Category Archives: Travel

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.

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.

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.

More an ache than sorrow

Ian Storr

This month I’m featuring one of my fellow haiku poets: Ian Storr.  He is a history graduate and trained social worker whose last job before he retired was with Voice for the Child in Care, managing their advocacy service in the north of England. Ian  has been writing haiku and tanka since the mid-1970s and he has had over 200 published in British and oversees journals.

His poems have won prizes in Britain, Canada and Ireland and they have been included in British and international anthologies. Ian is the production and poetry editor of Presence magazine, described by the Founder and Chairperson of The Haiku Foundation as “the most important haiku journal in English outside the United States.”

I first met Ian more than 25 years ago and I’m delighted to share a selection of his writing with you.  His tanka, in particular,  I find deeply moving and masterful examples.

 

Haiku

Brightening
the house in winter
orange roses from the wreath

Cleft of the brook
wood sorrel bright
on a fallen birch

wind strengthening a skylark holds his place of song

The rhythm of
this baby’s sleep upon me
. . . days of rain

Valley head
white with cotton grass
the silence before the raven

Sweeping rain
deer on the ridge
climb into cloud

Gusts from the street
the store greeter’s
unreturned hellos

Darkening marsh
the swirl of golden plovers
settles again

 

Tanka

Night mist . . .
back where I was born
I walk this lane again
down to the flooded pit shaft
where tinkers used to camp

 
Snow falls tonight
as I drive slowly home
against the windscreen
a drift of stars
melting into water

 
Our son of seven weeks
struggles from sleep in my arms
tight in his hand
from the night’s feed
a long strand of your hair

 
Our balcony
over the settled sea . . .
you bring on two white plates
grapes the green of jade
the seeds within like shadows

 
More an ache than sorrow
this second anniversary . . .
falling on shrouded hills
and reservoir
the wet november snow

 
I put on my father’s boots
for a path I’ve never walked . . .
through reeds and cotton grass
comes the autumn wind
sounding like the sea

 

Year ending
frost covers the boards
of the empty pier
above a beach
strewn with razor shells

 

A stretcher-bearer
wounded twice and twice
returned to the front
Grandpa back on duckboards
over the sucking mud

 

Cover Presence

Comares, Spain

Comares Spain. Window & Steps

Comares Spain. Window & Steps, David Goad

While tidying and sorting folders on the laptop I came across this image. It was a reminder of the enjoyable project that the late Linda Chase organised jointly with Hot Bed Press in Salford. The photographers and print makers based there put work on a website and we, poets, chose something that inspired us. There were two exhibitions with readings of the poems, both very enjoyable events. One was at Hot Bed Press, the other at the Village Hall, Manchester.

I met the artist David Goad at the Lowry just before he moved to France and bought a copy of the work – a linocut/drypoint with hand colour dating from 2006. David was quite amazed that I’d got Triptych from his art.  Posting this is a reminder for me to make more time to go to art galleries and museums – that’s where I find inspiration when I feel stale…

Triptych

His song, like a veil,
laid out on the dry, cracked earth.
A farmer, soldier or goatherd
under the halo of this midday sun.

A future anchored in the past.
A past mirrored in the future.
And what are these offerings?

A man, his wife.
His life, her life.
The smallest token.
Words left unspoken.
Their family name.
The curved greyness of shame.

Only when shaken
or beaten with a stick
does the olive tree yield
its small, black fruit.

Against distant thunder
the cling-clang of their bells:
the counterpoint of loneliness.

 

Bee Journal

9 (2)

The Love Bee with Distiller-Bee on the right

6

 

 

In the 1800s the Manchester textile mills were called ‘hives of activity’ and the workers compared with bees. The Borough of Manchester was granted city status in 1842; on the city crest seven bees are flying over a globe, signifying Manchester’s industry being exported. Images of bees can be found on buildings and bins. After the Arena bombing last year many Mancunians got themselves bee tattoos.

So, there is a lot of interest and excitement about bees currently dotted around town, in parks and public spaces. Over 100 large bees have been decorated by artists, while 130 little bees are part of the City Learning Programme. It’s how creative producers Wild in Art are celebrating their 10th anniversary, and there are some fabulous creatures to be found. The bee below shows some Manchester landmarks: the Town Hall, a Grade I listed building, the Manchester Central  Convention Complex (the original Central railway station) and the Beetham Tower with 47 floors, until recently, the tallest building in the UK outside London.

4 (2)

This is Manchester, C Elliott

On a recent trip to Leeds University to visit the Special Collection I was delighted to see a copy of the 1634 revised edition of the first English-language book devoted to beekeeping The Feminine Monarchie, the histori of bee’s. Charles Butler was also called The Father of Beekeeping. He was a priest and kept bees at his parsonage. Butler writes about bee gardens, hive making, enemies of bees, feeding, pollination and swarm catching. The book also includes a musical score: a four-part madrigal that mimics the sound of swarming bees!

Butler cover

One of the most original poetry collections I read in the last few years is Bee Journal by Sean Borodale. It was shortlisted for the 2012 Costa Poetry Prize. Borodale had previously published books based on walking and writing on location and Bee Journal was supposedly written at the hive, with the poet wearing a veil and gloves! The 90 pages chronicle the life of the hive, from the collection of a small nucleus on 24 May – extract below –

He just wears a veil, this farmer, no gloves
and lifts open a dribbly wax-clogged
blackwood box.
We in our whites mute with held breath.
Hello bees.
Drops four frames into our silence.

to the capture of a swarm two years later, with all the learning, joy and anxiety in between  The poem titles are all dates, some with additional notes, as below:

14th August: Bee Inspector
Today a DEFRA bee inspector clipped the wings of our queen.

Some days the poems are only a few lines, or a single word. 7th January starts:

Four inches of snow. The hive a hut
of silence and darkness.

A year later, there is the entry for 13th January: False Spring Week’s long hoax of mild weather/and bees wander like fools.  On the 15th January Sean makes herb tea for his bees, adding grains of salt and their own honey (10%) to boiling water.  Opposite is the devastating empty page, titled 24/25th January: Bees Die.

In between, there are many poems full of joy and marvel. Here’s a stanza from 2nd May:

A bee, a tine being struck was out:/sound like a rooting of thin flash/in liquid form poured from a bucket the size of an adult/tooth./Magnet of listening, I to hear it/turned the pole of my head.

Because of the regular small interventions the beekeeper has to make, his observations and devotion turn to a deep intimacy, with unusual imagery and dense, “clotted” language.  Reading it was an amazing experience.

 

 

Above a thousand feet of space

 

D Wilson action

 

In the Balance

You pause beneath a boss of ice
above a thousand feet of space.
The picks of your axes barely bite:
it’s bullet hard, black with rock dust.
You’ve run out forty feet of rope,
placed only an ice-screw and screamer.
You’ve dreamed of this route for half your life.
Your calves ache. You can’t wait long.

Decision time. Weigh the following:-
an abseil retreat to blankets, pasta, beer;
the taste in your mouth if you bottle out;
November at work without a fix;
glimpses of where the pitch might ease;
a face at a window, Dad come home,
and you not knowing where you’ve been
or how to get back from it.

 
David Wilson turned to writing poetry a few years ago after being inspired by reading Derek Walcott’s poem ‘Midsummer, Tobago’ on the wall of a hospital waiting room in Leeds. He then discovered the Writing Days run by the Poetry Business in Sheffield and started writing poems of his own. His pamphlet Slope was published by Smith/Doorstop in 2016 and he has a collection coming out with them in 2019.

David was born and brought up in North London and studied at the London School of Economics, followed by a Master’s degree at Leeds University, which at the time had the only indoor climbing wall in the country and was close to excellent outcrop climbing. He has climbed extensively in the UK, Alps and further afield, at a standard best described as erratic.  In mid-life he got hooked on windsurfing, but writing about climbing has led him back into it.

After living in Leeds, David settled with his family in Harrogate. He has worked freelance for many years as an organisation development consultant. He now works part-time, exclusively in the area of academic leadership, helping people like Heads of Department to tackle the many challenges they face. He mainly works 1:1 with people and the diversity of their subject areas is a delight: from Medieval Welsh Poetry to Theoretical Physics to Cancer Research to Arabic, and that’s just in the past few weeks!  Favourite poets include Jane Kenyon, Les Murray, Jane McKie, Norman McCaig and Seamus Heaney.

Slope cover

David and I met on the 2012/13 Writing School and I’m delighted to share his work. Below are more poems from the pamphlet Slope. Everest was awarded 1st prize in the 2015 Poets & Players poetry competition, judged by Paul Muldoon. For a few technical terms: a cam is a device fitted into cracks to protect a lead climber. It has spring-loaded metal cams which grip the rock. A Micro-traxion gadget is a pulley that locks the rope, capturing what’s gained as a climber is hauled from a crevasse. A screamer is a sling which has stitches designed to rip and thereby absorb the energy of a fall. Typically used with doubtful ice-screws.

Stanage Edge

Summer’s returned for one day only,
blue sky, no wind, mist in the valleys,
bracken bronzing every hill,
the Edge’s gritstone silver in the sun.
Rock warm to touch. But holds won’t sweat.

I check my harness, knots and rack,
lay away, step high and up again to poise
off-balance, wriggle a cam into place,
then smear a slab, heels low, until
a crack grips my outstretched hand.

We linger on the edge. Smoke rises
straight up from the chimney at Hope.
It’s not a day to hurl ourselves against
but for dancing with, to feel alive
on Black Slab, Inverted V, Goliath’s Groove.

And it will light the long edge in our minds,
where name after name spells a life,
Flying Buttress and Left Unconquerable,
holds we could trust to be always there,
winds which threw every word away.

 

Everest

Once it was Chomolungma,
Mother Goddess of the Earth,
a face whose veil rarely lifted,
its whiteness the White Whale’s.

Now it’s like Elvis near the end,
a giant in a soiled jumpsuit,
blank, useful for percentages,
a sheet from which the music’s fled.

 

Alpine Partner

I was thinking of glaciers as metaphors,
you knew the car park’s exit code.
And you’d practised techniques
for rescue from a crevasse.

to dig a T slot, bury your ice-axe,
attach our micro-traxion gadget,
then fix the rope as a Z-haul
across the sweating surface, so that inch

by inch you heaved me up when I fell,
up from that cold place – its white walls
and longing, fins of green ice, pale blue caves,
darker blue depth beyond saying.