Category Archives: Inspirations

Tulips

During my recent trip to the Netherlands I joined my sister and brother-in-law for a visit to the Keukenhof. It was a clear dry day, with a slight breeze and a some sun in the afternoon.

The Keukenhof is one of the world’s largest flower gardens incorporating different gardens and styles on a 79-acre site. It’s situated on 15th century hunting grounds and there are beech trees which are centuries old. The original park was designed in the 1830s and the Keukenhof (Kitchen garden) first opened in 1949. Each year some seven million bulbs are planted up.

17 purple tulips

I vaguely recalled the Sylvia Plath poem about tulips, so I looked it up. It was written in 1961 and consists of nine 7-line stanzas. It starts: The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here. The poem is based on Plath’s experience of recovering in hospital from an operation: I am learning peacefulness, I am lying by myself quietly/ In the following stanzas the tulips are not experienced as benign: The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me. The vivid tulips eat my oxygen. The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;

I have one poem about tulips (in the Building Bridges anthology published by Ek Zuban last year). It has a very different feel from the fabulous Keukenhof tulips and is more at the Sylvia Plath end of the continuum. The title of the poem is the title of a watercolour painting donated by the (anonymous) artist to Manchester Art Gallery.

Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

They’ve not yet reached one of the tulips,
the central one of this display.
You can imagine a window, if you like.
Five parrot tulips lean towards the light.
Degrees of purpling. The ants appear
half-way up the bulb-shaped vase.
I’ve left the thin pencil lines
indicating a flat surface.
Look closely and you’ll see this vase
should tumble, fall or slip.
Three fingers’ width, water level
in the glass. Greying water extracted.
The tulips were a present.
You can count the ants, if you like.

 

 

 

Greenpeace

Last night I did an open mic slot at a fundraising event for Greenpeace. There were two fabulous readings by the poets Kim Moore and Clare Shaw, as well as music. The open mic slots were four minutes each which meant three poems per person.  This gave a good flavour of each poet’s “voice” and offered plenty of variety. I’d come back from Holland 36 hours earlier, so only just got my tongue round the English…

In the afternoon Clare Shaw ran a short workshop. One of the sample poems was The Low Road by Marge Piercy. The poem starts: What can they do/to you? Whatever they want. The first stanza is then a list of things that can be done, e.g. “bust you, break your fingers, blur you with drugs, burn your brain with electricity.” After a short second stanza starting But two people fighting/back to back can cut through/a mob, there is this third stanza. The recent news in the UK (the ongoing Brexit saga, the “Windrush generation” scandal, the NHS failure with 450,000 women missing out on mammograms and treatment) has been deeply depressing. So, this was a timely reminder of people-power and I found it immensely encouraging and heartening to read.

Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organisation. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fundraising party.
A dozen make a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter’
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

 

Leaving Addis Ababa

i.m. Marianne Carolan

Stretched out across three seats,
tucked under a thin brown blanket,
my friend two rows behind me.
Blinds are down, this return half empty,
breakfast our next call, then Heathrow.

I can still smell roasted coffee beans:
a ceremony performed with precision.
I see round Tukul huts, the market, hills,
blue school uniforms, the churches
carved from rock, priests in white robes.

A boy and his widowed mother.

We donated dictionaries, old laptops,
mobile phones, Man United shirts.
We improved our Amsege’nallo,
bought breakfasts, wore the white
gowns they gave us for Timket.

Our new families in Lalibela. Epiphany.

This poem is dedicated to the memory of my friend Marianne.  It’s her birthday today.  After an educational trip to Lalibela she started sponsoring a boy there.  Her friends and colleagues too started sponsoring children, some of them orphans.  As they moved into higher education, more funds were needed – to see them through university and nursing college.  That’s why Marianne set up the Lalibela Educational Trust in 2006.

With Marianne and other sponsors, I travelled to Ethiopia to meet my “Lalibela son” and his mother.  Our visit in January 2007 coincided with the religious Timket festival.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t talk to me of snow

Don’t talk to me of snow

Just give me her body laid in Longmire’s
and I’ll show you stillness, silence, chill.

I’ll show you every thread cut through
to heart, limb, brain.

I’ll show you in-and-out stopped up
to speech, song, sigh.

I’ll show you stone no touch or kiss
will every warm again.

Don’t talk to me of snow, of landscape whited out
and all ways lost. Give me mother.

This poem is by Gina Wilson, from her new pamphlet IT WAS AND IT WASN’T, published by Mariscat Press in Edinburgh. Gina’s adult poetry started to appear in 1996 and has been widely published in anthologies and a range of magazines. Happenstance Press published her first poetry pamphlet Scissors Paper Stone in 2010. She was first published as a writer for children and young adults – novels (Faber), poetry (Cape) and picture books (Walker Books). Gina has been shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, Kurt Maschler Award and the Smarties Prize. She is a psychotherapist in Oxford.

Gina and I met in 2012 on the Writing School in Sheffield. She wrote a testimonial for my debut collection. I see our work as similar in some ways: her poems are complex, but they seem deceptively simple. Tough and compelling, no verbiage – no sentimentality Kate Clanchy wrote of her first pamphlet. Below is the poem that gives the new pamphlet its title:

Treasure

Squirrels spend a lot of time
digging up and reburying their store,
checking it’s still there, taking a bite.
My mother used to be the same
with dates and nuts at Christmas.
Never an unopened box of anything
by the Day itself. Funny how people
can’t quite bury a treasure. My brother
dug up our dead rabbit by torchlight
to see if it was safe. It was and it wasn’t.

 

 

Snow, snow, snow…

Under all that snow is a silver lining: last night I made it through snow to our small local writing group where we worked with a poem by Phil James The Eskimos’ Hundred Words for Snow.  It includes some wonderful words and definitions, such as priyakli – snow that looks like it’s falling upwards, and dinliltla – little balls of snow that cling to Husky fur.  There may be some genuine Inuit words here, but the whole poem is a take-off.  So we have tlalam – snow sold to American tourists, and Mac Tla – snow burgers.

This afternoon, while fresh snow swirled outside, I looked up the details.  In his 1911 Handbook of American Indian Languages, the anthropologist Franz Boas published on his research undertaken in the 1880s.  Later the story of the 100 words for snow was deemed to be just a myth.

But the Inuit language has at least 50 words for snow and sea ice, and the Yupik about 40.  We have matsaaruti – wet snow that can be used to ice a sleigh’s runners, and pukak – crystalline powder snow that looks like salt.  That would be the snow then just outside my living room window…

My funny Valentine…

This is not a poem

the editor wrote, this is a list.
and I thought, he must be right,
he is an editor. But then I
thought there are list poems…

from afar, in love with his car,
or his wife, depressed about life,
attached to his money,
or his mother,
or some other pre-occupation,
watches trains from a station,
alcoholic, workaholic,
football high on his list,
never been kissed,
recently converted to church,
leaves you there in a lurch,
Elvis look-alike,
any man called Mike.

But I just had some great news: my poem Quantum has been Commended in the 2017 Barnet Open Poetry Competition and will be published in their anthology.

 

 

Hyacinths and biscuits

In Good Morning, America (1928) Carl Sandburg wrote thirty-eight definitions of poetry. My two-day one-fruit detox (apples) has left me a little obsessed with food and drink, so this one stands out:

Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.

I wrote a poem once about hyacinths (inspired by one of the Louise Glück flower poems), but it’s in a huge pile of So-so poems that I’m going through this week and it may not survive the cull.  As for biscuits, I can only offer broken ones. It’s a long prose poem that was published by Valley Press in their Anthology of Yorkshire Poetry last year. I rarely do politic poems and I rarely do rants…

Broken biscuits

Is there poetry in broken biscuits? Discuss. The short answer is yes, provided it is articulated in the unashamedly Yorkshire, tongue-in-cheek, twinkle-in-the-voice tones of Ian McMillan of The Verb. You need a risk assessment now before being allowed to step onto a soapbox: its size, the maximum weight of poet it may carry. There is the marshal in a fluorescent jacket, carrying a walkie-talkie, clipboard and stopwatch, holding at bay some members of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Biscuits. Biscuits are indexed and cross-referenced, generic categories and brand names listed: Bourbon, broken, chocolate, chocolate (milk), chocolate chips, chocolate digestive (Milk Chocolate & Orange Digestive), digestive, dunking….. Specifications are laid out, spelled out and laid down for the packaging of biscuits. Here the blue and orange house colours of McVitie’s nestle up with the listing of the ingredients: wheat flour, dried whey, cocoa mass, along with emulsifiers (soya lecithin, E476, natural vanilla flavouring), raising agents (sodium bicarbonate, ammonium bicarbonate, tartaric acid, malic acid). A touch then of the barbarous, barbaric, acidic and malicious. Raising agents might be the euphemistic title for these officials. Some Government-funded scheme would have lifted people off the scrapheap in a cold and distant Northern town; the group photo – five of them smiling in their smart uniform – appeared in the Echo, and now they do their daily rounds: moving beggars along, breaking up groups of young men loitering, or giving the impression that they are, or might be soon. The faded For Sale signs creak in the windy cave of a shopping mall, windows are boarded up and people – young girls in anoraks, smoking, pushing their friends; pensioners with stick and Zimmer frames – queue up in Penny and Pound shops for bags of broken biscuits.