Tag Archives: animals

Animals in Lockdown

I am pleased to introduce this month’s poet: Judi Sutherland. We met as poets on Facebook a few years ago and I attended a recent online event where she read her poems.

Judi Sutherland has lived and worked all over England and is now based in North County Dublin, Ireland. She writes about the natural world, about home, place and belonging, and things she reads on the internet. She obtained an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2012 and was awarded the Margaret Hewson Prize.

Her first pamphlet The Ship Owner’s House was published in 2018 by Vane Women Press (available here: The Ship Owner’s House by Judi Sutherland – The Poetry Book Society) and focuses on north south contrasts, specifically Oxfordshire and County Durham. Vane Women Press is a writing, performing and publishing collective based in the North East of England. It was formed in 1991.

A recent booklet Animals in Lockdown was published as a hand-made edition by Kazvina (Karen Little). Copies can be obtained from kazvina@yahoo.es, and proceeds go to Happy Tails Halfway Home animal rescue.

Here is my selection: the booklet’s title poem and three poems from The Ship Owner’s House.

The Animals in Lockdown


The mountain goats have noticed something’s wrong.
Their anxious hooves trot into town
tap-tapping on our tarmac. They’ve come to browse
verges and hedges, keeping down


the wildness, which they know distresses us.
In clearwater harbours, dolphins nose
the prows of empty boats drifting at anchor.
Songbirds note the silence in the air.


A fox sniffs for contagion, scenting only spring,
he knows we’ve gone to earth. He has
mixed feelings about this. The dogs
who shepherd us on our permitted walks


leave smell-messages for each other, asking
‘Lads, what’s going on?’ And here at home,
my cat tucks me into bed each night, checking that I’m safe.
All through the night, she listens for my breathing.

Looking for Kites


I went over to Kinninvie
because I had heard you were there.
I took the straight, whitelined road
that wagtails across the fells.
There were sheep, carpet-backed, in a row
ripping grass, and mottled cattle,
cream and brown like chocolate truffles
tilting their long horns at the sky.
A hawk held steady over a whin bush
and I thought I saw you eddy into the wind
over a broad, shouldering field.
When I turned homewards, the valley
was bright with gorse and rapeseed flowers
and sunshine flooded the far slopes
with summer.

Epigenetics

Certain fears can be inherited through the generations, a provocative study of mice reports. The authors suggest that a similar phenomenon could influence anxiety and addiction in humans.
http://www.nature.com/news/fearful-memories-haunt-mouse-descendants-1.14272

And what scented his fear was this:
the fleet chill of clear air rushing,
the flap of canvas, the propeller’s
halting stutter. Hanging suspended
between sky and Crete, and the silver-drab
of olive trees reaching up to meet him.
I still dream that flight and plunge,
the terror and the black; feel the dull
indentation of the skull, the buzz of metal plates
beneath my scalp. I’m always writing Icarus;
afraid to fall, finding life vertiginous.
He very nearly died. I very nearly remember.

Relocation


So, the place I thought was home turned out to be
somewhere we were passing through, and we
have traded all the grey, red, cream of flint,
brick, render, for this buttered stone;
beechwoods for bare hills, accents clipped like lawns
for vowels as broad as fells. The green-spined lane
became a hard grey road, the kites are hawks,
and the placid boating river is a rocky fall
past a castle keep. Life pitches our tent
in a different portion of the desert. We make it ours.
I can no longer tell you where my heart is.

World Animal Day

Photo credit: Artcats via Pixabay


World Animal Day was started in 1925. I was looking for an animal poem in my file. Looking back on this experience, we might question the animal welfare aspect. The horse seemed happy enough at the time.

Circus

The Arabian thoroughbred
and his blue-blood spinster
lodged with a middle-aged couple
living in the Dutch bible belt.

My parents despatched
my younger brother and me
that summer to acquire
circus skills in two weeks.

Each morning a child took
turns standing on the horse
as it walked round the ring
inside the stuffy canvas tent.

In the afternoons we swam
in the local pool, tried to get
the couple’s fat ponies to obey.
There were prayers, a lot of eggs.

By the end of the holiday we
balanced, arms outstretched,
on the trotting horse. We swung
off and on as it cantered.

The Nettlebed

Matthew Paul June 2020 (002)

 

I feel that I have known this month’s poet for many years. But, I don’t think we have ever met. Like me, Matthew Paul has been a participant on The Poetry Business Writing School. We both had work published in an excellent haiku journal. I very much enjoy his blog posts and am pleased that I can introduce you to his work: grounded in actual place and rich in vivid detail.

Matthew was born in New Malden, Surrey, in 1966, has worked for 30 years as an education officer for local authorities in south-west London, and lives in Thames Ditton. Matthew’s first collection, The Evening Entertainment, was published by Eyewear Publishing in 2017.

He is also the author of two collections of haiku – The Regulars (2006) and The Lammas Lands (2015) – and co-writer/editor (with John Barlow) of Wing Beats: British Birds in Haiku (2008), all published by Snapshot Press. He co-edited Presence haiku journal, and has contributed to the Guardian’s ‘Country Diary’ column.

 
THE TOXTON TORCHERS

Still their identities are secret. Let’s call them Gary and Glyn,
names which are popular then, at the Sixties’ fag-end.
This nit-locked pair of toe-rags, seeking alms box and plate,
enter St Joe’s via its sacristy, find nothing of value
and burn down the sanctuary like proper East End heavies.

They’re not discerning: any place of worship will do-
in the next few weeks, Our Lady Star of the Sea, St Anne’s,
the Kingdom Hall and the new St Margaret’s all go up in flames.
It’s when they smash collection boxes in All Souls that it ends:
old Reverend Carew and his nimble curate get straight on the blower
to the Law, who tip up in Black Marias at Z-Cars speed.

Gary blames it all on gormless Glyn. Brought before the Bench,
their eyes light up like matches as they detail every deed:
how in the new church they hadn’t the heart to torch the tapestries
as so much effort had been put into them, most by Gary’s nan.

 
THE KITCHEN GARDEN

On Capability Brown’s last visit
to this well-temperèd chalkland estate,
he plumped for action instead of advice:
training espaliers of local pears,

which would otherwise have become extinct,
against ev’ry venerable wall of brick—
‘for market opportunities’, he said,
and focused eyes on an artichoke head

whose outer bracts formed interlaced patterns
around the heart’s delirious embrace,
aubergine-veined chroma of grey–jade green.
He claimed it resembled ‘a scarecrow’s brain’.

Unaccountably, he bricked up the arch,
to dead-end our last remaining path;
so now unscalable walls enclose us,
in God’s own country’s Hortus conclusus.
(Both from The Evening Entertainment)

 

TEE (002)

 

THE NETTLEBED

One September afternoon in August, a water vole
beavers through reeds. I feel the slap
of rain on my father’s umbrella. Mercy
and I compare families: I can’t compete
with her memory of travelling,
as one of five kids, with her moody
half-sister in the boot of their dad’s Datsun Bluebird,
without a torch. The teasel-lined tributary disappears,
reappears. Moorhen chicks stumble off lily pads,
to spatter at pace upstream, their parents
flicking tail feathers and squeaking alarm.

We reach beyond toddler-high nettles and burdock—
seedheads packed like the yellowest sunflowers—
to pluck the last few blackberries, sugaring
from ruby to plum. Mercy says the wide outdoors
keeps her well; that nothing else,
neither booze nor love in any of its myriad forms,
quite does the job. We sit on a log to wait and watch.

The moorhens tiptoe over stepping stones fording
back-water channels, to vanish like mumbled
anecdotes. I shake the rain from the brolly
into the river. Day’s end brightens
as an afterthought muttered out loud; becomes
a crumbling hurrah of loneliness. Dusk
spotlights parakeets sidling, like circus budgies,
along the railing of a tower-block balcony.
We realise, then, our arms are stung to fuck.

(Previously published, in a different form, in Fire.)

 

PLOUGH POND

Tiptoeing through them to the Co-op
would be impossible, this ragtag army

of marsh frogs. They block the alley
from our cul-de-sac’s cul, pairing up

to belly down within the water’s grease:
tansy eyes, camouflage-trousered legs

and lime-striped backs, clamped
in the fumble of joyful amplexus.

(Published in Poetry Salzburg Review 34, summer 2019)

Mid-December

garden_fox_in_snow

 

At our Manchester Poets Christmas meeting on Friday someone read Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. This poem, along with The Road not Taken, is one of Robert Frost’s most famous poems. Many people who are not poets have come across them.

Here is Questioning Faces, a short winter poem by Frost. It has marvellous precision and economy. It inspired my poem Mid-December. It is based on a real observation: seeing the fox in my rear garden under the light cast by the helicopter. Getting the end-rhyme across the two stanzas was an interesting task.

 
Questioning Faces

The winter owl just banked in time to pass
And save herself from breaking window glass.
And her wings straining suddenly aspread
Caught color from the last of evening red
In a display of underdown and quill
To glassed-in children at the windowsill.

 
Mid-December

Some people might pray for the day
to end, so they can cover glass
panels with ceiling-to-floor lined drapes,
or plain blinds that click into place.
Sitting by the radiator
I count the nights before Solstice,

think of the fox who’s come to stay.
She, padding across stiff white grass,
makes no such distinctions, escapes
gardens, water meadows; her face
now up to the police helicopter
beaming light on the world that is.