Tag Archives: sonnet

Lockdown Sonnets

It is a huge pleasure to introduce this month’s guest poet: Hamish Wilson whom I met four years ago when I attended a workshop at Garsdale.

Having taught in schools for 31 years, Hamish moved to Cumbria in 2016 to set up and run The Garsdale Retreat, http://www.thegarsdaleretreat.co.uk, a residential creative writing centre. This has allowed him the time and space to develop his own writing career.

The Garsdale Retreat

He has had poetry published in two anthologies: This Place I Know – A New Anthology of Cumbrian Poetry (Ed. Darbishire, Moore, Nuttall/Handstand Press, 2018) and Play (Ed. Taylor, Williams/PaperDart Press, 2018) and was shortlisted for the following competitions: WoLF poetry competition in 2017 and 2018 and Write Out Loud’s Beyond the Storm (Poems From the Covid Era) in 2020. He has also had poems in Culture Matters and The Morning Star.

In 2019 he performed Parallel Lives, (a sonnet sequence with live music, film and photography, exploring the creative lives of John Lennon and Dylan Thomas) at The Brewery Arts Centre, Kendal.

Written in 2020, Lockdown Journal is a sonnet sequence which explores his experience of the pandemic between 28 March and 21 April, reflecting on daily life in Garsdale as well as the wider world.

I asked Hamish to select three sonnets from Lockdown Journal as a way of marking the second anniversary of the pandemic.

Saturday, 28 March, 2020

The road is quiet. The weekend bikers
who came back with the curlews, have not returned.
This first weekend of Covid lockdown’s like a
languid bank holiday without the burn

of off-comers. Spring greens on regardless,
daffs trumpet; lambs skip, suckle; horned Highland
cattle shadow on the fell; lapwings test
their stuntman wings, plummet to earth (as planned).

At home, virtual visitors ease the time
with supportive texts, puzzles, You Tube vids;
parodies of songs, coronavirus rhymes,
zoom-conferencing and Happy Hour bids.

The News At Six brings contact nationwide,
a thousand UK people now have died.

Friday, 10 April, 2020

Days which bleed to other days still make their mark,
Good Friday’s on regardless and they fear
we’ll enjoy it with dangerous outdoor larks.
We’re shown deserted beaches, seaside piers

which forecast what they hope the weekend brings;
‘Your front door’s safer than a protective mask…..’
cut to bench taped like a crime scene, chained up swings:
stay-at-home’s fine-enforced now not an ask.

Up here, where social distancing’s the norm,
our walk on Blea Moor fell is not policed –
the only drone, a distant train, informs
we’re not alone and breaks the blanket peace.

A sky lark ascends, arpeggios on high,
coal-black speck of dust in the empty sky.

Tuesday, 21 April, 2020

Larks, invisibly high, white noise the sky,
we climb the tussocked sea towards the cairn,
the railway shrinks to Hornby, lapwings cry
like broken squeaky toys. Spring warmth returns.

In shirt-sleeves, we zig-zag slow to summit,
pause to watch a matchbox car surprise
the Coal Road, before we reach the sunlit
limestone and meet a ram skull’s hollow eyes.

The news is billed as good as we’re prepared
with twenty thousand beds to match the needs
of future patients in intensive care.
The experts tell us now we can succeed

to break the rise in deaths, to turn the tide.
Up here, we see our house, our tiny, tiny lives.

Rehearsal for D-Day

10

Today in Normandy there are several large-scale and almost 300 local ceremonies to commemorate the D-Day landings 75 years ago. A total of 156,000 Canadian, American and British soldiers landed on the five beaches Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah.

Quite some years ago I saw an edition of the BBC TV series Coast. It was about the preparation for D-Day: it was very moving to see the black-and-white film of farms being emptied, civilians leaving their homes, lost tanks retrieved from the seabed. The programme also mentioned losses through mistakes.

The resulting poem Standing in for Utah is in sonnet form. The first stanza came quite easily, but I struggled to get the second stanza to fit the form. The sonnet typically has a volta, or “turn” after the first eight lines. I liked how I managed to include a physical turn in the second stanza! The poem was subsequently awarded the 2012 RedPage Sonnet Prize in an annual competition.

(Photo credit: Th G Koehler)

6

Standing in for Utah
They were given six weeks to pack and leave.
Round and oblong tables stowed in a van:
Hannaford the Butchers. Empty farms grieve
for cows, sheep taken by women and men.
Forty-six square miles behind Slapton Sands,
gravel, dunes, the flooded marshes of Lyme Bay.
A cold, still, grey hinterland that stands
in for Utah, the rehearsal for D-day.
Three thousand people, animals, the year
before sent to live in another place.
Now American boys are sheltered here
and dodging live ammo with sudden grace.
How small, the blue Heritage Coast dots on the map.
Distant that April night when Start Bay was a trap.

Operation Tiger was the code name.
One Tank Landing Ship keeled over and sank
in just six minutes, the wheelhouse aflame.
That boat spewed burning gasoline from its flank.
German Schnellboote fired the torpedo.
Rusted-up lifeboat tackle abandoned;
never told how to use life belts, below
seven hundred and forty-nine men drowned.
This is my ship and I am going back,
Lieutenant John Doyle, skipper, who turned,
against orders. Picked up shapes limp and black;
clinging on to charred life rafts, men who’d burned.
Destiny is shaped by random things, often small:
wrong frequencies, second chances, the place where you fall.

Refusal of a visit visa (1)

I’m flying out on Saturday, so can’t take part in one of the women’s processions that are being held in the four political capitals: London, Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh on Sunday. Those taking part will be given a sash in one of the suffragette’s colours – white (purity), green (hope) and violet/purple (loyalty and dignity). Manchester is the birthplace of the suffragette movement. The Pankhurst Centre is just a few miles from where I live.

processions-2018_-courtesy-of-artichoke

Suffragette Procession, courtesy of Artichoke

Yesterday I realised that this top, bought in Holland, is in the suffragette colours! Okay, the green is turquoise.

Pankhurst jacket

The Pankhurst Centre published a booklet – essays, memories – to celebrate its tenth anniversary in 1997. The one poem included was mine: a sonnet of sorts.

A line to Mrs Pankhurst

Leaving space for dreams between
the cooking and the dressing of the tree
Purple White and Green

Counting wrinkles on baubles I flee
to caress the turkey and knock
about the choice: dead or free.

Skimming fat off steaming stock
to start afresh, to say seems equal folly
Purple White and Green I fill my sock.

With another drink I might feel jolly.
Outside fairy lights among a flurry of snow.
I shudder when he pulls me under the holly

and Purple White and Green I know
that maybe next year I will go.