Tag Archives: poems

The secret of flying

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I am delighted to introduce this month’s poet.  David Underdown and I met a few years ago on a residential writing workshop.

David Underdown (www.davidunderdown.co.uk) has recently come to live in Hebden Bridge. Though a Mancunian by birth most of his life has been spent in the West of Scotland, latterly on the Isle of Arran where he is an organiser of the McLellan Poetry Competition. His two collections, both from Cinnamon, are Time Lines (2011) and, in 2019, A Sense of North. David Constantine describes his poems as ‘watchful’: ‘he gives us a view from (in his own words) ‘a window / we did not know was there’, he makes ‘a halo round the ordinary’’.

 

The secret of flying


The breakthrough is to stop thinking
about aerodynamics. Concentrate
on the immeasurable pleasures
of floating above roofs
and the open mouths of chimney pots

stems of road budding
houses, the rumple of fields
and, beyond, the dark spot of a copse
or how the river feels
up into its tree-lined tributaries.

And later, after that first step
into space
the art of soaring on thermals
of passing over boundaries
a sense of north.

 

Against the tide

Down here the river has widened,
already flooding salt for half the day,
mud-bound for the rest.
The tides wipe clean
the mazy prints of wading birds.
Below the bridge there’s broken masonry,
the pier where the cobbles stop,
and then it’s willow herb and buddleia
all the way to the sea’s flat-line.

Easy to see why you linger
to watch the gulls circle,
catching the hum from the bypass.
If you could, you would turn
and find your way upstream again
past viaducts and fat meadows,
solid farmsteads set round by trees,
and feel, as the land draws in,
the younger waters quicken.

There, where the uplands open out
you would track each beck
up to its marshy watershed
to understand how it started,
the long journey to the sea
and what alternatives there nearly were.
But the tide is turning,
colder wind roughening the water,
staining it dark, draining it out.

 

Shrine

The narrow path is steep
with scents of pine and juniper that lead you on
to where a lintel at the cavern’s mouth
will make you stoop so low
as to leave the outer world behind.
Enter, and all falls away,
though you, a frail and used-up thing,
and hunched, are still in hope,
for once inside the roof is lofty, almost limitless.
From waves of ancient seas, stone lolls in tongues.
And there, within, no god, but a reminder
of what a god might be: a simple table,
faded cloth, gifts that some might misjudge poor,
small money, keepsakes, herbs as grateful prayers.

To be there for an hour, and still,
is more than some can stand, but do
and you’ll leave naked in yourself
as if unclothed of need, and shuffle out
to blink in new-found light
with sun upon your head.

 

Notes for a solitary walk

For M.W. 1951 – 2014

This morning you are walking for her,
a small thing you can do, on a day
of deep green shadows and granite glitter,
that, if she were here, she would love.

Today, as she is not here,
you will not go the usual way
across the burns through stands of birch
where the dog would flex at the scent of deer,

but further, up the glen where even in her lifetime
the last men were still mining the hill.
You will shin up that shoulder of Cioch na’ Oighe
to see the whole Clyde laid out,

just how, if she had ever had the chance,
she would have chosen to arrange it –
the named near hills and the unnamed hills of the horizons
and the spaces of water between.

You will walk south along your home’s spine
for her to count its line of rocky vertebrae
and marvel at the openness
of all these lands of the West.

You will talk to her of travelled roads
and also of oceans you might have crossed
if there had been time, until,
reaching the lip of Coire Lan,

you will leave the broad path and drop down
below Am Binnein to the White Water
that leads (with no time now to stop)
past home to the indifferent sea.

Father’s Day

Vader

 

My father died a few weeks after his 75th birthday in October, 1990.  He had a talent for music: singing in and conducting choirs, and playing the church organ for many years. Here is a picture of him as a young man: a somewhat anxious look, wanting to do a good job of transporting my mother and me safely.

The poem Prelude and Fugue was published in the anthology, Poems from the Readaround, Tarantula Press, 1995.
Prelude and Fugue

I enter and dare a glance at your effects –
straight rows of books in alphabetical order
the white board emptied
pens and pencils (four of each)
manuscript paper and a rubber
on the Yamaha
You were filling in the bass line

Music for a while shall all your cares beguile

You kept some organ pipes in the loft.
You were going to build one.
What happened to those when you moved
into the flat?

Sometimes I turned the pages for you
feet darting across the pedals
When I was twelve I left the choir
and gave up singing

Your black shoes scuffed at the side

The Catholics paid best you said
a bonus for weddings and funerals

Glad not to be the corpse

NWA_ScottishBookTrust_HIGHRES_January_18_2018_KatGollock_-73_Lydia_Harris-200x300
A knock-out title for a poetry book, I should say. Lydia Harris and I met on the Poetry Business Writing School in 2012, the year Smiths Knoll published her pamphlet.
The others are glad not to be the corpse is the first line of a poem with the title
We make a video  on All Saints, North Street for English Heritage.

Many of Lydia’s poems have this filmic quality. They’re typically condensed narratives, with arresting first lines, and slivers of telling monologue or dialogue. They are also a masterclass in choosing titles. Could you resist I couldn’t ask if he was glad he’d married me; Widow to step-son; Lice-infested sea trout; Oxygen mask? The next poem is a delicious example:

The rolls arrive at the Inchnadamph Hotel

She doesn’t say ‘I never should have married you’,
instead tries I’ve cleaned our tennis shoes.
He spots the van through his binoculars,
the rattle on the cattle grid alerts the lad who helps.

The rolls brim with themselves,
two each, in baskets on the tables,
they smell of steam and Morag’s overall,
the early morning shuffle in the bakery.

A twist of butter opens out, floats on cloud.
Perhaps I’ll find a horseshoe charm, a wind-up bird.
She reaches for the marmalade.

I’d like a Harvey’s Bristol Cream, he says.
Tonight, she laughs, at five.

The day’s a swing-boat,
red plush seats, a fringe of gold.
He’s helped her in,
pulled the rope to make it rise.

 
Shortly after we met, Lydia moved to Scotland. She has made her home on one of the northern Orkney islands, a small but vibrant community. Recently, her pamphlet of Westray poems An unbolted door was published. I’m very pleased I can share a few poems from the book here. Lydia’s website is homeabout.co.uk

 

Lydia

 

How to Approach the Pier

With a bowline tied to your monkey-fist,
with your heaving-rope coiled sun-wise,
bow to Faray, engine in reverse.

With your stern door lined up to the ramp,
to starboard, the quarry, slumped
where the stones for the pier were hacked free.

With outlines of Wideford and Keelylang
papered on the skyline. The tide running high
and the wind southerly.

With trails of foam in your wake,
Geldibust to port. With the stanchions easy,
hung with tyres.

With a route pressed to your palm,
in your pouch, the honed spoon
and that knapped flint from Howar.

 

Jeemo Services My Van in January

He keeps spare bulbs in a fridge,
cattle in the byre next door,

spreads shafts and flanges
round the anvil
like the gaming pieces
and spindle whorls from Scar,

the woman who bore them
so long dead
she’s in the sky
over Ouseness at night,
unravelling her skins.

 
From the Box Bed

Our sheets are sails on the sweet hay sack
and we sail to the moon with an ebb and a flow.

Your hands smooth my throat in the starlit room,
there’s nothing to say but the brush of flesh.

My lips drink your breath and the tide is in,
the clock on the wall makes the only sound

but for the air as it leaves your lungs,
sweeter than scallops from the pan,

for where has it been,
inside your skin and I take you in.

Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody

Rotterdam 015

Marianne Carolan, Rotterdam, 2008.

This week my friend Marianne would have celebrated her birthday.  One of my best memories is the trip I made with Marianne and other sponsors to Lalibela, Ethiopia in January 2007, during the Timket celebrations. Marianne had set up the Lalibela Educational Trust in 2006, to ensure there would be enough funding for sponsored children when they moved into secondary and tertiary education – university, nursing college.

With her 2007 Christmas card she sent a change of address: she’d bought a flat in Rotterdam, to be close to her new partner.  She was going to join an accordion orchestra and find a violin teacher.  I booked my flights in November 2007, the month Marianne’s GP mis-diagnosed, telling her symptoms were just Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).  After the photo was taken Spring 2008, Marianne donated her accordion to the woman director of the orchestra.

 

Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody

The March visit had been planned
as a celebration of your retirement.
We walked on Calshot beach
summing up our lives, loves,
gifts and regrets.

Later, in your study upstairs,
we listened, connected
to your white MP3.
I couldn’t stop myself
from humming along.

Your ex-colleague (younger,
glasses, a little overweight)
started to speak in the silence –
when the men have stopped singing.
At your cremation they let
that alto voice fade away

Rain, rain, rain …

 

rain

 

This poem by Lemm Sissay is a great example of “concrete” poetry: the physical shape of the poem fits with the subject matter. Rain is on a wall on Oxford Road, Manchester, between the Whitworth and Manchester University. It’s the partner of Hardy’s Well, the poem by Lemm Sissay that is on the wall of a pub. I blogged about that in July last year. The title of the piece is What a Waste!

The last few days it has been raining here in Manchester, though the sun comes out now and then. It made me think of the famous poem Rain by Don Paterson. You can find it on http://www.poetry.org the site of the Academy of American Poets. It’s mostly in four-line stanzas and has end-rhymes, and starts:

I love all films that start with rain:
rain, braiding a windowpane
or darkening a hung-out dress
or streaming down her upturned face;

The poem ends with a one-line stanza which is a very striking “turn”. Many poems have turns, most famously, of course, the sonnet form with its volta. Paterson has:

and none of this, none of this matters.

 
My rain poem is in my collection Another life. There are several turns in the poem, including in the final stanza.

The Lido, Clifton

It is dry this Monday morning.
I wonder what it’s like swimming here
when it rains. Just then the drizzle starts,
a gently pulsating rhythm.

Bristol had the oldest open-air lido
in the country. Refurbished Grade II
it sits between the backs of offices.

The water is warm, kept at this
steady temperature. Floating on my back
I see the movement of clouds.

The following year my friend
would abandon me once I became ill,
but here we are drawing small ripples
in the water, each of us in our own lane.

American Dream

Jim Caruth
This month’s poet is James (Jim)  Caruth. We met in 2012 on the Poetry Business Writing School. He has had several pamphlets and a collection published: A Stone’s Throw (Staple Press, 2007), Marking the Lambs (Smith/Doorstop, 2012), The Death of Narrative (Smith/Doorstop, 2014) and Narrow Water (Poetry Salzburg, 2017).

Jim says: I was born in Belfast, have lived in South Africa and, for the last thirty years, in South Yorkshire. Like all itinerants, that has left me with a need to question what I mean by home.

Many of James’ poems are a search for a definition, a means to find some way to articulate the past (whether real or imagined) and put names and faces to the ghosts.

I admire his ability to say so much in few words with accurate and delicate detail. I’m delighted to share Jim’s work here.

 
American Dream

Each time I tell it differently.
It was Autumn, a skirr of leaves
in Washington Square, old men playing chess,
two women on a bench drinking Zinfandel
from crystal flutes while the Cuban boys danced salsa.

Summer maybe, a man stretched on his bed,
the wail of sirens from the streets
as cockroaches scratch in the walls
and the woman in the next apartment
makes love in Spanish.

And on a sidewalk in the East Village,
a man with a sign – Gulf War Vet,
one trouser-leg flapping from the knee,
till a fat cop in his stayprest blues kicks
the one good leg, fingers his polished holster
and raises a night-stick to point the way home.

Or was it late Spring when we saw them
on Charles Street, heard the young one yell –
keep your freekin hands off me
as the other raised two pale palms
and turned away as her face fell apart.

No, it was Winter, a trace of snow
on the streets when I took a photograph of you
by an office window – Divorce$300,
as you lifted your hand to your heart
and sang – God Bless America.

 

Traces

He preferred horses to people.
Recognised that look of madness
in their eyes. Loved to run
a calloused hand along their sheen,
feel the taut length of a sinew
with knowing fingers.

Two months before he died,
we found ourselves stranded
across a table in a pub,
empty conversation rattling
the space between us
like a spoon in a pot.

As he looked at the walls
decorated with the past,
a bridle, collar and traces,
his eyes washed clear of me.
But I swear I heard him say,
Walk on. Walk on boy.

 

41+David+Goad

By David Goad

A First Glimpse of Snow

Strikes and demonstrations,
burning necklaces in the townships,
the rhetoric of bull-whips in Adderley Street.
It must have been winter, eighty-five,
when the Cape had a first fall of snow
and I drove you and Alice to Franschoek.
Up through vineyards, past dams of green water,
till we reached that point where the dirt road
was washed away and we got out to watch
a flock of guinea fowl root amongst the rooikrans.
We stood, sipping the clear air in slow breaths
as she laughed at their kek-kek, kek-kek
and you lifted her in your arms, so a child
might have a first glimpse of snow.

 
What’s the Point?

My father would say
he could never see the point
in climbing a hill
though they rose like a wall
at the top of each street.

Never looked down
on the city at night,
jewels on black velvet,
never once felt peace
rise up like a breath.

He never stood on Cave Hill
to watch the ferries
slip down the Lough,
never thought that grey stretch
as a road to anywhere.

He never climbed the slopes
of Divis on a spring afternoon,
never lay amongst the heather
to watch a kestrel hover
as if it was pinned to the sky.

I am taking my father’s ashes
up Carnmoney Hill.
In the hearse’s slow climb
I hear a voice in my head:
What’s the point in this?

Tony Hoagland

I was sad to learn that the US poet Tony Hoagland has died of cancer, aged only 64.

Marie Howe has said of his work “Hilarious, searing poems that break your heart so fast you hardly notice you’re standing knee deep in a pool of implications. They are of this moment, right now – the present that we’re already homesick for”.

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Bloodaxe published What Narcissism means to me in the UK in 2005. What many of the poems really demonstrate is the effect of intriguing opening lines:

* That was the summer I used The Duino Elegies/in all of my seductions
* That was the summer my best friend/ called me a faggot on the telephone,
* In Delaware a congressman/accused of sexual misconduct
* What I notice today is the aroma of my chiropractor’s breath
* Maybe I overdid it/when I called my father an enemy of humanity.
* Sometimes I like to think about the people I hate.
* But now I am afraid I know too much to kill myself.
* The sparrows are a kind of people/who lost a war a thousand years ago;
* To whomever taught me the word dickhead,/I owe a debt of thanks.
* But what about the courage/of the cancer cell

Two of the poems that stayed with me are about his parents. The poem Lucky starts:

If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to help your enemy
the way I got to help my mother
when she was weakened past the point of saying no.

On the next page is Benevolence which starts When my father dies and comes back as a dog

The collection has several poems about illness too. The final poem Emigration’s first stanza:

Try being sick for a year,
then having that year turn into two,
until the memory of your health is like an island
going out of sight behind you