Tag Archives: Travel

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

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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?

9781912876228
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.

Leaving Czechoslovakia, 1964

Image

 

I was invited to read at a European Language Day, held at the Instituto Cervantes here in Manchester. I selected poems that all had a European connection, including the poem below.  It was a joy to take part in the evening event. And I very much enjoyed watching and listening to Hungarian dancers in traditional costume, and a young woman singing melancholy songs from the Balkans and Romany songs.

The next morning I did a bit of clearing through photo albums and found a black-and white photo of that red Trabant! The young woman leaning on the driver’s door had only just passed her driving test and advertised for someone to go with her.  In the event her father drove us to Munich from Amsterdam, and after that we were on our own.  Her mother was Czech, so we met a lot of family out there.  The poem was included in Songs for the Unsung anthology, published by Grey Hen. It will be included in my second collection Nothing serious, nothing dangerous which will be published shortly by Indigo Dreams Publishing.

 

Leaving Czechoslovakia, 1964

When we reached the border
in her small red Trabant
our cases were lighter: the pleated dresses,
jeans we’d given to aunts and nieces;
our footsteps behind us on the mountain
where we walked with her family
up towards the border with Poland,
our plimsolls wet, our hair lank from drizzle;
sweet and savoury Knedlicky we’d eaten;
songs we’d sung, drunk on vodka,
already flown, small skittering birds;
the yellow Objizdka sign in Prague diverting us
into the path of a funeral, black plumed horses.
The border guards with their guns gather
around us as we try again to open the boot,
our stiff smiles telling us not to think
of the airmail letters for America
hidden under the back seat.