Tag Archives: The Poetry Business

The Nettlebed

Matthew Paul June 2020 (002)

 

I feel that I have known this month’s poet for many years. But, I don’t think we have ever met. Like me, Matthew Paul has been a participant on The Poetry Business Writing School. We both had work published in an excellent haiku journal. I very much enjoy his blog posts and am pleased that I can introduce you to his work: grounded in actual place and rich in vivid detail.

Matthew was born in New Malden, Surrey, in 1966, has worked for 30 years as an education officer for local authorities in south-west London, and lives in Thames Ditton. Matthew’s first collection, The Evening Entertainment, was published by Eyewear Publishing in 2017.

He is also the author of two collections of haiku – The Regulars (2006) and The Lammas Lands (2015) – and co-writer/editor (with John Barlow) of Wing Beats: British Birds in Haiku (2008), all published by Snapshot Press. He co-edited Presence haiku journal, and has contributed to the Guardian’s ‘Country Diary’ column.

 
THE TOXTON TORCHERS

Still their identities are secret. Let’s call them Gary and Glyn,
names which are popular then, at the Sixties’ fag-end.
This nit-locked pair of toe-rags, seeking alms box and plate,
enter St Joe’s via its sacristy, find nothing of value
and burn down the sanctuary like proper East End heavies.

They’re not discerning: any place of worship will do-
in the next few weeks, Our Lady Star of the Sea, St Anne’s,
the Kingdom Hall and the new St Margaret’s all go up in flames.
It’s when they smash collection boxes in All Souls that it ends:
old Reverend Carew and his nimble curate get straight on the blower
to the Law, who tip up in Black Marias at Z-Cars speed.

Gary blames it all on gormless Glyn. Brought before the Bench,
their eyes light up like matches as they detail every deed:
how in the new church they hadn’t the heart to torch the tapestries
as so much effort had been put into them, most by Gary’s nan.

 
THE KITCHEN GARDEN

On Capability Brown’s last visit
to this well-temperèd chalkland estate,
he plumped for action instead of advice:
training espaliers of local pears,

which would otherwise have become extinct,
against ev’ry venerable wall of brick—
‘for market opportunities’, he said,
and focused eyes on an artichoke head

whose outer bracts formed interlaced patterns
around the heart’s delirious embrace,
aubergine-veined chroma of grey–jade green.
He claimed it resembled ‘a scarecrow’s brain’.

Unaccountably, he bricked up the arch,
to dead-end our last remaining path;
so now unscalable walls enclose us,
in God’s own country’s Hortus conclusus.
(Both from The Evening Entertainment)

 

TEE (002)

 

THE NETTLEBED

One September afternoon in August, a water vole
beavers through reeds. I feel the slap
of rain on my father’s umbrella. Mercy
and I compare families: I can’t compete
with her memory of travelling,
as one of five kids, with her moody
half-sister in the boot of their dad’s Datsun Bluebird,
without a torch. The teasel-lined tributary disappears,
reappears. Moorhen chicks stumble off lily pads,
to spatter at pace upstream, their parents
flicking tail feathers and squeaking alarm.

We reach beyond toddler-high nettles and burdock—
seedheads packed like the yellowest sunflowers—
to pluck the last few blackberries, sugaring
from ruby to plum. Mercy says the wide outdoors
keeps her well; that nothing else,
neither booze nor love in any of its myriad forms,
quite does the job. We sit on a log to wait and watch.

The moorhens tiptoe over stepping stones fording
back-water channels, to vanish like mumbled
anecdotes. I shake the rain from the brolly
into the river. Day’s end brightens
as an afterthought muttered out loud; becomes
a crumbling hurrah of loneliness. Dusk
spotlights parakeets sidling, like circus budgies,
along the railing of a tower-block balcony.
We realise, then, our arms are stung to fuck.

(Previously published, in a different form, in Fire.)

 

PLOUGH POND

Tiptoeing through them to the Co-op
would be impossible, this ragtag army

of marsh frogs. They block the alley
from our cul-de-sac’s cul, pairing up

to belly down within the water’s grease:
tansy eyes, camouflage-trousered legs

and lime-striped backs, clamped
in the fumble of joyful amplexus.

(Published in Poetry Salzburg Review 34, summer 2019)

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.

Missing Manchester …

Manchester_Art_Gallery_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1748756

I am settled in my caravan in Holland, enjoying the warm weather and making the most of the peaceful environment before the camp site opens 1 July when it will be the high season.

 
But I am missing Manchester and, in particular, the monthly writing workshops with Peter Sansom of the Poetry Business These have been held at Manchester Art Gallery. It consists of three connected buildings, two of which were designed by Sir Charles Barry. The main building is Grade 1 listed, while the Atheneum is Grade II. A modern extension was added in the beginning of this century.

 
During the writing workshops we have the opportunity to be inspired by the permanent collection – works of international significance and Victorian art. The painting Albert Square (1910) by the French impressionist painter Adolphe Valette hangs in a central foyer. Valette lived in Manchester for a period and really caught the damp and wet conditions. My poem is included in the pamphlet A Stolen Hour (Grey Hen Press, 2020,

 

Albert_Square_Manchester_1910,_Valette

 

Albert Square

I am not that cellar man pushing 

his barrow loaded with crates of wine.
I am not the horse with its head
stuck into a nose bag, nor
the coach driver resting his
right knee on the plate,
nor the men with bowler hats
conversing by the railings.

Up there is the Town Hall
covered in a velvet coat of soot.
I am the greyness of the oil paint,
the rippled rain reflecting
the cellar man’s rounded boots.
I am the smog and the smoke,
half shielding these statues:
politician, mayor, consort.

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.

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.