Category Archives: Art

Celebrating …

Dublin photo

North Earl Street, Dublin, 1904

I am celebrating! Just two working days after I applied, the Home Office emailed me confirmation of my “settled status” in the UK. Hence a post with a food poem …

This stew combines two foods known since the earliest Irish literature. Bacon (tinne or senshaille) is mentioned many times in the medieval Vision of MacConglinne, as are sausages, particularly called Maróc, and another called Indrechtán. Leeks and oatmeal were no doubt used in the earliest form of Coddle, but since the eighteenth century, potatoes and onion have supplanted them.

The recipe for Dublin Coddle is in my copy of A Taste of Ireland in Food and in Pictures by Theodora Fitzgibbon. The magnificent black-and-white pictures (some of them well over a hundred years old) had been found “heaven knows where – by Miss Fitzgibbon’s husband, George Morrison, creator of the Gael-Linn films on 1916 and the civil war”. The book was published in 1968 and, having married a Dublin man, and believing that saying about the “way to a man’s heart” I bought it shortly after we married in 1973.

The poem was included in Sweet Tongues: Crocus book of food poems, published by Commonword in 2013.

 
Dublin Coddle

Saturday supper is a savoury stew.
Sausages, and slices of bacon.
Potatoes and onion supplanted
the oatmeal and leek. Enough stock

to barely cover, season to taste,
simmer slowly, let the liquid reduce.
Tears run down the steamy window.
Chopping parsley holds the pain.

One of us poured a steady Guinness;
the other already lost in the black
and salty taste of waiting.
Between us the open cookery book:

a small black and white picture,
North Earl Street, Dublin, 1904.
Blurred images of men in coats
and caps, horse-drawn cart, a sunny day.

A couple crosses the tramlines.
He carries bags in both hands.
She, to the right of him,
looks down to safely place her feet.

 

The Outsider

 

unnamed

Albert Camus

 

It seemed fitting to spend 31 January (Brexit Day) with a good old friend. She has the modern smart phone needed to scan my Dutch passport. It was good to have moral support: I had a crying fit during the identity check part of the application. Luckily, I only started crying after she’d taken my photo which the Home Office staff/system will check against the photo in the passport!  And the automatic check on my National Insurance (NI) number confirmed that I was eligible to apply for “settled” status.

I’ve been resident in the UK since 1973 and I have close friends here and my writing, but it has felt less and less like home after the 2016 referendum.

At secondary school (Gymnasium) we learned English, German and French and we crawled at a snail’s pace through l’Étranger, the 1942 novel by Albert Camus which is a classic in world literature.  Camus developed the philosophical concept of Absurdism and the way he died in a car accident, aged 46, could be considered absurd.

The poem is from my debut collection Another life, published by Oversteps Books Ltd in 2016.

On reaching his 102nd Birthday

He always liked his drink,
so it’s no surprise that Albert went North,
that unused train ticket in his pocket.

He is said to have died in a car crash,
but police do know people who
walk away and without a scratch.

After walking for weeks, he reached Norway
where the days are short
and the nights are made for alcohol.

Camus lived in a modest house
with a butcher’s block in the kitchen
where he cut reindeer and smoked.

A flock of swans flew through his dreams,
so he married the next woman to walk past,
taught her two sons to play football.

She taught him to sleep soundly at last.
A pied-noir at rest under the Herring Lights,
on the cold edge of man’s world.

Yellowish green and faint red glowing,
these arcs and rays and curtains of gas,
the fight against dawn and the sun.

Snow still in sight

 

Scan0012

 
snow still in sight
the water becomes less cold
in this castle town

yuki nokori tsutsu mizu nurumu jokamachi

(haiku by Kiyo)

This castle town may be located somewhere deep in the mountains in the northern part of Japan. Snow still remains on the surrounding steep mountains, but the snowmelt water flows peacefully in the river running through the town. We can imagine the lives of the lord who owned this castle and its dwellers, which may not have been so peaceful all the time.

One of my bookshelves is filled with books and magazines on haiku, tanka, renga and renku. One of them is very special to me: Haiku. The poetic key to Japan by Mutsuo Takahashi, Hakudo Inoue and Kazuya Takaoka, published in 2003. It suddenly arrived several months after a Japanese postgraduate student who had shared my house had returned home.

Each haiku is accompanied by a wonderful colour picture, a brief explanation, the original Japanese text and the version in Romaji. Is late January too early for a spring haiku? I hope not!

Haiku calendars

haiku-calendar-2020.jpg

 

I bought extra copies of the 2020 Haiku Calendar to give as presents. This small desk calendar shows one haiku each month, with three or four more on the back.

Twelfth Night –
lobster pots
shouldered with snow
(Sheila K. Barksdale – England)

The haiku presented in the calendar are the winners and runners-up of the annual competition. The competition for the 2021 calendar is open until the 31st of January. Guidelines are on http://www.snapshotpress.co.uk

Twelfth Night was last Sunday when I was taking down Christmas decorations and carefully removing Christmas cards from the display on the kitchen door. And I was also thinking about the other haiku calendar – a present from a friend who lives in Japan. One of these calendars I’m going to take with me to my caravan in the Netherlands. No need to decide yet: my first trip there is early April!

snow scene

 

The images in the large calendar are all from the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. Miyajima in the Snow is by Tsuchiya Koitsu (1937), wood cut on paper.

oyuki ya
yuki o mi ni yuku
tokoro nashi

 
So much snow – but
a place for snow viewing?
There is nowhere to go!

(Anonymous, 18th century)

Your heart is a frozen orange

Hernandez

 

Your heart is a frozen orange

Your heart is a frozen orange.
No light gets in; it is resinous, porous,
golden: the skin promises
good things to the eye.

My heart is a feverish pomegranate
of clustered crimson, its wax opened,
which could offer you its tender pendants
lovingly, persistently.

But how crushing it is to go
to your heart and find it frosted
with sheer, terrifying snow!

On the fringes of my grief
a thirsty handkerchief
hovers, hoping to drink down my tears.

 
The poet Don Share translated this early poem and the other poems by Miguel Hernández in I have lots of heart, Selected Poems. This bilingual Spanish-English edition was published by Bloodaxe in 1997. I came across this poet by chance: visiting his birthplace Orihuela in Spain. Hernández was a self-educated goatherd and is now one of the most revered poets in the Spanish-speaking world.

After fighting on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, he was imprisoned in several of Franco’s jails, where he continued to write until his death from untreated tuberculosis. He was only 31. Below is the original poem in Spanish with its wonderful rhymes. This poem inspired my poem Flight of swallows, murmuration of starlings which was first published in the anthology Drifting down the lane (2013), along with the painting by Malgorzata Lazarek.

 

Tu corazón, una naranja helada

Tu corazón, una naranja helada
con en dentro sin luz de dulce miera
y una porosa vista de oro: un fuera
venturas prometiendo a la mirada.

Mi corazón, una febril granada
de agrupado rubor y abierta cera,
que sus tiernos collares te ofreciera
con una obstinación enamorada.

Ay, qué acometimiento de quebranto
ir a tu corazón y hallar un hielo
de irreductible y pavorosa nieve!

Por los alrededores de mi llanto
un panuelo sediento va de vuelo
con la esperanza de que en él lo abreve.

 

 

Cip Cip

 
Flight of swallows, murmuration of starlings

 
A long line of scarecrows was no defence.
Each day at dusk more words arrived.
Small words with soft downy feathers, large
words that made strange gurgling sounds
Litany, Lamentation. They roosted
on telegraph wires, fences round his fields.

His wife had been a word collector. She kept
thousands in small paper boxes called books.
These boxes were lined up in coloured rows
in cases, on wooden shelves and tables.
She had taken the books with her when she left
calling him spineless and an empty well.

His neighbour Charlie, the old lion tamer came
with his black boots, his long whips. The birds
hissed and pecked at Charlie’s hat. Feral words.
He remembered his mother telling him stories
about loaves and fishes, storms of locusts.
The local preacher came in his long black coat.
His booming sermon scared away the clouds.
The words spread their feathers, glinting
in the sun; closed their small fierce eyes.

That night a small red hen walked into his dream.
She had made hundreds of prints in the fresh snow.
The hen stood on a book with his wife’s name on it.
The next morning, he drove into town, bought the only
poetry book in the remainder shop. A poet who had taught
himself, a goat herd from Orihuela, Miguel Hernandez.

Poems of love, loss, war; poems of prison.
Miguel died in prison not yet 32.
The telegraph wires pinged. The words watched.
Your heart is a frozen orange. A bird on the wing
like a thirsty handkerchief hovers, hoping to drink tears.
The old farmer, for the first time in his life, crying.

Late in the year …

woman

Woman, Leeds Museum

I am very glad to leave this year behind me. Those of you who’ve been following the blog for some time know that the chronic Brexit stress had badly affected my health. I was in and out of hospital for a series of investigations, blood tests and scans. The National Health System (NHS) is extremely short on resources and staff, but every individual I met treated me well and as an individual. Brexit will now happen, so I must apply for settled status soon.

I got the all-clear late August and my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous came out last month. The poetry world is extremely competitive, so I was delighted to be asked for a manuscript! My third book, a pamphlet called A Stolen Hour, will be published Spring 2020 by Grey Hen Press.

The small paperback Creative Visualisation by Shakti Gawain is my Desert island favourite. I’ve had a copy for decades. First published in 1978, it’s been a bestseller since. On or around New Year’s Eve I always take stock. A regular item on my seasonal To Do list is the gratitude list. On a personal level there is a great deal to be grateful for.

 

Creative Visualisation

 

Thank you for following my blog. I leave you with a poem about 2019 and a blessing for 2020 – a new year and another decade.

 
Late in the year

It was late in the year, too late
for the year to end in an orderly manner.
This year had no manners; it stopped
suddenly in July and now it was travelling
at speed, but in the wrong direction.

Four horses pulling the carriage
splash through puddles on the rutted road.
Through an archway into the yard – a square
dark patch – a small whimpering dog
left behind now the owners have moved.

This year is like that farm, empty
and cold, a broken window, dead
birds in the chimney, overgrown grass.

The lanterns on the carriage are getting
smaller still and the road is a dead-end
stony track ending high up on the moors.
It was that kind of year, we were lost
and not all of us would survive it.

 

Blessing

May inspiration come to you
whether you’re awake or asleep.
May the poems you find be yours to keep.

May you create easily to give you a lift
while your inner critic works a different shift.

Appointment – Fokkina McDonnell

FREE VERSE REVOLUTION

October, Wednesday morning,

just before eleven o’clock.

Two white envelopes on the mat.

A half-moon of blue sky

through the window over the door.

The taxi hooting its horn twice.

The obligatory word window

repeats itself, a silent burping.

Window: open, broken glass,

into the soul.  It’s time.

If there is a window, there must

be someone watching, waving.

Waving, not drowning.  No,

that was someone else.

Waiting, not watching, window.

There would be ham sandwiches,

square slices resting on thin white

and people would sign their name,

then fly home through the open window,

taking their own words with them.


My brief bio: Fokkina McDonnell’s poems have been widely anthologised, published online and in magazines. Her debut collection Another life was published by Oversteps Books (2016) and Indigo Dreams have just published her second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous.  Fokkina blogs at www.acaciapubublications.co.uk

Image by Bertsz from Pixabay

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