Category Archives: Art

In the fields near Arnhem

During this year I’ve been posting poems by my friend Kathleen Kummer. This is the last one. Kathleen lived and worked in the Netherlands after she married a Dutchman and taught German and French at an international school.

The battle of Arnhem took place during 17 – 26 September 1944. Operation Market Garden failed when the allied forces could not take the bridge over the Rhine.

In the fields near Arnhem

It falls like a petal from the last rose of summer:
a bus ticket, Arnhem Municipal Transport, flutters
from the faded pages of L’Art D’Etre Aimée.

Learning how to love and be loved, which was harder,
was what I had no idea I was doing that summer
of trains, boats and buses, all bound for Cythera.

It sounded so playful in French: Ecoutez-le,
(listen to him), passionnément. Ils adorent les cheveux,
so, wear your hair loose. But this was no game, we were serious.

Not so much so that we thought how, six years earlier,
they had floated down from the sky, white flowers
in their thousands in the fields near Arnhem.

Earth Days Numbered

I am very pleased to have a poem in this pamphlet which, along with its companion Counting Down the Days, has just been published by Grey Hen Press. Joy Howard, the editor, has done a great job of producing these two anthologies: allowing older women poets to show their support for the younger generation.

All proceeds from the sales of the two books will go to supporting the work of the UK Youth Climate Coalition. Below is my poem to give you a taster.

Paternoster

Some survivors live on the edge in cars,
dented, rusted ridges, blown tyres,
a towel drying on the steering wheel.
Much of life now is waiting and standing in line,
but Paternoster tells us it was often so in the Old Life.

Strong men searched among the rubble,
found saucepans, leather boots, shoulder bags.
Once a black wooden box called Schimmel
which Paternoster says means white horse.
Papaver grows inside that piano now.

Horses stand by the narrow river, kick sand.
One brown mare is with foal.
Our Friesian cows give us white gold most days.
We are waiting for rain, for a sign.
Men play a game of stone, paper, scissors.

I stroke the flute I made from bone.
I must be careful not to dream.
We trained the rats to smell landmines.
Paternoster remembers grapefruit,
a bitter yellow ball, the colour of sun.

A poem about my father …

Building prev. Middelaarkerk, Beverwijk, NL

My father was born on the 2nd of September. Here is a short prose poem about him. That so-called High Street was the Breestraat in the small Dutch town of Beverwijk, a few miles from the coast. In 1996 the building was last used as a church. When looking for a photo I came across a website offering accommodation. There is an apartment with a stained-glass window…

Hat

That Saturday afternoon my father had been drinking with the sales reps who had driven in to collect their bonus and, of course, being pleased with their bonus, they would have bought my father a drink. My father, being generous and liking his drink, anyway, would have bought them a drink. How the subject turned to hats, I don’t know, but around three, or three-thirty, my father came back home and picked up my mother’s hat, the one she would wear to church the following day: a large peach-shaped, red-wine-coloured, black-velvet-edged-bonbon-of-a-thing. I watched my father put on this hat and leave the house. I went out and followed him. The three sales reps stood outside the café at the end of our road. With the disdain of a Spanish matador, my father strode past them, heading for the High Street.

(published in Another LIfe, Oversteps Books, 2016)

Initiative, challenge and excitement …

Nidd Hall, near Harrogate

I’m away this weekend on a reunion, staying at Nidd Hall Hotel, near Harrogate. Nidd Hall is a Grade II listed building with large gardens and a fishing lake. Many years ago, I went on a daytrip to the fabulous Turkish Baths in Harrogate. Dating back to 1897, it is full working order and historically complete: islamic arches, tiled brickwork, terrazzo flooring.


That outing was organised by Spice UK where Spice stands for ‘Special Programme of Interest, Challenge and Excitement’. Spice was started in the ‘80s on a part-time basis by Dave Smith, a police officer who held a sky-diving qualification. It grew into a national franchise organisation and still exists.

New to Manchester, I met lots of people at the social events, made friends and tried things I wouldn’t have done otherwise: abseiling, rock climbing, motorcycling, Formula Ford at Aintree. Here is a poem about one of those events. It’s from my first collection Another life. I hope you’re having a good weekend yourself!

Nicolae Baltatescu, via Pixabay

From Grassington, June
for Dave Smith

We had been following the Roman road:
Rita who was almost 80,
her bearded son, clutching champagne,
the pale daughter-in-law, and me
still gripping the metal frame.

Our shadow floated ahead of us,
scaring sheep and deer into running
towards the orange early evening.
The only sound creaking wicker
and the hissing of gas

We ducked as we rushed over
telephone lines, fences, tree tops.
The Land Rover – still keeping up –
with the bottle of whisky to placate
the farmer on whose field we hoped to land.

A walk in summer in Holland

Heide by Steinchen via Pixabay

It’s only days since I returned to Manchester and I’m slowly getting back into the English language. It has been a great pleasure to feature poems here this year by my friend Kathleen Kummer. I hope you enjoy this one.

A walk in summer in Holland

No ditch, no canal, no river here,
no heron to remind me, as always, of Gandhi,
hunched up, as it studies the text of the water.
This landscape, the heat at Blaricum,
its sandy paths moist from yesterday’s rain,
never seem to be still. It moves with a gentle,
rocking rhythm. The mass of heather,
shrubs and trees, the tipsy ladders
of vapour the jets leave behind like litter,
the cirrus snagged on the sky, the flock
of sheep, horned flecked with brown,
expertly nibbling between each dainty,
filigree sprig – all of these
frolic round us: moving pictures
on a frieze like those in a child’s bedroom.

An illusion? Call van Gogh as a witness.
His olive groves writhe, his crops are waves,
cypresses rock on an ocean of fields
or boil with the stars in a fiery furnace.
But here, there is no such fever. Under
the huge Dutch sky, we are cradled, rocked
on a warm bed of purple heather.

The shoplifter and the hermit …

It is three years since the poet Matthew Sweeney died. I was fortunate of having a whole week with him at the wonderful Almassera Vella, Spain in 2006. I learned a great deal. The photo was taken in the garden by the infinity pool.


One of my favourite books about writing is Teach Yourself Writing Poetry. It was written by Matthew and his friend and poet John Hartley Williams. It is packed with exercises, and I love the book because in between the exercises there is dialogue, chat, discussion. I can hear their voices as they talk (I’m sure over a glass of wine). Wit and poignancy.


The Hermit was written on a workshop. We were given Sweeney’s poem The Shoplifter and asked to think about someone with an unusual occupation and what life would be like for them when they retired. Both the shoplifter and hermit now live by the sea. Sweeney’s shoplifter has ‘fronds of marijuana’ outside, has ‘learned the use of coins’ and has a use for all those books:


His books come in useful now
as each time he has shinned

with an aerial up the chimney
Viking wind has ripped it down.

The Hermit


The hermit had to be retired
for health and safety reasons.

He was flown out of the desert,
given a dictionary and glasses.

He is renting an old longhouse,
leaves doors and windows open

so he can smell the cool air,
but still he cannot sleep.

The postman was his first visitor.
Mail lies piled up by the gate.

The grains of sand on the beach
make him feel homesick even now.

By the light of a candle he may
be able to look in the mirror, but not yet.

Almost hidden by grass – haiku

St John’s Church, Little Gidding, Huntingdonshire

It is 20 years since I visited Little Gidding, as the mid-week trip on a one-week course at Madingley, part of Cambridge University. Our tutor that week was the poet Lawrence Sail. Last Sunday I featured four poems from his collection Guises. That week I also met Kathleen Kummer who has become a good friend. Her poems have featured here over the last few months.

Little Gidding is famous for being the fourth and final poem of T S Eliot’s Four Quartets. Eliot had visited Little Gidding in 1936. The title refers to a small Anglican community in Huntingdonshire, established by Nicholas Farrar in the 17th Century.

I wrote the short sequence of haiku during my visit. It was published in Presence magazine.

Almost hidden by grass

following her
across the field
a white butterfly

almost hidden by grass
three wooden crosses

the church bell
covered
in pigeon droppings

pink geranium petals
a droning plane

on the terrace
calling us old, advanced –
the toothless guide

finding the pigsties
number one boarded up

as we leave
sunlight
on the font

Little Gidding, August 2001

Olympic Cyclists – a poem

Photo credit: Grace Sail

This month’s poet is Lawrence Sail. We met 20 years ago when he tutored a week-long course at Madingley Hall, part of Cambridge University. We have kept in touch and I was delighted with his endorsement of my second collection Nothing serious nothing dangerous.

Lawrence Sail has written thirteen books of poems; Waking Dreams: New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2010) was a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation. His publications include the anthology First and Always: Poems for Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital (Faber, 1988), and two books of essays, Cross-Currents (Enitharmon, 2005) and The Key to Clover (Shoestring Press, 2013). He has written two memoirs, both published by Impress Books: Sift (2010) and Accidentals, the latter illustrated by his daughter, Erica Sail, and published in December 2020.

He was chairman of the Arvon Foundation from 1991 to 1994, has directed the Cheltenham Festival of Literature and was on the management committee of the Society of Authors from 2007 to 2011. He was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in 1992, and an Arts Council Writer’s Bursary the following year. In 2004 he received a Cholmondeley Award for his poetry. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

I’ve selected four poems from Guises, Lawrence’s most recent collection, published by Bloodaxe Books in early 2020. They show his close observation skills, precision of imagery, interest in art and in life – what is and what was lost. Understatement is used to great effect in Journey.

Cover painting: detail of Yellow Twilight
by Samuel Palmer

Radishes
‘What do I know of man’s destiny? I could tell you more about radishes.’ Samuel Beckett

Bunched tightly –
no sign of
the flowers with
their four petals

At one end, weak
and tatty leaves
that soon wilt,
ill with yellow

At the other
a wisp of root,
vestigial tail
thinly curling

Their cylinders, white
and carmine, harbour
a residue
of soil’s sourness

Their gifts? Crispness and
surprise – from
their pure white core
they bite back: like destiny

Olympic Cyclists

Start at the nape
with the helmet that tapers so finely
and looks designed
for a new occipital shape –
it must come straight out of
a dream played
on an oval board, under lights

Everything comes second
to aero-dynamics, kinetics –
it is not always easy
to tell where the cycle ends
and the rider begins. They become
one curve among
many, parts of one thought

– which bends their spines,
stares from the rounds of the goggles,
pumps the pedals,
blurs the black wheels’ outlines;
which has them swoop flightily
down the banked track
sudden as a hawk stooping

Such oneness, wholly
integrated – as in
the fado singer’s
tremble of husky melancholy,
or the grounded delight of lovers
before they reel
out of the charmed circle

Giacometti’s Cat

Its head to body to tail
is one long, mean
horizontal hoisted
on the spindly twin trestles
of its best feet forward

A nerve-bundle fused in bronze
it lives apart, locked
in a trance of stealth
as it probes the air ahead
taking nothing for granted

Journey

I am travelling to meet you again –
through morning air burnt
to a clarity you would admire

And of course my mind has stored
a certain amount of baggage
accrued in the course of time

It includes a small rucksack
you once wore, and the sweep
of your arm, stressing a point

As well as the passion with which
you embark on serious discussion
with, sometimes, an emphatic blink

Yet almost as vivid is the thought
of the platform as it will look
after the train has gone

The shine of the rails snaking
away, a soft breeze, the atmosphere
intent but free of intention

On the far side of you waits
an absence charged and changed
that I do not want to re-settle

Taking other routes – a poem

Rock church, Lalibela – Heiss via Pixabay

With my birthday coming up, I am posting a poem that celebrates key experiences in my life. These include visiting Lalibela in Ethiopia in 2007, travelling with the friend who set up the Lalibela Educational Trust, to meet the boy I sponsored and his widowed mother. My parents – a church organist father and semi-professional singing mother – did pass on the creative gene, for sure.

Thank you for liking these posts and for following my blog!

St Mark’s Venice – Hermann via Pixabay

Taking other routes

My parents never taught me to swim; didn’t take me skating
on those Christmas-card frozen canals. I have never
been famous, but I have sung in Burgos and Florence,
Vespers in St Mark’s. My singing has made grown men cry.

I have not travelled on ferries, floating from one Greek
island to another, forgetting the name of the day.
I have never stroked a giraffe, nor given birth to a baby boy.
But I have picked redcurrants from the back garden, sharing
rich crops for over twenty years with small black birds.

In Ethiopia I have a son and I sat with him in his Physics class.
And for a few years I was a sailor, snatching a few hours
in Sydney, shopping in Hong Kong. I danced in a grass skirt
and flew across Alaskan glaciers with the man I loved.

My father’s hands

Photo Credit Pavlofox on Pixabay

As today is Father’s Day, I’m posting this poem by Kathleen Kummer. Here she combines the personal and the public, with her reference to the miners’ strikes and the General Strike of 1929.

My father’s hands

For a short time they handled a pencil, maybe
a squeaky one on a slate. Abruptly,
they, they found themselves grasping a pick
in the dark. When the strikes came, obedient,
they downed their tools and, at street corners,
were clasped and breathed into for warmth,
patted the greyhound of a mate waiting
for the pubs to open. They withdrew their labour
from the mine owner once and for all
in the General Strike of 1929.
In the next phase, though, still handling the black stuff,
they weighed it, bagged it, loaded it onto
the back of a lorry. Then it was clay pipes
instead of coal, contorted monsters,
drab, glazed brown, easily chipped.

This is the time from which I remember
those hands, their dull sheen, as if
sanded down, the skin agonisingly tight,
with cracks, near the nails, manicured with a penknife,
not made for tenderness and caresses,
but good safe hands to be held in.

Last night, as I warmed my hands at the fire,
I winced at the memory of his, held so close
to the flames and hot coals, they almost touched
so cold, they could never again be warm.