Tag Archives: Poetry

The Boy Who Found Fear

 

janie

Jane McKie’s collections of poetry are Morocco Rococo (Cinnamon Press, 2007), When the Sun Turns Green (Polygon, 2009), and Kitsune (Cinnamon Press, 2015). In 2011 she won the Edwin Morgan poetry prize and published a pamphlet, Garden of Bedsteads, with Mariscat Press, a PBS Choice. Her most recent pamphlet is From the Wonder Book of Would You Believe It? (Mariscat Press, 2016). She is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh and an Advisor to the Edwin Morgan Trust.

Jane’s poems have been described as “magnificently precise” and “spare and visceral, strange and accessible”. Jane is another poet from the 2012-13 Writing School and it’s a great pleasure to introduce her with three poems from Kitsune. The poem Leper Window was awarded first prize in the 2011 Edwin Morgan International Poetry Competition.

 
The Boy Who Found Fear

Boy made of sand
carries a black swan underarm
to jimmy windows, lift
all those little rubies
that wink in the small hours like digital clocks.
And as he crosses thresholds, lintels,
the grains of him unpick steadily
through the night,
ticking minutes, seconds
till he’s caught.

The man and his wife
get home. There he is –
black feathers on the floor,
pile of sand so powder-white
it makes them recall their Gold
Coast honeymoon and weep.
The thieving boy! They sweep him up
into a pan, chuck him out.
He can’t speak to tell them: Stop,
I’m sorry. A real boy at last.

 

Leper Window, St Mary the Virgin

The contagion of lepers
has lifted.

The low glass, where they crouched
even lower,

remains, but their breath,
their rash, their lack,

has passed into the lace
of shadows in the yard.

Where God looked
but did not touch,

the lip of sandstone
is purled with fissures.

 

Viking Horse-bone Ice Skates

The horse won’t know how its metatarsal
can be whittled by friction with the lake,
how the act of skating is part halting
glide, part planer blade; or how thick ice melts
back to health, its grooves, its scuffed ‘v’s, softening
to fill their own wounds. And the horse won’t know
how the skating boy, who opens his mouth
as he flies, will lose three blunt teeth, two milk,
one new; how these teeth, also, will be found.

Let’s abolish January

xmas baubles 2018

Winter passed.  The Christmas lights came down / together with the shabby stars / strung across the various shopping streets.   (Louise Glück, The White Series, from her collection Faithful and Virtuous Night.)

Today is Epiphany, day for putting those baubles away.  None have broken this Christmas. I read Lincoln in the Bardo over Christmas.  That reminded me of my January poem.

 

Let’s abolish January

Delete these damp and dreary days.
Disperse this suite of thirty-one.
The country ravaged by storms and floods.
Baubles broken, fir trees bare, marriages
cracking behind steamed-up windows.
January is the uninvited guest. Sea-sickness
feels eternal to the retching sailor.
Blue-black ink seeps from the ballot boxes.

By missing out January we would save lives,
livers, light bulbs, pointless resolutions;
but lose snowdrops and Epiphany.
And what of those destined to die
in that cold, dark cave of the year?
They would be doomed to wander,
blocking our chimneys, spooking children.
Singers without a voice, sailors without a boat.

Anxiety and Dogs

I was thrilled to get the news: Indigo Dream Publishing will publish my second poetry collection in early Autumn 2019. IDP are well-established, have won awards, and they publish about two-three poetry books a month. They’re organised and business-like: I’ve already signed the contract and had the template, with a production timetable.

When my debut collection got accepted in Spring 2016, I was prepared for a dip, or even worse: a few poet friends had told me they couldn’t write for six months. But I managed to keep writing, sending work out and it was summer…

This time I’ve plummeted: we’re heading for Winter; a lot of poems have been accepted elsewhere, and another 40+ have now been spoken for. When I get anxious, I try to deal with it by tidying up, clearing and de-cluttering. That was the worst thing I could have done! I deleted a lot of old so-so poems from my pc; then put dozens more so-so poems in a single file. I felt bereft and at a loss.

A good friend, a qualified proof reader, will go through the manuscript. I’ve checked, getting confused about punctuation: a comma, a colon, a semi-colon?? I’ve put them in and taken them out. Time to email it to my friend!

During the clearing and sorting, I came across a photo album. Here is a picture of one of the dogs in a poem that’ll be in the new book.

Pablo

Dogs

I would love to buy a recording
of the dogs we had, but not for long.

The grey poodle called Pablo
with a disease of the stomach.

The two grown hunting dogs
that howled through the nights

of a week, tore a door to shreds,
were returned to the owner.

Our red Irish setter Alexander,
re-homed when my father

gave up the battle and our whole
family moved into that small flat.

Exploring the Orinoco

It’s a pleasure and a privilege to introduce Alan Payne, the poet featured this month. We met during the 2012-13 Poetry Business Writing School.

Alan Payne

Alan was born in Trinidad and lives in Sheffield. His pamphlet Exploring the Orinoco was a winner in the 2009 – 10 Poetry Business competition. He has had poems published in Smiths Knoll, the North and Scintilla, and in various anthologies including The Sheffield Anthology: Poems from the City Imagined, and Cast: The Poetry Business Book of New Contemporary Poets. He worked for many years as a teacher of young children.

His poems visit themes of loss, grief and migration. Alan writes with great economy, sometimes even sparseness. Poignancy is created by his selection of accurate and telling details. Alan always writes with empathy for the people in his poems. His poems taught me that it is fine to revisit the themes that continue to haunt us.

The poems Colombie and Exploring the Orinoco are from the 2009 pamphlet. Menu and Silence are published in The North, issue 60, August 2018.

Colombie

Sudden stars pulled us through
the Dragon’s Mouth.
Port of Spain extinguished.
Home and homeliness
already a legend.

Next day, briefly ashore
in Guadeloupe –
the patois a distorted version
of a beloved tongue,
its lilt curled in my ear.

Crossing the Atlantic –
a band’s orchestrated goodbyes
lost in the wind,
the thundery embrace
of the Northern Range
an echo in the swell,
my stuffed alligator
a talisman.

Fabled Plymouth.
And the journey north, by train,
to Apperley Bridge.
There, in that no-man’s-land,
I tasted pickled onions.
Assumed a stranger’s skin.
A worsted suit.

 
Exploring the Orinoco

With the Thames in their hearts,
and childhood fevers in common,
my father and his dead brother
explored the Orinoco.

The boat of my father’s faith
carried them upstream
to the port of Encaramada,
past the granite domes
of Punta Curiquima.

There, on a deserted island,
they camped for the night,
sitting on the scattered husks
of turtle shells,
reading in the moonlight,
and dining. A faint stink
of rotting crocodiles
corroded the air

During the night, a jaguar
added discord to the howling
of their dogs,
and cataracts answered
the rumbles overhead.

Once, a small black monkey,
like a widow in mourning,
returned the sweet, sceptical smile
of my father’s brother
as he glanced up
from his beloved Darwin.
With a pencil, he underlined
a few words; then disappeared
into the forest
of my father’s mind,
where their mother’s grief
(one boy saved, one boy lost)
left him bereft.

 
Menu

Stereotypical, I know, this woman
carrying an urn on her head, smiling,
as if it’s nothing to have walked
to the market in Tunapuna,
and this man who, good-naturedly,
holds out his cup, and this donkey,
waiting patiently by the man’s side,
still, with well-behaved ears.

My father framed it, hung it on the wall,
a reminder of S.S. Colombie,
au revoir, the French waiter
with one blue eye, one green eye,
Trinidad, Martinique, Guadeloupe,
and then the chilly Atlantic.

 

Silence

There was always silence in our house,
the silence before grace,
the silence following the Lord’s Prayer,
the silence of my father’s work
that seeped out from behind
his polished study door,
the silence of my mother’s brother
who, we were told, died in the war,
but as I later discovered
blew his brains out
in a car-park in Hammersmith
on receiving his call-up papers.

Above a thousand feet of space

 

D Wilson action

 

In the Balance

You pause beneath a boss of ice
above a thousand feet of space.
The picks of your axes barely bite:
it’s bullet hard, black with rock dust.
You’ve run out forty feet of rope,
placed only an ice-screw and screamer.
You’ve dreamed of this route for half your life.
Your calves ache. You can’t wait long.

Decision time. Weigh the following:-
an abseil retreat to blankets, pasta, beer;
the taste in your mouth if you bottle out;
November at work without a fix;
glimpses of where the pitch might ease;
a face at a window, Dad come home,
and you not knowing where you’ve been
or how to get back from it.

 
David Wilson turned to writing poetry a few years ago after being inspired by reading Derek Walcott’s poem ‘Midsummer, Tobago’ on the wall of a hospital waiting room in Leeds. He then discovered the Writing Days run by the Poetry Business in Sheffield and started writing poems of his own. His pamphlet Slope was published by Smith/Doorstop in 2016 and he has a collection coming out with them in 2019.

David was born and brought up in North London and studied at the London School of Economics, followed by a Master’s degree at Leeds University, which at the time had the only indoor climbing wall in the country and was close to excellent outcrop climbing. He has climbed extensively in the UK, Alps and further afield, at a standard best described as erratic.  In mid-life he got hooked on windsurfing, but writing about climbing has led him back into it.

After living in Leeds, David settled with his family in Harrogate. He has worked freelance for many years as an organisation development consultant. He now works part-time, exclusively in the area of academic leadership, helping people like Heads of Department to tackle the many challenges they face. He mainly works 1:1 with people and the diversity of their subject areas is a delight: from Medieval Welsh Poetry to Theoretical Physics to Cancer Research to Arabic, and that’s just in the past few weeks!  Favourite poets include Jane Kenyon, Les Murray, Jane McKie, Norman McCaig and Seamus Heaney.

Slope cover

David and I met on the 2012/13 Writing School and I’m delighted to share his work. Below are more poems from the pamphlet Slope. Everest was awarded 1st prize in the 2015 Poets & Players poetry competition, judged by Paul Muldoon. For a few technical terms: a cam is a device fitted into cracks to protect a lead climber. It has spring-loaded metal cams which grip the rock. A Micro-traxion gadget is a pulley that locks the rope, capturing what’s gained as a climber is hauled from a crevasse. A screamer is a sling which has stitches designed to rip and thereby absorb the energy of a fall. Typically used with doubtful ice-screws.

Stanage Edge

Summer’s returned for one day only,
blue sky, no wind, mist in the valleys,
bracken bronzing every hill,
the Edge’s gritstone silver in the sun.
Rock warm to touch. But holds won’t sweat.

I check my harness, knots and rack,
lay away, step high and up again to poise
off-balance, wriggle a cam into place,
then smear a slab, heels low, until
a crack grips my outstretched hand.

We linger on the edge. Smoke rises
straight up from the chimney at Hope.
It’s not a day to hurl ourselves against
but for dancing with, to feel alive
on Black Slab, Inverted V, Goliath’s Groove.

And it will light the long edge in our minds,
where name after name spells a life,
Flying Buttress and Left Unconquerable,
holds we could trust to be always there,
winds which threw every word away.

 

Everest

Once it was Chomolungma,
Mother Goddess of the Earth,
a face whose veil rarely lifted,
its whiteness the White Whale’s.

Now it’s like Elvis near the end,
a giant in a soiled jumpsuit,
blank, useful for percentages,
a sheet from which the music’s fled.

 

Alpine Partner

I was thinking of glaciers as metaphors,
you knew the car park’s exit code.
And you’d practised techniques
for rescue from a crevasse.

to dig a T slot, bury your ice-axe,
attach our micro-traxion gadget,
then fix the rope as a Z-haul
across the sweating surface, so that inch

by inch you heaved me up when I fell,
up from that cold place – its white walls
and longing, fins of green ice, pale blue caves,
darker blue depth beyond saying.

Illness poems

Emma Press have recently put out a call for submissions of poems on Illness. The closing date for your submission (maximum of three poems and up to 65 lines each) is 31 August. To be able to submit you must have bought one printed book or e-book in this calendar year. Emma Press is an active small publisher with a range of anthologies, individual pamphlets and collections. So that one book could pay for several submissions. I will be submitting and have ordered Postcard stories, mini-stories about Belfast.

The editors are looking to “express the experience of illness right across the spectrum” and are “keen to uncover invisible symptoms, as well as unravel the stigma of mental illness”.

Signs and humours cover0001

I have Signs and humours: the poetry of medicine on the shelf. This anthology holds 100 poems written over the last 2,000 years and it includes subjects such as autism, infertility, pancreatitis. It was edited by Lavinia Greenlaw who commissioned 20 poets to write on a topic of their choice. The poets were then introduced to medical specialists on that subject (for example, PTSD, glaucoma, malaria, psoriasis). Since 1982 I have had tinnitus in my right ear, so David Harsent’s poem Tinnitus spoke to me; a short extract:

A single note drawn out
beyond imagining,
pitched for a dog or a rat
by a man with a single string
on a busted violin.

There are also poems about how we respond  when faced with a diagnosis. The first few lines from Raymond Carver’s What the Doctor Said:

He said it doesn’t’ look good
he said it looks bad in fact real bad
he said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before
I quit counting them

There is Sharon Olds who accompanies her father to a meeting with the doctor who says that nothing more can be done: My father said /‘Thank you.’ And he sat motionless, alone,/with the dignity of a foreign leader.

Around AD 842, when he was paralysed, Po Chü-I wrote a short poem that ends:

All that matters is an active mind, what is the use of feet?
By land one can ride in a carrying chair, by water be rowed in a boat.

The anthology Signs and humours was published in 2007. It will be interesting to see the similarities and differences between this and the Emma Press Anthology. Will there be poems about eating disorders, body dysmorphia, internet addiction?

DRYING HER PRAYERS

Kasane

DRYING HER PRAYERS

As the rains of spring
Fall, day after day, so I
Fare on through time
While by the fence the grasses grow
And green spreads everywhere.

                           Izumi Shikibu (late 10th C)

Mother, you are hanging out prayers on the willow
but the ink hasn’t dried;
little flies scenting sweet gum embellish
your latest calligraphy.

I breathe on my hands, it is March,
My fingers are white as bamboo.
On the bridge, I hear the sisterly
slop of our sandals, still wait

for the god, hiding behind our gate,
to give chase, tap me on the shoulder,
offer a pale green scroll
with your name written there, words

golden, scattered like pollen.

 

This is a poem from Parting the Ghosts of Salt, a sequence of 15 poems. They are a series of letters exchanged between a mother, Tamiko, and daughter, Kasane, both of whom are married to sumo wrestlers. Each poem starts with a striking quote, from medieval and modern Japanese poetry. All the poems are entirely imagined, but they ring true. And it’s an interesting form.

Pam Thompson

Pam Thompson, this month’s featured poet, has published several pamphlets and her second collection Strange Fashion was published by Pindrop Press last year. Pam and I met on the Poetry Business Writing School in 2012. Pam has recently completed her PhD in Creative Writing. She is a free-lance writer, lecturer, writing tutor and reviewer. Her poems travel widely. There may be humour, but this is always combined with a clear eye for the telling detail and with compassion. Pam blogs at https://pamthompsonpoetry.com

Near Heaven – a journalist encountering Virginia Woolf is at once surreal, humorous and poignant. In the Abecedarian for Liam Pam uses the form – which can be tricky – in a natural way to tell a family story rich with detail.

 
Near Heaven

The lift doors open
on the wrong floor but she’s perfectly cheery.
Ms Woolf, I begin,
and she gives me that haughty, beady-eyed stare
like an intelligent red setter,
What is it you’re reading?
She pats a huge leather holdall,
her voice trails, … Of course … in my day we …
and sunsets … Eliot, with his green-powdered face
smiled like a girl
She’s drifted off my point.

To bring her back I say
that what the reader wants is
your favourite pen, coffee or red wine.
Your top ten diary writing tips,
what to do when the novel gets stuck.

At this rate we’ll never make the launch
The Wings? Waving at the Lighthouse?
These days I never even read the press release,
just take along fizz, their favourite fags
or something stronger; usually they’ll give
me all I want, sometimes a little extra.

So, Ms Woolf, the most dangerous place you’ve ever …?

I’m thinking she’s not heard the question
when our lift bell dings –
This must be your party, dear, she says, in the voice of my mother
and there they are, uncles, aunts, my father, all my cats,
two hamsters,
and I’m about to greet them, waving fizz, posh ciggies.

A hiss of words …a Schaeffercoffee … then fainter,
write before breakfast, garden, then write again,
take a little float down the river

the river

then she presses the button, the doors close, she ascends.

 
Abecedarian for Liam

All those years you had blonde hair –
back in Hong Kong they considered it lucky.
Cake in a posh hotel, you were six, born in the Year of the
Dragon, old people touched your hair, no inhibitions,
even when we were at your side, you were golden, a charm
for locals. Remember how you wondered if the Sikh doorman was
God? The photo shows him laughing, me
helping you blow out your candles,
I hope I made you wish, then you and the other kids
jumped all over the beds and the settee in our room,
Kowloon was a day or so away, and getting
lost, both of you so little – Derry only three – to be
meandering along the wrong road, away from the lights, with
Nanna too, Derry tired and crying, I was crying inside but kept
on pretending, and I’ve blanked it, but Henry
probably got us out of it, then the day we
queued for the tram to Victoria Peak and I’ve just
remembered Stanley, the shanty town we all mentally
stepped over, physically routed ourselves around,
the tee-shirts painted with your name in kanji,
up late eating Pringles, on a speedboat with Derry, Rosie and Lisa,
visiting a Shinto temple, posing outside with Nanna,
with Tom and Fauna, your favourite smoked salmon, scrambled eggs,
Xmas breakfast with champagne, and I could lie to
you when I’m telling you twenty-one years later, that the
zoo trip was on Boxing Day when I think that was the speedboat.