Here we are, back at The Old Olive Press* and just starting a week of writing tutored by Mimi Khalvati, with a bunch of writers new to me…apart from the splendid Seni Seneviratne, who I met when she read at The Albert Poets in Huddersfield. But instead of looking forward, I’m looking back to the first time I came here in May 2013, and meeting someone who transformed the week. Gyula Friewald is a craftsman in metal; a sculptor, a forger, a blacksmith, an artist…all of these. He has made thousands of stunning things, like the bas relief Nomad, which is my headline image this week; he has created monumental gates for embassies, beautiful cast street lamps, elegant steel trophies, stunning staircases…he has made things for streets in capital cities, for restaurants, for private houses. His range and energy are formidable. But, like he says, it’s physically punishing, and he’s retired. He lives in Spain. He writes poetry in English. And he is one of the best walking companions I have ever met. In the late afternoons, before the evening meal, we’d sit and workshop his poems, with me helping (I hope) him to find the English idioms that would keep the meanings he intended, in a language not his first or his own. But after lunch, we’d go for long walks, and, if we hadn’t done that, I’d never have learned the landscapes we were walking through. It was a week of tumultuous history lessons, philosophy, discovering the names and properties of flowers, watching eagles, far off, uprooting steel snares, finding the bones of a fox, speculating on the meaning of petroglyphs, the behaviours of metals, the weight of anvils, and laughing a lot. When I came here the second time, I hoped he’d be here too, and found that he was, even if he wasn’t..I found myself on every solitary walk wondering what Gyula would make of this or that, and pointing things out, even though he wasn’t there. In the end I had to write a poem for him. So that’s what this week is: a poem and (I don’t know if this is wise or not; maybe you’ll tell me) a whole bunch of images of things he explained to me or told me stories about.
(for Gyula Friewald: sculptor and teller of stories)
On my own, months later, by the footprint
of St Jaume, the candles in the niche, I could swear
I heard you still forging meanings…all this terraces…
and you held an arc of sky in one hard palm,
drew a pure line on the air …..these bancals, was the Moors
who build …you put your hand on the drywalled stone,
tracing its joints, so I felt the weight and drag,
the ugly labour that it took to make those lovely
contours where olives, almonds, lemons grow.
And where we came on the bones of the fox ….
…you want sculpture; look at your own hand, the way…
The sea so far and vague. Back on the track
you were hunting words to tell the meaning
of that finger-painted petroglyph..maybe this man
he wants to make a power over the dark….
By a burned tree stump above the deep arroya..
…was the time my father had to hide away from Stalin….
and in the meadow profligate with flowers
you know why this Hungarian has a German name?
In the dark below the grandfather’s Christmas table
the mill race ran….between the boards
you could see..You know that…..
……kow why I like England? We were
by a two-hundred year old olive tree,
a mountain floating in the sky beyond
….because is surrounded by food….and we watched
the eagles spiralling on thermals, miles away
…you know what my country is surrounded by?..
In a blink, the eagles slanted off into the sun
…is by enemies. Leaving nothing to be said.
Late afternoon, on the Via Dolorosa
below the castle ruin…that big anvil that I have
to leave behind in London..maybe two ton..between
the Stations of Veronica…but that big hammer
gives the sound..like bells, maybe…and of Simon of Cyrene
…you know is right…you raised your arm. your fist
and I thought I could see how the forge, the heat
and that hammer take their toll on the body, the bone.
Day after day, this lore of flowers, the secrets
of copper, of silver, the forging of steel,
how a carob pod smells of chocolate,
the hinges and hanging of church doors, ten metres tall,
of damascening, of the breaking of Hungary,
how love can fracture on the anvil of work…all of it.
In the cool green light where the village women
used to do their laundry we said nothing at all.
I watch mosqito larvae struggle with the surface
tension. Listen to small sounds of water. Bells
On Wednesday, Gyula is planning to come for the day, and we’ll walk over the col , where we found the bones of the fox, and down to Sella. And back. I am looking forward to that.
*The Old Olive Press, Almaserra Vella, Releu, Alicante. Find them on their website
** Broken English is from Running out of Space. For details, see My Books at the top of the page