Tag Archives: Oversteps Books Ltd

My father’s hands

Photo Credit Pavlofox on Pixabay

As today is Father’s Day, I’m posting this poem by Kathleen Kummer. Here she combines the personal and the public, with her reference to the miners’ strikes and the General Strike of 1929.

My father’s hands

For a short time they handled a pencil, maybe
a squeaky one on a slate. Abruptly,
they, they found themselves grasping a pick
in the dark. When the strikes came, obedient,
they downed their tools and, at street corners,
were clasped and breathed into for warmth,
patted the greyhound of a mate waiting
for the pubs to open. They withdrew their labour
from the mine owner once and for all
in the General Strike of 1929.
In the next phase, though, still handling the black stuff,
they weighed it, bagged it, loaded it onto
the back of a lorry. Then it was clay pipes
instead of coal, contorted monsters,
drab, glazed brown, easily chipped.

This is the time from which I remember
those hands, their dull sheen, as if
sanded down, the skin agonisingly tight,
with cracks, near the nails, manicured with a penknife,
not made for tenderness and caresses,
but good safe hands to be held in.

Last night, as I warmed my hands at the fire,
I winced at the memory of his, held so close
to the flames and hot coals, they almost touched
so cold, they could never again be warm.

That summer day – a poem

Dartington Hall, Devon

My friend and poet Kathleen Kummer will have her birthday soon. We have visited the Dartington Estate in Devon several times: to hear the then Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion read, to listen to music during the Music Summer School & Festival which was established in 1947. Alwyn Marriage of Oversteps Books invited me to read during the Ways with Words Literary Festival. It was wonderful seeing people out on the lawn, resting in deckchairs, or queuing up to get their book signed by famous authors.

Dartington Hall is a spectacular Grade I listed building. The gardens are grade II listed: a sculpture by Henry Moore, a yew tree that is 1500 years old and a row of sweet chestnut trees believed to be about 400 years old. The gardens are a delight in every season. Here is Kathleen’s poem about the gardens.

The Tiltyard, Dartington Hall Gardens

That summer day

That summer day at Dartington,
everything familiar, beautiful:
the corrugation of the bark
of ancient trees, the sun behind
the scarlet maple leaves, the swathes
of wildflowers in the glades, warm
to the touch the might buttocks
of Henry Moore’s reclining figure,
the bench, its oak smooth, silver,
following the stone wall’s curve,
on which we sat. Unexpected,
the robin landing next to us,
a fledgling, plump, who stayed ten, fifteen
minutes until his mother called him.
And, in the little wave of sadness
which washed over us, because
he looked so young, indivisible
as water is, this swell of happiness.

Item – a poem

Photo credit Stux via Pixabay

This week I am featuring another one of Kathleen Kummer’s poem. It’s short and the neutral title belies the heart-breaking content. The poem is addressed to her adult son.

Item

You left behind: your silver spoon –
there are days when I stir my coffee with it;
the drawing of yourself with the Mona Lisa eyes;
I sometimes wonder how you got the chestnut avenue
from that angle, and I’m suddenly happy, as though
you’d just sauntered in from school and were upstairs
moving your table, shouting down you were hungry;
all the photographs of you – if I flicked the pages
fast enough, would those in the top right-hand corner,
at least, spring jerkily into life?

Item: a bank account – didn’t you need
the money? Your sisters; me. People hope
I don’t mind them asking about you. As if
in a language I’m learning, I say, no, I don’t mind.

They came at night

Credit Diane Moss on Pixabay

In the Netherlands, on the evening of 4 May, the war dead will be remembered. Here is my friend Kathleen Kummer’s poem about an event that happened in Holland during the Second World War. Kathleen’s mother-in-law was a published poet.

They came at night

Then there was the night they came for the horses.
There would have been no warning before
the clang of jackboots on the cobbles in the yard
of the outlying farm and the hammering on the door.

By the time they reached the edge of the village,
the farmers were up and had slipped their bare feet
into clogs. Behind the door, they were waiting
for the clattering of the hooves on the road to cease.

Not that there would have been silence as this farmer
moved, if need be at gunpoint, to the stable:
the shifting of hooves, the neighing, the whinnying,
he would know, without finding the words, meant betrayal,

his, as far as the horses knew,
which may be why he came to my mother-in-law’s.
I want that poem you wrote, he said,
that’s being passed round, about the horses.

And now I write mine, seventy years since then,
for when I can’t sleep, I often listen
as the clatter of hooves on those roads in Holland
swells in the peace of a night in Devon.

Eating a Croissant in a Graveyard

St Mary’s, Totnes in Devon

For Easter Sunday I have chosen this poem by my friend Kathleen Kummer. The title is intriguing, the details are precise: we sense they are based on the poet’s own experience. Then there is the reference to that well-known Stanley Spencer painting of the Resurrection. You can see it here

I asked Kathleen about the graveyard. It’s part of St. Mary’s Church, a Grade I listed building in the centre of Totnes, Devon. Perhaps, I could have worked it out for myself: the poem mentions the iconic ‘steep hill’ in Totnes. Kathleen and I have walked up and down it many times, and hope we can do so again soon. Easter Greetings to you all!

Eating a Croissant in a Graveyard

I’m eating a croissant in a graveyard, grassed over.
People come here to rest, eat a sandwich.
(I wish I’d bought something less flighty, like
a scone or an Eccles cake.) The graves
are few and not recent. There’s a table-top tomb,
ideal for a picnic, but respect is shown:
low voices, no chirrup from a mobile phone;
people sit on the wall or the grass. I’m expecting
that Labrador to cock his leg, but he doesn’t.

Across the street, the bustle of the market
just reaches us, and I think of the dead
around me, of how this town was theirs,
that they walked up the steep hill, stopping
to speak to their friends about their simple,
complicated lives. When I close my eyes,
I see them clambering out of their graves,
as in that Resurrection painting
by Stanley Spencer, looking dazed,
but as if their discomfiture won’t last long,
with the green hills they knew around them,
the sky blue and summery. And surely
the warm-hearted townsfolk will welcome the dead.

It’s as if I’ve banished them by opening my eyes.
The place is empty, but for two men
in wheelchairs, parked with their backs to the view.

High Street, Totnes in Devon

Grapefruit – a poem

Credit via Pixabay: Jill Wellington

Such a strange fruit: many children don’t like it. I didn’t. Many years later I acquired a curved knife and I found it a tricky and time-consuming job to properly prepare the fruit. Here is Kathleen Kummer’s poem. It doesn’t specify who the people are, but I imagine it’s a mother, watched by children, that “he” is the husband. It’s an understated poem, but those details are precise and poignant.

Preparing grapefruit

Did she peel it – I don’t remember –
as though it were an orange? Or cut it
in half and make the usual precise
incisions, holding back the pith
like flaps of skin to extract the pulp?

Our eyes were on her hands as she worked
to unravel the strands from each segment of flesh
before it tumbled into the bowl.
Some fell apart, translucent droplets
shaped like tears. How many spoonfuls

would the sick body take of this butterfly food?
Would he sleep? I remember the light from the fire,
its warmth on our faces, in the drawing room
where now the double bed rode at anchor,
before the voyage out.

Fairy tale – a poem

photo credit: Enrique Meseguer, via Pixabay

On a writing workshop last weekend, I introduced Vasco Popa’s The Golden Apple: a round of stories, songs, spells, proverbs & riddles. I have been using some of the riddles and proverbs as writing prompts.

Vasco Popa (1922-1991) was Serbia’s greatest modern poet. Ted Hughes was an admirer of his work and wrote the introduction to his Collected Poems. Popa collected folk tales from many sources. He found a rich inspiration for his own poems in this “eternally living wellspring of folk poetry” which he combined with vivid imagery and a touch of the surreal.

Here are two riddles from The Golden Apple. The answers are at the end of the blog.

With an iron key
I open a green fortress
And drive out the black cattle

A horse with its pack goes into a house and comes out of it, but its tail never goes in.

Vasco Popa

Popa’s Collected Poems inspired my poem Fairy tale. It was first published in erbacce and then in my debut collection Another life (Oversteps Books Ltd, 2016).

Fairy tale

Someone needs to go to
a deep cupboard in a dark room
the others wait outside

The first one becomes
a grandmother with a stoop
then someone else steals
her white lace cap her smile
her soft voice
they go to lie still in a deep dark
bed in a cold room

Then someone else walks a long
way through the wood, across
the saddled serpent under a cold
sheet of dark clouds

That someone is dressed in crimson
already – it will save time
the old one will rescue the red girl
but they will not have enough
bricks to finish the job

after that someone else will get to be hungry
and someone will always be eaten

Answers to the riddles: Watermelon, Spoon.

The Old Olive Press

 

rear view

The Old Olive Press, view from the terraces at the rear

June was when I would visit the wonderful Almassera Vella (Old Olive Press) in Relleu, Spain. I have been on several one-week workshops with the incomparable Ann Sansom of the Poetry Business. Other poets from whom I learned a great deal were Mimi Khalvati and the late Matthew Sweeney.

Christopher North, himself a published poet, and his wife Marisa took two years to convert the old olive press into a stunning home. As you can see, they kept the actual press. Relleu is a one-hour drive from Alicante airport and about half an hour from Villajoyosa on the coast.

 

olive press 2

The olive press

 

Nowadays, Christopher and Marisa organise cookery workshops. You can also book B&B accommodation and the flat over the road is still available as retreat accommodation for writers.

The poem June rain is from my first collection Another life  published by Oversteps Books Ltd (2016).
June rain
for Cristopher and Marisa

It’s June and the rain is falling.
It is cooler and darker now.
It’s the rain we prayed for last night,
though we’d not meant to do such a thing.

The old women, eight or nine, spread
across benches outside the church.
Us along the tables, a line of snails,
sloping down towards the blue house.

It was speaking of Sundays now filled
with shopping and the silence
that binds Quakers together.

And it’s in silence we, snails,
all of us with our whorled shells
of stories, sit at the breakfast table.

The cheep-cheep-cheep of birds
after the rain is flowing into the room
and a fresh breeze that tells of new stories.

The Outsider

 

unnamed

Albert Camus

 

It seemed fitting to spend 31 January (Brexit Day) with a good old friend. She has the modern smart phone needed to scan my Dutch passport. It was good to have moral support: I had a crying fit during the identity check part of the application. Luckily, I only started crying after she’d taken my photo which the Home Office staff/system will check against the photo in the passport!  And the automatic check on my National Insurance (NI) number confirmed that I was eligible to apply for “settled” status.

I’ve been resident in the UK since 1973 and I have close friends here and my writing, but it has felt less and less like home after the 2016 referendum.

At secondary school (Gymnasium) we learned English, German and French and we crawled at a snail’s pace through l’Étranger, the 1942 novel by Albert Camus which is a classic in world literature.  Camus developed the philosophical concept of Absurdism and the way he died in a car accident, aged 46, could be considered absurd.

The poem is from my debut collection Another life, published by Oversteps Books Ltd in 2016.

On reaching his 102nd Birthday

He always liked his drink,
so it’s no surprise that Albert went North,
that unused train ticket in his pocket.

He is said to have died in a car crash,
but police do know people who
walk away and without a scratch.

After walking for weeks, he reached Norway
where the days are short
and the nights are made for alcohol.

Camus lived in a modest house
with a butcher’s block in the kitchen
where he cut reindeer and smoked.

A flock of swans flew through his dreams,
so he married the next woman to walk past,
taught her two sons to play football.

She taught him to sleep soundly at last.
A pied-noir at rest under the Herring Lights,
on the cold edge of man’s world.

Yellowish green and faint red glowing,
these arcs and rays and curtains of gas,
the fight against dawn and the sun.

Rembrandt van Rijn

Johnnes W

Rembrandt is always big business in the Netherlands, and especially this year: it is the 350th anniversary of his death. Everywhere there are items of merchandise for sale with Rembrandt’s paintings and etchings. I treated myself to a folder and bought birthday presents for friends. One of those was a birthday calendar. The Dutch have a tradition of hanging these inside the toilet, on the door!

I was raised a Protestant and for much of my childhood we lived down the road from the church where my father was the organist. Rembrandt was beginning to make a name for himself as a portrait painter when he did the portrait of Johannes Wtenbogaert. He was the founder and leader of the Remonstrant Brotherhood and preached religious tolerance. The poem was published in my debut collection Another life.

 
Portrait of Johannes Wtenbogaert, Remonstrant Preacher, aged 76

He stands there and we wonder what he thinks.
His head, resting like a deserted swan
in a nest of fine lace pleats. Did he shrink
even once from God’s black skull cap plan?

In a corner, placed to catch the light,
the book we expect is his bible. No,
those pages curling away from top right
are not yet half full, and only we know

this preacher would live till nearly ninety.
Too tired to protest, he faces Rembrandt
who paints a life-like sketch where we can see
the frayed edge of the limp cloth in his hand.