Category Archives: Poetry

The Boy Who Found Fear

 

janie

Jane McKie’s collections of poetry are Morocco Rococo (Cinnamon Press, 2007), When the Sun Turns Green (Polygon, 2009), and Kitsune (Cinnamon Press, 2015). In 2011 she won the Edwin Morgan poetry prize and published a pamphlet, Garden of Bedsteads, with Mariscat Press, a PBS Choice. Her most recent pamphlet is From the Wonder Book of Would You Believe It? (Mariscat Press, 2016). She is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh and an Advisor to the Edwin Morgan Trust.

Jane’s poems have been described as “magnificently precise” and “spare and visceral, strange and accessible”. Jane is another poet from the 2012-13 Writing School and it’s a great pleasure to introduce her with three poems from Kitsune. The poem Leper Window was awarded first prize in the 2011 Edwin Morgan International Poetry Competition.

 
The Boy Who Found Fear

Boy made of sand
carries a black swan underarm
to jimmy windows, lift
all those little rubies
that wink in the small hours like digital clocks.
And as he crosses thresholds, lintels,
the grains of him unpick steadily
through the night,
ticking minutes, seconds
till he’s caught.

The man and his wife
get home. There he is –
black feathers on the floor,
pile of sand so powder-white
it makes them recall their Gold
Coast honeymoon and weep.
The thieving boy! They sweep him up
into a pan, chuck him out.
He can’t speak to tell them: Stop,
I’m sorry. A real boy at last.

 

Leper Window, St Mary the Virgin

The contagion of lepers
has lifted.

The low glass, where they crouched
even lower,

remains, but their breath,
their rash, their lack,

has passed into the lace
of shadows in the yard.

Where God looked
but did not touch,

the lip of sandstone
is purled with fissures.

 

Viking Horse-bone Ice Skates

The horse won’t know how its metatarsal
can be whittled by friction with the lake,
how the act of skating is part halting
glide, part planer blade; or how thick ice melts
back to health, its grooves, its scuffed ‘v’s, softening
to fill their own wounds. And the horse won’t know
how the skating boy, who opens his mouth
as he flies, will lose three blunt teeth, two milk,
one new; how these teeth, also, will be found.

Let’s abolish January

xmas baubles 2018

Winter passed.  The Christmas lights came down / together with the shabby stars / strung across the various shopping streets.   (Louise Glück, The White Series, from her collection Faithful and Virtuous Night.)

Today is Epiphany, day for putting those baubles away.  None have broken this Christmas. I read Lincoln in the Bardo over Christmas.  That reminded me of my January poem.

 

Let’s abolish January

Delete these damp and dreary days.
Disperse this suite of thirty-one.
The country ravaged by storms and floods.
Baubles broken, fir trees bare, marriages
cracking behind steamed-up windows.
January is the uninvited guest. Sea-sickness
feels eternal to the retching sailor.
Blue-black ink seeps from the ballot boxes.

By missing out January we would save lives,
livers, light bulbs, pointless resolutions;
but lose snowdrops and Epiphany.
And what of those destined to die
in that cold, dark cave of the year?
They would be doomed to wander,
blocking our chimneys, spooking children.
Singers without a voice, sailors without a boat.

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.

Exploring the Orinoco

It’s a pleasure and a privilege to introduce Alan Payne, the poet featured this month. We met during the 2012-13 Poetry Business Writing School.

Alan Payne

Alan was born in Trinidad and lives in Sheffield. His pamphlet Exploring the Orinoco was a winner in the 2009 – 10 Poetry Business competition. He has had poems published in Smiths Knoll, the North and Scintilla, and in various anthologies including The Sheffield Anthology: Poems from the City Imagined, and Cast: The Poetry Business Book of New Contemporary Poets. He worked for many years as a teacher of young children.

His poems visit themes of loss, grief and migration. Alan writes with great economy, sometimes even sparseness. Poignancy is created by his selection of accurate and telling details. Alan always writes with empathy for the people in his poems. His poems taught me that it is fine to revisit the themes that continue to haunt us.

The poems Colombie and Exploring the Orinoco are from the 2009 pamphlet. Menu and Silence are published in The North, issue 60, August 2018.

Colombie

Sudden stars pulled us through
the Dragon’s Mouth.
Port of Spain extinguished.
Home and homeliness
already a legend.

Next day, briefly ashore
in Guadeloupe –
the patois a distorted version
of a beloved tongue,
its lilt curled in my ear.

Crossing the Atlantic –
a band’s orchestrated goodbyes
lost in the wind,
the thundery embrace
of the Northern Range
an echo in the swell,
my stuffed alligator
a talisman.

Fabled Plymouth.
And the journey north, by train,
to Apperley Bridge.
There, in that no-man’s-land,
I tasted pickled onions.
Assumed a stranger’s skin.
A worsted suit.

 
Exploring the Orinoco

With the Thames in their hearts,
and childhood fevers in common,
my father and his dead brother
explored the Orinoco.

The boat of my father’s faith
carried them upstream
to the port of Encaramada,
past the granite domes
of Punta Curiquima.

There, on a deserted island,
they camped for the night,
sitting on the scattered husks
of turtle shells,
reading in the moonlight,
and dining. A faint stink
of rotting crocodiles
corroded the air

During the night, a jaguar
added discord to the howling
of their dogs,
and cataracts answered
the rumbles overhead.

Once, a small black monkey,
like a widow in mourning,
returned the sweet, sceptical smile
of my father’s brother
as he glanced up
from his beloved Darwin.
With a pencil, he underlined
a few words; then disappeared
into the forest
of my father’s mind,
where their mother’s grief
(one boy saved, one boy lost)
left him bereft.

 
Menu

Stereotypical, I know, this woman
carrying an urn on her head, smiling,
as if it’s nothing to have walked
to the market in Tunapuna,
and this man who, good-naturedly,
holds out his cup, and this donkey,
waiting patiently by the man’s side,
still, with well-behaved ears.

My father framed it, hung it on the wall,
a reminder of S.S. Colombie,
au revoir, the French waiter
with one blue eye, one green eye,
Trinidad, Martinique, Guadeloupe,
and then the chilly Atlantic.

 

Silence

There was always silence in our house,
the silence before grace,
the silence following the Lord’s Prayer,
the silence of my father’s work
that seeped out from behind
his polished study door,
the silence of my mother’s brother
who, we were told, died in the war,
but as I later discovered
blew his brains out
in a car-park in Hammersmith
on receiving his call-up papers.

Meeting Paula Rego at the Whitworth, Manchester

The Poetry Shed

Meeting Paula Rego at the Whitworth, Manchester

Shading her eyes with a small black fan
she looks distressed and even out of place.
Ash trees cast a greenish shadow on her face.
To me she seems older now, frailer than
in the short winter days of that other year when
the quiet ghost of a drowned baby played
with black hen, spiders, women who prayed
for open roads, escape, a private den.

There was a boating lake once in the park.
We wait for panini, service is slow.
Café in the trees, I say, canopy.
Her ear rings sparkle, her eyes are still dark.
It’s from the Greek; “konops” means mosquito.
Paula’s face lights up; her imagination set free.

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Fokkina McDonnell’s poems have been published in over 20 anthologies and in magazines, such as Magma, The North, Orbis, Poetry News, Strix, Erbacce, The Journal. Several have been placed, commended…

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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

Discarding clothes

discarding clothes

It’s now just over a year since I closed my psychotherapy and supervision practice. I’ve gone through some wobbly spells. But, I feel more settled in this new way of being, especially after five glorious weeks in my caravan in Holland.

In my psychotherapy work, sitting closely with traumatised clients, I used to dress in sober colours: plain tops and trousers in grey, dark blue, black, dark green. No long, shiny ear rings, or clanging bangles… I wrote the poem Discarding clothes on a workshop last year, after a poem by Robert Vas Diaz.

Discarding clothes

Cheerio, black briefcase,
hand stitched in France,
with the deep smell of leather.

So long, three-piece suit,
pleated skirt, thin stripes;
a trio of ceremonial blue.

Farewell, flat shoes
you sensible goodie-goodies.
There’s pale skin underneath my watch.

I’m flip-flopping into retirement
with dangling silver ear rings,
Capri trousers, a selection of sleeveless tops.

I’ll need to fly back to Hawaii and Fiji.
Aloha! Colourful kaftans,
strapless pink and a cocktail or two.

 

The photo is of exhibits in the current exhibition Stage of Being at Voorlinden Museum, Wassenaar, the Netherlands: Please (neon) by Jeppe Hein from Denmark, with Dawn (polyester, hair, glass, oil) by John DeAndrea, USA.