Meeting Paula Rego at the Whitworth, Manchester

The Poetry Shed

Meeting Paula Rego at the Whitworth, Manchester

Shading her eyes with a small black fan
she looks distressed and even out of place.
Ash trees cast a greenish shadow on her face.
To me she seems older now, frailer than
in the short winter days of that other year when
the quiet ghost of a drowned baby played
with black hen, spiders, women who prayed
for open roads, escape, a private den.

There was a boating lake once in the park.
We wait for panini, service is slow.
Café in the trees, I say, canopy.
Her ear rings sparkle, her eyes are still dark.
It’s from the Greek; “konops” means mosquito.
Paula’s face lights up; her imagination set free.

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Fokkina McDonnell’s poems have been published in over 20 anthologies and in magazines, such as Magma, The North, Orbis, Poetry News, Strix, Erbacce, The Journal. Several have been placed, commended…

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Tony Hoagland

I was sad to learn that the US poet Tony Hoagland has died of cancer, aged only 64.

Marie Howe has said of his work “Hilarious, searing poems that break your heart so fast you hardly notice you’re standing knee deep in a pool of implications. They are of this moment, right now – the present that we’re already homesick for”.

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Bloodaxe published What Narcissism means to me in the UK in 2005. What many of the poems really demonstrate is the effect of intriguing opening lines:

* That was the summer I used The Duino Elegies/in all of my seductions
* That was the summer my best friend/ called me a faggot on the telephone,
* In Delaware a congressman/accused of sexual misconduct
* What I notice today is the aroma of my chiropractor’s breath
* Maybe I overdid it/when I called my father an enemy of humanity.
* Sometimes I like to think about the people I hate.
* But now I am afraid I know too much to kill myself.
* The sparrows are a kind of people/who lost a war a thousand years ago;
* To whomever taught me the word dickhead,/I owe a debt of thanks.
* But what about the courage/of the cancer cell

Two of the poems that stayed with me are about his parents. The poem Lucky starts:

If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to help your enemy
the way I got to help my mother
when she was weakened past the point of saying no.

On the next page is Benevolence which starts When my father dies and comes back as a dog

The collection has several poems about illness too. The final poem Emigration’s first stanza:

Try being sick for a year,
then having that year turn into two,
until the memory of your health is like an island
going out of sight behind you

Discarding clothes

discarding clothes

It’s now just over a year since I closed my psychotherapy and supervision practice. I’ve gone through some wobbly spells. But, I feel more settled in this new way of being, especially after five glorious weeks in my caravan in Holland.

In my psychotherapy work, sitting closely with traumatised clients, I used to dress in sober colours: plain tops and trousers in grey, dark blue, black, dark green. No long, shiny ear rings, or clanging bangles… I wrote the poem Discarding clothes on a workshop last year, after a poem by Robert Vas Diaz.

Discarding clothes

Cheerio, black briefcase,
hand stitched in France,
with the deep smell of leather.

So long, three-piece suit,
pleated skirt, thin stripes;
a trio of ceremonial blue.

Farewell, flat shoes
you sensible goodie-goodies.
There’s pale skin underneath my watch.

I’m flip-flopping into retirement
with dangling silver ear rings,
Capri trousers, a selection of sleeveless tops.

I’ll need to fly back to Hawaii and Fiji.
Aloha! Colourful kaftans,
strapless pink and a cocktail or two.

 

The photo is of exhibits in the current exhibition Stage of Being at Voorlinden Museum, Wassenaar, the Netherlands: Please (neon) by Jeppe Hein from Denmark, with Dawn (polyester, hair, glass, oil) by John DeAndrea, USA.

Decluttering

 

Blue Horn 1

There will be many varied events across the country today on National Poetry Day.
Twenty poets have donated poems to York Explore Libraries.  These will be on display in the libraries in and around York and given out to visitors. Below is the poem I gave away.

Decluttering

I rarely used the cups and saucers:
good enough for the Red Cross.
Dark forest-green rim and each of the five

remaining dinner plates (Poole Pottery, Dorset)
chipped, thin brown cracks running
across the plain centre like a fault line.

You have turkey and trimmings in front of you.
You were wearing that 70s polo-neck jumper,
corduroy trousers, the lopsided smile.

Stacked securely in a cupboard,
suddenly taken away,
placed in a black plastic bag.

 

The accompanying picture is of Blue Horn by Tony Cragg. He collected 40 used objects in different shades of blue and then ordered them by size in the shape of a scythe, a reference to one of the oldest things used by men to work the land. The artist looks for ways to connect art with daily life.

I took the photo during a recent visit to Voorlinden, a new private museum in Wassenaar, the Netherlands.

More an ache than sorrow

Ian Storr

This month I’m featuring one of my fellow haiku poets: Ian Storr.  He is a history graduate and trained social worker whose last job before he retired was with Voice for the Child in Care, managing their advocacy service in the north of England. Ian  has been writing haiku and tanka since the mid-1970s and he has had over 200 published in British and oversees journals.

His poems have won prizes in Britain, Canada and Ireland and they have been included in British and international anthologies. Ian is the production and poetry editor of Presence magazine, described by the Founder and Chairperson of The Haiku Foundation as “the most important haiku journal in English outside the United States.”

I first met Ian more than 25 years ago and I’m delighted to share a selection of his writing with you.  His tanka, in particular,  I find deeply moving and masterful examples.

 

Haiku

Brightening
the house in winter
orange roses from the wreath

Cleft of the brook
wood sorrel bright
on a fallen birch

wind strengthening a skylark holds his place of song

The rhythm of
this baby’s sleep upon me
. . . days of rain

Valley head
white with cotton grass
the silence before the raven

Sweeping rain
deer on the ridge
climb into cloud

Gusts from the street
the store greeter’s
unreturned hellos

Darkening marsh
the swirl of golden plovers
settles again

 

Tanka

Night mist . . .
back where I was born
I walk this lane again
down to the flooded pit shaft
where tinkers used to camp

 
Snow falls tonight
as I drive slowly home
against the windscreen
a drift of stars
melting into water

 
Our son of seven weeks
struggles from sleep in my arms
tight in his hand
from the night’s feed
a long strand of your hair

 
Our balcony
over the settled sea . . .
you bring on two white plates
grapes the green of jade
the seeds within like shadows

 
More an ache than sorrow
this second anniversary . . .
falling on shrouded hills
and reservoir
the wet november snow

 
I put on my father’s boots
for a path I’ve never walked . . .
through reeds and cotton grass
comes the autumn wind
sounding like the sea

 

Year ending
frost covers the boards
of the empty pier
above a beach
strewn with razor shells

 

A stretcher-bearer
wounded twice and twice
returned to the front
Grandpa back on duckboards
over the sucking mud

 

Cover Presence

Comares, Spain

Comares Spain. Window & Steps

Comares Spain. Window & Steps, David Goad

While tidying and sorting folders on the laptop I came across this image. It was a reminder of the enjoyable project that the late Linda Chase organised jointly with Hot Bed Press in Salford. The photographers and print makers based there put work on a website and we, poets, chose something that inspired us. There were two exhibitions with readings of the poems, both very enjoyable events. One was at Hot Bed Press, the other at the Village Hall, Manchester.

I met the artist David Goad at the Lowry just before he moved to France and bought a copy of the work – a linocut/drypoint with hand colour dating from 2006. David was quite amazed that I’d got Triptych from his art.  Posting this is a reminder for me to make more time to go to art galleries and museums – that’s where I find inspiration when I feel stale…

Triptych

His song, like a veil,
laid out on the dry, cracked earth.
A farmer, soldier or goatherd
under the halo of this midday sun.

A future anchored in the past.
A past mirrored in the future.
And what are these offerings?

A man, his wife.
His life, her life.
The smallest token.
Words left unspoken.
Their family name.
The curved greyness of shame.

Only when shaken
or beaten with a stick
does the olive tree yield
its small, black fruit.

Against distant thunder
the cling-clang of their bells:
the counterpoint of loneliness.

 

Bee Journal

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The Love Bee with Distiller-Bee on the right

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In the 1800s the Manchester textile mills were called ‘hives of activity’ and the workers compared with bees. The Borough of Manchester was granted city status in 1842; on the city crest seven bees are flying over a globe, signifying Manchester’s industry being exported. Images of bees can be found on buildings and bins. After the Arena bombing last year many Mancunians got themselves bee tattoos.

So, there is a lot of interest and excitement about bees currently dotted around town, in parks and public spaces. Over 100 large bees have been decorated by artists, while 130 little bees are part of the City Learning Programme. It’s how creative producers Wild in Art are celebrating their 10th anniversary, and there are some fabulous creatures to be found. The bee below shows some Manchester landmarks: the Town Hall, a Grade I listed building, the Manchester Central  Convention Complex (the original Central railway station) and the Beetham Tower with 47 floors, until recently, the tallest building in the UK outside London.

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This is Manchester, C Elliott

On a recent trip to Leeds University to visit the Special Collection I was delighted to see a copy of the 1634 revised edition of the first English-language book devoted to beekeeping The Feminine Monarchie, the histori of bee’s. Charles Butler was also called The Father of Beekeeping. He was a priest and kept bees at his parsonage. Butler writes about bee gardens, hive making, enemies of bees, feeding, pollination and swarm catching. The book also includes a musical score: a four-part madrigal that mimics the sound of swarming bees!

Butler cover

One of the most original poetry collections I read in the last few years is Bee Journal by Sean Borodale. It was shortlisted for the 2012 Costa Poetry Prize. Borodale had previously published books based on walking and writing on location and Bee Journal was supposedly written at the hive, with the poet wearing a veil and gloves! The 90 pages chronicle the life of the hive, from the collection of a small nucleus on 24 May – extract below –

He just wears a veil, this farmer, no gloves
and lifts open a dribbly wax-clogged
blackwood box.
We in our whites mute with held breath.
Hello bees.
Drops four frames into our silence.

to the capture of a swarm two years later, with all the learning, joy and anxiety in between  The poem titles are all dates, some with additional notes, as below:

14th August: Bee Inspector
Today a DEFRA bee inspector clipped the wings of our queen.

Some days the poems are only a few lines, or a single word. 7th January starts:

Four inches of snow. The hive a hut
of silence and darkness.

A year later, there is the entry for 13th January: False Spring Week’s long hoax of mild weather/and bees wander like fools.  On the 15th January Sean makes herb tea for his bees, adding grains of salt and their own honey (10%) to boiling water.  Opposite is the devastating empty page, titled 24/25th January: Bees Die.

In between, there are many poems full of joy and marvel. Here’s a stanza from 2nd May:

A bee, a tine being struck was out:/sound like a rooting of thin flash/in liquid form poured from a bucket the size of an adult/tooth./Magnet of listening, I to hear it/turned the pole of my head.

Because of the regular small interventions the beekeeper has to make, his observations and devotion turn to a deep intimacy, with unusual imagery and dense, “clotted” language.  Reading it was an amazing experience.