Favourite poem of the week

Honey Cycle, by Les Murray

Grisaille of gristle lights, in a high eye of cells,
ex-chrysalids being fed crystal in six-sided wells,
many sweating comb and combing it, seating it sexaplex.
The unique She sops lines of descent, in her comedown from sex
and drones are driven from honey, having given their own:
their oeuvre with her ova or not, he’s re-learn the lone.
Rules never from bees but from being give us to build food
then to be stiff guards, hairtrigger for tiffs with non-Brood.
Next, grid-eyes grown to gathering rise where a headwind bolsters
hung shimmering flight, return with rich itchy holsters
and dance the nectar vector. Bristling collectors they entrance
propel off, our stings strung. And when we its advance
beyond wings, or water, light gutters in our sight-lattice
and we’re eggs there again. Spent fighting-suits tighten in grass.

From Translations from the Natural World

Rapeseed, by Marcel Beyer 

It’s noon, you’re sitting behind the wheel
in an empty country road, a couple of Polish stations
are cutting in and out, nothing speaks in you, you’re on the point
of thinking you grew up mute, and then this: rape,hard edge, clean line, scattered, dense rape work,
hatched and cross-hatched rape, the field fills, the screen fills with rape,
rape up to your hairline, brimful of rape,

rape eyes, rape head, rape rustle, rape scrape, nothing cattle cake,
nothing margerine, nothing but rape.

 

 

SWALLOWS, by Kathleen Jamie

I wish my whole battened
heart were a property
like this, with swallows
in every room — so at ease

they twitter and preen
from the picture frames
like an audience in the gods
before an opera

and in the mornings
wheel above my bed
in a mockery of pity
before winging it

up the stairwell
to stream out into light.

From ‘The Tree House’ ,  Picador 2004

 

The Gift
by Brendan Kennelly

It came slowly.
Afraid of insufficient self-content
Or some inherent weakness in itself
Small and hesitant
Like children at the tops of stairs
It came through shops, rooms, temples,
Streets, places that were badly-lit.
It was a gift and took me unawares
And I accepted it.


From Familiar Strangers, New and Selected Poems 1960-2004
Bloodaxe books 2004.

The Lull
by Maurice Riordan

It happened on the cinder path between the playing field
and the graveyard one afternoon in October
when all the leaves of the aspen flipped over
and stayed, the way a skirt might blow up and hold
in a gust of wind – except there was no wind,
one of those days when the thud of a football
hangs in the deadened air. But there was no thud,
no sound from man or bird. So I’d swear if I’d looked
at my watch just then the digits would have stuck

if I could have looked, for it must’ve been a time
when time was snagged in its fluid escapement
and in that lull no one can enter the world,
or leave it, the cars stand on the motorway,
the greyhound’s legs are knotted above the track,
a missile is framed in mid-flight, no sound
comes from the child’s mouth, the open beak,
and the shoal of herrings is a sculpted cloud
shimmering under the glass of rolling downs.

At this moment, when the joker palms the room-key,
the punching fist can be opened, the egg slipped back
under the nesting bird, and each of us could scurry
to forestall one mischance, or undo one wrong choice
whose thorn of consequence has lodged till now,
before whatever it is keeps the world scary
and true breaks loose. A squirrel turns tail
overhead, a chestnut rolls to the ground, and with it
a drawn-out scream arrives from childhood.
From ‘The Water Stealer’, Faber and Faber 2013

Revenge
by Taha Muhammad Ali

At times … I wish
I could meet in a duel
the man who killed my father
and razed our home,
expelling me
into
a narrow country.
And if he killed me,
I’d rest at last,
and if I were ready—
I would take my revenge!

*

But if it came to light,
when my rival appeared,
that he had a mother
waiting for him,
or a father who’d put
his right hand over
the heart’s place in his chest
whenever his son was late
even by just a quarter-hour
for a meeting they’d set—
then I would not kill him,
even if I could.

*

Likewise … I
would not murder him
if it were soon made clear
that he had a brother or sisters
who loved him and constantly longed to see him.
Or if he had a wife to greet him
and children who
couldn’t bear his absence
and whom his gifts would thrill.
Or if he had
friends or companions,
neighbours he knew
or allies from prison
or a hospital room,
or classmates from his school …
asking about him
and sending him regards.

*

But if he turned
out to be on his own—
cut off like a branch from a tree—
without a mother or father,
with neither a brother nor sister,
wifeless, without a child,
and without kin or neighbours or friends,
colleagues or companions,
then I’d add not a thing to his pain
within that aloneness—
not the torment of death,
and not the sorrow of passing away.
Instead I’d be content
to ignore him when I passed him by
on the street—as I
convinced myself
that paying him no attention
in itself was a kind of revenge.

Nazareth
April 15, 2006

Translated by Peter Cole, Yahya Hijazi and Gabriel Levin.

Edwin Morgan

Strawberries

There were never strawberries
like the ones we had
that sultry afternoon
sitting on the step
of the open french window
facing each other
your knees held in mine
the blue plates in our laps
the strawberries glistening
in the hot sunlight
we dipped them in sugar
looking at each other
not hurrying the feast
for one to come
the empty plates
laid on the stone together
with the two forks crossed
and I bent towards you
sweet in that air
in my arms
abandoned like a child
from your eager mouth
the taste of strawberries
in my memory
lean back again
let me love you

let the sun beat
on our forgetfulness
one hour of all
the heat intense
and summer lightning
on the Kilpatrick hills

let the storm wash the plates

Carcanet Press Limited, 1968

Danie Abse

Pathology of Colours

I know the colour rose, and it is lovely,
but not when it ripens in a tumour;
and healing greens, leaves and grass, so springlike,
in limbs that fester are not springlike.

I have seen red-blue tinged with hirsute mauve
in the plum-skin face of a suicide.
I have seen white, china white almost, stare
from behind the smashed windscreen of a car.

And the criminal, multi-coloured flash
of an H-bomb is no more beautiful
than an autopsy when the belly’s opened -
to show cathedral windows never opened.

So in the simple blessing of a rainbow,
in the bevelled edge of a sunlit mirror,
I have seen, visible, Death’s artifact
like a soldier’s ribbon on a tunic tacked.

“…But the Little Girls Understand” 

for Doug Fieger (d. 2010), Berton Averre, Prescott Niles and  Bruce Gary (d. 2006)

The men don’t know growls
Willie Dixon’s most famous tune, but
the version I prefer—low fidelity
cassette bootleg, howling tin sound with
shredded paper drums—remains
unreleased, recorded not by some venerable
Mississippi blues curmudgeon
whose name, artfully dropped here,
would evoke afternoons porch-sitting
with magnolia wine and box-string guitar,
or might bestow upon me
some sorely lacking hipster bonafides.
That’s never going to happen,
since I am talking here
about a nearly unlistenable cover,
the monophonic noise and mid-range screech
of The Knack, live in Hollywood,
before a packed house at the Troubador,
July 1979. So what if I was twelve?
I’d already gotten it, learned how to pluck
out the gallop of My Sharona’s bass,
hoping someday I’d ace out Doug Fieger
and be Sharona’s back door man
myself, though I’d have been better off
learning how to get in the front door first.
Which was the vaguest country,
women, or the blues? I did not know.
I still might not. I only knew
what I was learning: that a song
could actually sound like sweat;
that Ray Manzarek, gangly Ray best known
as the piano-playing witness to greatness,
had dropped by to sit in,
and when he’d come down Wonderland Avenue
it was a benediction, as if to say, Hey,
these guys are all right, forgive them
their sins of leather tie and Beatle boot.
So I want to say thank you
to whatever thought to tape that show,
because it taught me that I wanted a forever
girl like Sharona, who,
as the 45-rpm picture sleeve promised,
played the coolest records
for her slumber-partying girlfriends,
who all looked like the camisoled girls
in the Runaways or the equally fated Go-Gos.
But I am getting ahead of myself, since,
as Leonard Cohen says, everybody knows
how this story ends. I have everything
The Knack ever recorded, including
this version of Back Door Man,
which tells me everything that was wrong
with 1979, and later, everything wrong with me.
How does the show end? Listen
to the cassette, a moment in unsteady time,
the Zapruder film of the skinny tie era.
For the band, you know how it ends
already: rehab, divorce, rehab, forgiveness,
comeback tour, state fair nostalgia;
immortal Sharona—her real name
—sells real estate, million-dollar homes.
That’s what those little girls do,
they grow up, which reminds me
My Sharona, that set-closing number,
may be the saddest story I know.
Steve Kistulentz,
from The Luckless Age. 2011 , Red Hen Press.
The Present
For the present there is just one moon
though every level pond gives back another.

But the bright disc shining in the black lagoon,
perceived by astrophysicist and lover,

is milliseconds old. And even that light’s
seven minutes older than its scource.

And the stars we think we see on moonless nights
and long extinguished. And of course,

this very moment, as you read this line,
is literally gone before you know it.

Forget the here-and-now. We have no time
but this device of wantoness and wit.

Make me this pesent then: your hand in mine,
and we’ll live out our lives in it.

 Michael Donaghy, from Shibboleth, 1988.


Comparisons by R.S Thomas

To all light things
I compared her, to
a snowflake, a feather.

I remember she rested
at the dance on my
arm, as a bird

on its nest lest
the eggs break, lest
she lean too heavily

on our love. Snow
melts, feathers
are blown away;

I have let
her ashes down
in me like an anchor.

From ‘Residues,’ Bloodaxe Books 2002.

Brutalist by Paul Farley

Try living in one. Hang washing out to dry
and break its clean lines with your duds and smalls.
Spray tribal names across its subway walls
and crack its flagstobes so the weeds can try

their damnesdest. That’s the way. Fly-tip the lives
you led, out past its edge, on the back field;
sideboards and mangles made sense in the peeled
spud light of the old house but the knives

are out for them now. This cellarless, unatticked
place will shake the rentman off, will throw
open its arms and welcome the White Arrow
delivery fleet which brings the things on tick

from the slush piles of the seasonal catalogues.
The quilt boxes will take up residence
on the tops of white wardrobes, an ambulance
raise blinds, a whole geography of dogs

will make their presence felt. And once a year
on Le Corbusier’s birthday, the sun will set
bang on the pre-ordained exact spot
and that is why we put that slab just there.

One by one shopkeepers will shut
their doors for good. A newsagent will draw
the line at buttered steps. The final straw
will fill the fields beyond. Now live in it.

From ‘Tramp in Flames,’  Picador 2006

Epithalamion

Singing, today I married my white girl
beautiful in a barley field.
Green on thy finger a grass blade curled,
so with this ring I thee wed, I thee wed,
and send our love to the loveless world
of all the living and all the dead.

Now, no more than vulnerable human,
we, more than one, less than two,
are nearly ourselves in a barley field -
and only love is the rent that’s due
though the bailiffs of time return anew
to all the living but not the dead.

Shipwrecked, the sun sinks down harbours
of a sky, unloads its liquid cargoes
of marigolds, and I and my white girl
lie still in the barley – who else wishes
to speak, what more can be said
by all the living against all the dead?

Come then all you wedding guests:
green ghost of trees, gold of barley,
you blackbird priests in the field,
you wind that shakes the pansy head
fluttering on a stalk like a butterfly;
come the living and come the dead.

Listen flowers, birds, winds, worlds,
tell all today that I married
more than a white girl in the barley -
for today I took to my human bed
flower and bird and wind and world,
and all the living and all the dead.

Dannie Abse


Midstream by Matt Merritt

From here both banks look equally unlikely.
Behind, the blue haze of years trails away
to a vanishing point that gains ground by the day.
Still sun-splashed, invitibg enough, but you know
what crowds on either side of the path.

Ahead, the first footslopes of middle age
announce themselves with glacial erratics,
an occasional stand of pines, first skirmishers
of serried regiments that will stop at nothing.

And the water swirls higher, your feet getting
colder and wetter by the minute, your mind
wandering to where the milk and honey is,
wondering where they got to with the fresh horses.

From ‘Making the Most of the Light’ Happenstance,2005.


Someone

by Denis O’Driscoll

someone is dressing up for death today, a change of skirt or tie
eating a final feast of buttered sliced pan, tea
scarcely having noticed the erection that was his last
shaving his face to marble for the icy laying out
spraying with deodorant her coarse armpit grass
someone today is leaving home on business
saluting, terminally, the neighbours who will join in the cortege
someone is paring his nails for the last time, a precious moment
someone’s waist will not be marked with elastic in the future
someone is putting out milkbottles for a day that will not come
someone’s fresh breath is about to be taken clean away
someone is writing a cheque that will be rejected as ‘drawer deceased’
someone is circling posthumous dates on a calendar
someone is listening to an irrelevant weather forecast
someone is making rash promises to friends
someone’s coffin is being sanded, laminated, shined
who feels this morning quite as well as ever
someone if asked would find nothing remarkable in today’s date
perfume and goodbyes her final will and testament
someone today is seeing the world for the last time
as innocently as he had seen it first

Children’s Song by R.S Thomas

We live in our own world,
A world that is too small
For you to stoop and enter
Even on hands and knees,
The adult subterfuge.
And though you probe and pry
With analytic eye,
And eavesdrop all our talk
With an amused look,
You cannot find the centre
Where we dance, where we play,
Where life is still asleep
Under the closed flower,
Under the smooth shell
Of eggs in the cupped nest
That mock the faded blue
Of your remoter heaven.


The Solace Of Cupboards

by David Mark Williams

What it was that brought it about that first time,
he cannot now quite account for.
That day there was nothing untoward,
no crisis of any kind, only the usual pressures,
as telephones shredded the air,
the photocopier churning out more sets of minutes
rife with action points.

Then the moment came
when he rose abruptly from his desk
without a word to anyone, as if prompted
by something he had remembered,
slipped the stationery cupboard key off its hook,
and strode purposefully away.

He sensed the bewilderment
that followed him along the corridor
but that did not deflect him. He went inside
to immerse himself in the darkness there,
locking the door to ensure he would not be interrupted.
The benefit was immediate.

The stacked paper gave off no note,
the packs of pens were voiceless.
All that was visible around the door,
a thin beading of light.
Someone went by whose clotted breathing he recognised
but otherwise nothing to prevent him
expanding into an infinite dissolve
that was the solace he had been after.

Now this aberration has hardened into a habit,
one he is not prepared to forgo.
He believes he is the only one
to have fumbled upon this kind of escape
but there are legions like him everywhere,
standing alone for respite in dark places
until they are ready to be seen again.

10/10/2012
Keith Douglas

The Sea Bird

Walking along beside the beach
where the Mediterranean turns in sleep
under the cliffs’ demiarch

through a curtain of thought I see
a dead bird and a live bird
the dead eyeless, but with a bright eye

the live bird discovered me
and stepped from a black roch into the air-
I turn from the dead bird to watch him fly,

electric, brilliant blue,
beneath he is orange, like flame,
colours I can’t belive are so,

as legendary flowers bloom
incendiary in tint, so swift he
searches about the sky for room,

towering like the cliffs of this coast
with his stilleto wing
and orange on his breast:

he has consumed and drained
the colours of the sea
and the yellow of this tidal ground

till he escapes the eye, or is a ghost
and in a moment has come down
crept into the dead bird, ceased to exist.

Published January 1943.
From Keith Douglas, Complete Poems.
Faber and Faber.

05/10/2012

Sonia Jarema

New Kid on the Tower Block

Balletic you tested each stair
with toe, pad and heel.
Your hand glided the banister
as you stopped to shake sunshine
into the dark staircase.
Your shirt held clouds
you’d clung onto on the rooftop.
I could see the skyline
in your legs poised like cranes.
That evening you brought in
the dank brook on your trousers.
You told me how the water
drank you as you waded her length
to find the unfamiliar way home.

Sonia Jarema was born in Luton to Ukrainian parents. This poem appeared on Ink Sweat and Tears and Sonia has kindly given permission to reprint it here. Other poems have appeared  Every Day Poets and in several anthologies . In 2010 she was shortlisted for The Enfield Poetry Competition.
Sonia is currently working on a novel.

27th/09/2012

Advice to a Four Year Old on Her First Day of School
By Arundhathi Subramamiam.

“This
is the sacred litany.

Right hand margins,
pin-drop silences,
pattern writing
(without ruptures in the joineries),
sharpened HB pencils,
double finger spaces
fingers on lips.

Pink-and-white girls
who can play faries in end-of-term plays.
Symetrical girls
who don’t stick out at odd angles in the march past.
Geometrical girls
always equipped with compass boxes.
Cultivated girls
with dictions manicured by militant horticulturists.
Musical girls
who chorus good mornings in orchestrated D minor.
Softespoken girls
with tones so hushed it’s pardonable they don’t curtsey.
Streamlined girls
who don’t run into awkward lengths in 4 line report cards.
Ornithological girls
who prefer wrens and martins to day-dreaming.
Respectable girls
who prefer daffodils to Venus fly traps.
Down to earth girls
who know that boys are extra terrestrial.
Dumb girls
who belive that Pavlov’s dog will have his day.

Now repeat.”
From Kavya Bharti magazine, 2000.

25/09/2012

Not an Owl, by John Fowles

Not an owl on the bough, after all;
but a patch of grey light forcing
through fir. A light-bird,
a bird-light. Retinal phantom.
Or poem to my shortening sight.

Adam Thorpe, editor of this selected, reviewed rather unfavorably here 
says in an interview  ‘I love his animal poems. Very brief and delicate and without a trace of the sentimental – and gentler than, say, Ted Hughes’s. ‘Not an Owl’.  Fowles wife says of the poem

“JF wrote this early one morning, sitting at a small table in our bedroom in Belmont, it was so real because owls did sit in the big old pines outside the window, and at night we could hear them.”

Thorpe again- ‘The poem is also about ageing, of course. And disappointment. And seeing things imaginatively, which is what a writer is all about, in the end.’

17/09/2012

By William Stafford, 1914-1993.

With Kit, Age 7, at the Beach

We would climb the highest dune,
from there to gaze and come down:
the ocean was performing;
we contributed our climb.

Waves leapfrogged and came
straight out of the storm.
What should our gaze mean?
Kit waited for me to decide.

Standing on such a hill,
what would you tell your child?
That was an absolute vista.
Those waves raced far, and cold.

‘How far could you swim, Daddy,
in such a storm?’
‘As far as was needed,’
I said, and as I talked, I swam.


12th September

ABOUT TIME by Robin Robertson

In the time it took to hold my breath
and slip under the bathwater
-to hear the blood-thud in the veins,
for me to rise to the surface-
my parents had died,
the house had been sold and now
was being demolished around me,
wall by wall, with a ball and chain.

I swim one length underwater,
pulling myself up on the other side, gasping,
to find my marriage over,
my daughters grown and settled down,
the skin loosening
from my legs and arms
and this heart going
like there’s no tomorrow.

From The Wrecking Light, Picador 2010.

23rd July 2012

I subscribe to the wonderful Happenstance, producer of fine poetry pamphlets
run by poet Helena Nelson who lives in Scotland.  The poem below arrived in the a few days ago and I had to post it here. Skillful, achingly tender, accurate and sincere, it is by the recently deceased Tom Duddy.

Nights Out

Sometimes, when she and I find ourselves
seated just inside the door of the hotel bar,
two or three young women will come prancing in,

all innocence, high-booted glamour, and
dark-eyed casting about, and she must wonder
out of the corner of her eye if I may not be

taking in too much. If she only knew
what a heavenly and carnal peace I feel
as my thoughts withdraw from the bare,

emblazoned backs and sweep down towards
her dear pale hands at rest in her lap, one
cupped inside the other, palm resting open.

21st July 2012

I can’t post this poem as it is laid out in The Poetry of Yevgeny Yevtushenko 1953-1965 selected, edited and translated by George Reavey. This blog will not allow me to format the poem with it’s original line lengths . I wanted to share the poem, and so I hope that anyone who whishes to see the original will look up the poem in it’s original form. I have also changed a line from ‘we have to go on’ to ‘we have to leave’. Maybe this is better, perhaps not. Either way, I  think the meaning of this wonderful poem remains unchanged.

I Hung a Poem on a Branch

I hung a poem
on a branch.
Trashing,
it resists the wind.

” Take it down, don’t joke’
you urge.

People pass.
Stare in surprise.

Here’s a tree
waving a poem.

Don’t argue now. We have to leave.

“You don’t know it by heart!”
“That’s true, but I’ll write a fresh poem for you tomorrow.”

It’s not worth being upset by such trifles!
A poem’s not too heavy for a branch.
I’ll write as many as you ask for,
as many poems
as there are trees!
How shall we get on in the future together?
Perhaps, we shall soon forget this?

No,
if we have trouble on the way,
we’ll remember
that somewhere,
bathed in light,
a tree
is waving a poem,
and smiling we’ll say:

“We have to leave…”

From The Poetry Of Yevgeny Yevtushenko, 1953-1965, Calder and Boyars, first published 1966. 

Pale-Blue Butterflies

Once again, magically
and without official notification,
it was the time of the year
for the pale-blue butterflies to arrive.

They came in their millions-
an army composed entirely of stragglers
filling the sky,
the gust-driven trash of migration.

Working in the garden,
bent on our solicitous pillage
of the strawberry beds,
out of the corners of our eyes
we saw the first of them descend.

What were we to these multitudinous creatures?
A point of reference
on the transcontinental journey
from A to B?
Hardly even that.

For a week they came
lighting on our favoured blooms,
as detachable as earrings,
but so common
that nobody, except the wobbliest of toddlers,
bothered to try to catch them.

Yet it was not exactly
a mutual indifference.
I’m sure that I was not alone
in feeling, as I do each year,
that this would be the perfect time
to mend the whole of one’s life.

Later, when the butterflies had gone,
we loaded our van with the last of the strawberries
and drove to town
to be given the official market price.

There followed an unscheduled
season of summer thunders:
colossal rearrangements
somewhere at the back of the mind.

From Katerina Brac by Christopher Reid, Faber 1985.

June 25th

Noon by John Clare

The mid day hour of twelve the clock counts oer
A sultry stillness lulls the air asleep
The very buzz of flye is heard no more
Nor one faint wrinkle oer the waters creep
Like one large sheet of glass the pool does shine
Reflecting in its face the burnt sun beam
The very fish their sturting play decline
Seeking the willow shadows side the stream
And where the awtorn branches oer the pool
The little bird forsaking song and nest
Flutters on dripping twigs his limbs to cool
And splashes in the stream his burning breast
O free from thunder for a sudden shower
To cherish nature in this noon day hour

From 101 Sonnets edited by Don Patterson, Faber 2002
 

Dreamwood

By Adrienne Rich 1929–2012

In the old, scratched, cheap wood of the typing stand
there is a landscape, veined, which only a child can see
or the child’s older self, a poet,
a woman dreaming when she should be typing
the last report of the day. If this were a map,
she thinks, a map laid down to memorize
because she might be walking it, it shows
ridge upon ridge fading into hazed desert
here and there a sign of aquifers
and one possible watering-hole. If this were a map
it would be the map of the last age of her life,
not a map of choices but a map of variations
on the one great choice. It would be the map by which
she could see the end of touristic choices,
of distances blued and purpled by romance,
by which she would recognize that poetry
isn’t revolution but a way of knowing
why it must come. If this cheap, mass-produced
wooden stand from the Brooklyn Union Gas Co.,
mass-produced yet durable, being here now,
is what it is yet a dream-map
so obdurate, so plain,
she thinks, the material and the dream can join
and that is the poem and that is the late report.
From Poetry, 2012June 12th.
Don Patterson
Why Do You Stay Up So Late?
for Russ

I’ll tell you, if you really want to know:
remember that day you lost two years ago
at the rockpool where you sat and played the jeweller
with all those stones you’d stolen from the shore?
Most of them went dark and nothing more,
but sometimes one would blink the secret colour
it had locked up somewhere in its stony sleep.
This is how you knew the ones to keep.

So I collect the dull things of the day
in which I see some possibility
but which are dead and which have surprise
I don’t know, and I’ve no pool to help me tell-
so I look at them and look at them until
one thing makes a mirror in my eyes
them I paint it with the tear to make it bright.
This is why I sit up through the night.

From ‘Rain’ ,Faber and Faber, 2009.

June 7th

By London Bridge by Joanna Clark

June 21st 2010

By London Bridge, I saw three men.
The morning, the midsummer sun
beat on their bright white caps and gloves
and on their navy uniform.
Paltoon of preachers? Civic guard?
Schoolboy cadets?- Or servicemen.
They looked quite young but, of the three,
one wore a scarlet shoulder-sash
and all had medals, two of them, four.
They did not amble, march or strut
but, talking together, walked along,
the smallest walking in the middle.
And, as they came up to the crossing,
it seemed that one lost his footing,
said something quiet-maybe he swore-
and laughed, which made the others smile.
Then they walked on. Now, I’m not sure
what really happened, whether the middle
one really staggered as if the ground
moved under him, or simply tripped.
I know that, when he did, the others-
instantly, slightly- turned to him.

First published in THE RIALTO 71. winter 2010/11.

May 30th

Teaching the Trumpet by Kim Moore

I say: imagine you are drinking a glass of air.
Let the coldness hit the back of your throat.

Raise your shoulders to your ears, now let
them be. Get your cheeks to grip your teeth.

Imagine you are spitting tea leaves
from your tongue to start each note

so each one becomes the beginning of a word.
Sing the note inside your head then match it.

At home lie on the floor and pile books
on your stomach to check your breathing.

Or try ad pin paper to the wall just by blowing.
I say: remember the man who played so loud

he burst a blood vessel in his eye? This was
because he was drunk, although I don’t tell

them that. I say it was because he was young,
and full of himself, and far away from home.

From If We Could Speak Like Wolves, smith/doorstop 2012.

May 26th
Swans Mating by Michael
Longley

Even now I wish that you had been there
Sitting beside me on the riverbank:
The cob and his pen sailing in rhythm
Until their small heads met and the final
Heraldic moment dissolved in ripples.

This was a marriage and a baptism,
A holding of breath, nearly a drowning,
Wings spread wide for balance where he trod,
Her feathers full of water and her neck
Under the water like a bar of light.

From Michael Longley Selected Poems 1998
Jonathan Cape.

May 19th

The  Life of Robert Frost by Tom Duddy

The place at which I keep the bookmark
in my condensed edition of the life
is the last page of the early years
in which the forty-year old poet

not long before the voyage back
to New England, grows dejected
and wonders if he’s lost the gift,
if gift indeed he ever had.

He can’t foresee the summer’s night
in Vermont, seven years on
in 1922, when he’ll work
through the small hours till dawn

stop for awhile to marvel at
himself and the first light, return
to the table and begin to write
the first words of a perfect poem.

As I switch from the page of doubt
to the page of triumph, back and forth,
like some child with a holographic toy,
I seem compelled to hold the poet

in England, full of doubt, and tilt him
forward to that summer’s night
just long enough for me to glimpse
the way a future shimmers there.

From The Small Hours by Tom Duddy,
Happenstance 2006.

May 12th

And Yet The Books by Czeslaw Milosz

And yet the books will be there on the shelves, separate beings,
That appeared once, still wet
As shining chestnuts under a tree in autumn,
And, touched, coddled, began to live
In spite of fires on the horizon, castles blown up,
Tribes on the march, planets in motion.
“We are, ” they said, even as their pages
Were being torn out, or a buzzing flame
Licked away their letters. So much more durable
Than we are, whose frail warmth
Cools down with memory, disperses, perishes.
I imagine the earth when I am no more:
Nothing happens, no loss, it’s still a strange pageant,
Women’s dresses, dewy lilacs, a song in the valley.
Yet the books will be there on the shelves, well born,
Derived from people, but also from radiance, heights.

Translated from Polish by Czeslaw Milosz and Robert Hass.
This poem taken from Scanning The Century, Penguin, Edited by Peter Forbes

 May 6th
I loved this poem from Matt’s last collection long before I understood it ( if indeed I do understand it, or need to). Matt is a wildlife journalist as well as a poet, and the poem conveys  the obsessional intensity of a bird watcher.  I’m still not sure as to what is bird and what is man in the poem, and I think this is what I find so mysterious and fascinating about the poem, along with its movement and technical skill. I looked up J.A Baker, himself a mysterious figure, and found some information which you can access via the link below the poem.  A link to Matt Meritt’s blog, Polyolbion is on
the list on the right of this page.

Matt Merritt’s
Variations On A Theme By J.A Baker

I

walk from east to west
by hidden ways

sun at your back

looking for the places
they might be

pause at the corner
of time and space
and expect
no/anything

II

two possibles mid-morning
then fuck all
all day

III

fire-eyed owls
cling to contours
afraid to let go of the earth

but test yourself
against the wind

first select
the correct
density of air

perfect angle
of attack and hang

then notice how every
incline smoothes away

and all foreshortening
is undone

IV

so many times
he has described this indistinct
perimeter

knowing all the gaps

the rough margins
and secret places

the points at which
it is as well to go on
as turn back

he has mapped the shape
and compass of lives
traced
the heavy progress of days

beaten the bounds
of possibility
wearing his divinity
lightly

V

prey to your imaginings
in the owl-song hours

a long low murmur
slow beneath the skin
thrills the thicket of sleep
sends you out

beyond sound and sight
bare tops of trees
knotted with life
untied
by first fingers of light

a tether pulled tight
tight
then sprung

as some wild hope
puts up another
heart in hiding
and clear-eyed
races it home

From Hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica
Nine Arches Press, 2010, reproduced with kind permision of Matt Merritt.
Link to J.A Baker article from The Independent here
 

 April 30th

 The Power by Paul Farley

Forget all of that end-of-the-pier
palm-reading stuff. Picture a seaside town
in your head. Start from its salt-wrack-rotten smells
and raise the lid of the world to change the light,
then go as far as you want: the ornament
of a promenade, the brilliant greys of gulls,
the weak grip of a crane in the arcades
you’ve built, ballrooms to come alive at night,
then a million-starling roost, an opulent
crumbling like cake icing …
Now, bring it down
in the kind of fire that flows along ceilings,
that knows the spectral blues; that always starts
in donut fryers or boardwalk kindling
in the dead hour before dawn, that leaves pilings
marooned by mindless tides, that sends a plume
of black smoke high enough to stain the halls
of clouds. Now look around your tiny room
and tell me that you haven’t got the power.

From ‘The Dark Film’ by Paul Farley,
Picador, 2012.

April 27th

Enemy Encounter, by Padraic Fiacc

Dumping (left over from the autumn)
Dead leaves, near a culvert
I come on
a British Army Soldier
With a rifle and a radio
Perched hiding. He has red hair.

He is young enough to be my weenie
-bopper daughter’s boy-friend.
He is like a lonely little winter robin.

We are that close to each other, I
Can nearly hear his heart beating.

I say something bland to make him grin,
But his glass eyes look past my side-
Whiskers down
the Shore Road Street.

I am an Irish man
and he is afraid
That I have come to kill him.

From Ruined Pages: Selected Poems by Padraic Fiacc, Blackstaff Press 1994.

April 21st

Lines Written on the Norfolk Broads by Clare Pollard

We drifted through warm currents. Our hull chugged
past windmills-sails as useless as fishbones -
as Mallards raped, as Egyptian Geese shrugged,
and flocks of plastic bottles caught in reeds.
And then a glimpse of Kingfisher, it zagged -
sky-backed, sun-bellied, rainbowed – out of green.
Illumination in the margin inked
with lapis lazuli. Tiny machine!

And in that blurred half-second how I missed
the bird already – already the pang!
My mouth hadn’t the speed to shape the word
‘Kingfisher’, before it squeaked like the hinge
of a door shutting; pierced the water’s chest.
We churn on, through a world too slow, too fast.

From Changeling by Clare Pollard, Bloodaxe 2011 


April 18th

I’m Explaining a Few Things by Pablo Neruda

You are going to ask: and where are the lilacs?
and the poppy-petalled metaphysics?
and the rain repeatedly spattering
its words and drilling them full
of apertures and birds?
I’ll tell you all the news.

I lived in a suburb,
a suburb of Madrid, with bells,
and clocks, and trees.

From there you could look out
over Castille’s dry face:
a leather ocean.
My house was called
the house of flowers, because in every cranny
geraniums burst: it was
a good-looking house
with its dogs and children.
Remember, Raul?
Eh, Rafel? Federico, do you remember
from under the ground
my balconies on which
the light of June drowned flowers in your mouth?
Brother, my brother!
Everything
loud with big voices, the salt of merchandises,
pile-ups of palpitating bread,
the stalls of my suburb of Arguelles with its statue
like a drained inkwell in a swirl of hake:
oil flowed into spoons,
a deep baying
of feet and hands swelled in the streets,
metres, litres, the sharp
measure of life,
stacked-up fish,
the texture of roofs with a cold sun in which
the weather vane falters,
the fine, frenzied ivory of potatoes,
wave on wave of tomatoes rolling down the sea.

And one morning all that was burning,
one morning the bonfires
leapt out of the earth
devouring human beings –
and from then on fire,
gunpowder from then on,
and from then on blood.
Bandits with planes and Moors,
bandits with finger-rings and duchesses,
bandits with black friars spattering blessings
came through the sky to kill children
and the blood of children ran through the streets
without fuss, like children’s blood.

Jackals that the jackals would despise,
stones that the dry thistle would bite on and spit out,
vipers that the vipers would abominate!

Face to face with you I have seen the blood
of Spain tower like a tide
to drown you in one wave
of pride and knives!

Treacherous
generals:
see my dead house,
look at broken Spain :
from every house burning metal flows
instead of flowers,
from every socket of Spain
Spain emerges
and from every dead child a rifle with eyes,
and from every crime bullets are born
which will one day find
the bull’s eye of your hearts.

And you’ll ask: why doesn’t his poetry
speak of dreams and leaves
and the great volcanoes of his native land?

Come and see the blood in the streets.
Come and see
The blood in the streets.
Come and see the blood
In the streets!

Explico algunas cosas by Pablo Neruda from Selected Poems: A bilingual Edition,  Penguin Books 1975. Translated by Nathaniel Tarn.  This poem originally from Tercera Residencia (1947)

April 11th

Easter, 1944 by John Lucas

A cold one. My father, home
briefly on leave, took me a promised walk.
My sister came too, holding hard to my hand.

There was a wind thrashed bare branches, made wires howl,
the flat, grey sky held no hope of sun. He was
strange to us and we did not talk.

In Lane End spinney he pointed to an old
tin bath half-hidden among weeds. I didn’t tell
him a tramp would sleep there, scaring little girls.

Trudging back, he spoke of walks we’d take
“When I am home for good.” But
I swerved from him, would not see his face.

There are dreams now in which I am kept to a road
under a lowering sky and I can’t tell
which way the children took or when they left.

Father, forgive my dry, incurious eyes.

From ‘Next Year Will Be Better’ , Five Leaves Publications 2010


March 30th

The Night Out by David Cooke
for Paul

Going upstairs, I can think of him still
in the bathroom, crooning. It’s Danny Boy,
or some doomed melody dredged up
from a past we’re unable to share.
Nearly all of the words are missing
as he tries half-heartedly to reinvent them;
while the tune gets sprightly,
pepped up for a night on the tiles.

When I played my records he told me
that music always needed a lilt,
a syrupy air you could hum
like a song of John McCormack’s.
I was into the blues, the sax, significance-
No way my blacks or Dylan could sing!

His judgments were mostly like that:
definitive, unbending, like his sense of style
marooned in the nineteen fifties,
when the rest of us came along-
his wild locks restrained,
sleeked down with a blob of Brylcreem. 

From In The Distance, Night publishing 2011,
with kind permission of David Cooke.

March 25th

Constellations by Ian Parks

Because the night was hot
and hotter than the night before
I took my bedding out onto the ledge
and slept under the stars.
There was nothing in the purple sky
that I could recognise
except, perhaps, Orion’s belt
slung sideways, obvious,
its outline easy to identify.
Our ancestors had lived
by them, crossed oceans
with them as their guide,
worshipped them and gave them names.
How small they look-
the promises we made
and failed to keep.
Light pollution made it hard to see
those pin-pricks in the sky-
a sharpness harder to define,
the city a red glow beyond the rim.
Stars are the worn-out ghosts of us
escaping into sleep.

First published in Dream Catcher 24,
printed here with the kind permission of Ian Parks

March 22nd

The Underground by Seamus Heaney

There we were in the vaulted tunnel running,
You in your going-away coat speeding ahead
And me, me then like a fleet god gaining
Upon you before you turned to a reed

Or some new white flower japped with crimson
As the coat flapped wild and button after button
Sprang off and fell in a trail
Between the Underground and the Albert Hall

Honeymooning, mooning around, late for the Proms,
Our echoes die in that corridor and now
I come as Hansel came on the moonlit stones
Retracing the path back, lifting the buttons

To end up in a draughty lamplit station
After the trains have gone, the wet track
Bared and tensed as I am, all attention
For your step following and damned if I look back.

From ‘Station Island’ 1984, Faber and Faber.

Woman, Outside by Paul Durcan

after Veronica Bolay

Catching sight of the woman, people cried:
Who does she think she is?
Walking along a country road in June
In a miniskirt in her bare legs.

In a miniskirt, I tell you, in her bare legs!
No stockings, no tights, all airy-fairy!
She – fifty at least, more likely sixty!
Who does she think she is? Herself?

Not merely a mini but a white mini with petals.
A violet vest, not a proper top, as if she was a young girl
Or a sisterly gazelle in the women’s marathon.
She was always a purple woman!

Sauntering along a country road in June.
Not walking – oh no!
Walking would never be pure enough for her.
She was always a saunterer –

Sauntering as if, having spent the modern age
Hanging out the washing on the clothes line
Strung up between two birch trees on the mountain
She is free to saunter now and forever more – at her age!

Who is that outside my window?
Woman, outside.

From  Praise in Which I Live and Move and Have my Being,
this poem found in Guardian review by Kate Kellaway, 18th March 2012. 


March 14th

Stable by Claudia Emerson

One rusty horseshoe hangs on a nail
above the door, still losing its luck,
and a work-collar swings, an empty
old noose. The silence waits, wild to be
broken by hoofbeat and heavy
harness slap, will founder but remain;
while, outside, above the stable,
eight, nine, now ten buzzards swing low
in lazy loops, a loose black warp
of patience, bearing the blank sky
like a pall of wind on mourning
wings. But the bones of this place are
long picked clean. Only the hayrake’s
ribs still rise from the rampant grasses.

From Pharoah, Pharoah 1997 by Claudia Emerson,LSU Press

March 9th

Parapet By Stewart Sanderson

The floor yawns up, the roof an absent presence
implied in the rafters, reconsidered, written out
of the narrative. Their endings look askance
from solid walls, the remaining buttresses
sat true against lichen. A close acidic pout
as it eats the stone, flushes orange, purple, red
and shades of lichen, usually known
in lavender. Now the wind cracks down its knout
on the minimal roof, the precarious parapet
which supports your weight. You acknowledge worried shouts
and win your bet.

Posted with kind permission of Stewart Sanderson.

March 4th

Torrevieja, 2010
by Jess Mayhew.

Long after the siesta,
lemons smoulder,
deflated under the slow creep of ants.

All day we have cut and hauled,
dismantling our orchard
from the uncountry of desert.
Here, your gaze will wither.

Prickly with lemon bark,
we lie in bull-black shadow.
Cerrado. Even the sign is bleached quiet,
red to pink, like our eyelids in the morning.

From Someone Else’s Photograph
reproduced with the kind permission of Jess,
Crystal Pamphlets 2012.

Febuary 22nd

A Butterfly in the British Museum
by Kelly Grovier

Smuggled in on a schoolgirl’s cuff
its brushed wings dusting
the cabinet edges- agate seals

and scarabs, a charlatan’s scrying
crystal and turquoise teeth
of an Aztec skull. Spinning

to kneel, she shrugs loose
her knapsack, scrabbling
for sketchbook and pen,

when suddenly her wrist blossoms,
takes flight, meets itself
in a ricochet glare-

its hieroglyphs ghosting
into cartouched tombs.
For an instant, the mystery

of the living and beauty of the dead
flutter in the glass; impulsive
lenses zoom too late!, too late!

as the soul of a doodling girl
vibrates to the sky-light’s deep,
unpinnable blue.

From The Best British Poetry, Salt Books, 2011,
editor Roddy Lumsden. First published in PN Reveiw.

February 9th
Signs On a White Field
by Robin Robertson

The sun’s hinge on the burnt horizon
has woken the sealed lake,
leaving a sleeve of sound. No wind,
just curved plates of air
re-shaping under the trap-ice,
straining to give; the groans and rumbles
like someone shifting heavy tables far below.
I snick a stone over the long sprung deck
to get the dobro’s glassy note, the crying
slide of a bottleneck, its
tremulous ululation to the other shore.
The rocks are ice-veined; the trees
swagged with snow.
Here and there, a sudden frost
has caught some turbulence in the water
and made it solid: frozen in its distress
to a scar, or a skin-graft.
Everywhere, frost-heave has jacked up boulders
clear of the surface, and the ice-shove
has piled great slabs on the lake-edge
like luggage tumbled from a carousel.

A racket of jackdaws, the serrated call
of a falcon as I walk out onto the lake.

A living lens of ice; you can hear it bending,
breathing, re-adjusting its weight and light
as the hidden tons of water
swell and stretch underneath,
thickening with cold.

A low grumble, a lingering vibrato, creaks
that seem to echo back and forth for hours;
the lake is talking to itself. A loud
twang in the ice. Twitterings
in the railway lines
from a train about to arrive.
A pencilled-in silence,
hollow and provisional.
And then it comes.
The detonating crack, like a dropped plank,
as if the world will follow.
But all that happens
is a huge release of sound: a boom
that rolls under the ice for miles,
some fluked leviathan let loose
from centuries of sleep, trying to push through,
shaking the air like sheet metal,
like a muffled giant drum.

I hear the lake all night as a distant war.
In the morning’s brightness
I brush the snow off with a glove,
smooth down a porthole in the crust
and find, somehow, the living green beneath.
The green leaf looks back, and sees
a man walking out in this shuddering light
to the sound of air under the ice,
out onto the lake, among sun-cups,
snow penitents: a drowned man, waked
in this weathering ground.

From ‘The Wrecking Light’ Picador 2010


January 24th

The Mower, by Philip Larkin

The mower stalled, twice; kneeling, I found
A hedgehog jammed up against the blades,
Killed. It had been in the long grass.

I had seen it before, and even fed it, once.
Now I had mauled its unobtrusive world
Unmendably. Burial was no help:

Next morning I got up and it did not.
The first day after a death, the new abscence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

From Philip Larkin, Collected poems, edited with an introduction
by Anthony Thwaite, Faber and Faber, 2003.

January 15th

Garden By Sam Willetts

Look to your life.
Rest your kindness
and your unkindness
now, and listen: I know
what makes your heart
clench coldly
in all weathers,
I know how it feels
that it always will.
Bear that. Look to your life,
to your one given garden.

From New Light for the Old Dark, Cape Books 2010

January 9th 2012

The Kite By Judith Beveridge

Today I watched a boy fly his kite.
It didn’t crackle in the wind-but
gave out a barely perceptible hum.

At a certain height, I’d swear I heard
it sing. He could make it climb in
any wind; would crank those angles up,

make it veer with the precision of
an insect targeting a sting; then he’d
let it roil in rapturous finesse, a tiny

bird in mid-air courtship. When
lightening cracked across the cliff-
(like quick pale flicks of yak-hair

fly-whisks)- he stayed steady. For
so long he kept his arms up, as if
he knew he’d hoist that kite enough.

I asked if it was made of special silk,
if he used some particular string-
and what he’d heard while holding it.

He looked at me from a distance,
then asked about my alms bowl,
my robes, and about that for which

a monk lives. It was then that I saw
I could tell him nothing in the cohort
wind, that didn’t sound illusory.

From ‘Wolf Notes, Giramondo Publishing 2003.

January 3rd 2012

‘A human head . . .’ By Edwin Morgan

A human head would never do
under the mists and rains or tugged
by ruthless winds or whipped with leaves
from raving trees. But who is he
in bronze, who is the moveless one?
The poet laughed, It isn’t me.
It’s nearly me, but I am free
to dodge the showers or revel in them,
to walk the alleys under the stars
or waken where the blackbirds are.
Some day my veins will turn to bronze
and I won’t hear, or make, a song.
Then indeed I shall be my head
staring ahead, or so it seems,
but you may find me watching you,
dear traveller, or wheeling round
into your dreams.

From Dreams and Other Nightmares: New and Uncollected Poems 1954-2009, Mariscat Press

December 25th

Espresso by Tomas Transtromer

The black coffee they serve out of doors
among tables and chairs gaudy as insects.

Precious distillations
filled with the same strength as Yes and No.

It’s carried out from the gloomy kitchen
and looks into the sun without blinking.

In the daylight a dot of beneficent black
that quickly flows into a pale customer.

It’s like the drops of black profoundness
sometimes gathered up by the soul,

giving a salutary push: Go!
Inspiration to open your eyes.

From New Collected Poems, Bloodaxe, 2011
December 20th

Dead Fish by Paul Farley

Remember how they made us play Dead Fish?
If it rained, the dinner-ladies kept us in
and we cleared the canteen of its chairs and tables.
Have you forgotten how we lay so still?
The smell of old varnish, salt on the parquet,
or how the first five minutes were the easiest?
You’d find an attitude that you were sure
could last until the bell. Foetal, recovery:
each had his favourite. I’d strike a simple
flat-on back, arms-by-my-sides figure
and concentrate.

Some fell asleep,
easy after seconds of tapioca,
and this proved fatal. Sleep is seldom still.
Others could last as long as pins and needles
allowed, or until they couldn’t frame
the energies of being six years old:
some thought would find its way into a limb
and give the game away. But you were good,
so good you always won, so never saw
this lunch-time slaughter of the innocents
from where we sat out on the bean-bagged margin.
Dead fish in uniform, oblivious
to dinner-ladies’ sticks poking their ribs,
still wash up on my mind’s floor when it rains
in school hours. Blink if you remember this.

From ‘The Ice Age’, Paul Farley, Picador 2002.

December 16th

Mattresses, by Jean Sprackland

Tipped down the embankment, they
sprawl like sloshed suburban wives,

buckled and split, slashed by rain,
moulded by bodies dead or disappeared
and reeking with secrets.

A lineside museum of sleep and sex,
an archive of thrills and emissions,
the histories of half-lives
spent hiding in dark.

Arthritic iron frames might still be worth a bit,
but never that pink quilted headboard,
naked among thistles, relic
of some reckless beginning, testament

to the usual miracle: the need to be close,
whatever the stains or the bruises.

From Tilt, Cape books 2007.
Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach will be published in June 2012.

December 11th

Lyrics to ‘The Poacher’ by Ronnie Lane

Was fresh and bright and early
I went towards the river
But nothing still has altered just the seasons ring a change
There stood this old timer
For all the world’s first poacher
His mind upon his tackle
And these words upon his mind:

Bring me fish with eyes of jewels
And mirrors on their bodies
Bring them strong and bring them bigger
Than a newborn child

Well I’ve no use for riches
And I’ve no use for power
And I’ve no use for a broken heart
I’ll let this world go by

There stood this old timer
For all the world’s first poacher
His mind upon his tackle
And these words upon his mind:

Bring me fish with eyes of jewels
And mirrors on their bodies
Bring them strong and bring them bigger
Than a newborn child

December 5th

The Moth Hour, by Kim Moore

It’s almost endearing to watch us again

in that vanishing dusk, the windows

stretching behind you

as the dark folds itself over the garden

and the bats flick back and forth

and I realise

I always knew that you’d tell me then,

in the moth hour, that we’d leave

the lamp to burn

all night and the moths would hit the walls

with a sound like fingers tapping,

that it was always

too late to close the window, that they

were already dying, every time

their bodies

hit a surface, that I knew on our first date,

when you sat behind me and put your hands

on my shoulders,

that, yes, I even knew that summer

when you showed me the woods

where garlic grew,

when you gave me a wild orchid

and we heard the herons, calling and swearing

high in the trees.

The Moth Hour previously appeard in the TLS
and is featured with Kim’s kind permission.

2nd December 2011

The Knife by Michael Laskey

You brought it with you to the marriage
I think, already in your kitchen drawer
in Savernake Road when we first
pooled our possessions. A perfectly
ordinary kitchen knife: the two
rivets through the dark stained wood
of the handle still holding the blade
firmly after twenty years. Signs
of wear though, as you’d expect: the tip
broken off-used to lever once
too often- a nick in the edge
and the brown handle mottled, streaked
unevenly where the wood dye’s leached.
I like it sharp: gritting my teeth
I grind it between steel wheels
now and again, scare my thumb.
It fits my fist, loves stringing beans,
slicing onions, tomatoes, courgettes.
Who’d have thought it would come to matter
so much to me, this small knife
you say now you’re not sure was yours?

From ‘In the Fruit Cage’ by Michael Lasky
Smith/Doorstop Books.

18th November 2011

from Lightenings   by Seamus Heaney

The annals say:  when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’

The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’  So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvelous as he had known it.

24th Oct 2011 From Poetry London 

Kathleen Jamie’s collection of essays, Sightlines, will appear next year. Her most recent poetry collection, The Tree House (Picador, 2004), won the Forward Prize. She is chair of Creative Writing at Stirling University.

Kathleen Jamie Hawk and Shadow

I watched a hawk
glide low across the hill,
her own dark shape
in her talons like a kill.

She tilted her wings,
fell into the air –
the shadow coursed on
without her, like a hare.

Being out of sorts
with my so-called soul,
part unhooked hawk,
part shadow on parole

I played fast and loose:
keeping one in sight
while forsaking the other.
The hawk gained height:

her mate on the ground
began to fade,
till hill and sky were empty,
and I was afraid.

11th October 2011

Here’s one of mine, written today.
With thanks to H, for asking (Removed as accepted for magazine publication).

3rd September 2011

The Meaning of Existence by Les Murray

Everything except language
knows the meaning of existence.
Trees, planets, rivers, time
know nothing else. They express it
moment by moment as the universe.

Even this fool of a body
lives it in part, and would
have full dignity within it
but for the ignorant freedom
of my talking mind.
from
Poems the Size of Photographs, 2002

30th August

Wilderness with Two Figures by Andrew Philip

Two men sit in open ground.
One holds a watch, the other a trout.
The one who holds the watch
envies the other’s contact with nature.

The one who holds the trout
wishes he could tell the time of day.
The watch is battery powered
and there are no shops

within travelling distance. The trout,
naturally, is dead. It is summer
and there is no ice. Not everything
is as simple as it might seem.

From ‘The Ambulance Box’, Salt Publishing, 2009.

15th August

Begin by Brendan Kennelly

Begin again to the summoning birds
to the sight of light at the window,
begin to the roar of morning traffic
all along Pembroke Road.
Every beginning is  a promise
born in light and dying in dark
determination and exaltation of springtime
flowering the way to work.
Begin to the pageant of queuing girls
the arrogant loneliness of swans in the canal
bridges linking the past and future
old friends passing though with us still.
Begin to the loneliness that cannot end
since it perhaps is what makes us begin,
begin to wonder at unknown faces
at crying birds in the sudden rain
at branches stark in the willing sunlight
at seagulls foraging for bread
at couples sharing a sunny secret
alone together while making good.
Though we live in a world of dreams of ending
that always seems about to give in
something that will not acknowledge conclusion
insists that we forever begin.

From Familiar Strangers,  Selected Poems 1960-2004
Bloodaxe Booksbloodaxebooks.com

12th August

MOTEL CHRONICLES by Sam Shepard

He changed the canary

Fed the mule

Stood transfixed for half an hour

Every morning

He changed the canaries

Fed the mule

And stood transfixed for half an hour

He never planned on standing transfixed for half an hour

It just happened

Every morning

Maybe it was the pause in finishing feeding the mule

The momentum running down

There seemed to be a natural momentum

From changing the canaries

To feeding the mule

There was never any problem

Moving from the canaries

To the mule

It just happened

Every morning

It was the pause

After feeding the mule

That stunned him

A Giant Pause

He even knew what the next thing was

He knew it very clearly

He knew the next thing was feeding himself

After feeding the mule

But he couldn’t move

He stood transfixed for half an hour

Staring at the desert

Sometimes staring at his bottle house

Sometimes staring at the well pump

It depended on which direction he happened to be facing

When the transfixion struck him

It got to the point when he looked forward

To standing transfixed for half an hour

It was the high point of his morning

Change the canaries

Feed the mule

Stand transfixed for half an hour

From Motel Chronicles, City Lights Books.

6th August

Fable by Maria Taylor

The girls pass us by, all volume and lilt
in their weekend tribes, hollering, invulnerable,

so we call it a night to the scraping of heels
sleepwalking through ring-shaped streets

and far away from the jewel-box fronts
of shops and bars, into the city’s midnight.

We lost our way home, under a crescent moon,
you and I diminishing with every footfall.

I wanted to turn back, to the pinwheels of light
thrown from the centre of the city we’d left,

the snaking filaments of neon electricity
and the sticky crowds, who shielded us from ourselves.

Fable town; our halls of pleasure and distortion,
the absinthe-green light, hollowing your cheeks.

Instead we murmur sobering goodbyes
our voices weaving into the pallium of dark.

You fall into the calyx of my memory
and bury yourself under clocks.

First published in Obsessed With Pipework No. 55

29th July

IT’S EVERYTHING YOU WANT FROM THE
END OF FINALS BY RIVER WOLTON

Sunny. The ice-cream shop’s open.
You’ve written ten three-hour papers in five days,
skirting the topic of medieval torture
in a question on the Albigensian heresies.
You’ve not called for a yard of ale. Someone’s
killed themself. You’ve knotted page to page
with lengths of string draped on the desk
by invilgilators strolling up and down.
Now you’re going to shove 10p’s in fruit machines
and drink until you’re in a Brixton attic,
the anarchists next door are Stopping the City
and shitting in the garden, and as you come round
from Special Brew a German punk called Tina
mutters Why, oh Why.

From LEAP, published 2010 by Smith/Doorstop Books.

  6th July

Science by John Burnside

Sound waves were never explained
to my satisfaction,

how they could travel through water, lacing the pool
with muffled voices,

or streaming away from the deep end, to fledge the
walls
with faint harmonics, lapping semitones.

On Thursdays I went from school
to the public baths

and waited for the body I desired:
the swallow dive, the underwater glide,

the surface tension
of a second skin.

In physics I watched a light beam shatter and heal,
bleeding to crimson and blue prism of glass,

and wondered if a soul could change like that,
my father’s shadow filtered through the lens

and disappearing, leaving something clean
and weighted, like the swimmer’s earned fatigue,

rythmic and steady,
a sine wave of grace and attunement.

From Swimming in the Flood, Cape 1995.

2nd July

Caveat by Fiona Benson

But consider the cactus:
its thick hide
and parched aspect

still harbour a moist heart;
nick its rind and sap
wells up like sugared milk

from the store of water
held beneath its spines,
its armoury of barbs

and,once a lifetime
when the hard rains fall
there is this halo of flowers.

From the 2009 pamphlet Faber New Poets 1.

19th June

I have re-discovered Mike Di Placido’s Theatre of Dreams,
his lovely 2009 pamphlet from Smiths/Doorstop Books.
Mike covers a range of subjects from George Mallory to Amy
Winehouse with great ecomony of style, humour and beauty.
I urge you to vist Smiths Doorstop and order a copy.
Here is a poem from the collection; I could have chosen any of them.

A YORKSHIRE PARABLE

I went to see the wisest man in the world-
he lived above a shop in Cleckheaton.
A nice man, he offered me tea and biscuits
before we got down to business.

Is there an omniscient being? I asked him,
one who shares an intimate
relationship with each and every one of us?
I wouldn’t really know, he said.

Well, do you belive in an afterlife?
A heaven, perhaps: or maybe reincarnation?
It would be nice, he mused-
pushing over the chocolate eclairs.

Realising I was getting nowhere with this,
I wandered over to the window
and watched as cold November light
set fire to the trees across the road.

Nice day, I ventured.
Now you’re getting somewhere, he replied.

16th June

Love by Miroslav Holub

Two thousand cigarettes.
A hundred miles
from wall to wall.
An eternity and a half of vigils
blanker than snow.

Tons of words
old as the tracks
of a platypus in the sand.

A hundred books we didn’t write.
A hundred pyrimids we didn’t build.

Sweepings.
Dust.

Bitter
as the beginning of the world.

Belive me when I say
it was beautiful.

From POEMS BEFORE AND AFTER
PUBLISHED BY BLOODAXE BOOKS LTD, 1990.

6th June 2011

Beautiful lyric from Tom Waits 2002 album, Alice.  

ALICE

(Tom Waits/Kathleen Brennan)

It’s dreamy weather we’re on
You waved your crooked wand
Along an icy pond with a frozen moon
A murder of silhouette crows I saw
And the tears on my face
And the skates on the pond
They spell Alice

I disappear in your name
But you must wait for me
Somewhere across the sea
There’s a wreck of a ship
Your hair is like meadow grass on the tide
And the raindrops on my window
And the ice in my drink
Baby all I can think of is Alice

Arithmetic arithmetock
Turn the hands back on the clock
How does the ocean rock the boat?
How did the razor find my throat?
The only strings that hold me here
Are tangled up around the pier

And so a secret kiss
Brings madness with the bliss
And I will think of this
When I’m dead in my grave
Set me adrift and I’m lost over there
And I must be insane
To go skating on your name
And by tracing it twice
I fell through the ice
Of Alice

And so a secret kiss
Brings madness with the bliss
And I will think of this
When I’m dead in my grave
Set me adrift and I’m lost over there
And I must be insane
To go skating on your name
And by tracing it twice
I fell through the ice
Of Alice
There’s only Alice

May 27th 2011

The stolen orange by Brian Patten

When I went out I stole an orange
I kept it in my pocket
It felt like a warm planet

Everywhere I went smelt of oranges
Whenever I got into an awkward situation
I’d take the orange out and smell it

And immediately on even dead branches I saw
The lovely and fierce orange blossom
That smells so much of joy

When I went out I stole an orange
It was a safeguard against imagining
there was nothing bright or special in the world

2 thoughts on “Favourite poem of the week

  1. Gosh… I’ve just wiled away an age and a half looking at these wonderful poems. (you have excellent taste… or should I say our tastes converge…) Some of them I’ve read before and some of them are new treasures that I will hold dear forever.
    I loved so much
    February 9th
    Signs On a White Field
    by Robin Robertson
    I read it aloud to Jacob and I was quite overcome. I wept after I’d finished for the sheer beauty of it, the perfection… and for a small moment I thought – why do I bother? And then I thought – that is why I bother…
    Thank you

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