Category Archives: Art

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.

A cylinder full of the rushing sea …

 

Mesdag 4

Panorama Mesdag is a cylindrical painting, more than 14 metres high and 120 metres in circumference. It’s a view of the sea, the dunes and Scheveningen village as it was in 1881. It’s the oldest 19th century panorama in the world in its original site.

Ever since getting my caravan in Holland, I’ve been visiting several times a year. When I am standing on the circular viewing platform in the centre, I know I’m just 14 metres away from the canvas. I know it’s all an illusion, but I can hear sea gulls, I get the salty tang, I see clouds pass by and the sun break through.

Mesdag 3

Painting the enormous canvas was a team effort: Hendrik Willem Mesdag with his wife Sientje and various able painters from the Hague. Other panoramas portray violent scenes (the battle at Waterloo, the Crucifixion of Christ). Here it’s visible silence, still as the hourglass (Dante Gabriel Rossetti), the tranquility of everyday life. A few fishermen are messing about with their nets, the boats are beached, the cavalry are walking their horses on the sand, women are chatting in a doorway, a dog lies down quietly.

Before the camping closes and I lock up my caravan, I will go and stand on that viewing platform again and say my goodbyes to Panorama Mesdag. The poem is by my friend Keith Lander.

 

 

Mesdag trieneke

The Mesdag Panorama
after a panoramic painting by Mesdag in The Hague

I’m on a school trip to The Hague
transfixed by the Mesdag Panorama,
especially the seascape stretching away
from the viewpoint on the man-made sandhill,
with fishing boats moored on the vast beach,
a troop of cavalry men in training,
and, joy of joys, a donkey ride.

When no one is looking I climb
over the railings onto the sandhill
and, without looking back, skip away
laughing and tumbling down the slope
towards the beach, the north sea breeze
in my hair, to run behind the military
and have endless rides on the donkeys.

Forty years later, a bored business man
with time to spare before an appointment,
I visit the Panorama and remember
I’ve been there before as a schoolboy.
As I stare at the seascape again I see
the boats on the beach, the military men
and a lost boy waving from the donkey ride.

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.

 

Synchronicity

Cover Narrow Road

I am listening to the BBC Radio 3 programme Private Passions: today’s guest is the novelist Richard Flanagan. Only two nights ago, I started reading his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. The book was the winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize. The title is borrowed from Basho and haiku by Basho and Issa start the different sections of the book. It is based on his father’s experience in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp. His father was a survivor of the Burma Death Railway.

Only two days ago I collected my first set of hearing aids and as I am typing this, Flanagan describes how he lost his hearing at the age of three and how he was thought to be “simple”. My hearing aids are brilliant: I feel more alert and it’s already helped me feeling more confident in social situations and meetings.

Richard Flanagan didn’t want to write The Narrow Road to the Deep North. He says It was a burden, a stone. A stone that grew. He also knew that, if he didn’t write the book, he would not be able to write another. He finished the book and emailed the manuscript to his publisher. Then he went to see his father who was 98 and ailing. That afternoon his father died.

Liberation Day

Bourdon

Bourdon bell, Waalsdorpervlakte

Even inside my caravan I could hear the dark sound of the Bourdon bell, just over a mile away in the dunes. The Waalsdorpervlakte is one of the major Second World War memorials in the Netherlands. On the evening of the 4th of May, there are formal gatherings everywhere in the Netherlands. The King and Queen will be on the main square in Amsterdam with other dignitaries, taking turns to lay wreaths.

However, there is something deeply moving about the gathering in the dunes. It is the location where around 250 people were executed during the war, many of whom had been active in the resistance. The area is part of a protected nature reserve, close to Scheveningen where those about to be killed were kept in prison (locally called the Oranjehotel), and close to the beach.

The first formal commemoration was here in May 1946 when there were just four wooden crosses. Later they were replaced with four bronze crosses. Local volunteers will have placed rows of flowers in the colours of the Dutch flag (red, white and blue) in front of those crosses. They also ring that large Bourdon bell and stop it just before 20:00. After two minutes’ silence and the national anthem, they start ringing the bell again. People can then walk past and leave a wreath, a bouquet, or just a single flower. The bell is rung until the last person has walked past and paid their respect. That may be close to midnight.

Liberation Day is celebrated annually on the 5th of May, with major celebrations every five years.

This poem will be included in my second collection, due out early autumn.

Here I am walking …

Here I am walking with a small horse.
I found it on the path to the supermarket
where it stood, eyes closed, by yellow gorse.

All this happened a long time ago,
before I was born, before the war,
and the rope in my hand smells of horse.

We can turn to the right, walk over
the dual carriageway, head for the dunes,
four bronze crosses to remember

the war dead and we’ll arrive,
place our feet on the beach
where it’ll soon be night.