Greetings on World Poetry Day! At the 30th General Conference of UNESCO in Paris, 1999, it was decided to mark 21 March as an annual celebration. Poetry has “the unique ability to capture the creative spirit of the human mind”.
I’ve chosen a poem with international connections, a lot of people, fruit – a festive gathering on a Dutch beach. It’s from my collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous.
On the beach after My boat by Raymond Carver
Bill’s last words were always Have fun, so I will. He was a very good father, Bill, though he wasn’t my father. Liz will be there too. And Mary and Brian, the Como couple. Seville will be there, all the places I ever fell in love with. We’ll be on a beach, a wide sandy beach with small white shells, large white gulls and far off, in the distance, the red container ships, nothing dangerous, nothing serious.
At the flood line broken razor clams crackle under our feet. There is Dick, almost 80, and Miep, their cycles parked up against the metal wire by the marram grass dotted on the dunes. Esther, Peter, Theo, Ancilla on their e-bikes, they love this beach. Skewered fruit, Water Melon Men and the three Irish men I loved, and the others, the artist with one eye has come back from Hungary. Boats will be there, beached. We’re all beached. My UK friends have come by ship, a ship with starched officers, a ship from Southwold that I specially chartered.
I invited J S Bach, Schubert and anyone else whose names I am forgetting. I have been given dispensation – hey, that sounds medical, nothing dangerous, nothing serious, the friends who are no longer friends, what’s rejection, abandonment among true friends. Apples, oranges, enough grapes to count in the new year, fresh figs, plums, peaches, kiwi fruit for sleep, passion fruit. With all that fruit we are fit to count our blessings, our nine lives. Have fun. The tide’s out, and it is a long time before it’s coming back in.
It’ll be St. Patrick’s Day next Wednesday, so I found you a poem with an Irish theme.
Thousands of Europeans were emigrating to Australia and New Zealand under the ‘Assisted Passage’ scheme. I took my Dutch, English, French and German across the Channel and joined P & O Lines Ltd as a WAP (Woman Assistant Purser) in 1969.
The following year I joined SS Orcades. The ship was due to arrive in Australia in time for older passengers to celebrate Christmas and New Year with family who’d moved there. Because of the large number of Dutch passengers, I held a daily coffee meeting – giving information about ports en route, as well as translating and interpreting.
Each morning, I also met with a small group of German-speaking passengers. On the photo, you can just about see my language badges, attached to my uniform with Velcro!
The poem SS Arcadia, from my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous is about meeting my late husband for the first time. May you be blessed with the luck of the Irish!
I was still in my whites, had just rolled down the shutters on shore excursions, orders for birthday cakes, contact lenses lost in the swimming pool.
I was headed down aft, the Tourist Nursery, rehearsals for Hawaiian Night. Oh, I’m going to a hukilau.
It was a moment of whites and early evening sunlight. That Irishman, feet planted wide on shiny boards, who controlled the English bar staff, Goanese stewards.
I already knew that Junior Officers were not supposed to fraternise with Leading Hands.
This coming week would have been the birthday of Bill Huddleston. My second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous (Indigo Dreams) is dedicated to him. In one of the poems I wrote:
Bill’s last words were always Have fun, so I will.
He was a very good father, Bill, though he wasn’t my father.
Bill and I first met in 1986 when we worked on an Outplacement project in Scotland. In his 60s Bill retrained as a hypnotherapist, and for many years he and I had a peer-supervision agreement – meeting monthly to discuss our clients.
From a poetry workshop on Working the Body I had the marvellous poem Climbing myGrandfather. It’s a first-hand story by a child, starting at the brogues (shoes) and ending on top of the head, the summit, with the slow pulse of (the grandfather’s) good heart.Here you can read the original poem by Andrew Waterhouse, a poet and musician, who was passionate about the environment. He suffered from depression and, aged 42, died by suicide in 2001.
The grey hairs combed back are too few to attach the equipment,
so I slide down slowly to his glasses, see close-up the grey hairs
sprouting from his ear. I think of rabbit holes, hear scuttling
sounds as his amazing brain is shifting, growing, learning.
I move carefully down his cheek where I can hear humming
from his sinus. Suddenly I’m dangling as he turns his head
to hear the other person better. His chin is smooth and
soon I reach the safety of his dark green cardigan,
all bobbly terrain and the round boulders
of its leather buttons. I can slide across his chest
where his large warm heart is housed, my feet
feel the rise of his breath lower down as he is
slowing to pace the other person.
It’s an easy journey now onto his chinos.
I walk across his upper leg, sun lights
my path. I rest in the folds of his knees.
From here I can see his steady feet
in the solid grey trainers and I land
without a hitch, safely.
The last few months the poet John McCullough has posted many colourful images of amazing birds on Facebook. Other days he shared helpful advice about writing poems. It is fitting that his third poetry collection Reckless Paper Birds was recently awarded the Hawthornden Prize – the oldest of the major British literary awards (established 1919).
Reckless Paper Birds has been described as “dazzling” and a “celebration of abundance”. It was published by Penned in the Margins last year.
Photo credit: Manfred Richter on Pixabay
When I was putting the manuscript together for my second collection Nothing serious,nothing dangerous, I came across several short poems about different birds. So, these became a sequence: Almost complete poems: encounters with twelve birds. Here is the first half of the set.
Almost complete poems: encounters with twelve birds
If they’re honest
most poems are almost:
the nearly-there bird,
bowl of glowing grapes,
sun, this still life, silence.
ii You don’t belong here
she seems to say.
Two small black eyes peer
straight at me.
There is a shadow over
the bowl of her belly,
a pale-blue shawl for wings,
feet firmly planted
on an outcrop of black rock.
Gannet, you are wrong, I say, like you I’m mostly in the air, white spray, white clouds, lifting and landing. The in-between domain often cold and steep.
In her dreams that night angry birds
came and pecked at the cherries,
small red stains on the grass –
it was a summer slowly
shrinking at the corners.
On the shingle barnacled white
fishing boats lie on their side.
Standing above its reflection,
a gull stares straight ahead.
The gulls are tucked into their own lives.
The honking of homeward geese,
hush of flags half-mast on a building,
the crunch of fresh snow underfoot.
In Estonia planets were venerated,
I am Stella Maris, the planet’s interpreter.
Squawking draws me from my emails.
I see two magpies closing in
turn on a young blackbird
peck peck peck
This bird gave its name to an opera.
Looking in the Cloud for a picture of a frog I came across a photo of my piano: a white horse (Schimmel). My friend Marianne who left me the old caravan had a digital piano here. I took that across to the UK and started having lessons with John who came to the house.
The next year (2009) I even took the Grade 1 examination. Turned up at the venue to find bemused children staring at me. I passed, just short of a Distinction. As a reward, I got a proper acoustic piano. Found this lovely Schimmel with a warm European sound.
Horror! One day I lifted the lid to see a moth appear from between two white keys. Yes, a proper infestation. Fortunately, the wonderfully eccentric tuner, also called John, managed to take the piano apart and deal with that. I continued with lessons. But I was too anxious to go for the Grade 2 or Grade 3. When I moved into the flat, so did the piano. On its side, still a mellow sound. I sold it a couple of years ago. It went to a good home …
The poem Music is from my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous, published by Indigo Dreams Publishing (2019).
There was always music going on in our house,
live music, piano and song. The organ was
down the road, past the Catholics’ houses.
We were Protestant then, some of us, anyway.
There was always music in our house.
Bach on a black piano and Brahms Mein Mädel hat einen Rosenmund.
My mother, the diva, practising before
her weekly lesson with the best alto
in Holland, who kept a pet monkey.
My father, with his piano hands,
shaking his vigorous black hair.
In our house there was always music.
More often than not it would be
minor chords, discordance, long
silence above the empty bar lines.
The warm, sunny weather this week has helped me to stay more in the present. I’ve been for walks in the nearby estate of Clingendael.
Clingendael estate has a 17th Century manor house which is home to the Dutch Institute for International Relations. Since the 16th Century the gardens have been remodelled, from the original French design, to the popular English landscape style. Now you can find a rose garden, splendid azaleas and rhododendrons, and a walled fruit garden. There are some marked walks, cycling paths, and canoeists and rowers can travel through by water.
However, Clingendael is most famous for its Japanese garden. It is the only Japanese garden from around 1910 and is, therefore, of great historical importance and a state monument. Marguerite M, Baroness van Brienen made several trips to Japan by ship to purchase the lanterns, statues, bridges and the wooden pavilion. Because of its fragility, the Japanese garden is only open eight weeks of the year, from mid-May to early July. Because of the Corona-crisis, it is closed. Here you can view a short video clip that The Hague city council put on their website.
Photo credit: Ted Koehler
My poem Moment from my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous was inspired by a poem with the title This Moment by the Irish poet Eavan Boland who died recently, aged 75, after a stroke. Her poem, with its short, choppy lines starts Aneighbourhood/At dusk and is an excellent example of how a short poem can give us a snapshot of time, the night and temporality. You can read the original poem here. It is deceptively simple, but Boland uses several poetic techniques to achieve the effect, such as alliteration and repetition.
A suburb at dawn
People are turning back
into their own lives
Frost and spiders,
shrubs cradle themselves.
One side of the road is black.
One row of houses a yellow pink.
A cat wakes up
to the footsteps above,
secure in his oval basket.
ferns unfold in the sun.
The storm last weekend changed my To Do list: on Sunday morning I opened the door to see the terracotta-coloured broom had been cut down – two parts lay entangled on the lawn.
I had planted that broom with its coconut scent, the yellow forsythia and white spiraea as a new hedge in spring 2012 after the new caravan was towed into place November 2011. Nico, the trusted on-site DIY man had removed the gate, shrubs and old hedge, and had taken apart the old wooden caravan my friend Marianne had left me a few years earlier. When she bought that old caravan her partner, a sculptor, had trimmed the tall conifers and shaped them into four guards. I had wanted to keep these, so Nico dug them up and they’ve been attached to the new fence. You can see they’re beginning to look grey and grumpy…
Good things happened this week too – an extended Skype lunch with a good friend in Manchester. The onsite shop and snack bar has opened, so I can treat myself to the occasional saté and French fries.
I hope that you and those dear to you are keeping well and safe.
The poem is from my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous, with Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2019.
Vanished the coconut scent of the bronze gorse,
forsythia, the thin red stalks of fuchsia.
Lavenders are dotted around the borders,
a white one with the old red rose that Marianne planted.
The shadows must rest in the memories of grass blades.
Does grass carry its memory from year to year?
Early evening already, the new conifer hedge catches
the sun. The single siren of an ambulance going to Bronovo.
A blackbird hides among the orange berries,
sky is greying. Vanished into the earth
my friends, enemies. Finches swing on the fat ball.
The Departure, book and me (Photo: copyright Sophie J Brown)
Here I am with my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous at the launch, held at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, Manchester on the 3rd of March. It was a wonderful occasion, made very special by Graham Kingsley Brown’s painting The Departure being there too.
His daughter Sophie Brown (herself a talented artist) designed this website. Visit www.grahamkingsleybrown.com and click on the Curator’s Diary for her account of the launch and to read what the meaning of the painting may be (entry 28 November 2019).
Below is the first poem of the book. This may well be the ferry from Harwich, UK to Hook of Holland, the Netherlands. A ferry crossing is a departure of a kind …
Two people sit at a table by an oblong picture window.
Sun lights up their hands which are curled round coffee cups.
The window is made of safety glass. There have been announcements:
location of lifebelts, life rafts, long and short blast of a horn.
While words are hidden at the obscure side of imagination,
other people are queuing for lunch or buying alcohol in the shop.
The folded hands are the back of playing cards, The Queen of Spades, operas, novellas, the shortest of short stories.
It is not strange to see these cards turn into sea gulls.
A white ferry is a city where nothing is permanent.
Tomorrow is the publication date of my second collection Nothing serious, nothingdangerous. The book is already on Amazon and has been available for pre-publication orders from Indigo Dreams Publishing.
The publishers have selected six accessible poems for the author page, and the author photo is by my nephew Ted Köhler who lives in the Netherlands and is beginning to build up a photography portfolio. The end of November is too close to the festive season for an official launch. That will be here in Manchester, at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation on Tuesday 3 March.
The title was inspired by a Raymond Carver poem called My Boat. Raymond Carver is one of my all-time favourite poets. Someone I return to when I feel stale and in a negative frame of mind.
The poem Why are we in Vietnam? was written on a workshop at the wonderful Almassera Vella, Spain. We were to find any book in the library, open it at random and use a few lines as a starting point for a poem. Then we were to imagine finding a postcard inside the book. Where was the postcard from? What was written on the back? Who had sent it? I picked the paperback because of its intriguing title. It’s by Norman Mailer. I was surprised to find the lines and I imagined there would be an art card inside, a card I’d bought and forgotten about. It’s a reminder how working with “found” materials can easily trigger our creativity. The poem was commended in the 2016 Havant Open Poetry Competition.
Why are we in Vietnam?
It has held up the broken leg
of a single bed in the attic.
Everything is dusty now.
Who brought this Panther
paperback into my life?
Then the trail of the blood
took a bend, beat through dwarf alder.
The postcard isn’t of Cezanne’s gardener
seated upright in his chair,
or Venetian gondoliers.
Didn’t want to die in those woods,
Green lines, black dots,
small yellow triangles,
Miro’s insects and birds.
Neat black lines for the address,
the black box for a stamp.
To the left white space,
the white space of that Alaska.