Category Archives: Poetry

Rain, rain, rain …

 

rain

 

This poem by Lemm Sissay is a great example of “concrete” poetry: the physical shape of the poem fits with the subject matter. Rain is on a wall on Oxford Road, Manchester, between the Whitworth and Manchester University. It’s the partner of Hardy’s Well, the poem by Lemm Sissay that is on the wall of a pub. I blogged about that in July last year. The title of the piece is What a Waste!

The last few days it has been raining here in Manchester, though the sun comes out now and then. It made me think of the famous poem Rain by Don Paterson. You can find it on http://www.poetry.org the site of the Academy of American Poets. It’s mostly in four-line stanzas and has end-rhymes, and starts:

I love all films that start with rain:
rain, braiding a windowpane
or darkening a hung-out dress
or streaming down her upturned face;

The poem ends with a one-line stanza which is a very striking “turn”. Many poems have turns, most famously, of course, the sonnet form with its volta. Paterson has:

and none of this, none of this matters.

 
My rain poem is in my collection Another life. There are several turns in the poem, including in the final stanza.

The Lido, Clifton

It is dry this Monday morning.
I wonder what it’s like swimming here
when it rains. Just then the drizzle starts,
a gently pulsating rhythm.

Bristol had the oldest open-air lido
in the country. Refurbished Grade II
it sits between the backs of offices.

The water is warm, kept at this
steady temperature. Floating on my back
I see the movement of clouds.

The following year my friend
would abandon me once I became ill,
but here we are drawing small ripples
in the water, each of us in our own lane.

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.

American Dream

Jim Caruth
This month’s poet is James (Jim)  Caruth. We met in 2012 on the Poetry Business Writing School. He has had several pamphlets and a collection published: A Stone’s Throw (Staple Press, 2007), Marking the Lambs (Smith/Doorstop, 2012), The Death of Narrative (Smith/Doorstop, 2014) and Narrow Water (Poetry Salzburg, 2017).

Jim says: I was born in Belfast, have lived in South Africa and, for the last thirty years, in South Yorkshire. Like all itinerants, that has left me with a need to question what I mean by home.

Many of James’ poems are a search for a definition, a means to find some way to articulate the past (whether real or imagined) and put names and faces to the ghosts.

I admire his ability to say so much in few words with accurate and delicate detail. I’m delighted to share Jim’s work here.

 
American Dream

Each time I tell it differently.
It was Autumn, a skirr of leaves
in Washington Square, old men playing chess,
two women on a bench drinking Zinfandel
from crystal flutes while the Cuban boys danced salsa.

Summer maybe, a man stretched on his bed,
the wail of sirens from the streets
as cockroaches scratch in the walls
and the woman in the next apartment
makes love in Spanish.

And on a sidewalk in the East Village,
a man with a sign – Gulf War Vet,
one trouser-leg flapping from the knee,
till a fat cop in his stayprest blues kicks
the one good leg, fingers his polished holster
and raises a night-stick to point the way home.

Or was it late Spring when we saw them
on Charles Street, heard the young one yell –
keep your freekin hands off me
as the other raised two pale palms
and turned away as her face fell apart.

No, it was Winter, a trace of snow
on the streets when I took a photograph of you
by an office window – Divorce$300,
as you lifted your hand to your heart
and sang – God Bless America.

 

Traces

He preferred horses to people.
Recognised that look of madness
in their eyes. Loved to run
a calloused hand along their sheen,
feel the taut length of a sinew
with knowing fingers.

Two months before he died,
we found ourselves stranded
across a table in a pub,
empty conversation rattling
the space between us
like a spoon in a pot.

As he looked at the walls
decorated with the past,
a bridle, collar and traces,
his eyes washed clear of me.
But I swear I heard him say,
Walk on. Walk on boy.

 

41+David+Goad

By David Goad

A First Glimpse of Snow

Strikes and demonstrations,
burning necklaces in the townships,
the rhetoric of bull-whips in Adderley Street.
It must have been winter, eighty-five,
when the Cape had a first fall of snow
and I drove you and Alice to Franschoek.
Up through vineyards, past dams of green water,
till we reached that point where the dirt road
was washed away and we got out to watch
a flock of guinea fowl root amongst the rooikrans.
We stood, sipping the clear air in slow breaths
as she laughed at their kek-kek, kek-kek
and you lifted her in your arms, so a child
might have a first glimpse of snow.

 
What’s the Point?

My father would say
he could never see the point
in climbing a hill
though they rose like a wall
at the top of each street.

Never looked down
on the city at night,
jewels on black velvet,
never once felt peace
rise up like a breath.

He never stood on Cave Hill
to watch the ferries
slip down the Lough,
never thought that grey stretch
as a road to anywhere.

He never climbed the slopes
of Divis on a spring afternoon,
never lay amongst the heather
to watch a kestrel hover
as if it was pinned to the sky.

I am taking my father’s ashes
up Carnmoney Hill.
In the hearse’s slow climb
I hear a voice in my head:
What’s the point in this?

John and Mary meet …

 

2 romance

A romantic display at the 2018 Keukenhof, the Netherlands

A poem for Valentine’s Day:

 

John and Mary meet

John and Mary meet.
John and Mary greet.

The Film and Reels.
The Cog and Wheels.

John falls first.
Therefore, he kneels.

Mary thinks she knows
what John feels.

So, Mary falls as well,
as far as John can tell.

The sorcerer, a spell.
The Bell and Peals.

John and Mary greet.
John and Mary eat,

more sour than sweet.
Their eyes no longer meet.

Year of the Golden Pig

4

Shop Window in Siena, Italy

Wishing you a happy, healthy and prosperous Year of the Golden Pig, with a haiku sequence.

I wrote this after a visit to Little Gidding in August 2001, while on a writing week with the poet Lawrence Sail. Little Gidding is, of course, well-known as the fourth and final of T S Eliot’s Four Quartets. He wrote it after his own visit to Little Gidding.

My haiku sequence was published in Presence #18, in September 2002. The illustration below of the wild boar is by Ian Turner. It’s a photograph of Wild Boar Clearing Sculpture by Sally Matthews, 1987. It was made of mud, cement and brash and situated in Grizedale Forest, Cumbria, UK. Grise dal is Norwegian for Valley of the boars.

 

Little Gidding

following her
across the field
a white butterfly

almost hidden by grass
three wooden crosses

the church bell
covered
in pigeon droppings

pink geranium petals
a droning plane

on the terrace
calling us old, advanced –
the toothless guide

finding the pigsties –
number one boarded up

as we leave
sunlight
on the font

 

Golden Boar

A Golden Shovel poem about Brexit…

40.jpg

The Campo, Siena, Italy.

The Golden Shovel form was invented by Terrance Hayes. His poem Golden Shovel is a tribute to the poem We Real Cool by another US poet Gwendolyn Brooks. It is a poem about a group of young black men playing pool in the Golden Shovel. Terrance Hayes’ poem stays close to the subject of the original poem. You can find it on the Poetry Foundation site.

A Golden Shovel poem takes a line from another poem and places the words at the end of the lines of the new poem. So, Terrance Hayes’ poem starts:

When I am so small Da’s sock covers my arm, we
cruise at twilight until we find the place the real

men lean, bloodshot and translucent with cool.
The UK is inching closer and closer to the 29 March deadline for leaving Europe. I’ve had chronic “Brexit Anxiety Disorder” for over two years now, so was glad to escape for three weeks to Lanzarote – warmth, sun, walks by the sea, good books, company of family and friends.

Here is my first attempt at a Golden Shovel poem. It is inspired by a line from Nine Allegories of Power, by John Siddique: The accumulation of seconds in which empires are born, gather their height and become broken statues and friezes in museums far away.

In Blighty

So much here in Blighty has been lost, replaced or deleted: in the
grey city centre European Christmas markets confront an accumulation
of dirty duvets in doorways of offices and hotels. I hear the faint ticking of
clocks, hold memories of closed libraries, swimming pools. No seconds
are offered in foodbanks. Minutes after my friend put tinned rice in
a cardboard box in Sainsbury’s, she tripped on the cracked pavement which
has an outline in white paint. The people, many of them, dream of empires
returning. The past was always another country and pipe dreams are
made of clay. One man’s dream is another woman’s nightmare. I was born
in a land below the sea, the North Sea, a country where politicians gather
around tables, walk the corridors in The Hague to arrive, eventually, at their
destination: consensus, compromise, through polderen. I cry at the height
of hypocrisy when Britannia rules the waves, Jerusalem, and
other iconic symbols are stolen by those moneyed men who have now become
European citizens simply through buying in. The UK, my home for 45 years, is broken
but the chimneys of empty factories will outlive the stately statues
of proud admirals on horseback. They are already covered in pigeon shit and
some wear a fluorescent yellow jacket. High up in the Gallery are Victorian friezes
and dusty glass cases display the relics of civilisation, while upstairs in
the Elgin Room a silent queue shuffles, some people are crying. These museums,
(yes, every town or city has its Museum of Lost Marbles), have at the far
end the emergency exit, a green man running, running, running away.

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.