Tag Archives: Travel

Almost hidden by grass – haiku

St John’s Church, Little Gidding, Huntingdonshire

It is 20 years since I visited Little Gidding, as the mid-week trip on a one-week course at Madingley, part of Cambridge University. Our tutor that week was the poet Lawrence Sail. Last Sunday I featured four poems from his collection Guises. That week I also met Kathleen Kummer who has become a good friend. Her poems have featured here over the last few months.

Little Gidding is famous for being the fourth and final poem of T S Eliot’s Four Quartets. Eliot had visited Little Gidding in 1936. The title refers to a small Anglican community in Huntingdonshire, established by Nicholas Farrar in the 17th Century.

I wrote the short sequence of haiku during my visit. It was published in Presence magazine.

Almost hidden by grass

following her
across the field
a white butterfly

almost hidden by grass
three wooden crosses

the church bell
covered
in pigeon droppings

pink geranium petals
a droning plane

on the terrace
calling us old, advanced –
the toothless guide

finding the pigsties
number one boarded up

as we leave
sunlight
on the font

Little Gidding, August 2001

Olympic Cyclists – a poem

Photo credit: Grace Sail

This month’s poet is Lawrence Sail. We met 20 years ago when he tutored a week-long course at Madingley Hall, part of Cambridge University. We have kept in touch and I was delighted with his endorsement of my second collection Nothing serious nothing dangerous.

Lawrence Sail has written thirteen books of poems; Waking Dreams: New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2010) was a Poetry Book Society Special Commendation. His publications include the anthology First and Always: Poems for Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital (Faber, 1988), and two books of essays, Cross-Currents (Enitharmon, 2005) and The Key to Clover (Shoestring Press, 2013). He has written two memoirs, both published by Impress Books: Sift (2010) and Accidentals, the latter illustrated by his daughter, Erica Sail, and published in December 2020.

He was chairman of the Arvon Foundation from 1991 to 1994, has directed the Cheltenham Festival of Literature and was on the management committee of the Society of Authors from 2007 to 2011. He was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in 1992, and an Arts Council Writer’s Bursary the following year. In 2004 he received a Cholmondeley Award for his poetry. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

I’ve selected four poems from Guises, Lawrence’s most recent collection, published by Bloodaxe Books in early 2020. They show his close observation skills, precision of imagery, interest in art and in life – what is and what was lost. Understatement is used to great effect in Journey.

Cover painting: detail of Yellow Twilight
by Samuel Palmer

Radishes
‘What do I know of man’s destiny? I could tell you more about radishes.’ Samuel Beckett

Bunched tightly –
no sign of
the flowers with
their four petals

At one end, weak
and tatty leaves
that soon wilt,
ill with yellow

At the other
a wisp of root,
vestigial tail
thinly curling

Their cylinders, white
and carmine, harbour
a residue
of soil’s sourness

Their gifts? Crispness and
surprise – from
their pure white core
they bite back: like destiny

Olympic Cyclists

Start at the nape
with the helmet that tapers so finely
and looks designed
for a new occipital shape –
it must come straight out of
a dream played
on an oval board, under lights

Everything comes second
to aero-dynamics, kinetics –
it is not always easy
to tell where the cycle ends
and the rider begins. They become
one curve among
many, parts of one thought

– which bends their spines,
stares from the rounds of the goggles,
pumps the pedals,
blurs the black wheels’ outlines;
which has them swoop flightily
down the banked track
sudden as a hawk stooping

Such oneness, wholly
integrated – as in
the fado singer’s
tremble of husky melancholy,
or the grounded delight of lovers
before they reel
out of the charmed circle

Giacometti’s Cat

Its head to body to tail
is one long, mean
horizontal hoisted
on the spindly twin trestles
of its best feet forward

A nerve-bundle fused in bronze
it lives apart, locked
in a trance of stealth
as it probes the air ahead
taking nothing for granted

Journey

I am travelling to meet you again –
through morning air burnt
to a clarity you would admire

And of course my mind has stored
a certain amount of baggage
accrued in the course of time

It includes a small rucksack
you once wore, and the sweep
of your arm, stressing a point

As well as the passion with which
you embark on serious discussion
with, sometimes, an emphatic blink

Yet almost as vivid is the thought
of the platform as it will look
after the train has gone

The shine of the rails snaking
away, a soft breeze, the atmosphere
intent but free of intention

On the far side of you waits
an absence charged and changed
that I do not want to re-settle

Taking other routes – a poem

Rock church, Lalibela – Heiss via Pixabay

With my birthday coming up, I am posting a poem that celebrates key experiences in my life. These include visiting Lalibela in Ethiopia in 2007, travelling with the friend who set up the Lalibela Educational Trust, to meet the boy I sponsored and his widowed mother. My parents – a church organist father and semi-professional singing mother – did pass on the creative gene, for sure.

Thank you for liking these posts and for following my blog!

St Mark’s Venice – Hermann via Pixabay

Taking other routes

My parents never taught me to swim; didn’t take me skating
on those Christmas-card frozen canals. I have never
been famous, but I have sung in Burgos and Florence,
Vespers in St Mark’s. My singing has made grown men cry.

I have not travelled on ferries, floating from one Greek
island to another, forgetting the name of the day.
I have never stroked a giraffe, nor given birth to a baby boy.
But I have picked redcurrants from the back garden, sharing
rich crops for over twenty years with small black birds.

In Ethiopia I have a son and I sat with him in his Physics class.
And for a few years I was a sailor, snatching a few hours
in Sydney, shopping in Hong Kong. I danced in a grass skirt
and flew across Alaskan glaciers with the man I loved.

Animals in Lockdown

I am pleased to introduce this month’s poet: Judi Sutherland. We met as poets on Facebook a few years ago and I attended a recent online event where she read her poems.

Judi Sutherland has lived and worked all over England and is now based in North County Dublin, Ireland. She writes about the natural world, about home, place and belonging, and things she reads on the internet. She obtained an MA in Creative Writing from Royal Holloway, University of London, in 2012 and was awarded the Margaret Hewson Prize.

Her first pamphlet The Ship Owner’s House was published in 2018 by Vane Women Press (available here: The Ship Owner’s House by Judi Sutherland – The Poetry Book Society) and focuses on north south contrasts, specifically Oxfordshire and County Durham. Vane Women Press is a writing, performing and publishing collective based in the North East of England. It was formed in 1991.

A recent booklet Animals in Lockdown was published as a hand-made edition by Kazvina (Karen Little). Copies can be obtained from kazvina@yahoo.es, and proceeds go to Happy Tails Halfway Home animal rescue.

Here is my selection: the booklet’s title poem and three poems from The Ship Owner’s House.

The Animals in Lockdown


The mountain goats have noticed something’s wrong.
Their anxious hooves trot into town
tap-tapping on our tarmac. They’ve come to browse
verges and hedges, keeping down


the wildness, which they know distresses us.
In clearwater harbours, dolphins nose
the prows of empty boats drifting at anchor.
Songbirds note the silence in the air.


A fox sniffs for contagion, scenting only spring,
he knows we’ve gone to earth. He has
mixed feelings about this. The dogs
who shepherd us on our permitted walks


leave smell-messages for each other, asking
‘Lads, what’s going on?’ And here at home,
my cat tucks me into bed each night, checking that I’m safe.
All through the night, she listens for my breathing.

Looking for Kites


I went over to Kinninvie
because I had heard you were there.
I took the straight, whitelined road
that wagtails across the fells.
There were sheep, carpet-backed, in a row
ripping grass, and mottled cattle,
cream and brown like chocolate truffles
tilting their long horns at the sky.
A hawk held steady over a whin bush
and I thought I saw you eddy into the wind
over a broad, shouldering field.
When I turned homewards, the valley
was bright with gorse and rapeseed flowers
and sunshine flooded the far slopes
with summer.

Epigenetics

Certain fears can be inherited through the generations, a provocative study of mice reports. The authors suggest that a similar phenomenon could influence anxiety and addiction in humans.
http://www.nature.com/news/fearful-memories-haunt-mouse-descendants-1.14272

And what scented his fear was this:
the fleet chill of clear air rushing,
the flap of canvas, the propeller’s
halting stutter. Hanging suspended
between sky and Crete, and the silver-drab
of olive trees reaching up to meet him.
I still dream that flight and plunge,
the terror and the black; feel the dull
indentation of the skull, the buzz of metal plates
beneath my scalp. I’m always writing Icarus;
afraid to fall, finding life vertiginous.
He very nearly died. I very nearly remember.

Relocation


So, the place I thought was home turned out to be
somewhere we were passing through, and we
have traded all the grey, red, cream of flint,
brick, render, for this buttered stone;
beechwoods for bare hills, accents clipped like lawns
for vowels as broad as fells. The green-spined lane
became a hard grey road, the kites are hawks,
and the placid boating river is a rocky fall
past a castle keep. Life pitches our tent
in a different portion of the desert. We make it ours.
I can no longer tell you where my heart is.

That summer day – a poem

Dartington Hall, Devon

My friend and poet Kathleen Kummer will have her birthday soon. We have visited the Dartington Estate in Devon several times: to hear the then Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion read, to listen to music during the Music Summer School & Festival which was established in 1947. Alwyn Marriage of Oversteps Books invited me to read during the Ways with Words Literary Festival. It was wonderful seeing people out on the lawn, resting in deckchairs, or queuing up to get their book signed by famous authors.

Dartington Hall is a spectacular Grade I listed building. The gardens are grade II listed: a sculpture by Henry Moore, a yew tree that is 1500 years old and a row of sweet chestnut trees believed to be about 400 years old. The gardens are a delight in every season. Here is Kathleen’s poem about the gardens.

The Tiltyard, Dartington Hall Gardens

That summer day

That summer day at Dartington,
everything familiar, beautiful:
the corrugation of the bark
of ancient trees, the sun behind
the scarlet maple leaves, the swathes
of wildflowers in the glades, warm
to the touch the might buttocks
of Henry Moore’s reclining figure,
the bench, its oak smooth, silver,
following the stone wall’s curve,
on which we sat. Unexpected,
the robin landing next to us,
a fledgling, plump, who stayed ten, fifteen
minutes until his mother called him.
And, in the little wave of sadness
which washed over us, because
he looked so young, indivisible
as water is, this swell of happiness.

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.