Tag Archives: Travel

Winning an Award

 

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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.

Moment

 

Clingendael 2

Photo credit: Ted Koehler

The warm, sunny weather this week has helped me to stay more in the present. I’ve been for walks in the nearby estate of Clingendael.

Clingendael estate has a 17th Century manor house which is home to the Dutch Institute for International Relations. Since the 16th Century the gardens have been remodelled, from the original French design, to the popular English landscape style. Now you can find a rose garden, splendid azaleas and rhododendrons, and a walled fruit garden. There are some marked walks, cycling paths, and canoeists and rowers can travel through by water.

However, Clingendael is most famous for its Japanese garden. It is the only Japanese garden from around 1910 and is, therefore, of great historical importance and a state monument. Marguerite M, Baroness van Brienen made several trips to Japan by ship to purchase the lanterns, statues, bridges and the wooden pavilion. Because of its fragility, the Japanese garden is only open eight weeks of the year, from mid-May to early July. Because of the Corona-crisis, it is closed. Here you can view a short video clip that The Hague city council put on their website.

Clingendael 3

Photo credit: Ted Koehler

 

My poem Moment from my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous was inspired by a poem with the title This Moment by the Irish poet Eavan Boland who died recently, aged 75, after a stroke. Her poem, with its short, choppy lines starts A neighbourhood/At dusk and is an excellent example of how a short poem can give us a snapshot of time, the night and temporality. You can read the original poem here. It is deceptively simple, but Boland uses several poetic techniques to achieve the effect, such as alliteration and repetition.

 
Moment

A suburb at dawn

People are turning back
from dreams
into their own lives

Frost and spiders,
shrubs cradle themselves.

One side of the road is black.
One row of houses a yellow pink.

A cat wakes up
to the footsteps above,
secure in his oval basket.

Frost fades,
spiders stretch,
ferns unfold in the sun.

Here I am walking …

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Photo credit: Digwen on Pixabay

 

These are my neighbours. Yes, camping Duinhorst backs onto a racecourse. Duindigt opened in 1906. Most of the races held are trotting races, with the jockeys sitting on a sulky as in the picture. Some days I can hear the faint sounds of commentary, or a national anthem at the end of a race. And, very often when I’m out and about I come across horses being exercised. That is where the writing started.  It is the second poem in my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous.

I was going to fly to Holland on 5 April, but things are serious and dangerous. I managed to get a flight out on Wednesday 18 March from Manchester to Schiphol in the Netherlands, and went straight to my caravan. You know from following my blog that I am a Dutch national, long-term resident in the UK. Faced with “social distancing” and a possible four-month’ quarantine, I felt it would be easier in the caravan. It has a small garden and I can go for a bike ride, or a short walk in the nearby dunes – as long as I keep my distance.

 

Here I am walking …

 
Here I am walking with a small horse.
I found it on the path to the supermarket
where it stood, eyes closed, by yellow gorse.

All this happened a long time ago,
before I was born, before the war,
and the rope in my hand smells of horse.

We can turn to the right, walk over
the dual carriageway, head for the dunes,
four bronze crosses to remember

the war dead and we’ll arrive,
place our feet on the beach
where it’ll soon be night.

Chaos

airport-4922358_1280

Photo credit: oho725 on Pixabay

Poetry readings and workshops have been cancelled. People are panic-buying pasta and toilet paper. A few friends have cancelled lunch dates: I have an empty diary.  So, I have started packing boxes for my move later this year, while listening to the radio. My flight is booked on 5th of April and I hope that the borders are still open by then. I can blog over in the Netherlands just as I can here: I have Wifi inside the caravan. If I become ill, it’s easier to self-isolate over there.

Meanwhile, here is a short poem about chaos. It first appeared in The North magazine and was later published in my debut collection Another life. Look after yourself, keep safe and look out for those around you.

 
On the town

In the time it took to buy a birthday card, a special
80th birthday card, they had arrived in a long, black limousine,
jumped out, set fire to the hotel and released wicker
baskets. The flying baskets with wicker wings chopped
tops of trees, trees falling on traffic lights – chaos everywhere
and in the middle of it the small bronze statue.
A smiling woman holding doves covered in bird shit.
The wind howling, sirens crying like the end of the world had come.
And me and that card that had cost me £2.99 and nowhere
to buy stamps, no letter box to post it.

The small Japanese corner

 

Scan0023

 

How strange to see the notification of someone’s birthday on Facebook
when they are no longer there to receive your greeting … Sumiko Morimoto
and I met in 2014.

 

The small Japanese corner

Howell was all packed, to return to live in Japan,
and as keen as always to win the karaoke contest.
He’d been brushing up, but Sumiko too knew
how to soft sing sakura, sakura

Now and then I see her mother’s old blue fan
on the shelf in my Japanese corner, beside the blue
mug Howell gave me, with the names of fishes,
Sumiko’s delicate New Year card with pigs and piglets.

She’d been well looked after at Rydal Hall, when she
went up to the Lakes, wanting at last to see the small
cottage of Wordsworth, her hero, whom she’d studied.
Here is the photo of her smiling over breakfast in my garden.

Worried about Sumiko, Howell’s email two months ago,
the illness she is fighting. Here’s another email …
If I finally decide to fly to Osaka, it’ll just be Howell
and me, eating his favourite okonomiyaki pancake.

Celebrating …

Dublin photo

North Earl Street, Dublin, 1904

I am celebrating! Just two working days after I applied, the Home Office emailed me confirmation of my “settled status” in the UK. Hence a post with a food poem …

This stew combines two foods known since the earliest Irish literature. Bacon (tinne or senshaille) is mentioned many times in the medieval Vision of MacConglinne, as are sausages, particularly called Maróc, and another called Indrechtán. Leeks and oatmeal were no doubt used in the earliest form of Coddle, but since the eighteenth century, potatoes and onion have supplanted them.

The recipe for Dublin Coddle is in my copy of A Taste of Ireland in Food and in Pictures by Theodora Fitzgibbon. The magnificent black-and-white pictures (some of them well over a hundred years old) had been found “heaven knows where – by Miss Fitzgibbon’s husband, George Morrison, creator of the Gael-Linn films on 1916 and the civil war”. The book was published in 1968 and, having married a Dublin man, and believing that saying about the “way to a man’s heart” I bought it shortly after we married in 1973.

The poem was included in Sweet Tongues: Crocus book of food poems, published by Commonword in 2013.

 
Dublin Coddle

Saturday supper is a savoury stew.
Sausages, and slices of bacon.
Potatoes and onion supplanted
the oatmeal and leek. Enough stock

to barely cover, season to taste,
simmer slowly, let the liquid reduce.
Tears run down the steamy window.
Chopping parsley holds the pain.

One of us poured a steady Guinness;
the other already lost in the black
and salty taste of waiting.
Between us the open cookery book:

a small black and white picture,
North Earl Street, Dublin, 1904.
Blurred images of men in coats
and caps, horse-drawn cart, a sunny day.

A couple crosses the tramlines.
He carries bags in both hands.
She, to the right of him,
looks down to safely place her feet.

 

Why are we in Vietnam?

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Tomorrow is the publication date of my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous. The book is already on Amazon and has been available for pre-publication orders from Indigo Dreams Publishing.

The publishers have selected six accessible poems for the author page, and the author photo is by my nephew Ted Köhler who lives in the Netherlands and is beginning to build up a photography portfolio. The end of November is too close to the festive season for an official launch. That will be here in Manchester, at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation on Tuesday 3 March.

The title was inspired by a Raymond Carver poem called My Boat. Raymond Carver is one of my all-time favourite poets. Someone I return to when I feel stale and in a negative frame of mind.

The poem Why are we in Vietnam? was written on a workshop at the wonderful Almassera Vella, Spain. We were to find any book in the library, open it at random and use a few lines as a starting point for a poem. Then we were to imagine finding a postcard inside the book. Where was the postcard from? What was written on the back? Who had sent it? I picked the paperback because of its intriguing title. It’s by Norman Mailer. I was surprised to find the lines and I imagined there would be an art card inside, a card I’d bought and forgotten about. It’s a reminder how working with “found” materials can easily trigger our creativity. The poem was commended in the 2016 Havant Open Poetry Competition.

 

Why are we in Vietnam?

It has held up the broken leg
of a single bed in the attic.
Everything is dusty now.
Who brought this Panther
paperback into my life?
Then the trail of the blood
took a bend, beat through dwarf alder.
The postcard isn’t of Cezanne’s gardener
seated upright in his chair,
or Venetian gondoliers.
Didn’t want to die in those woods,
wounded caribou…
Green lines, black dots,
small yellow triangles,
Miro’s insects and birds.
Neat black lines for the address,
the black box for a stamp.
To the left white space,
the white space of that Alaska.

 

And roared for hours at the moon …

water melon

 

As you know, when I’m struggling to get new poems out and there are no workshops booked, I return to the books with their exercises. Exercise 7 in the book Writing Poetry by Matthew Sweeney and John Hartley Williams is called Backwards. Here are the examples from that exercise:

* ‘Eating red carnations by the dozen’
* ‘Singing, she pedalled over the moonlit bridge’
* ‘Back to his underwater home’
* ‘And roared for hours at the moon’
* ‘To stand, staring at the water’
* ‘Then parachuted, roaring, into a bonfire’

The late Matthew Sweeney contributed this exercise: “I woke up one morning with a poem fully formed in my head, but was too lazy to get out of bed and write it down. Then the poem started to evaporate, line by line, but I jumped out of bed and caught it by the toe – I had the last line, The smell and colour of petroleum, and spent the rest of the week working backwards to recover the poem, although it was undoubtedly inferior to the one I had had in my head.”

Well, I always have a notebook on my bedside table, but I rarely wake up with a poem fully formed!

I picked one of the lines and wrote a poem. It ended up being a comment about tourism, which I wasn’t expecting, and it certainly worked as a “warm up” exercise.

 

Wednesday

The old man shuffles up and down the beach
holding up the quartered fruit with one hand,
imploring in guttural sounds Water melon, melon,
a large plastic bag in his other hand.
He turns where the beach meets the shack
renting out parasols. Small white waves
tickle his feet, but he doesn’t smile.

Today the small strip of pebbly brown sand
is almost empty. The tourists have been placed
in shiny white coaches with air-co in the toilet.
This week’s excursion to the castle on the other
side of the bay: gardens, statues, fountains, lakes.
Shuffling through long corridors and state rooms,
the visitors huddle round their guide, see tired faces
staring back at them in monumental mirrors.

The tourists are back in their air-conditioned hotel,
five floors, five stars. There will be entertainment.
The old man has gone away. I’m told he made
a large mountain, a green mountain with red pulp.
I’m told he sat on that mountain all night
and roared for hours at the pale and distant moon.