Category Archives: Art

Mid-December

garden_fox_in_snow

 

At our Manchester Poets Christmas meeting on Friday someone read Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. This poem, along with The Road not Taken, is one of Robert Frost’s most famous poems. Many people who are not poets have come across them.

Here is Questioning Faces, a short winter poem by Frost. It has marvellous precision and economy. It inspired my poem Mid-December. It is based on a real observation: seeing the fox in my rear garden under the light cast by the helicopter. Getting the end-rhyme across the two stanzas was an interesting task.

 
Questioning Faces

The winter owl just banked in time to pass
And save herself from breaking window glass.
And her wings straining suddenly aspread
Caught color from the last of evening red
In a display of underdown and quill
To glassed-in children at the windowsill.

 
Mid-December

Some people might pray for the day
to end, so they can cover glass
panels with ceiling-to-floor lined drapes,
or plain blinds that click into place.
Sitting by the radiator
I count the nights before Solstice,

think of the fox who’s come to stay.
She, padding across stiff white grass,
makes no such distinctions, escapes
gardens, water meadows; her face
now up to the police helicopter
beaming light on the world that is.

St. Nicolaas, 5 December 1957

 

_Groeten_van_St._Nicolaas!__St._Nicholas_and_a_helper,_St._Nick_is_in_a_white_robe,_orange_cap,..._(NBY_1458)

 

Traditionally, both St. Nicolaas and Zwarte Piet (Black Peter) arrive in ports in the Netherlands on a steam ship towards the end of November. A white horse awaits the holy man who rides through the streets. In the week or so before St. Nicolaas’ evening, children would leave a carrot for the horse in their shoe (few of us wore clogs!) by the fireplace. The evidence that St. Nicolaas and Zwarte Piet had come down the chimney to visit was there the next morning: some sweets, chocolates or a small piece of marzipan in those shoes.

Black Peter is a helper, distributing sweets to the children who’ve been good. However, he also carries a large bag. Any child that has been misbehaving during late November-early December risks being noticed and being carried off to Spain in that bag.

The competition from Father Christmas has become stronger over the last decades. In recent years, there has also been a controversy in the Netherlands about Zwarte Piet and a small UN Human Rights deputation even came to investigate the accusations of racism and colonialism. Some councils and schools now have a white helper (not blacked up) and elsewhere St. Nicolaas visits on his own. The controversy is ongoing with demonstrations, petitions and activism.

On the 5th of December I will be in the UK, on a writing week. I still love marzipan, but I am cutting down on sweets and I have asked St. Nicolaas for a large batch of good, new poems! The poem is from my debut collection Another life (Oversteps Books Ltd).

 
St. Nicolaas, 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.

Why are we in Vietnam?

9781912876228
Tomorrow is the publication date of my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous. The book is already on Amazon and has been available for pre-publication orders from Indigo Dreams Publishing.

The publishers have selected six accessible poems for the author page, and the author photo is by my nephew Ted Köhler who lives in the Netherlands and is beginning to build up a photography portfolio. The end of November is too close to the festive season for an official launch. That will be here in Manchester, at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation on Tuesday 3 March.

The title was inspired by a Raymond Carver poem called My Boat. Raymond Carver is one of my all-time favourite poets. Someone I return to when I feel stale and in a negative frame of mind.

The poem Why are we in Vietnam? was written on a workshop at the wonderful Almassera Vella, Spain. We were to find any book in the library, open it at random and use a few lines as a starting point for a poem. Then we were to imagine finding a postcard inside the book. Where was the postcard from? What was written on the back? Who had sent it? I picked the paperback because of its intriguing title. It’s by Norman Mailer. I was surprised to find the lines and I imagined there would be an art card inside, a card I’d bought and forgotten about. It’s a reminder how working with “found” materials can easily trigger our creativity. The poem was commended in the 2016 Havant Open Poetry Competition.

 

Why are we in Vietnam?

It has held up the broken leg
of a single bed in the attic.
Everything is dusty now.
Who brought this Panther
paperback into my life?
Then the trail of the blood
took a bend, beat through dwarf alder.
The postcard isn’t of Cezanne’s gardener
seated upright in his chair,
or Venetian gondoliers.
Didn’t want to die in those woods,
wounded caribou…
Green lines, black dots,
small yellow triangles,
Miro’s insects and birds.
Neat black lines for the address,
the black box for a stamp.
To the left white space,
the white space of that Alaska.

 

The Vienna of Sigmund Freud

 

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In November 1994 my friend Wendy and I flew to Vienna, with Niki Lauder’s airline. She had asked me to come for moral support, as she wanted to look at the houses where her parents had been born and lived. They were Jewish and had both left Vienna before the war, meeting in Manchester where they married and changed their name from Grünewald to Greenwood.

Wendy and I visited the Freud Museum together. My poem The Vienna of Sigmund Freud was awarded the second prize in the 2012 Marple International Poetry Competition. On the Saturday morning my friend went back to one of the houses and I went to the birthplace of the composer Franz Schubert. I expected crowds, but I was alone with a protective attendant.

Scan0018

Wendy being awarded first prize in the 2000 Sale Photographic Society

 

During his short career, less than 20 years, Schubert composed a vast amount of music: over 600 vocal works, seven symphonies, piano and chamber music. He died in 1828, aged 31. My friend Wendy died in April 2000, aged 52. Litany for All Soul’s Day is one of Schubert’s best-known songs: Alle Seelen Ruhn in Frieden! All souls rest in peace!

 

franz-schubert-1372938064-view-1

 

The Vienna of Sigmund Freud
(after Miroslav Holub)
This is where they rein in Lippizaner horses
and Schnitzler and Klimt shocked
and Hitler studied art.

And here an emporium reflects the cathedral.
Here they debate the merits of Sachertorte
and mature women wear hats with feathers.

This is where Freud analysed the disturbed
and the distressed sat in his red waiting room,
this museum with a clean flag and frosted glass.

And here the U-Bahn stations are without graffiti.
Here the shoppers whisper silently
and pain starts when sounds die.

 

Nussdorferstrasse 54

Red geraniums in window boxes
brighten the wooden balcony.
Scattered leaves around the statue
of a shy, naked girl, perched on the edge.

I’d planned a rain-soaked pilgrimage:
wind howling in the chimney. Imagined
creaking stairs, the shadows of birds,
old beggars in swirling fog.

On polished floorboards I glide past
a clear and orderly arrangement of
manuscripts, paintings and prints.
The shiny keyboard waits.

Now the sun lights up his portrait.
Elbow resting on books, he holds a quill.
Franz Schubert smiles past me
at this trim, suburban scene.

White-faced capuchin

Penny

It is a pleasure to introduce this month’s poet Penny Sharman. We met many years ago on writing workshops organised and run by the late Linda Chase.

Penny is a Poet, Photographer , Artist and Therapist. She is inspired by wild open spaces and coastal paths. Penny uses metaphor to create deep emotional landscapes for personal and universal themes. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Edge Hill University and has been published in many magazines and anthologies such as The Interpreters House, Strix, Finished Creatures and Obsessed with Pipework. Penny’s pamphlet Fair Ground was published by Yaffle Press in 2019 and her first collection Swim With Me In Deep Water was published by Cerasus in 2019. Both books are available from her website: pennysharman.co.uk

I have chosen three poems from Fair Ground to show the range and the deep humanity of Penny’s poems.

 

White-faced capuchin

In my dream state I keep my monkey in a violin case.
Every daybreak I unclip the clasp and let the inquisitor out.
She greets me with a pale face, jumps onto my hand
with a chitter-chatter and pisses over my skin.

I feed one morsel at a time into her small mouth: fruits, nuts,
ants, tree-rat tails, squirrel tongues, or any titbit from a bird.
She stares into my eyes in a trance, hand-sniffs and licks
my fingers for comfort.

I ask her about dreams and fears, about past arboreal fields,
how she learnt to use sticks to beat away tree boas. How she
rubbed plants and ants into her fur as a medicine, how she played
with her tribe and trembled when jaguars stalked her path.

I calm her when she sobs with thoughts of humans hunting
her for food. In another life she is an automaton holding out
her hand with a beggar’s cup for the organ grinder when
vagabonds cranked away from dawn to dusk.

She tells me how her face resembles a Capuchin friar’s cowl,
how it resembles a cappuccino in the hands of barista boy.
In my dream state I keep my monkey safe in a violin case.
Every daybreak I unclip the clasp and let the inquisitor out.

Fair ground
Bella

All night incoming waves roll pebbles on the storm beach
as the girl struggles with her fear, sweat, lack of breath,
the drums in her heart and screaming mind.

All night the incoming waves pummel the oyster shells
on Llandona sands where emptiness echoes in the girl’s ears,
not one giving an answer to her plea for peace.

All night she searches for just one pearl to hold in her hand,
to calm her in the driving seat, to be the passenger,
to leave control under a gravestone at St. Dona’s Church.

All night the witches rumble spells through the glazed glass
And washed floor boards inside Gorphwysfa, a place of rest
where each window sees Red Wharf Bay.

All night she walks down the hill in dreams: it’s easy to paddle
in the shallow ocean, it’s easy to place worries in a paper boat,
to sail them to somewhere out of her white room.

 
Cutting rice

Let me hold your hand, heal the howl of blue-eyes.
Look at you, down on your knees, how you cut
the smallest white grain, your hunger in the meadows.

Let me stroke your hair, calm your thin-moon of stone,
your rock strangers that run through a corridor of minds.
Here’s a lemon balm to smooth out your wrinkles.

Let me hear your earthquakes, leopard-spotted appetites
for belonging. Bury them in my palm. Let me bring blossoms,
the white-white of petals in your earthly hours.

Garment of Healing

garment

Here is another poem about healing. It comes from working with a male client over a period of a few years. He had been diagnosed with chronic PTSD, following serious trauma at an early age. He was doing well, back into doing creative work, and he came up with the notion of the “garment of healing” – which was woven in strong materials and wonderful colours, but just needed a decent seam …

 
The poem is in the form of a sestina. This is not an easy form to use. There are 39 lines (six six-line stanzas with an envoy) in which each stanza repeats the end word of the lines of the first stanza, but in a different order. Then the envoy uses the six words again, three in the middle of the lines and three at the end of the lines. So, the length and the sequence of repetition make it a challenging poem to write.

 
The famous sestina by Elizabeth Bishop A miracle at Breakfast was written during the Great Depression and, with the use of coffee, crumb and miracle, hints strongly at the biblical tale of loaves and fishes. The other three words she used are: river, sun and balcony. It is a marvellous poem.

 
My poem, like the Bishop poem, tells a story. You’ll see that I have chosen some words that can be a noun or a verb, to help with that repetition. Part of the poem came in a dream and I shared the poem with my client.

 

Garment of Healing

She checks the neat empty card in the window.
The mannequin is naked. No garment
covers her body, breasts the colour of old moon.
The shop is closed, the street the usual exchange:
grey fumes, smells, hoarse shouts, sirens, a kind
of whirlpool for those who don’t have a butterfly.

Some words come: naked, emperor, butterfly.
She walks in step with them, widow, window,
left, right; tries to make the voice kind
and soft, but it sneers garment?
Last week she told her counsellor in exchange
for a tissue that became a crumpled moon.

Told him about dreaming under a sickle moon,
about her right shoulder turning into a butterfly.
Sometimes she doubts the session is a fair exchange
and that voice hisses your soul a window?
She should tell the man about the missing garment.
He might not believe her. A man who’s kind

may turn. Her father had been a turncoat, a kind
man outside… Ah, see the pale moon
above the office block. She’ll google garment
if she can’t find the dictionary, choose a butterfly
for her 46th birthday from the window
of the tattoo parlour. Right first time, no exchange.

She buys bananas in the market, exchanges
a few how-are-yous, smiles, gives a kind
wave, goes to the shopper’s service, a window
of silence. Praying is no good and that moon
is starting to sink behind the building. A butterfly
flutters in her stomach: garment        garment

Her heels turn. She needs to check, the garment
must be waiting, the window dresser mid-exchange.
He said It’s a good sign dreaming of a butterfly.
He said It’s never too late to grow that kind
voice inside. Waxing and waning like the moon.
Slightly out of breath she’s back at that window.

There is the garment of healing in the window
and a butterfly opens its wings of creamy moon.
These exchanges are priceless and the only kind.

The Herring Eater

 

Herring Eater

The Herring Eater is the centrepiece of a series of 23 inter-related sculptures by the American sculptor Tom Otterness. The tubes and round shapes are typical of his work: cartoon-like and humorous. However, these sculptures called Fairytales by the Sea are not from the children’s playground, but they remind us how these stories have a serious, even bleak, message. Here are Gulliver and creatures held down, tied down, or captive in cages. There is the hangman’s noose.

 

Fairy tale

 

Scheveningen was one of the major ports for the Dutch herring fleet. To this day, most Dutch people love their raw herring with chopped onion served in a white bread roll. There is always a queue at the stall next door to my local supermarket. I am about to close the caravan for the winter. The poem was written earlier in the season.

 
When in Holland

When in Holland do as the Dutch do:
eat raw herring in a white roll with
optional small bits of onion.
Or, like the giant bronze statue
The Herring Eater, already weathered
out on the promenade, head backwards,
holding the fatty fish by its tail.

Next you need to hunt out smoked eel
in the supermarkets. They’re delicious
with a sauce of crème fraiche and jenever.
Flight KL1079 to Manchester arrived on time
and I let the fish go.