Category Archives: Inspirations

Southwold, Suffolk

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Beach huts in Southwold, Suffolk

Later today, I’m on a ‘virtual’ writing weekend. Part of the preparatory work was to write a 16-word poem about a place on the coast, but not about Whitby – which is where we will be based ‘virtually’. That brought back memories of my many visits to Southwold in Suffolk. The expensive beach huts there are legendary. The smell of beer brewing at the local Adnams Brewery is an acquired taste!

Several times we rented Shrimp Cottage, at the front. Whoever stayed in the main bedroom on the first floor, had a view of the sea from their bed. We were the women I met on holiday in China, as one of our regular reunions. I’ve also stayed there with friends from Manchester and, twice, my brother and his family in the Netherlands got the ferry to Harwich and made the short drive up the coast.

Southwold Sailors Reading Room

 

I visited Southwold in all seasons. There was just one house between Shrimp Cottage and the Sailors’ Reading Room – a Grade II listed building from 1864 and still a refuge for sailors and fishermen. Another forty footsteps took us to the Lord Nelson pub. The poem is included in my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous, published by Indigo Dreams Publishing Ltd  in November 2019.

 

Southwold posts

 

Nautical miles
The sign outside the Sailors’ Reading Room is

a series of thin wooden planks, painted white:
Den Helder, IJmuiden, Hoek van Holland.

Across the horizon, they are less than a hundred
nautical miles from Southwold in Suffolk

where the narrow beach of pebbles –
grey, brown, black mostly –

is held together
by couplets of groynes, slimy green.

Both our languages have the word strand.

 

 

Celebrating creativity …

marigolds

Too many gardening programmes can seriously damage your health! They said if you plant out your marigolds you will get a splendid display, but Nigella hasn’t had a single flower. Monty Donkey. What does he know?

During lockdown, the first thing I did after breakfast was to go to Facebook to see what my poet friend Helen Kay had come up with that day. As Helen explains:

“In 2016 I wrote some poems about chickens. I hit the road and read my poems to local groups, but something, or someone, was missing to bring a spark into my performance – and that was how a hen glove puppet came into my life – you could call it puppet love. I had no idea that my lively alter ego would become more popular than me, delighting all ages with her lively mix of bright-eyed innocence and femme fatale. She even has her own little book of poems called the Nigella Monologues- it’s all about me.

In 2020 lockdown came and Nigella and I left our home to live with my 99-year-old Aunty Phyllis. It was all very sudden; our packing was mostly food parcels, a laptop and a couple of books. Hidden away, we wanted to help others. Facebook seemed awash with anger and sadness, so Nigella and I decided to do a funny daily photo on the theme of keeping Sane & Safe. People liked it, so we ended up doing 103 posts. We made scenery using toilet rolls and old paint in the garage. Aunty Phyllis home schooled Nigella about the war and dug out bits of fabric. People added their own puns and quips and chatted to each other. The last week Nigella had her own art exhibition, then left us for the stars in her A Pollo 103 Spaceship. Out of the dark a star was born. Who knows what next?”

Nigella 2

Home School and the pecking order. Today maths: some things are more equal than others.

The posts brought me joy and gave me a cheerful start to the day. Some posts included references to very British phenomena: those Marigold gloves, Monty Don, a well-known TV gardener, Orwell’s Animal Farm. The wit was a bonus. The posts showed me how curiosity and creativity are a fundamental part of our survival kit. Let’s finish with a celebration!

NIgella 3

Celebrate May Day with a social distancing activity. Don’t get yourself in a tangle.

Vlieland – Birthday island

 

Vlieland island

 

Earlier this week I celebrated my birthday. Up to 10 visitors are now allowed onto the camp site for parties and birthdays. However, I decided to celebrate over a 10-day period: some days the weather has been autumnal – cold, wet and windy. Inside the caravan I wouldn’t have been able to guarantee the 1m social distance. Besides, after months of social isolation, lockdown, shielding, I was desperate for proper contact and conversation with family and close friends. It was a marvellous extended week!

I vividly remember another birthday. With a close friend I had an overnight stay on Vlieland, one of the Frisian Islands in the Wadden Sea. We travelled by ferry from Harlingen (a peaceful 90-minute journey), stayed overnight in Hotel De Wadden that once was the island’s marine college, rented bikes, ate fish and chips, bought cranberries which grow there. We were blessed with the weather: sunny and a breeze.

 

A major storm in 1296 separated Vlieland from the mainland. It’s hard to imagine how important the island once was: in the 17th century hundreds of trading and whaling ships would have been afloat nearby. The tides and winds have shifted and changed the shape of the island. Now, it is only about 12 kms long and 2 kms wide at best and, mostly dependent on tourism. Visitors are not allowed to bring a car across – bring your own bike or rent one!

Vlieland ferry

 

Vlieland

Empty days
cycling on white paths
crushed shells
bless the lighthouse
on this island

Full nights
dreams of fishes
frogs, berries, seals
the white ferry
resting

Birthday
blessed July
sky, salt breeze
You look younger
on this island

The Nettlebed

Matthew Paul June 2020 (002)

 

I feel that I have known this month’s poet for many years. But, I don’t think we have ever met. Like me, Matthew Paul has been a participant on The Poetry Business Writing School. We both had work published in an excellent haiku journal. I very much enjoy his blog posts and am pleased that I can introduce you to his work: grounded in actual place and rich in vivid detail.

Matthew was born in New Malden, Surrey, in 1966, has worked for 30 years as an education officer for local authorities in south-west London, and lives in Thames Ditton. Matthew’s first collection, The Evening Entertainment, was published by Eyewear Publishing in 2017.

He is also the author of two collections of haiku – The Regulars (2006) and The Lammas Lands (2015) – and co-writer/editor (with John Barlow) of Wing Beats: British Birds in Haiku (2008), all published by Snapshot Press. He co-edited Presence haiku journal, and has contributed to the Guardian’s ‘Country Diary’ column.

 
THE TOXTON TORCHERS

Still their identities are secret. Let’s call them Gary and Glyn,
names which are popular then, at the Sixties’ fag-end.
This nit-locked pair of toe-rags, seeking alms box and plate,
enter St Joe’s via its sacristy, find nothing of value
and burn down the sanctuary like proper East End heavies.

They’re not discerning: any place of worship will do-
in the next few weeks, Our Lady Star of the Sea, St Anne’s,
the Kingdom Hall and the new St Margaret’s all go up in flames.
It’s when they smash collection boxes in All Souls that it ends:
old Reverend Carew and his nimble curate get straight on the blower
to the Law, who tip up in Black Marias at Z-Cars speed.

Gary blames it all on gormless Glyn. Brought before the Bench,
their eyes light up like matches as they detail every deed:
how in the new church they hadn’t the heart to torch the tapestries
as so much effort had been put into them, most by Gary’s nan.

 
THE KITCHEN GARDEN

On Capability Brown’s last visit
to this well-temperèd chalkland estate,
he plumped for action instead of advice:
training espaliers of local pears,

which would otherwise have become extinct,
against ev’ry venerable wall of brick—
‘for market opportunities’, he said,
and focused eyes on an artichoke head

whose outer bracts formed interlaced patterns
around the heart’s delirious embrace,
aubergine-veined chroma of grey–jade green.
He claimed it resembled ‘a scarecrow’s brain’.

Unaccountably, he bricked up the arch,
to dead-end our last remaining path;
so now unscalable walls enclose us,
in God’s own country’s Hortus conclusus.
(Both from The Evening Entertainment)

 

TEE (002)

 

THE NETTLEBED

One September afternoon in August, a water vole
beavers through reeds. I feel the slap
of rain on my father’s umbrella. Mercy
and I compare families: I can’t compete
with her memory of travelling,
as one of five kids, with her moody
half-sister in the boot of their dad’s Datsun Bluebird,
without a torch. The teasel-lined tributary disappears,
reappears. Moorhen chicks stumble off lily pads,
to spatter at pace upstream, their parents
flicking tail feathers and squeaking alarm.

We reach beyond toddler-high nettles and burdock—
seedheads packed like the yellowest sunflowers—
to pluck the last few blackberries, sugaring
from ruby to plum. Mercy says the wide outdoors
keeps her well; that nothing else,
neither booze nor love in any of its myriad forms,
quite does the job. We sit on a log to wait and watch.

The moorhens tiptoe over stepping stones fording
back-water channels, to vanish like mumbled
anecdotes. I shake the rain from the brolly
into the river. Day’s end brightens
as an afterthought muttered out loud; becomes
a crumbling hurrah of loneliness. Dusk
spotlights parakeets sidling, like circus budgies,
along the railing of a tower-block balcony.
We realise, then, our arms are stung to fuck.

(Previously published, in a different form, in Fire.)

 

PLOUGH POND

Tiptoeing through them to the Co-op
would be impossible, this ragtag army

of marsh frogs. They block the alley
from our cul-de-sac’s cul, pairing up

to belly down within the water’s grease:
tansy eyes, camouflage-trousered legs

and lime-striped backs, clamped
in the fumble of joyful amplexus.

(Published in Poetry Salzburg Review 34, summer 2019)

Winning an Award

 

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I am delighted to share with you the wonderful news: I am one of five poets who have received a Northern Writers Award 2020 from New Writing North. The poetry entries were judged by Vahni Capildeo. They were said to be ‘highly impressed’.

New Writing North is a development agency that supports reading and writing in the North of England. It was established in 1996 to commission new work, create development opportunities, nurture talent, and make connections. Since 2000 NWN has also run the annual Northern Writers Awards. Funding for these awards comes from different sources, such as the Arts Council, TV’s Channel 4.

This year more than £45,000 was given to 26 winners from a record-breaking 1,800 entrants. I sent off my submission of 29 pages at the end of December. With everything that happened this year I had completely forgotten about it. I am going to spend the award money on getting a mentor as this current project is well outside my comfort zone.

The short poem below is the current title poem.

 

Remembering

Remembering is like hay-fever:
there before you know it.
Other people unaffected and smiling.

Remembering is a disease
with a double-barreled name
like Schadenfreude-Unheimlich,
and the GP whom you’ve waited

to see for at least a week
looks through you and says
she’s never heard of it.

It’s being back in a classroom,
you can’t read the blackboard sums
and the teacher is pointing at you.

Father’s Day

 

40th Wedding Anniversary
The picture shows me and my parents at a dinner to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in 1984. At Christmas 1988 I became the scapegoat for the difficult circumstances around my sister leaving her husband. My father, my brother and that husband were all called Theo. My sister was living with someone else by then.

So, one Theo told me off for keeping in touch with that Theo and the third Theo collected me from my parents’ flat and took me to the airport. My father and I became estranged. Late September 1990 my father was taken to hospital after a suspected heart attack. He was doing okay, my brother told me, no need to rush and book a flight. Two days later my father died in hospital, instantly, after a large heart attack.

 

Almuerzo con mi padre

My father’s eyes behind the spectacles sparkle.
There’s wisdom in his moustache,
and dreams of fino sherry, chilled in a thin glass.

There would be time to wait and wander,
criss-cross a square, look at people,
the statue of a famous general on his horse.

The dead will be around us on the hills that hold the city.
My father claps his hands, decides where we will eat.

He’s learned his Spanish from reel-to-reel Linguaphone.
I’m online with Duolingo: Vino tinto, pan, conejo.

My father would have found it hard to choose
between the crema catalana and helada.
His moustache would have selected ice cream.

The Old Olive Press

 

rear view

The Old Olive Press, view from the terraces at the rear

June was when I would visit the wonderful Almassera Vella (Old Olive Press) in Relleu, Spain. I have been on several one-week workshops with the incomparable Ann Sansom of the Poetry Business. Other poets from whom I learned a great deal were Mimi Khalvati and the late Matthew Sweeney.

Christopher North, himself a published poet, and his wife Marisa took two years to convert the old olive press into a stunning home. As you can see, they kept the actual press. Relleu is a one-hour drive from Alicante airport and about half an hour from Villajoyosa on the coast.

 

olive press 2

The olive press

 

Nowadays, Christopher and Marisa organise cookery workshops. You can also book B&B accommodation and the flat over the road is still available as retreat accommodation for writers.

The poem June rain is from my first collection Another life  published by Oversteps Books Ltd (2016).
June rain
for Cristopher and Marisa

It’s June and the rain is falling.
It is cooler and darker now.
It’s the rain we prayed for last night,
though we’d not meant to do such a thing.

The old women, eight or nine, spread
across benches outside the church.
Us along the tables, a line of snails,
sloping down towards the blue house.

It was speaking of Sundays now filled
with shopping and the silence
that binds Quakers together.

And it’s in silence we, snails,
all of us with our whorled shells
of stories, sit at the breakfast table.

The cheep-cheep-cheep of birds
after the rain is flowing into the room
and a fresh breeze that tells of new stories.

Strawberries

 

strawberries-1452717_1280

Photo credit: congerdesign on Pixabay

The first June weekend here in Holland is wet and windy: a perfect time to remember strawberries. My local supermarket has them on special offer this week, along with discounts on raspberries and watermelon.

During my childhood I lived in a small town further north, a couple of miles from the beach, and also close to the chimneys of the steelworks. Walking home from school my friend Nellie I and would take the long route, along the small harbour. We would pass the rear entrance to the covered market. I have a vivid image of a line of small horse-drawn carts, loaded with punnets, punnets full of strawberries …

The poem is from my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous (Indigo Dreams Publishing Ltd, 2019).

 
Strawberries

The strawberries of my childhood
were like my favourite grandmother,
soft, a rosy smell, a taste that stayed
with you on the way to school.
Those strawberries were red,
not like the winter swedes
which are a red stone,
are purple with anger.

Strawberries entered our home
first in paper bags, then as June grew
in oblong wicker punnets. Then we ate
them for breakfast and for lunch, pressing
them with a fork on sliced white bread.
You could stroke the strawberries
of my childhood. They were company,
like cats, purring gently even when asleep.
Small green stalks their whiskers, and warm.

Missing Manchester …

Manchester_Art_Gallery_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1748756

I am settled in my caravan in Holland, enjoying the warm weather and making the most of the peaceful environment before the camp site opens 1 July when it will be the high season.

 
But I am missing Manchester and, in particular, the monthly writing workshops with Peter Sansom of the Poetry Business These have been held at Manchester Art Gallery. It consists of three connected buildings, two of which were designed by Sir Charles Barry. The main building is Grade 1 listed, while the Atheneum is Grade II. A modern extension was added in the beginning of this century.

 
During the writing workshops we have the opportunity to be inspired by the permanent collection – works of international significance and Victorian art. The painting Albert Square (1910) by the French impressionist painter Adolphe Valette hangs in a central foyer. Valette lived in Manchester for a period and really caught the damp and wet conditions. My poem is included in the pamphlet A Stolen Hour (Grey Hen Press, 2020,

 

Albert_Square_Manchester_1910,_Valette

 

Albert Square

I am not that cellar man pushing 

his barrow loaded with crates of wine.
I am not the horse with its head
stuck into a nose bag, nor
the coach driver resting his
right knee on the plate,
nor the men with bowler hats
conversing by the railings.

Up there is the Town Hall
covered in a velvet coat of soot.
I am the greyness of the oil paint,
the rippled rain reflecting
the cellar man’s rounded boots.
I am the smog and the smoke,
half shielding these statues:
politician, mayor, consort.

Palmistry in Karachi

 

Elsa F

Imagine my surprise and delight when, in January this year, I received an email in Dutch from a fellow poet! Elsa Fisher had read and liked some of my poems. We started a correspondence and were going to meet at the end of May. It’s a great pleasure to introduce this month’s poet who has ‘a clear eye and an ironic ear’.

Elsa Fischer was born in The Hague, Holland. She has lived and worked on four continents and, later in life, studied Art History in Canada and at the Sorbonne. Always a lover of poetry, she joined a poetry workshop after her retirement.

She has two published pamphlets: Palmistry in Karachi (Templar Poetry, 2016) and
Hourglass – Poems from the retirement home (Grey Hen Press, 2018). Other poems have been included in a range of magazines and anthologies. She is currently preparing for a third publication.

Elsa lives in Bern, Switzerland, in a lovely retirement home (where some of her poems are set). She likes to point out that she does not belong to the Woopies (well-off older persons) but rather to the Yelpies (youthful energetic elderly persons)….

I hope you enjoy the range of these poems, with their sharp observation, humour, empathy and poignancy.

 
Palmistry in Karachi

“…the old days when we were still young,
naïve, hot-headed, silly, green. A little bit’s
still there…”              Wislawa Szymborska

 
At twenty I danced the tango
in Karachi at the saried begums’
Red Crescent Bazaar with a gay
attaché who had that rhythm in
his blood and where a sketch
of my profile by a local genius
fetched handfuls of rupees.
I shook hands with Ayub Khan
and Fatima Jinnah, ignorant
of who they were and that
he would have her killed.
There was my near-drowning
in the Arabian Sea and a wicked
camel race along its shore.
And I’ll tell you this: I lost
my innocence in Karachi.
To an Italian born without
toenails and his palms
with no lines so that you,
my friend of little faith, claim
he could not have existed
and that I’ve made it all up.

 

 
Seedpods

 
I love how your wisteria seedpods exploded in the night,

love to hear drops falling from where someone waters geraniums

early in the morning as I am writing at the wrought-iron table,

its rusty flakes cutting into skin and I remember how, in another life,

they caught my mother’s dress as she sat down to tea under

the glycine, my first French word, and for a startling moment

I hold this image called up by smells of soil and fleshy leaves,

by all this art nouveau abundance.

 

 

In the beginning are my hands
after Andy Goldsworthy

 
they are my skin-cut tools
cracked as dried earth.
I trust them, they lead me.

I listen to the passive witness
of stones, their dialogue with trees,
learn how they rely on each other.
I need the energy of peat – the melt of mud
and mineral feed and sheep’s piss on canvas.
Above all I love my icicles – reconstructed,
glued with my spit or draped like lobster
claws and oysters on a plate of river ice.

I square black-rooted bracken stalks
thorn-pin chestnut leaves into floating
snake ribbons until surfaces open up
and nature itself becomes the object found.

I go into its internal spaces, lie spread-eagled,
feeling the pull, feeling the rain.

 

 
Safe

Like ducks waiting for the cull
we line up at the doctor’s,
baring arms for the flu jab.

Once you stood like this, in an orderly row,
mouth wide open to receive the sugar lump
that the school nurse had carefully dosed
with the life-saving drops of Dr Salk’s vaccine.

To be protected from the fate of that boy,
fitted with braces, who sat for years reading
as we messed around with bats and balls in PE.

A nurse helps with the sleeves
and we return to our coops.
Safe for another season.

 

Trespassing

I’m digging out my winter things.
And watch from behind the slats
how he opens a wardrobe, takes out
the bridal gown for her to hold,
then gently crowns her with a garland.

On a small table lie the bric-a-brac
of a long marriage. Masai beadwork,
a glass paperweight from Venice,
the matryoshkas.

He gives her a moment,
then puts the gown carefully back
on the coat hanger, smiles as he lifts
the garland with its faded ribbons
from her hair. A whiff of Chanel.

He makes sure she’s comfortable
on the walker and wheels her away,
switching off the cellar lights.

I stand for a while, getting used
to the dark, arms heavy
with scarves and shoes.