Tag Archives: Travel

Sci Fi

This month I am featuring poems by Martin Zarrop. We met some years ago through the Poetry School workshops and are also members of one of the Poetry Society’s Stanzas. I start by congratulating Martin: the 2021 Cinnamon Press Pamphlet competition got 450 submissions. The results came out a few days ago – Martin’s manuscript was in the top five!

Martin is a retired mathematician who wanted certainty but found life more interesting and fulfilling by not getting it. He started writing poetry in 2006 and has been published in various magazines and anthologies. He completed a MA in Creative Writing at Manchester University in 2011.

His pamphlet No Theory of Everything (2015) was one of the winners of the 2014 Cinnamon Press pamphlet competition and his first full collection Moving Pictures was published by Cinnamon in 2016. His pamphlet Making Waves on the life and science of Albert Einstein was published by V. Press in 2019. His second collection Is Anyone There? was published by High Window Press in March 2020.

The five poems are all from Is Anyone there? Where Martin’s poems refer to science, they do so in an accessible way, often poignant, often with humour. Like Martin, I first came to Manchester in the early 1980s – a place where now around 200 world languages are spoken. I hope you enjoy this selection.

Sci Fi

The aliens are coming.
I can see them flicker in the flames
as I stare into the coal fire
and my mother asks me if I’m happy.
Has she been taken over by Martians?
I must take care not to fall asleep.

And here I am covered in mud.
The invisible predator can’t see me
as I try to leave the exam room.
Failure isn’t an option but the exit signs
are hidden under ectoplasmic goo.
The ice cream man ignores my screams.

It is bursting out of my chest cavity,
this other me I don’t want to know.
Why is my name missing from the credits?
Perhaps I didn’t wait long enough for the Z’s.
Out in the foyer, zombies are waiting
for the next show.

First Impressions
Manchester 1980

People talk to you here
but not in English
and the rain is cold
on the grim streets
that run for their lives
past empty Victoriana,
lost empires.

At night, the city
strips to its bones, lies
unwashed in the glow
of fag ends, crushed
and dying among
claggy debris,
northern mouths.

published by The High Window

Missing

She must be in here somewhere.
He turns another page and stares
at shapes, the outline of a face
and almost smiles.
The hair’s not right, he says.

Under his thumb, images move,
some not even close to human.
This one looks like a centaur, this a lion.
He knows how much he wants her
but he struggles to join the dots.

Across the table, the astronomer,
sympathetic despite the late hour,
is accustomed to darker matters.
Try this one, he grunts, and opens
another star catalogue.

Hands

UK’s first double hand transplant awoke from
a 12-hour operation with two new sets of fingers

(Guardian 23.07.16)

It’s not like wearing leather gloves.
This is for real, the weld of tissue,
bone to severed stumps; white flesh
imbibes the ruddiness of life, then
shudders at an alien command –

a finger twitches. It displays no loyalty
to donor meat, no tear or thought,
no dumb relief not to be ash,
no memory of goodbye waves,
past loves held close.

The patient chews his nails,
flexes each knuckle as if born to it,
admires blotches, childhood scars
from scraps he never fought,
holds out his hands.

To My Nineties

You’d better get your skates on
or at least your boots
and get out there, old dribbler,
before it’s too late.

I may not meet you in the hills
struggling through Kinder peat.
Thirteen miles, fifteen?
No problem!

Or so I thought as hair thinned
and Christmas followed Easter
as if in a time machine
that ate old friends for breakfast.

You stand patient near the finish line
as I pull myself up for the final sprint.
Nothing lasts forever, not hips,
not brain cells. I need a project.

I’ll make you my project.
Wait for me.

Saturday mornings

Maison de Bonneterie, Amsterdam

On Friday I had my second vaccination (Pfizer). I have felt ok, a bit tired and feverish. By way of a treat, a good childhood memory.

The “selling fur coats” took place in Amsterdam, in Maison de Bonneterie: a small chain of high-end fashion stores. The building in Amsterdam was designed by a well-known Dutch architect with an interior in the style of Louis XVI (the Sun King of France), an imposing staircase and a glass roof.

It closed in 2014, after 125 years of uninterrupted service to the elegant public. The Amsterdam store is a national listed building and now used as a location for events.

Saturday mornings


We’ve been waiting in silence.
It’s just the three of us.
Mother’s away in a city, selling fur coats.
The radio crackles, but here comes father
with blue beakers, hot chocolate,
curled cream on top, and the bread
he has baked on his day off.

Tomorrow he’ll be on the balcony
playing the organ; we’ll be below.
Today he is the son of a master baker.
We’ll have the bread with butter
and jam, red strawberries,
shiny against the golden crust.

Turkish Delight – poem

It is a great pleasure introducing this month’s poet. Paul Stephenson and I met eight years ago through the Poetry Business’ Writing School, an eighteen-month programme.

Paul was born and grew up in Cambridge. He studied modern languages and linguistics then European Studies. He spent several years living between London and France, Spain, and the Netherlands. He currently lives between Cambridge and Brussels.

Paul was selected for the Arvon/Jerwood mentoring scheme and the Aldeburgh Eight. He has been co-curator of the Poetry in Aldeburgh poetry festival since 2018.

His first pamphlet Those People (Smith/Doorstop, 2015) was a winner in the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition, judged by Billy Collins. His second pamphlet The Days that Followed Paris (HappenStance, 2016) was written in the wake of the November 2015 terrorist attacks. His book Selfie with Waterlilies was published by Paper Swans Press after winning their 2017 Poetry Pamphlet Prize. Read more at: http://www.paulstep.com

I have selected two poems from Those People. The poems Turkish Delight and The Rub open the pamphlet Selfie with Waterlilies. Here is Paul’s keen eye for the details that matter, his playful language adding an extra dimension to the subject of loss.

Capacity

Seventy litres: in theory more than plenty
for three t-shirts, two shorts, the pair of jeans
you’re wearing. Then the question of the tent,

saucepan, small canister of gas, map and bible
of Thomas Cook timetables – every single train
possibility from here to Ankara. One crisp fifty

thousand lira note, a handful of Swiss francs
and wad of American Express traveller’s cheques.
Foreign currency kept flat, zipped inside a canvas

wallet with Velcro strap, wrapped tight around
the waist. Typical Monday. Your father at work.
Your mother out somewhere. Your lift here soon.

Passwords

I avoid the house I grew up in,
keep away from my mother

and father’s birthdays: calendar
opposites, June and January.

I steer clear of my brother’s
crash, rule out the hot summer

I left school, graduated, went off.
I adopt different characters,

mix upper and lower case.
I do my utmost to never

choose when I was born.
Mine take years to crack.

Paper Swans Press

Turkish Delight

What you do when you get the call is take it,
hear words at dawn before they’re mouthed:
You should probably come now.

What you do is shower and dress, skip yoghurt
and honey, the baklava breakfast, and walk briskly
to the ticket office, hand over your sob story.

Once given a seat today (not tomorrow because
tomorrow is too late), what you do is pack, sit
on a shell-shocked suitcase poring over a tourist map

mentally-cataloguing Byzantine cathedrals
then mosques, till a twelve-seater van for one pulls up
to taxi you with stop-starts across the Bosphorous

into Asia. What you do to kill an afternoon
on a new continent at the international airport hub
is browse briefs and socks, visit the James Joyce Irish pub,

mill about getting sprayed with testers of musk, citrus,
bergamot, think nothing of spending sixty three euros
and seventy four cents on different nut varieties of

Turkish Delight (which is heavy and must be carried),
remember nobody likes Turkish Delight – except him.
What you do till they display your gate is stare out

as dusk descends, count the seconds between
runway ascents, promise you’ll return one day
to be consumed by the vastness of the Hagia Sophia.

The Rub

Menthol my father,
menthol his room,
menthol his bed.

My out of sight father,
my fast relief father,
my warming father.

My dual action father,
my targeted father,
my daily father.

My caution father,
my blood flow father,
my enclosed father,

Menthol my father,
menthol his back,
menthol his beard.

My turpentine father,
my paraffin father,
my eucalyptus father.

My muscular father,
my thin layer father,
my recommended father.

My wool fat father,
my liquid father,
my expiry father.

Neighbours Day – poem

Photo Credit: andrewlloydgordon via Pixabay

Yesterday was Neighbours Day here in the Netherlands. The Neighbours Day initiative was started in 2005 by Douwe Egberts, one of the traditional Dutch coffee makers: social contact starts with a cup of coffee. A few years later they were joined by a charity called Oranjefonds. Each year they provide funds, support and advice for a large range of social and community activities, such as Dutch language support for refugees, mentoring, club houses for the old and young.

During the lockdown earlier this year, many new initiatives were started by people volunteering in their own street or local area. A good fit with this annual initiative. My neighbours here on the camping have cut their hedges and have gone home. My day always starts with a good cup of coffee made in a cafetiere. It happens to be D.E. – a firm started in 1753 in a small shop in Friesland, a northern province.

Earlier this year I talked with my brother about events in our childhood. This memory came up.

Getting to know the neighbours

We’re snoozing after lunch
in a Sunday afternoon garden.
One of our family, still awake,
sees silent orange flames rising
that side of the opaque glass.

It’ll be a small insurance claim.
As evening turns pink, the old
Belgian couple walk their Borzoi.

Photo credit: akunnen via PIaxabay

Hacker – a poem

Keith Lander

 

It’s a great pleasure to introduce this month’s poet Keith Lander. We first met early autumn 2004 in the Village Hall, Manchester where the poet Linda Chase was running a weekly poetry course, on behalf of the Poetry School. The Poetry School is the UK’s largest provider of poetry education, offering a wide range of courses at all levels.

Keith Lander was born and grew up in Manchester. At school he studied sciences and went on to gain a B.Sc. in mathematics from the University of Wales, Bangor. This led him into the IT industry where he worked as a software engineer and for several years was a consultant for Siemens in Munich.

He has had poems published in a number of anthologies and magazines including The North, Envoi and Obsessed with Pipework and has been long listed three times for the National Poetry Competition. He has an M.A. in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University.

The three poems feature the mysterious “Milo” character. You can find all three in the pamphlet Pandemonium, published by Yaffle Press in 2019. For more information about Keith Lander go to his writing website.

 

Hacker

This morning Wu Mian of Guangzhou province,
Zen hacker extraordinaire, Milo’s big buddy,
will smash through Mr C’s firewall
using a password provided by Milo.

He’ll be sitting alone in his garden
surrounded by clematis and acacia blossom
listening to the music of the fountain
while reading Lu Chi’s Wen Fu.

A trojan horse will appear out of cyberspace
and release its hidden hoard of phisher men
who’ll slide into the fountain,
hack their way into his heart
and steal his deepest secrets.

 

In theatre: Milo’s view

Milo tells me I won’t feel a thing.
He on the other hand will be awake
monitoring the situation.
He’s seen the videos on YouTube,
how they stop the heart, cool the body, pump
the blood through a machine. No way is he

going to get trapped in that infernal thing.
So he stays out of the arteries, surfs
from lymph node to lymph node, watches the surgeon
remove the right saphenous vein through a hole in my groin,
peeps gobsmacked as they graft it in place.
And how he cheers when they remove the valve,

the choked old squeaker. How sweet the bovine
replacement smells—green grass, fresh pastures.
He has to cling to a rib while they staple
the sternum back together, but then passes out
when they shock me back to this world.
Milo was right: I didn’t feel a thing.

 

Pandemonium-cover (002)
Retirement

After a shit life horse-trading with wankers
down back streets of shady deals
he sought nirvana
in a kingdom of ticky-tack and sushi
finding it here, in this place,
with its parity of peace.
The psychedelic visions of his gullible youth
have paled into shades of white.
At last he’s immune to most earthly hazards,
but at night, in his boxroom,
he’s started to have visions
of a black shadow—
Milo in his cave lurking just out of sight.

Southwold, Suffolk

Image (2)

Beach huts in Southwold, Suffolk

Later today, I’m on a ‘virtual’ writing weekend. Part of the preparatory work was to write a 16-word poem about a place on the coast, but not about Whitby – which is where we will be based ‘virtually’. That brought back memories of my many visits to Southwold in Suffolk. The expensive beach huts there are legendary. The smell of beer brewing at the local Adnams Brewery is an acquired taste!

Several times we rented Shrimp Cottage, at the front. Whoever stayed in the main bedroom on the first floor, had a view of the sea from their bed. We were the women I met on holiday in China, as one of our regular reunions. I’ve also stayed there with friends from Manchester and, twice, my brother and his family in the Netherlands got the ferry to Harwich and made the short drive up the coast.

Southwold Sailors Reading Room

 

I visited Southwold in all seasons. There was just one house between Shrimp Cottage and the Sailors’ Reading Room – a Grade II listed building from 1864 and still a refuge for sailors and fishermen. Another forty footsteps took us to the Lord Nelson pub. The poem is included in my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous, published by Indigo Dreams Publishing Ltd  in November 2019.

 

Southwold posts

 

Nautical miles
The sign outside the Sailors’ Reading Room is

a series of thin wooden planks, painted white:
Den Helder, IJmuiden, Hoek van Holland.

Across the horizon, they are less than a hundred
nautical miles from Southwold in Suffolk

where the narrow beach of pebbles –
grey, brown, black mostly –

is held together
by couplets of groynes, slimy green.

Both our languages have the word strand.

 

 

Vlieland – Birthday island

 

Vlieland island

 

Earlier this week I celebrated my birthday. Up to 10 visitors are now allowed onto the camp site for parties and birthdays. However, I decided to celebrate over a 10-day period: some days the weather has been autumnal – cold, wet and windy. Inside the caravan I wouldn’t have been able to guarantee the 1m social distance. Besides, after months of social isolation, lockdown, shielding, I was desperate for proper contact and conversation with family and close friends. It was a marvellous extended week!

I vividly remember another birthday. With a close friend I had an overnight stay on Vlieland, one of the Frisian Islands in the Wadden Sea. We travelled by ferry from Harlingen (a peaceful 90-minute journey), stayed overnight in Hotel De Wadden that once was the island’s marine college, rented bikes, ate fish and chips, bought cranberries which grow there. We were blessed with the weather: sunny and a breeze.

 

A major storm in 1296 separated Vlieland from the mainland. It’s hard to imagine how important the island once was: in the 17th century hundreds of trading and whaling ships would have been afloat nearby. The tides and winds have shifted and changed the shape of the island. Now, it is only about 12 kms long and 2 kms wide at best and, mostly dependent on tourism. Visitors are not allowed to bring a car across – bring your own bike or rent one!

Vlieland ferry

 

Vlieland

Empty days
cycling on white paths
crushed shells
bless the lighthouse
on this island

Full nights
dreams of fishes
frogs, berries, seals
the white ferry
resting

Birthday
blessed July
sky, salt breeze
You look younger
on this island

Winning an Award

 

EbcDOx7XgAAXf_t

I am delighted to share with you the wonderful news: I am one of five poets who have received a Northern Writers Award 2020 from New Writing North. The poetry entries were judged by Vahni Capildeo. They were said to be ‘highly impressed’.

New Writing North is a development agency that supports reading and writing in the North of England. It was established in 1996 to commission new work, create development opportunities, nurture talent, and make connections. Since 2000 NWN has also run the annual Northern Writers Awards. Funding for these awards comes from different sources, such as the Arts Council, TV’s Channel 4.

This year more than £45,000 was given to 26 winners from a record-breaking 1,800 entrants. I sent off my submission of 29 pages at the end of December. With everything that happened this year I had completely forgotten about it. I am going to spend the award money on getting a mentor as this current project is well outside my comfort zone.

The short poem below is the current title poem.

 

Remembering

Remembering is like hay-fever:
there before you know it.
Other people unaffected and smiling.

Remembering is a disease
with a double-barreled name
like Schadenfreude-Unheimlich,
and the GP whom you’ve waited

to see for at least a week
looks through you and says
she’s never heard of it.

It’s being back in a classroom,
you can’t read the blackboard sums
and the teacher is pointing at you.

Father’s Day

 

40th Wedding Anniversary
The picture shows me and my parents at a dinner to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in 1984. At Christmas 1988 I became the scapegoat for the difficult circumstances around my sister leaving her husband. My father, my brother and that husband were all called Theo. My sister was living with someone else by then.

So, one Theo told me off for keeping in touch with that Theo and the third Theo collected me from my parents’ flat and took me to the airport. My father and I became estranged. Late September 1990 my father was taken to hospital after a suspected heart attack. He was doing okay, my brother told me, no need to rush and book a flight. Two days later my father died in hospital, instantly, after a large heart attack.

 

Almuerzo con mi padre

My father’s eyes behind the spectacles sparkle.
There’s wisdom in his moustache,
and dreams of fino sherry, chilled in a thin glass.

There would be time to wait and wander,
criss-cross a square, look at people,
the statue of a famous general on his horse.

The dead will be around us on the hills that hold the city.
My father claps his hands, decides where we will eat.

He’s learned his Spanish from reel-to-reel Linguaphone.
I’m online with Duolingo: Vino tinto, pan, conejo.

My father would have found it hard to choose
between the crema catalana and helada.
His moustache would have selected ice cream.

Palmistry in Karachi

 

Elsa F

Imagine my surprise and delight when, in January this year, I received an email in Dutch from a fellow poet! Elsa Fisher had read and liked some of my poems. We started a correspondence and were going to meet at the end of May. It’s a great pleasure to introduce this month’s poet who has ‘a clear eye and an ironic ear’.

Elsa Fischer was born in The Hague, Holland. She has lived and worked on four continents and, later in life, studied Art History in Canada and at the Sorbonne. Always a lover of poetry, she joined a poetry workshop after her retirement.

She has two published pamphlets: Palmistry in Karachi (Templar Poetry, 2016) and
Hourglass – Poems from the retirement home (Grey Hen Press, 2018). Other poems have been included in a range of magazines and anthologies. She is currently preparing for a third publication.

Elsa lives in Bern, Switzerland, in a lovely retirement home (where some of her poems are set). She likes to point out that she does not belong to the Woopies (well-off older persons) but rather to the Yelpies (youthful energetic elderly persons)….

I hope you enjoy the range of these poems, with their sharp observation, humour, empathy and poignancy.

 
Palmistry in Karachi

“…the old days when we were still young,
naïve, hot-headed, silly, green. A little bit’s
still there…”              Wislawa Szymborska

 
At twenty I danced the tango
in Karachi at the saried begums’
Red Crescent Bazaar with a gay
attaché who had that rhythm in
his blood and where a sketch
of my profile by a local genius
fetched handfuls of rupees.
I shook hands with Ayub Khan
and Fatima Jinnah, ignorant
of who they were and that
he would have her killed.
There was my near-drowning
in the Arabian Sea and a wicked
camel race along its shore.
And I’ll tell you this: I lost
my innocence in Karachi.
To an Italian born without
toenails and his palms
with no lines so that you,
my friend of little faith, claim
he could not have existed
and that I’ve made it all up.

 

 
Seedpods

 
I love how your wisteria seedpods exploded in the night,

love to hear drops falling from where someone waters geraniums

early in the morning as I am writing at the wrought-iron table,

its rusty flakes cutting into skin and I remember how, in another life,

they caught my mother’s dress as she sat down to tea under

the glycine, my first French word, and for a startling moment

I hold this image called up by smells of soil and fleshy leaves,

by all this art nouveau abundance.

 

 

In the beginning are my hands
after Andy Goldsworthy

 
they are my skin-cut tools
cracked as dried earth.
I trust them, they lead me.

I listen to the passive witness
of stones, their dialogue with trees,
learn how they rely on each other.
I need the energy of peat – the melt of mud
and mineral feed and sheep’s piss on canvas.
Above all I love my icicles – reconstructed,
glued with my spit or draped like lobster
claws and oysters on a plate of river ice.

I square black-rooted bracken stalks
thorn-pin chestnut leaves into floating
snake ribbons until surfaces open up
and nature itself becomes the object found.

I go into its internal spaces, lie spread-eagled,
feeling the pull, feeling the rain.

 

 
Safe

Like ducks waiting for the cull
we line up at the doctor’s,
baring arms for the flu jab.

Once you stood like this, in an orderly row,
mouth wide open to receive the sugar lump
that the school nurse had carefully dosed
with the life-saving drops of Dr Salk’s vaccine.

To be protected from the fate of that boy,
fitted with braces, who sat for years reading
as we messed around with bats and balls in PE.

A nurse helps with the sleeves
and we return to our coops.
Safe for another season.

 

Trespassing

I’m digging out my winter things.
And watch from behind the slats
how he opens a wardrobe, takes out
the bridal gown for her to hold,
then gently crowns her with a garland.

On a small table lie the bric-a-brac
of a long marriage. Masai beadwork,
a glass paperweight from Venice,
the matryoshkas.

He gives her a moment,
then puts the gown carefully back
on the coat hanger, smiles as he lifts
the garland with its faded ribbons
from her hair. A whiff of Chanel.

He makes sure she’s comfortable
on the walker and wheels her away,
switching off the cellar lights.

I stand for a while, getting used
to the dark, arms heavy
with scarves and shoes.