Tag Archives: poem

Liberation Day

Bourdon

Bourdon bell, Waalsdorpervlakte

Even inside my caravan I could hear the dark sound of the Bourdon bell, just over a mile away in the dunes. The Waalsdorpervlakte is one of the major Second World War memorials in the Netherlands. On the evening of the 4th of May, there are formal gatherings everywhere in the Netherlands. The King and Queen will be on the main square in Amsterdam with other dignitaries, taking turns to lay wreaths.

However, there is something deeply moving about the gathering in the dunes. It is the location where around 250 people were executed during the war, many of whom had been active in the resistance. The area is part of a protected nature reserve, close to Scheveningen where those about to be killed were kept in prison (locally called the Oranjehotel), and close to the beach.

The first formal commemoration was here in May 1946 when there were just four wooden crosses. Later they were replaced with four bronze crosses. Local volunteers will have placed rows of flowers in the colours of the Dutch flag (red, white and blue) in front of those crosses. They also ring that large Bourdon bell and stop it just before 20:00. After two minutes’ silence and the national anthem, they start ringing the bell again. People can then walk past and leave a wreath, a bouquet, or just a single flower. The bell is rung until the last person has walked past and paid their respect. That may be close to midnight.

Liberation Day is celebrated annually on the 5th of May, with major celebrations every five years.

This poem will be included in my second collection, due out early autumn.

Here I am walking …

Here I am walking with a small horse.
I found it on the path to the supermarket
where it stood, eyes closed, by yellow gorse.

All this happened a long time ago,
before I was born, before the war,
and the rope in my hand smells of horse.

We can turn to the right, walk over
the dual carriageway, head for the dunes,
four bronze crosses to remember

the war dead and we’ll arrive,
place our feet on the beach
where it’ll soon be night.

Is it a competition?

 

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Virtues of Unity, by Halima Cassell

Is it a competition? the woman with dark hair and glasses asked. I stood writing in a small notebook.  On the contrary, I said. I told her this installation is a major and ongoing project. The artist Halima Cassell was born in Kashmir, then raised in the UK. In England she is called a “foreigner” or “second generation migrant”, so she has always been aware of issues of identity. However, when she visited Pakistan as an adult in 2009, she was called “British Asian” or more frequently “a foreigner from England”.

This sense of double dislocation was the trigger for Virtues of Unity. Different countries produce different colours and textures of clay. Each sculpture has its own design. Superficially, we seem dissimilar, but we share DNA. We all come from the clay of the earth and will return to that same elemental clay. The shape of the sculpture resembles the earth, the holes remind us of the womb and the birth canal. Halima was pregnant with her first child when she conceived the project.

So far, Halima has made 39 vessels. Her aim is to make 195, one for each of the countries in the world today. It will be a life-long journey. Each of the sculptures has been made from the clay of that country. The designs of each vessel and the titles represents a positive quality of that country, eg the Netherlands is called Harmony.

I was on a writing workshop at Manchester Art Gallery and we were to imagine a public superhero with a piece of art in the Gallery. I have been pleased to read that the under 35’s are streaming the composer J S Bach. He has been one of my superheroes for many years.

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Virtues of Unity

He seemed invisible to visitors,
though he was dressed in a costume
of the period, and his wig resembled
curved waves of a waterfall.

In truth, I thought he was part
of the installation: thirty-nine spheres,
each one representing a country and
made from the clay of this country.

He moved slowly anticlockwise,
stopped at the small ceramic vessel,
a creamy white called Faith.
The positive quality of Germany.

A slow smile grew on his face
when he saw there were no openings,
that the vessel seemed restful,
flowering into a solid cathedral.

Russet, tan, black, brown, beige, taupe,
grey, creamy-white, white. Eyes fixed
on his native country, he started humming
Jesu, joy of man’s desiring, and I was glad.

 

John and Mary meet …

 

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A romantic display at the 2018 Keukenhof, the Netherlands

A poem for Valentine’s Day:

 

John and Mary meet

John and Mary meet.
John and Mary greet.

The Film and Reels.
The Cog and Wheels.

John falls first.
Therefore, he kneels.

Mary thinks she knows
what John feels.

So, Mary falls as well,
as far as John can tell.

The sorcerer, a spell.
The Bell and Peals.

John and Mary greet.
John and Mary eat,

more sour than sweet.
Their eyes no longer meet.

A Golden Shovel poem about Brexit…

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The Campo, Siena, Italy.

The Golden Shovel form was invented by Terrance Hayes. His poem Golden Shovel is a tribute to the poem We Real Cool by another US poet Gwendolyn Brooks. It is a poem about a group of young black men playing pool in the Golden Shovel. Terrance Hayes’ poem stays close to the subject of the original poem. You can find it on the Poetry Foundation site.

A Golden Shovel poem takes a line from another poem and places the words at the end of the lines of the new poem. So, Terrance Hayes’ poem starts:

When I am so small Da’s sock covers my arm, we
cruise at twilight until we find the place the real

men lean, bloodshot and translucent with cool.
The UK is inching closer and closer to the 29 March deadline for leaving Europe. I’ve had chronic “Brexit Anxiety Disorder” for over two years now, so was glad to escape for three weeks to Lanzarote – warmth, sun, walks by the sea, good books, company of family and friends.

Here is my first attempt at a Golden Shovel poem. It is inspired by a line from Nine Allegories of Power, by John Siddique: The accumulation of seconds in which empires are born, gather their height and become broken statues and friezes in museums far away.

In Blighty

So much here in Blighty has been lost, replaced or deleted: in the
grey city centre European Christmas markets confront an accumulation
of dirty duvets in doorways of offices and hotels. I hear the faint ticking of
clocks, hold memories of closed libraries, swimming pools. No seconds
are offered in foodbanks. Minutes after my friend put tinned rice in
a cardboard box in Sainsbury’s, she tripped on the cracked pavement which
has an outline in white paint. The people, many of them, dream of empires
returning. The past was always another country and pipe dreams are
made of clay. One man’s dream is another woman’s nightmare. I was born
in a land below the sea, the North Sea, a country where politicians gather
around tables, walk the corridors in The Hague to arrive, eventually, at their
destination: consensus, compromise, through polderen. I cry at the height
of hypocrisy when Britannia rules the waves, Jerusalem, and
other iconic symbols are stolen by those moneyed men who have now become
European citizens simply through buying in. The UK, my home for 45 years, is broken
but the chimneys of empty factories will outlive the stately statues
of proud admirals on horseback. They are already covered in pigeon shit and
some wear a fluorescent yellow jacket. High up in the Gallery are Victorian friezes
and dusty glass cases display the relics of civilisation, while upstairs in
the Elgin Room a silent queue shuffles, some people are crying. These museums,
(yes, every town or city has its Museum of Lost Marbles), have at the far
end the emergency exit, a green man running, running, running away.