Category Archives: Poetry

The small Japanese corner

 

Scan0023

 

How strange to see the notification of someone’s birthday on Facebook
when they are no longer there to receive your greeting … Sumiko Morimoto
and I met in 2014.

 

The small Japanese corner

Howell was all packed, to return to live in Japan,
and as keen as always to win the karaoke contest.
He’d been brushing up, but Sumiko too knew
how to soft sing sakura, sakura

Now and then I see her mother’s old blue fan
on the shelf in my Japanese corner, beside the blue
mug Howell gave me, with the names of fishes,
Sumiko’s delicate New Year card with pigs and piglets.

She’d been well looked after at Rydal Hall, when she
went up to the Lakes, wanting at last to see the small
cottage of Wordsworth, her hero, whom she’d studied.
Here is the photo of her smiling over breakfast in my garden.

Worried about Sumiko, Howell’s email two months ago,
the illness she is fighting. Here’s another email …
If I finally decide to fly to Osaka, it’ll just be Howell
and me, eating his favourite okonomiyaki pancake.

Whitby Scenes – Fokkina McDonnell

FREE VERSE REVOLUTION

It’s the first time he has captured me walking on water

and I’m in the centre of this black-and-white photograph.

In this picture I’m nearest to you, whoever you are,

or want to be and whatever will become of you,

but you are looking beyond me at other people

on the beach, the dead relatives in their graves.

You and I can hear children on the beach laughing,

the distant sound of the waves, the yellow tug

chugging to take others on their whale-watching trip.

You cannot see my offspring, they’ve separated

from me, they are their own gull now, as they land

on the head of the statue, or swoop through

the whalebone arch, staring you out for fish.

We’ll still be here when the visitors leave,

our insistent way of being, our shrieks on the wing

reminding you of the sea when you’re safely back home.


Fokkina McDonnell’s…

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Celebrating …

Dublin photo

North Earl Street, Dublin, 1904

I am celebrating! Just two working days after I applied, the Home Office emailed me confirmation of my “settled status” in the UK. Hence a post with a food poem …

This stew combines two foods known since the earliest Irish literature. Bacon (tinne or senshaille) is mentioned many times in the medieval Vision of MacConglinne, as are sausages, particularly called Maróc, and another called Indrechtán. Leeks and oatmeal were no doubt used in the earliest form of Coddle, but since the eighteenth century, potatoes and onion have supplanted them.

The recipe for Dublin Coddle is in my copy of A Taste of Ireland in Food and in Pictures by Theodora Fitzgibbon. The magnificent black-and-white pictures (some of them well over a hundred years old) had been found “heaven knows where – by Miss Fitzgibbon’s husband, George Morrison, creator of the Gael-Linn films on 1916 and the civil war”. The book was published in 1968 and, having married a Dublin man, and believing that saying about the “way to a man’s heart” I bought it shortly after we married in 1973.

The poem was included in Sweet Tongues: Crocus book of food poems, published by Commonword in 2013.

 
Dublin Coddle

Saturday supper is a savoury stew.
Sausages, and slices of bacon.
Potatoes and onion supplanted
the oatmeal and leek. Enough stock

to barely cover, season to taste,
simmer slowly, let the liquid reduce.
Tears run down the steamy window.
Chopping parsley holds the pain.

One of us poured a steady Guinness;
the other already lost in the black
and salty taste of waiting.
Between us the open cookery book:

a small black and white picture,
North Earl Street, Dublin, 1904.
Blurred images of men in coats
and caps, horse-drawn cart, a sunny day.

A couple crosses the tramlines.
He carries bags in both hands.
She, to the right of him,
looks down to safely place her feet.

 

The Outsider

 

unnamed

Albert Camus

 

It seemed fitting to spend 31 January (Brexit Day) with a good old friend. She has the modern smart phone needed to scan my Dutch passport. It was good to have moral support: I had a crying fit during the identity check part of the application. Luckily, I only started crying after she’d taken my photo which the Home Office staff/system will check against the photo in the passport!  And the automatic check on my National Insurance (NI) number confirmed that I was eligible to apply for “settled” status.

I’ve been resident in the UK since 1973 and I have close friends here and my writing, but it has felt less and less like home after the 2016 referendum.

At secondary school (Gymnasium) we learned English, German and French and we crawled at a snail’s pace through l’Étranger, the 1942 novel by Albert Camus which is a classic in world literature.  Camus developed the philosophical concept of Absurdism and the way he died in a car accident, aged 46, could be considered absurd.

The poem is from my debut collection Another life, published by Oversteps Books Ltd in 2016.

On reaching his 102nd Birthday

He always liked his drink,
so it’s no surprise that Albert went North,
that unused train ticket in his pocket.

He is said to have died in a car crash,
but police do know people who
walk away and without a scratch.

After walking for weeks, he reached Norway
where the days are short
and the nights are made for alcohol.

Camus lived in a modest house
with a butcher’s block in the kitchen
where he cut reindeer and smoked.

A flock of swans flew through his dreams,
so he married the next woman to walk past,
taught her two sons to play football.

She taught him to sleep soundly at last.
A pied-noir at rest under the Herring Lights,
on the cold edge of man’s world.

Yellowish green and faint red glowing,
these arcs and rays and curtains of gas,
the fight against dawn and the sun.

Snow still in sight

 

Scan0012

 
snow still in sight
the water becomes less cold
in this castle town

yuki nokori tsutsu mizu nurumu jokamachi

(haiku by Kiyo)

This castle town may be located somewhere deep in the mountains in the northern part of Japan. Snow still remains on the surrounding steep mountains, but the snowmelt water flows peacefully in the river running through the town. We can imagine the lives of the lord who owned this castle and its dwellers, which may not have been so peaceful all the time.

One of my bookshelves is filled with books and magazines on haiku, tanka, renga and renku. One of them is very special to me: Haiku. The poetic key to Japan by Mutsuo Takahashi, Hakudo Inoue and Kazuya Takaoka, published in 2003. It suddenly arrived several months after a Japanese postgraduate student who had shared my house had returned home.

Each haiku is accompanied by a wonderful colour picture, a brief explanation, the original Japanese text and the version in Romaji. Is late January too early for a spring haiku? I hope not!

Ambulance Ride

 

Carole B

 
Many of the poems in the pamphlet Sodium 136 were written in Hull Royal Infirmary where Carole Bromley had pituitary surgery in 2018. I first met Carole on a writing week in 2004. It is a privilege to feature four of the poems. The pamphlet was produced and published by Calder Valley Press in 2019 and a donation from every copy sold will be made to The Pituitary Foundation. Many of the poems had already been published in magazines, and several have been commended or placed in competitions.

The testimonial by the poet Clare Shaw: “If poetry’s work is to speak to the universal through the particular, then Sodium 136 is a triumph. With the profound insight of personal experience, Carole Bromley captures the complex experience of serious illness, affording equal worth to the mundane and terrible with a beautiful and uncompromising directness. This is not just a record of physical suffering – it is a powerful and profoundly intelligent exploration of grief, gratitude, fear, love, and joy. Poetry at its best.”

 
Ambulance Ride

My Poetry Society bag is on my lap,
Take if you must this little bag of dreams;
the drip hung from a hook. A jolt
as the gurney hits the hoist, that blast of air.
We’ll soon get you warmed up. They ask me
which route I would take. The driver says
he thinks he’ll put the flasher on but not the siren.
After three minutes the siren goes on too.
I can’t be doing with traffic jams!
I watch as we go through every red light.
The ambulance man gives me a sick bowl,
apologises for the bumpiness of the ride,
holds the gurney steady with his foot,
fills in a pink form, gives me a pain killer,
tells me about his earlier calls, the RTA,
the one-year-old he drew a face on a glove for,
says he and his wife wanted kids but it never happened.
When we arrive on the ward I feel lost.
A man walks up and down like a zombie,
his spine and head held up in a cage.
In my bay two women with bandaged scalps
vomit in cardboard bowls. I tell the nurse
I feel like bolting. She says I know it’s not
as nice as York. The ambulance man points
That’s why I could never be a patient.
How do you sleep with one pillow?

 

Consent Form

The registrar reminds me of the dangers,
scaring me all over again.
Blindness, stroke, death is the gist.
He’s not anxious to proceed
on his own decision-making;
he needs to patient to do the hard part.

With the consultant it’s different.
He’s so young his baby’s only two weeks old
and so handsome he cuts a dash on the ward round.
He weighs up the pros and cons when the posse
of students have moved on with their clip boards,
their crack-of-dawn observation of the sick.

I’m not good at decisions at the best of times
and this is not the best of times
so I say What would you advise me
if I was your wife? He says
You could lose your sight. I’d go ahead.
I say Give me the pen.

 

Sodium 136
Visiting Time

In here everyone talks to the dead.
Some speak aloud, Barry calls to his son;
Enid, who, after having her hip done
broke the other one getting out of bed,
talks to her late husband, telling him
This is the worst pain and I’m not joking
and I, inside my head, talk to my mum
which is ironic as we barely spoke.

I’m sorry I didn’t buy you the dressed
crab that awful lunchtime. You guessed,
as I did not, that it would be your last,
afterwards you’d eat little and then less
then not even sips out of a beaker,
just me wielding the sponge on a stick.

 

Sodium 136

A new form of torture
to raise my sodium level
which is dangerously low.
They measure out five glasses
of water into my jug
to last me till midnight,
write 1 litre fluid restriction
on the board over my bed
so the tea trolley passes me by,
the milk-shake woman doesn’t come,
the pourer of custard shakes her head.
Slowly the level creeps up.
After five days I’m fantasising
about gulping cartons of juice.
I have a tug of war with a nurse,
will not let go of the jug
which she wants to remove,
tell her if I wanted to cheat
I could put my head under the tap
and drink. I win, the jug stays.
The tea lady leaves me half a cup
and whispers I won’t tell them, love.
I do not touch it. 117, 118,
123, 124 and then, overnight,
SODIUM 136. I weep with joy.
They rub out the notice.
I gulp down glass after ice-cold glass.

Haiku calendars

haiku-calendar-2020.jpg

 

I bought extra copies of the 2020 Haiku Calendar to give as presents. This small desk calendar shows one haiku each month, with three or four more on the back.

Twelfth Night –
lobster pots
shouldered with snow
(Sheila K. Barksdale – England)

The haiku presented in the calendar are the winners and runners-up of the annual competition. The competition for the 2021 calendar is open until the 31st of January. Guidelines are on http://www.snapshotpress.co.uk

Twelfth Night was last Sunday when I was taking down Christmas decorations and carefully removing Christmas cards from the display on the kitchen door. And I was also thinking about the other haiku calendar – a present from a friend who lives in Japan. One of these calendars I’m going to take with me to my caravan in the Netherlands. No need to decide yet: my first trip there is early April!

snow scene

 

The images in the large calendar are all from the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria. Miyajima in the Snow is by Tsuchiya Koitsu (1937), wood cut on paper.

oyuki ya
yuki o mi ni yuku
tokoro nashi

 
So much snow – but
a place for snow viewing?
There is nowhere to go!

(Anonymous, 18th century)