Category Archives: News

Never Totally Lucid

Hilary

 

This is my 100th blog piece, and I am delighted I can celebrate this century by introducing you to the work of Hiliary Elfick. We first met many years ago at the wonderful Almassera Vella in Relleu, Spain and have exchanged poems there several times since.

Hilary is an experienced broadcaster and the author of a novel and over a dozen poetry collections and pamphlets. She has performed her work in cathedrals, theatres, bookshops, libraries, schools and literary festivals in many countries, including Africa. Two of her poetry books have been translated into Romanian.

Hilary lives in East Anglia and also in New Zealand (where she is a bush bird guide), and is a frequent visitor to Australia where she recently launched two poetry sequences in collaboration with an international prize-winning Australian photographer, with a third appearing in early 2020. She has a lifelong love of being out in boats on the water.

Three poems are from Hilary’s THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS, published by Grey Hen Press (2019), while The Wedding Ring is from her earlier book THE OUTSHIFT PLACES, also with Grey Hen Press.

 

The Wedding Ring

But the morning before the wedding his father died. Two events
he’d long anticipated and with equal fervour. He would have
ignored the former, but Gilly persuaded him that even a minor
gesture to the event at their own reception might be at least seemly
and, more, something that much later he might be glad that he had
done. ‘I won’t pretend’ he said. ‘I won’t do platitudes.’

His mother came as planned. Under her wide hat her face
impossible to read, as it had been for many years. His sister
hugged him, saying nothing. Only when Gilly’s ring slid on his
finger did something jolt inside him. A ring finger. A ring. His
father ‘d always worn his. Even after everything.

 

Scan0020

 

When you know exactly where you were at the time
i.m. Professor Donald Nicholl

Six foot six he was but never towered.

Your first week. A small lecture theatre,
a wisp of Sobranie from the row in front.

He comes in, begins to speak

then nothing but his voice
and what he says and how he says it.
Sixty years ago. You’re at his feet:

whatever subject this man teaches
whatever he’ll demand
you’ll do it. You’ll be there.

Your first tutorial he asks how Christ came into Britain.
Someone tells him what happened, names, dates, places.
He turns to you and waits. You wait too. Then you tell him:

One man told another.
They put down their nets and followed.

Days later his wife has their fifth, last baby;
he names her after you.

Forty years on when he’s dying you remind him
Socrates said there’s no greater love
than between a teacher and his natural pupil.

Wonderful he whispers.

 
Four Quarters
A Grandmaster sees four moves ahead.

As child, I anticipate the trigger
for a new rage in my mother.

As mother I wake startled
by a cry or too-deep silence,
deep water, roaring roads.

As wife I place your glasses, shoes,
just where your eye might fall,
forgiving the questions I answered
today, yesterday,

tomorrow.

 
Never Totally Lucid

‘The reality of nature …obeys laws…never totally lucid to
our understanding.’ Anni Albers

When is he coming?
Five o’clock.
Is that what you wanted?
No. You gave me that yesterday.
I can’t have.
You did. Look. Here in my bag.

Did he come yesterday?
No. He’s coming today.
I’m not ready.
You have till five. You have time.
Why is he coming? Is it cold in here?
Your skin smells different.

I can’t find it.
You put it in your pocket
I only have this in my pocket.
That’s the one we’re talking about.
Who wrote this?
I did. You asked me to.
Why do I need it now?
You don’t. It’s for tomorrow.
Did I agree to this?
You did.

You make me so angry, you don’t listen to me, you just go ahead.

It was your idea.

What was my idea? When was it my idea?
Yesterday. That’s why he’s coming today.
Who?
James.
I don’t know a James.
Look. Here’s his name. Your handwriting.
Did he come?
No. He’s coming today at five.

Cheerio and Goodbye: going bananas

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To date, over 13,000 people have booked to attend a party on the beach at Wijk aan Zee in the Netherlands on the 31st of October. It all started as a joke on Facebook in August but quickly grew. People paid Euro 19.73 (the year the UK joined the EU) and they were going to wave goodbye to us here in the UK, listening to live music and being served Belgian beer, French wine and Dutch chips and cheese.

I know Wijk an Zee very well: it’s just two miles from the small town where I was born. I spent a lot of time there as a child and adolescent. From the beach you can see the chimneys of the steelworks by the port of Ijmuiden.

Brexit has been delayed and so has the party! The organiser, Ron Toekook, admits that it has not been possible to get the finance sorted for a party this size in such a short time. Money will be refunded, and they will try again early next year.

According to a recent survey, one third of the UK population reports mental health issues as a result of Brexit.  That’s close to 28 million people and I am only one of them.

This seems a good time to share with you my Brexit poem Going bananas. One of the lies told by politicians here in the UK was that the EU wouldn’t allow bananas to be bent! The poem is in the form of an abecedarian. This is an ancient form with each line starting with a letter of the alphabet. Apparently, the first examples were in Semitic and religious Hebrew poems.

 
Going bananas

Aliens’ Office: the first destination on my 1969 arrival, a somewhat
bewildering encounter with Blighty’s bureaucracy in London.
Colombey-les-Deux-Églises it ain’t and I’m in Manchester now, five
decades down the time-line, feeling like a sick parrot, a dead one
even. I was an economic migrant, attracted by English eccentricity.
Four candles? Fork handles? Wit and humour have been turned into the
Groundhog Day of Brexit negotiations. Jack took a fortnight’s leave –
halcyon days in September – and through marriage I acquired an
Irish surname while my husband held two passports, even then.
Je ne regrette rien screech those who voted non in the referendum.
Kafka would have been enchanted by a hard border in the Irish sea.
Languages were my passport, small flags sewn on the uniforms;
my Seaman’s Record Book rests in a box file with birthday cards.
NHS nurses and pediatricians are returning to Europe, even poets I know.
Oui, some of the three million are voting with their feet.
P&O gave the world the word posh: port out, starboard home. The
question of lorries queuing on the M20 still has no answer, as do the
refugee tales of children held in indefinite detention or stuck in Calais.
Schadenfreude is not what they feel in Europe, they’re just bewildered.
Tourist shoppers avail themselves of the sinking pound sterling and the
ugly UKIP man with Union Jack footwear, beery bonhomie, claimed
victory then scarpered sharply right. What kind of victory is it
when I now no longer want to become a British citizen? My neighbours are
xenophobes who, Macron says, will soon need visit visa to enter France.
Yes, the yahoos are among us yanking us closer and closer to the edge,
zealots who prefer the zilch-no-deal, while I cry and pluck my zither.

The secret of flying

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I am delighted to introduce this month’s poet.  David Underdown and I met a few years ago on a residential writing workshop.

David Underdown (www.davidunderdown.co.uk) has recently come to live in Hebden Bridge. Though a Mancunian by birth most of his life has been spent in the West of Scotland, latterly on the Isle of Arran where he is an organiser of the McLellan Poetry Competition. His two collections, both from Cinnamon, are Time Lines (2011) and, in 2019, A Sense of North. David Constantine describes his poems as ‘watchful’: ‘he gives us a view from (in his own words) ‘a window / we did not know was there’, he makes ‘a halo round the ordinary’’.

 

The secret of flying


The breakthrough is to stop thinking
about aerodynamics. Concentrate
on the immeasurable pleasures
of floating above roofs
and the open mouths of chimney pots

stems of road budding
houses, the rumple of fields
and, beyond, the dark spot of a copse
or how the river feels
up into its tree-lined tributaries.

And later, after that first step
into space
the art of soaring on thermals
of passing over boundaries
a sense of north.

 

Against the tide

Down here the river has widened,
already flooding salt for half the day,
mud-bound for the rest.
The tides wipe clean
the mazy prints of wading birds.
Below the bridge there’s broken masonry,
the pier where the cobbles stop,
and then it’s willow herb and buddleia
all the way to the sea’s flat-line.

Easy to see why you linger
to watch the gulls circle,
catching the hum from the bypass.
If you could, you would turn
and find your way upstream again
past viaducts and fat meadows,
solid farmsteads set round by trees,
and feel, as the land draws in,
the younger waters quicken.

There, where the uplands open out
you would track each beck
up to its marshy watershed
to understand how it started,
the long journey to the sea
and what alternatives there nearly were.
But the tide is turning,
colder wind roughening the water,
staining it dark, draining it out.

 

Shrine

The narrow path is steep
with scents of pine and juniper that lead you on
to where a lintel at the cavern’s mouth
will make you stoop so low
as to leave the outer world behind.
Enter, and all falls away,
though you, a frail and used-up thing,
and hunched, are still in hope,
for once inside the roof is lofty, almost limitless.
From waves of ancient seas, stone lolls in tongues.
And there, within, no god, but a reminder
of what a god might be: a simple table,
faded cloth, gifts that some might misjudge poor,
small money, keepsakes, herbs as grateful prayers.

To be there for an hour, and still,
is more than some can stand, but do
and you’ll leave naked in yourself
as if unclothed of need, and shuffle out
to blink in new-found light
with sun upon your head.

 

Notes for a solitary walk

For M.W. 1951 – 2014

This morning you are walking for her,
a small thing you can do, on a day
of deep green shadows and granite glitter,
that, if she were here, she would love.

Today, as she is not here,
you will not go the usual way
across the burns through stands of birch
where the dog would flex at the scent of deer,

but further, up the glen where even in her lifetime
the last men were still mining the hill.
You will shin up that shoulder of Cioch na’ Oighe
to see the whole Clyde laid out,

just how, if she had ever had the chance,
she would have chosen to arrange it –
the named near hills and the unnamed hills of the horizons
and the spaces of water between.

You will walk south along your home’s spine
for her to count its line of rocky vertebrae
and marvel at the openness
of all these lands of the West.

You will talk to her of travelled roads
and also of oceans you might have crossed
if there had been time, until,
reaching the lip of Coire Lan,

you will leave the broad path and drop down
below Am Binnein to the White Water
that leads (with no time now to stop)
past home to the indifferent sea.

Please Hear What I’m Not Saying

cover MIND

 

With 200 poems, this is a substantial anthology of mental health issues. It was compiled and edited by Isabelle Kenyon of Fly on the Wall Press. Profits from the publication go to MIND, the UK mental health charity and a small charity based in Scotland. So far almost £600 has been raised.

Isabelle organised a micro-competition to celebrate the first anniversary of the anthology’s publication. I just received my copy of the anthology, as she declared Voice the winner.

 
Voice

I’m scared of the voice that tells me to let go of the wheel.
It’s an old man’s, harsh, gritty, cold, pushing me.
That time: Monday, sunny, A487, heading for Portmadog …

throat, sweaty fingers, heat

 

Black figures carry bags home. Whatever home might mean.
Silence, only sirens calling. The dog-end of the year.

 

Falling is kind of doing something.
You can fall sideways, head first, backwards.
I have worked all these years to stay upright.
Running like a rabbit on a metal track.

Anxiety and Dogs

I was thrilled to get the news: Indigo Dream Publishing will publish my second poetry collection in early Autumn 2019. IDP are well-established, have won awards, and they publish about two-three poetry books a month. They’re organised and business-like: I’ve already signed the contract and had the template, with a production timetable.

When my debut collection got accepted in Spring 2016, I was prepared for a dip, or even worse: a few poet friends had told me they couldn’t write for six months. But I managed to keep writing, sending work out and it was summer…

This time I’ve plummeted: we’re heading for Winter; a lot of poems have been accepted elsewhere, and another 40+ have now been spoken for. When I get anxious, I try to deal with it by tidying up, clearing and de-cluttering. That was the worst thing I could have done! I deleted a lot of old so-so poems from my pc; then put dozens more so-so poems in a single file. I felt bereft and at a loss.

A good friend, a qualified proof reader, will go through the manuscript. I’ve checked, getting confused about punctuation: a comma, a colon, a semi-colon?? I’ve put them in and taken them out. Time to email it to my friend!

During the clearing and sorting, I came across a photo album. Here is a picture of one of the dogs in a poem that’ll be in the new book.

Pablo

Dogs

I would love to buy a recording
of the dogs we had, but not for long.

The grey poodle called Pablo
with a disease of the stomach.

The two grown hunting dogs
that howled through the nights

of a week, tore a door to shreds,
were returned to the owner.

Our red Irish setter Alexander,
re-homed when my father

gave up the battle and our whole
family moved into that small flat.

Tony Hoagland

I was sad to learn that the US poet Tony Hoagland has died of cancer, aged only 64.

Marie Howe has said of his work “Hilarious, searing poems that break your heart so fast you hardly notice you’re standing knee deep in a pool of implications. They are of this moment, right now – the present that we’re already homesick for”.

Image (2)

Bloodaxe published What Narcissism means to me in the UK in 2005. What many of the poems really demonstrate is the effect of intriguing opening lines:

* That was the summer I used The Duino Elegies/in all of my seductions
* That was the summer my best friend/ called me a faggot on the telephone,
* In Delaware a congressman/accused of sexual misconduct
* What I notice today is the aroma of my chiropractor’s breath
* Maybe I overdid it/when I called my father an enemy of humanity.
* Sometimes I like to think about the people I hate.
* But now I am afraid I know too much to kill myself.
* The sparrows are a kind of people/who lost a war a thousand years ago;
* To whomever taught me the word dickhead,/I owe a debt of thanks.
* But what about the courage/of the cancer cell

Two of the poems that stayed with me are about his parents. The poem Lucky starts:

If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to help your enemy
the way I got to help my mother
when she was weakened past the point of saying no.

On the next page is Benevolence which starts When my father dies and comes back as a dog

The collection has several poems about illness too. The final poem Emigration’s first stanza:

Try being sick for a year,
then having that year turn into two,
until the memory of your health is like an island
going out of sight behind you

Decluttering

 

Blue Horn 1

There will be many varied events across the country today on National Poetry Day.
Twenty poets have donated poems to York Explore Libraries.  These will be on display in the libraries in and around York and given out to visitors. Below is the poem I gave away.

Decluttering

I rarely used the cups and saucers:
good enough for the Red Cross.
Dark forest-green rim and each of the five

remaining dinner plates (Poole Pottery, Dorset)
chipped, thin brown cracks running
across the plain centre like a fault line.

You have turkey and trimmings in front of you.
You were wearing that 70s polo-neck jumper,
corduroy trousers, the lopsided smile.

Stacked securely in a cupboard,
suddenly taken away,
placed in a black plastic bag.

 

The accompanying picture is of Blue Horn by Tony Cragg. He collected 40 used objects in different shades of blue and then ordered them by size in the shape of a scythe, a reference to one of the oldest things used by men to work the land. The artist looks for ways to connect art with daily life.

I took the photo during a recent visit to Voorlinden, a new private museum in Wassenaar, the Netherlands.