Tag Archives: Almassera Vella

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.

 

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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.

Fishbones Dreaming

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Tomorrow it’s a year since the Irish poet Matthew Sweeney died. He was just 65 and died of motor neurone disease.

I took the photo in 2006 when I attended a week-long course with Matthew at the wonderful Almassera Vella in Spain. He was like a dog with a bone about adjectives, but otherwise warm and funny. I learned a great deal that week.

The poem Fishbones Dreaming features in Writing Poetry, a publication in the Teach Yourself series. It’s packed with ideas and good exercises. Matthew wrote it with the poet John Hartley Williams. They both lived in Berlin for a period and were friends. The friendship clearly shows in the bits of dialogue where they introduce the exercises.

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Fishbones Dreaming starts: Fishbones lay in the smelly bin. / He was a head, a backbone and a tail. / Soon the cats would be in for him.

The refrain is: He didn’t like to be this way. / He shuts his eyes and dreamed back.

The poem uses a gradual flashback technique, with the refrain dividing the stanzas: a stanza about being on plate, next to the green beans, a stanza about being in the freezer with lamb cutlets, about squirming in a net, and so on. Till he is darting through the sea, past crabs and jellyfish.

My poem below was written in response. It was published in my debut collection Another life.

 

Friday evening

He leaves work early,
walks past the pub,
unchaining habits,
dropping an old raincoat
into the Ribble.
Preston is still Preston,
magnificent failure.

If he can walk backwards
to the railway station,
he will catch himself
in the windows.
There is his 40th birthday,
never celebrated.
Here are the empty Sundays.
Swans, a football, his parents, baby sister.

 

Annoying Utterances

Christopher North has said: To me the ten most annoying utterances from the lectern at a poetry reading are:
1. Have I got time to squeeze in a short one?
2. Now let me see if I can find it…
3. Now if I can just get this thing to work…
4. This is one I wrote on the way here…
5. We were asked to write a villanelle…
6. I know it’s here somewhere…yes. Oh no erm let me see…
7. How long have I got?
8. It’s a load of rubbish but I read it anyway.
9. So all you need to know is that a ‘squawk bogger’ is a New Zealand newt, and that ‘ramping in the dolditts’ is an expression used by Romany folk from the Upper Silesia referring to their annual bean throwing festival, and that Durnstadt-terminum is a Village in Bavaria where they make clay pipes – well you’ll see what I mean when I…
10. (Already 15 minutes over allotted time) – ‘…and here’s one that I have to read. It came about after my son’s first session in Rehab – he’s out now and all seems Ok, Hooray! Hooray! And it’s an important poem for me because it was like a coming to terms emotionally with …blah blah blah.
(in an interview with William Oxley in Summer 2014, published in Acumen, September 2014)

I can tick all of these of on my list of readings that I have attended!

CN

Christopher, who owns the Old Olive Press (Almàssera Vella) in Relleu, Spain is a published and prize-winning poet. His first pamphlet A Mesh of Wires (Smith/Doorstop) was shortlisted for the 1999 Forward Prize. Oversteps Books Ltd published two collections Explaining the Circumstances (2010), The Night Surveyor (2014) as well as a joint bilingual collection with Terry Gifford: Al Otro Lado del Aguilar (2011). His pamphlet Wolves Recently Sighted was published by Templar in 2014.

blue house back view

The Old Olive Press (Almassera Vella)

It does add a special quality to being on a writing week at the Old Olive Press when your host is himself a poet. We were delighted to learn that Christopher is one of the four winners of the annual Poetry Business pamphlet competition. His collection The Topiary of Passchendaele will be launched at the Wordsworth Trust on 22 September this year. The title poem has just been awarded the 3rd prize in the 2018 Poetry on the Lake competition. With Christopher’s permission I’m publishing three poems of the new book below:

Last Word

In 1997 it was calculated that that there are fifty languages on the planet with only one speaker still alive. By 2015 there were just eight.

Lost in distant steppes
of somewhere to the East

there is a bank of evening primrose
beside a mud road with

a centre strip of mayweed,
hardheads smelling of pineapple.

The man at the window
has no word for pineapples.

He has a word for the ‘Via Lactea’,
that nightly glows above his roof.

It is similar to his word
for the blur caused by a stone or rain

hitting a puddle of clear water.
He had a word for evening primrose

but has forgotten it;
now they are nothing more

than his word for ‘flowers’.
The flowers have no words.

They only know their mechanisms:
their stretching upwards

their brief flare
and then a falling back to earth.

Sometimes a jet roars across the sky
leaving a tracer line that fades slowly.

He has never had a word for that.

 

From an Armchair

Beyond the range of the King’s photographer
the forest of the meteorite
and its star of blasted pines;

beyond the islands of the Gulag
and the road of bones through endless forest
where winter is norm, lives pass unrecorded,

epics unfold their progress in silence,
towns work through unknown narratives —
all outside the great conversation;

beneath sky-scapes lashed with stars
and the unfolding green of borealis;
through Sakha, Yakutsk and ice crushed bridges

lies Omyakon between frozen mountains,
where they say in winter words freeze
as they leave your mouth to fall forgotten in the snow.

They make a tundra littered with gossip,
cries of love, argument and greeting,
speeches and shouts petrified in depths of ice

until one midday when larch are greening
and golden root makes a brief smile at the low sun,
words fall into air as if from a door flung open

to fill the town like birdsong and running water

 

(From an idea of John Catanach – originally a story from Colin Thubron)

 

Trestles

Wise is knowing how much
you don’t know, have no conception of.

Unravel ignorance. Cover a trestle
with all those things not known.

The trestle groans, add another,
then more, fill a hall, then an annexe,

spread into the street,
become a neighbourhood,

grow to a city, a region,
a country with unmarked frontiers.

Maintain in a corner, dimly lit,
a timid altar of things you think you know.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Old Olive Press

Below is a picture of that olive press. Christopher and Marisa North opened The Old Olive Press, which is their house, as well as a cultural centre, in 2002. The press is located on the ground floor which has a sitting area and a large table seating a dozen. The first floor is at street level and houses the library of close to 4,000 books. Writing retreats are available and the Almàssera Vella is also listed in Alisdair Sawdays’s Spain (Special Places to Stay).

The blue house is at the edge of Relleu, a village in the mountainous area of Alicante province, known as ‘Marina Baixa’. It is the perfect location for a writing retreat, just one hour from Alicante Airport, half an hour from Villajoyosa on the coast; the village is large enough to have a bank, pharmacy, several bars and local shops. The Romans established the village on its existing site at the end of the 1st century B.C.

olive presspool JL

bancal

The olive press, the pool, the terraces (bancals) with olive trees.

I’ve just come back from my seventh visit. I’ve attended workshops with poets Mimi Khalvati, Matthew Sweeney and, in recent years, with the incomparable Ann Sansom. A week there is a winning combination of writing in the morning, a buffet lunch, and plenty of free time to write, read, relax, swim in the pool, or walk. Below is a poem from last year.

Relleu, 2017

The church bells do not have twins.
Bells ring twice, so the men working
in the campo can count the second time.

We’re at Pepe’s on the village square,
seated in two long rows at a narrow table.
Down the cobbled street is the blue house
where a white dog barks into the valley.

Maggie is moving along the table reading
aloud lines from a poem written by all
of us on the edge of the paper cloths.

A little Navarra rosé is left in my glass.
The twins of that paper poem are ahead of us.