Tag Archives: Bloodaxe Books

Olympic Cyclists – a poem

Photo credit: Grace Sail

This month’s poet is Lawrence Sail. We met 20 years ago when he tutored a week-long course at Madingley Hall, part of Cambridge University. We have kept in touch and I was delighted with his endorsement of my second collection Nothing serious nothing dangerous.

Lawrence Sail has written thirteen books of poems; Waking Dreams: New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2010) was a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation. His publications include the anthology First and Always: Poems for Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital (Faber, 1988), and two books of essays, Cross-Currents (Enitharmon, 2005) and The Key to Clover (Shoestring Press, 2013). He has written two memoirs, both published by Impress Books: Sift (2010) and Accidentals, the latter illustrated by his daughter, Erica Sail, and published in December 2020.

He was chairman of the Arvon Foundation from 1991 to 1994, has directed the Cheltenham Festival of Literature and was on the management committee of the Society of Authors from 2007 to 2011. He was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in 1992, and an Arts Council Writer’s Bursary the following year. In 2004 he received a Cholmondeley Award for his poetry. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

I’ve selected four poems from Guises, Lawrence’s most recent collection, published by Bloodaxe Books in early 2020. They show his close observation skills, precision of imagery, interest in art and in life – what is and what was lost. Understatement is used to great effect in Journey.

Cover painting: detail of Yellow Twilight
by Samuel Palmer

Radishes
‘What do I know of man’s destiny? I could tell you more about radishes.’ Samuel Beckett

Bunched tightly –
no sign of
the flowers with
their four petals

At one end, weak
and tatty leaves
that soon wilt,
ill with yellow

At the other
a wisp of root,
vestigial tail
thinly curling

Their cylinders, white
and carmine, harbour
a residue
of soil’s sourness

Their gifts? Crispness and
surprise – from
their pure white core
they bite back: like destiny

Olympic Cyclists

Start at the nape
with the helmet that tapers so finely
and looks designed
for a new occipital shape –
it must come straight out of
a dream played
on an oval board, under lights

Everything comes second
to aero-dynamics, kinetics –
it is not always easy
to tell where the cycle ends
and the rider begins. They become
one curve among
many, parts of one thought

– which bends their spines,
stares from the rounds of the goggles,
pumps the pedals,
blurs the black wheels’ outlines;
which has them swoop flightily
down the banked track
sudden as a hawk stooping

Such oneness, wholly
integrated – as in
the fado singer’s
tremble of husky melancholy,
or the grounded delight of lovers
before they reel
out of the charmed circle

Giacometti’s Cat

Its head to body to tail
is one long, mean
horizontal hoisted
on the spindly twin trestles
of its best feet forward

A nerve-bundle fused in bronze
it lives apart, locked
in a trance of stealth
as it probes the air ahead
taking nothing for granted

Journey

I am travelling to meet you again –
through morning air burnt
to a clarity you would admire

And of course my mind has stored
a certain amount of baggage
accrued in the course of time

It includes a small rucksack
you once wore, and the sweep
of your arm, stressing a point

As well as the passion with which
you embark on serious discussion
with, sometimes, an emphatic blink

Yet almost as vivid is the thought
of the platform as it will look
after the train has gone

The shine of the rails snaking
away, a soft breeze, the atmosphere
intent but free of intention

On the far side of you waits
an absence charged and changed
that I do not want to re-settle

Your heart is a frozen orange

Hernandez

 

Your heart is a frozen orange

Your heart is a frozen orange.
No light gets in; it is resinous, porous,
golden: the skin promises
good things to the eye.

My heart is a feverish pomegranate
of clustered crimson, its wax opened,
which could offer you its tender pendants
lovingly, persistently.

But how crushing it is to go
to your heart and find it frosted
with sheer, terrifying snow!

On the fringes of my grief
a thirsty handkerchief
hovers, hoping to drink down my tears.

 
The poet Don Share translated this early poem and the other poems by Miguel Hernández in I have lots of heart, Selected Poems. This bilingual Spanish-English edition was published by Bloodaxe in 1997. I came across this poet by chance: visiting his birthplace Orihuela in Spain. Hernández was a self-educated goatherd and is now one of the most revered poets in the Spanish-speaking world.

After fighting on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, he was imprisoned in several of Franco’s jails, where he continued to write until his death from untreated tuberculosis. He was only 31. Below is the original poem in Spanish with its wonderful rhymes. This poem inspired my poem Flight of swallows, murmuration of starlings which was first published in the anthology Drifting down the lane (2013), along with the painting by Malgorzata Lazarek.

 

Tu corazón, una naranja helada

Tu corazón, una naranja helada
con en dentro sin luz de dulce miera
y una porosa vista de oro: un fuera
venturas prometiendo a la mirada.

Mi corazón, una febril granada
de agrupado rubor y abierta cera,
que sus tiernos collares te ofreciera
con una obstinación enamorada.

Ay, qué acometimiento de quebranto
ir a tu corazón y hallar un hielo
de irreductible y pavorosa nieve!

Por los alrededores de mi llanto
un panuelo sediento va de vuelo
con la esperanza de que en él lo abreve.

 

 

Cip Cip

 
Flight of swallows, murmuration of starlings

 
A long line of scarecrows was no defence.
Each day at dusk more words arrived.
Small words with soft downy feathers, large
words that made strange gurgling sounds
Litany, Lamentation. They roosted
on telegraph wires, fences round his fields.

His wife had been a word collector. She kept
thousands in small paper boxes called books.
These boxes were lined up in coloured rows
in cases, on wooden shelves and tables.
She had taken the books with her when she left
calling him spineless and an empty well.

His neighbour Charlie, the old lion tamer came
with his black boots, his long whips. The birds
hissed and pecked at Charlie’s hat. Feral words.
He remembered his mother telling him stories
about loaves and fishes, storms of locusts.
The local preacher came in his long black coat.
His booming sermon scared away the clouds.
The words spread their feathers, glinting
in the sun; closed their small fierce eyes.

That night a small red hen walked into his dream.
She had made hundreds of prints in the fresh snow.
The hen stood on a book with his wife’s name on it.
The next morning, he drove into town, bought the only
poetry book in the remainder shop. A poet who had taught
himself, a goat herd from Orihuela, Miguel Hernandez.

Poems of love, loss, war; poems of prison.
Miguel died in prison not yet 32.
The telegraph wires pinged. The words watched.
Your heart is a frozen orange. A bird on the wing
like a thirsty handkerchief hovers, hoping to drink tears.
The old farmer, for the first time in his life, crying.