be a cat, be a dog, be a bloody giraffe.

But look, Lear’s on his knees and clawing Cordelia.
His hands are paws and he’s mauling her body
round the stage, frantic to revive her.

He’s done the mad scene in the storm
railed against every roof
cried: Never, never, never, never, never.

Now he makes us see what we all are
at heart: animals learning to grieve.

Gagudju man
Remembering Bill Neidjie (‘I’m telling you this while you’ve got time’)

This was the man who shared
the long-held secrets of his world.
I met him in Alice Springs, sat with him
in the aboriginal silence, knowing
his closeness to every living thing.

He felt trees in his body,
their trunks and leaves pumping water
as human hearts pump blood,
thought that no matter what kind –
kangaroo, eagle, echidna –
animals pulse in our flesh,

said, if you harm what is sacred,
you might get a cyclone or flood,
or kill someone in another place,
told us we must hang on to the land,
the trees, the soil, because of the day
when we become the earth.

Waking

I wake to bed linen strewn
around like manic laundry
and can’t get out of my head
the creatures I dreamt of
who eat only fruit and leaves

and gaze at the beings
who hack down trees, ravage
land, sea and air, blast their kind
off the earth, and bring silence,
the silence of the animals.

On my way to meet the morning
I’m desperate to hear the bleating
of sheep, the trill of blackbirds,
a dog barking after a stick,
but nothing moves, nothing speaks.

St Nikolaas

Credit: RvT 1625, via Pixabay

Tomorrow will be his birthday. Traditionally, children were allowed to put a shoe (with a carrot for the horse) by the fire on the night of the 5th. Over time, it has become tradition to celebrate the evening of the 5th. And over time, children put out their shoe earlier and earlier …

Somewhere in a photo album there is a small black-and-white picture, somewhere in a box in storage. Here is the poem, anyway, from my debut collection Another life, Oversteps Books Ltd, 2016.

St Nikolaas, 5 December 1957

We’re crowded in our dining room.
Grandmother has closed her face.
There’s me in pyjamas, smiling.
I’m next to my father’s father.
His heart will give out soon.
I’ve just been given a book:
animal stories with illustrations.

My brother too smiles, because
our mother isn’t there.
She may be in the kitchen
or upstairs, ill, thinking
about walking out on us.
My father has taken this photo.
He too will have closed his face.

Every Day I Promise Myself – poems

It’s a great pleasure introducing this month’s poet: Rachel Davies. We met through poetry workshops in Manchester many years ago.

Rachel Davies has had several jobs including nurse, teacher and head-teacher. She thinks retirement is the best job she’s ever had because it gave her time to pursue her poetry. She is widely published in journals and anthologies and has been a prize-winner in several poetry competitions.

Her debut pamphlet, Every Day I Promise Myself, was published by 4Word Press in December 2020 and she is currently seeking a home for her second pamphlet, Mole. Rachel is co-ordinator of the Poetry Society Stanza for East Manchester and Tameside. She has an MA in Creative Writing and a PhD in contemporary poetry, both from Manchester Metropolitan University. Originally from the Cambridgeshire fens, she now lives in Saddleworth with her partner and two cats.

I hope you enjoy my selection of four poems from the pamphlet.

Alternative Mother #4
Jean

For fun, you push me round the lounge
on the Ewbank till I beg you to stop, teach me
hula hoop, two-ball, how it’s good to laugh.

You soothe my knees with Germolene,
say a hug helps, say it’s alright to cry.
You know the healing power of a biscuit.

You hand-sew my wedding dress,
stitch into a secret seam a blue satin ribbon,
a lock of your own hair, all the love it takes.

You take my daughter out, keep her
for bedtime stories, forget to bring her home
so I worry she’s followed the rabbit down the hole.

You make me dance, even on those days
when the music died in me. You teach me
the euphoria of champagne.

You bake scones so light they float down
to your granddaughters like hot-air balloons.

Alternative Mother #8
Ted

Sometimes dreams can be nightmares.

You wanted most of yourself to be buried, to become
an enrichment of the fenland soil you loved so much,
your heart and lungs to be thrown into Whittlesey Wash
to feed the eels you knitted your nets for.

Oh, you were generous. You gave me some peonies once,
dug up from your garden. You shook the soil off though—
that soil’s worth three thousand pounds an acre you said.
I looked for the smile but there wasn’t one.

One night your skeleton grew out of the earth like a myth.

Breaking the Line

The blood red sky
sheds tears. Fresh milk
curdles. Now I know

my heartbroken father
left the house with
chisel, mallet — after dark

he’s out there hammering
like a minor god. Grief begins
to surface from the cold stone.

To St Ives, a Love Poem
Halloween 2014

Even though November is a black dog sitting at your feet
and your beaches lay crushed under the weight of mist

and your shoreline roars at the passing of summer
and your white horses rise on their hind legs

till your fishing boats get seasick; even though your trees
shed tears like baubles and your shops drip gifts like rain

and your cobbled streets and narrow alleys wind
around me like a clock and your posters announce

Fair Wednesday as if all other days are cheats
and your bistros display fish with eyes wide as heaven,

scared as hell, and your railway bridge yells
do what makes you happy and it feels like a tall order;

even though your choughs are impatient for pilchard
your huers won’t see today from the Baulking House

still you open your arms and kiss my cheeks in welcome.

On the bright side, there’s always:

Credit: Geralt via Pixabay

This week I’ve been going through my files and folders with poems, deleting old ones that aren’t going anywhere, finding forgotten ones, losing others because I changed the title but not the filename – you get my drift.

Here’s a sort-of-abecedarian list poem. What would be in your alphabet?

On the bright side, there’s always:

avocados and the alphabet, a
bridge over troubled water and
chocolate, Fairtrade or not,
days which travel at their own pace into
evening and other
favourite places like Venice, beaches, the
glorious counter tenor voice of Andreas Scholl,
hairdressers who waited for us,
ink to waste, as the poet has it,
jazz, all that jazz,
kilograms to worry about,
lessons that return until learned,
maria, martini, marina,
nautical miles and naughty but nice.
Oh, let’s stop, there is a
picnic bench with a view, think of
questions, the certainty of death, taxes,
rescuers in anoraks, accompanied by
sniffer dogs, so we’re fit again to
tango, show us a leg or two,
uniformed bouncers taking them off,
victory which will be ours and
whiskey or gin, double measures, that
xtra mile we will go.
Y, the fork in the road and Frost.
ZZZ, a comfy bed for a rest.