Another dark watcher and a polished gem (15)…Carole Bromley

stonegate devil

I’m a bit late sitting down to this post, but I have to say, I couldn’t be happier. I’ve been looking forward to our guest today….and I can see that you have too. You all look ever so smart and well-turned out. You’re a credit to yourselves. I’ll not make you wait too long to listen to her poems, but you know I like to do a bit of scene setting and set-dressing . Here we go.

There was a time when I wasn’t all that keen on Jane Austen. I came at her the wrong way. I thought she wasn’t that interesting because, as Raymond Williams once wrote, she sees the world through a filtering mesh beyond which 90% of the world is invisible. I blamed her for what she wasn’t doing rather than seeing what she did. And so I went on mining the fertile seams of literature that engaged more obviously with the tensions of social and economic change. I preferred to read ‘Mary Barton’ and ‘Hard Times’  and Cobbett’s ‘Rural Rides’. If it wasn’t evidently political, it didn’t seem important.

But came the day when I had to teach ‘Emma’ to an extremely bright ‘A’ level group. It might have included Jill Dawson..it was in the late 1970s, any way. I gritted my teeth, and settled down to give it the benefit of the doubt, and read it without a sociological pair of specs on. What swung it was reading a critic (I can’t for the life of me remember who) who said something that rocked me on my heels. It was to the effect that Jane Austen turned an unwavering eye on the difficult moral obligations of personal relations in an enclosed society. One where you can’t avoid the same people, a world of mutual dependencies and apparently small disturbances, where the businesses of property and marriage are inextricably tied together in a net of fine distinctions and expectations. What it said to me was that the human condition could be explored just as significantly within these narrow bounds as on the huge canvas of a ‘Nostromo’. Well. It was probably obvious to you, but it was a bombshell to me.’ Emma’ is still one of my favourite novels. Not quite up there with ‘Middlemarch’ but Premiership all the way.

And your point? I can hear you thinking. Get on with it. You said you wouldn’t do this. I take your point. Here’s mine. Jane Austen is one of those dark watchers I wrote about ages ago when I shared my huge enthusiasm for Julia Deakin’s poetry. This is what I wrote then:

Dark watcher? why? I think (but I’m not checking – it’s not a proper review) that I came across this haunting phrase sometime in the 70s; I think it was in an article by Geoff Fox in Children’s literature in education…maybe about ‘A wizard of Earthsea’. It’s phrase that a 12 year old girl used to describe herself as a reader …. a sort of hidden, secret eavesdropper on, and fascinated observer of, other lives. Not sinister, but, simultaneously, emotionally involved and moved and engaged, and distanced and disengaged. It makes me think of Mary Lennox in The Secret Garden who observes because she’s basically left out, curiously detached, rueful, and occasionally cross.

Beningbrough-Hall-Gardens

Degrees of separation. About a year ago I was jointly editing an anthology…The garden’ [Otley Word Feast Press] and working my way through loads and loads of anonymous submissions, and one just leapt off the page..  Beningborough Hall..I knew it had to be in the anthology, but here’s the thing. I was sure I’d recognised a Julia Deakin poem. I hadn’t. It was a Carole Bromley poem. It was the last stanza that did it.

In the walled garden, where catnip and lady’s mantle

tumble under arches of espaliered pear, girls in long frocks

and boys in peaked caps play hoop and ball,

the laundry clock strikes one, even the rhubarb knows its place.

You might think, in an off-moment, that you’re wandering through an Antiques Roadshow world, but Carole Bromley, throughout this poem, is on the side of the servants…and the rhubarb. It’s a quietly subversive affair (see where the Jane Austen echoes come in?). It’s unsentimental, wry and ironic. And crafted. Every word weighed and in its right place doing its right job. Like the rhubarb. The proletarian crop of the West Riding. And the only word, as Tony Harrison pointed out, allowed to the extras in a play. The one who are given no lines. It’s got its own voice alright..it’s the tone and the precision that made me think: Julia Deakin. They work in the same sort of territory very often. And sometimes, like Mary Lennox, they can be rueful and terribly vulnerable. Here’s a clip from Julia.

I’d come into the shed
and peer deep into the paraffin heater, loving its ring of flame
and purple fumes. Hoping for nothing, but that you would turn round.

and then this poem that Carole has sent me to share.

Touch
There wasn’t a lot of it in our house.
We learned to live without

though I do remember one time
when my friend, Rosemary, died

and, on the same day, my boyfriend
told someone to tell me we were through

which was a shame since he
was one of the first people

in my whole life to touch me
and I loved it. That night my father

asked me to come down from my room
and watch the news with them.

Three and a half inches of snow
had fallen that day in Alamo.

I lay on the sofa while dad stroked my hair
like an awkward teenager

and, a quarter of a million miles away,
the Russians made the first soft landing on the moon.

You can see why I was thrown. Well, I can. But enough. Time to introduce Carole Bromley, whose poems I return to, over and again.
They have been widely published in magazines including Poetry Review, Poetry News, The North, Magma, The Rialto and Smiths Knoll and she has twice (TWICE !!!) been a winner in the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition. She has two pamphlets, Unscheduled Halt (2004) and Skylight (2009) and two collections, A Guided Tour of the Ice House (2011) and The Stonegate Devil (October, 2015) with Smith/Doorstop Books, Sheffield.
Individual poems have won a number of first prizes, including the Bridport, the Yorkshire Open, Torbay and the Bronte Society Literary Prize. .She has performed at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival and run workshops at Aldeburgh and at the Bridlington Poetry Festival.
For many years an English teacher in her home town of York, she moved on to teach Creative Writing at York University’s Centre for Lifelong Learning.
Carole writes a regular poetry blog for the digital magazine YorkMix and is the judge for the York Literature Festival/YorkMix Poetry Competition. She is also the Poetry Society’s Stanza rep for York and a large group of poets from a wide area meet at her home every month to share their work. I’ve been a guest of her Stanza group, and it’s a splendid workshop..just one of so many things that she does so painstakingly and so well. I’ve also been on residential courses where we have been…what’s the right word?… students….as well as loads of Writing days with the Poetry Business. I look forward to Carole’s poems, her acute critical ear and her dry humour. We laugh a lot. I suppose that since we have 22 grandchildren between us, laughing is something we do. Right. time for the poems.

First up is one that makes me laugh out loud; it makes open mic audiences laugh too. They rarely see the line about ‘getting the shit kicked out of you’ coming if they’ve tuned in to some of the more Jane Austen-y settings. She can be gleefully anecdotal, and it’s great.

Stylist
My hairdresser doesn’t really get poetry;
he’s into Thai boxing, but he does ask about it.
We have these weird conversations
while we pretend there’s a point
in even talking about a new style.
He tells me about his broken nose,
how the A&E consultant lost patience
when he went straight out and got it broken again
and I tell him about stuff that’s alien
like doing readings to ten people
and spending more on a course
than I earn in a a year. He’s given up
trying to understand why I write
and I’ve given up trying to understand
the appeal of getting the shit kicked out of you.
I suggest the two activities are not so different;
he suggests a little layering at the sides.

 

She has great timing, and that last line is a beautifully sardonic sign-off. The vulnerability I mentioned will surface in her poems exploring family relationships, and what I read as the kind of guilt I would feel, the sort of ‘not living up to expectations’ unhappiness, that kept me awake of nights through my mothers’s last years.

 

Mum’s Foot

You’d walk again
if they’d let you go home.
They say Maybe.

Not yet. Now your foot
won’t stay put under
the sheet and when I try

to lift it the skin’s dry
and cold like it says
on page eight of the leaflet.

I can’t meet your eye
for the guilt of not
making it happen.

I talk to your foot,
hold it, stroke it,
say sorry to it.

So thin, so white,
the foot of the girl
in the photo, laughing

and running full
pelt towards the sea.

 

I like this poem so much for it’s spareness, even as I find the unsparingness of the writer towards herself hard to bear. I like the way we know whose voice is whose in the poem, the impossibility of dispersuading the mother from the firm belief she’d be alright if they only let her go home, the responsibility condensed into those short lines: I can’t meet your eye/ for the guilt of not/making it happen. …..the awkwardness of their syntax. For me, the clinching detail is the one about page eight of the leaflet. The way we know how punctiliousy, and ultimately helplessly, the writer has done her best to read up on the condition, to follow the instructions in those NHS booklets we take away from consultations. Don’t you want, like me, to take her by the hand and run full pelt towards the sea?

Let’s finish with the title poem of Carole’s second collection. Here’s another side to her poetry, because I always think there’s a researcher’s side to her, especially when it comes to York and its people and its long history. There’s no sentimentality in this one, that’s fully awake to the Saturday night York of scrapping drunks from outlying villages, as well as to its more violent histories. Here’s a rumbustious blockbuster of a poem that elides the present and the past, that is shrewdly observant, and that turns your expectaions upside down in the last satnza…that sends you back to re-examine what you think you read. There’s a dark seam running through the psyche of the Stonegate devil’s city.

 

The Stonegate Devil
He’s seen it all: mummers, buskers,
guildsmen pulling carts with wobbling tableaux
of flood, famine, crucifixion;

a couple choosing a ring in Walker and Preston’s,
a man hurrying another man’s wife
down the alley to Ye Olde Starre Inne,

drunks vomiting in the snickelway,
the purple cyclist on his purple bike,
going nowhere.

The devil’s crouched on that ledge
since Coffee Yard was Langton Lane
and Stonegate the Street of the Printers.

He doesn’t need the gear in Old Guys Rule,
wears a black chain and a pair of horns,
his skin boiled lobster,

those hands on his knees a man’s hands,
his feet the feet of a goat
and, though you can see his ribs,

he has no appetite for the eggs
in Bettys display, the chocolate otter,
the hare or the candy daffodils,

does not thirst for the spirits
in the window of Evil Eye
or the barrels in Trembling Madness

where the missing student on the poster
Megan, we would love to hear from you
smiles her pretty smile.

 

 

So there we are.You’ll be wanting to queue up, buy   The Stonegate Devil and A guided tour of the ice house [both from Smith/Doorstop Books] and ask Mrs Bromley to sign them. And say thank you very much for letting us share her poems.

And there’s still time to enter the competition she has judged for the last four years. It’s become a major competition in that time. Send your best ones in. Deadline is February 14th. And here’s the link.

http://www.yorkmix.com/competition/

Next week? Ah. There you have me. How does that Anthony Wilson do it? How does that Kim Moore and that Josephine Corcoran keep it up? Let’s say I’ll be winging it, and hope for the best.

 

Easy as ABC

anamalia_wideweb__470x282,0

Because I rather suspect I may fall behind my schedule, and be a day or two late with a post about the guest you were promised, and because it’s a wild and windy day of tossed tree-tops and of tempests, I thought I’d share a long-term pleasure and a fresh-minted poem. The pleasure is Graham Base’s utterly wonderful Animalia. I’ve lost count of the copies I’ve bought for grandchildren, and other people’s children. I’ve had it in a frieze, and in Big Book format;I’ve used it to show trainee teachers how you can get very young children to understand what word classes are and the jobs they do in a sentence (and, indeed, to recognize a sentence when they see one). I’ve still got my own copy.

How does it work, apart from looking stunning? Each letter gets a double spread and an alliterative sentence. Almost all the items in the picture begin with the same letter…lobsters and lions being the easier one in this picture. All sort of obscure and arcane words crop up. And all the fun of ‘Where’s Wally’.

I’d sort of forgotten about it until quite recently when I heard this poem…I think, first, at a workshop, and later when it strutted its stuff at an open mic.. It’s by Stephanie Bowgett, whose poetry should be better known, who has jointly organised the Albert Poets monthly readings in Huddersfield for decades, and also the writers’ workshop I go to on Monday nights (now at The Sportsmans Inn, also in Huddersfield, near the station). Here it is:

The Collectors

Ali acquired an arts and crafts bangle
browsing with Beryl
who bought the brace of Beswick bulls
that Caitlyn called naff
so Beryl was chuffed when her Clarice Cliffe
was not only chipped, but a cheap Chinese copy.
Doris paid over the odds
for a bit of blue Ditchfield with a silver frog,
but Del paid pennies for a decoupage pin tray.
Ella bought Ercol, bland and blonde and Phil
found fox-furs and a fairy lustre vase.
Gary was gutted when the Gaudy Welsh dish went to Gwyn.
Harry went off home in a huff.
Hilary haggled for a phrenology head and Howard and Izzy
were thrilled with the inkwell missing its liner.
John, John and John
found a ginger jar, a juke box and two jelly moulds
Keith, who’s into kitsch, collared the scottie dog bookends.
The Lalique lamp was too dear for Larry and Lol,
but the toddy ladle was a snip.
Mary missed out on the Moorcroft, but beat Mo
to the one-eyed Merrythought dog on wheels,
Mark snapped up the Majolica moustache cup and knew
Nigel would fall for the naked spelter nymph.
Ollie obtained an overpriced oil lamp
while Perry purchased peepshow postcards,
Quentin quibbled about quotes and queues. He quit.
Roderick rode on a rocking horse and broke it.
The Steiff bear leaking stuffing went to Steph and Teddy
took the Tudric spill case and the walnut snuff box.
Ursula found an ivory umbrella handle
under a table in a bundle of sticks.
Victor searched in vain for Victorian vesta cases,
and Will who wanted WDF, was disappointed.
Xavier exchanged an etching
for a mixed box of exotic shells.
Yolanda went for the Yoruba mask,
but Zara outbid her and then made a killing
on the pearl-ware puzzle jug,
a zinc bath
a zoetrope,
zoological prints,
the Zenith watch,
six vintage Zippos,
a Zanzibar chest,
ten zanjan rugs
and last but not least
the signed photo of Frank Zappa

I like the way it’s starting to turn in Bonzo Dog’s Intro and outro. Hey…Frank Zappa. Mmmm. Nice, Frank. Reminds me that Stephanie is the only school governor I know with an undying affection for Arthur Lee’s Love, and also for The Grateful dead.

So if you’ve had a surfeit of soul-searching, worry and weltsmersch,conflict and compromise, switch off and write an alphabet poem.

gb-animalia

A is for Armageddon and Arms sales. and Art Deco Artefacts

even better, avoid list sentences . Angry Artisans. What are they doing and where are they doing it and how and why?  Burly Builders ……… Send me yours. Let’s have a bit of a laugh. Let’s blow my cred as a poetry blogger.

[Graham Base: Animalia (Puffin Books 1996/ Turtleback books 1999)….the original only available second-hand. I think]

 

In it to win it: how to win poetry competitions

roulette wheel

Let’s get something out of the way right from the beginning. The odds of your winning a poetry competition are dramatically increased if you enter. Simultaneously, so are the chances of losing, but not by the same amount. And I guess most of us don’t buy a Lottery ticket expecting to win. If you’re like me, you buy yourself a dream.

But let me share with you my reasons for entering poetry competitions, because I hope I’ll persuade you to enter at least one.  Which one is it? It’s The Red Shed Poetry Competition, which is organised by the Currock Press..Why? Because I’m judging it..it will be launched very shortly by the lovely man behind The Currock Press, the poet, story-writer, co-organiser of The Red Shed Poetry Readings in Wakefield, and writing tutor, John Clarke. I’ll provide email addresses and so on at the end, and you can look out for it being publicised via Facebook, and sites like Write out Loud and Spoken Word. Amazingly for the Northern fastnesses of this fair kingdom you’ll be able to pay by Paypal. Which is nice. Or in kind, if you’re into barter.

In earlier posts on the cobweb, I’ve riffed on my own reasons for entering competitions. First comes the dream. What next? I look out for competitions run by small publishers, because when you pay for your entry, you’re in a win-win situation. Your entry fee is going to keep these small concerns alive…I’m thinking of ones like Prole and The interpreter’s house especially. Or you may be helping to promote a small festival, like Havant. The point is, you’re not wasting your money.

Next thing is: who’ll be judging the competition. With the small presses, I don’t mind, but when it comes to medium and high-profile affairs then what’s important to me is whether I like that poet’s work. Why? Because part of the dream is not anything to do with money (and there’s often not a lot of that involved) but the thought that my work is going to be read by someone I admire and from whom I’ve learned. If the judge’s work is not the sort of thing that floats my boat, then I don’t enter, because I guess it’s more likely than not to be mutual. For example, if Pascale Petit were to judge a competition I’d enter like a shot, but not if it was someone who went in for avant-garde shapes on the page. It’s just how I am. I certainly think twice about competitions where the work is filtered by a selection committee before it reaches the star judge….The Bridport comes to mind….but they’re likely to be the ones with big prize money. Take your choice.

Is there anything else? I’m personally attracted to competitions which offer publication of your work as a prize. Some will guarantee that runners-up will appear in their magazine (as in The Rialto/ RSPB), but I’m thinking particularly of the Camden/Lumen, where the prize is publication of a perfect-bound chapbook of your work. Incidentally, it’s still open till February, and the winner will be published by Cinnamon. How good is that? Check it out, immediately. What’s more, this competition uses your entry fee to support the Caris Camden charity that provides winter night shelters in the Borough. Win-win.

Finally, some poets I know will tell me they would rather submit to magazines. My answer is always that it’s not an either/or choice. I do both. But I know I’m always less disappointed by not winning a competition than getting ‘sorry, but no thank-you’ emails from magazine editors. I get a lot of those. I suppose it’s because I don’t expect to win a competition, but I’m absolutely convinced that Magma, The Rialto and the rest would be mad not to jump at the chance of publishing my poems.

Anyway, let’s suppose I’ve persuaded you. What advice can I give?

I’ve thought hard and long about this, ever since John Clarke asked me to judge The Red Shed. In the last couple of years, I’ve had a lot of success in competitions. I’ve had poems chosen by Andrew Motion (twice), Liz Lochhead, Blake Morrison, Billy Collins, and Simon Armitage (twice). I have not caught the eye of Carrie Etter, Alison Brackenbury, George Szirtes or Roger McGough (though with the latter, he probably never got to see it…it’s a huge comp, The Bridport). It’s hard to see that they have much in common apart from being immensely talented, and being poets I love to read.

What about the poems? I can’t see any pattern there, either. I sort of thought that most of them had been narratives of one sort or another, but when I check, I find it’s not exactly true. It’s a variety of elegaic, historical/political, mythic, anecdotal, and biographical. Possibly it’s a list that’s light on the lyrical. There are poems about Ted and Sylvia, Milton’s daughter,selkies, suffragettes, cocklepickers, cutting hair, a 10thC princess, Everest, and the plumage trade. They’re not all in the same voice. One is in the voice of a witch, another of a crucifixion expert. They’re all shapes and sizes. What it comes down to, I suppose, is that there was something in each that caught the eye, or the ear and ‘stuck’. My guest next week, Carole Bromley, who has judged the YorkMix Competition for the last four years, had to read 1800 entries last year, and tells me (and I paraphrase) it just jumps out, it’s an instinctive thing…but you know it when you see it

And that leads me to the one piece of advice that I’m totally convinced about. You don’t try to second-guess the judge. Because she, or he, simply doesn’t know. I could tell you who my favourite poets are, but I doubt it would help. Vernon Scannell, Charles Causley, Tony Harrison, John Donne, Milton, Pope, Bob Dylan, Christy Ducker, Kim Moore, Roger McGough. Blank verse, free verse, quatrains, sonnets, rhyming couplets, multiple rhymes. It’s not a question of this or that form. But judges all know when something jumps off the page. So what sort of things are we talking about?

None of this will be unexpected, I think, or new. I can only tell you what makes me pause as I look through a collection, what makes me want to buy it.

Titles.

They don’t win competitions but they can snag the attention. Ones that explain exactly what the poem is about don’t do that. But this one does:

Sometimes you think of Bowness

It holds your attention even more because it’s also the first line. And it begins a list of the things that you remember. And each line of the first stanza begins with ‘and’. It’s just a poem that grabs you visually and puzzles you just enough to give it your attention. She can do that, Kim Moore (for ’tis she). She does great titles. If we could speak like wolves.  When I was a thing with feathers. Last year’s Red Shed judge, Julie Mellor, does, too. Speaking through our bones. Yes. Check out her pamphlet of the same name. So..think about titles.

First lines (which may also be the title).

It may not have been where the poem started i its first or later drafts. Basically you know what the poem’s ‘about’, so you’re playing to get an uncommitted reader’s attention. At the same time you don’t want to give the game away. A good first line will certainly make me pay attention. Like The first hymn is Abba: I believe in angels.  Double-take. What’s going on? Must find out. Or this one:  They lashed him to old timbers / that would barely float. Him? who is he? A game with a pronoun to create a little hesitation, a suspense. Or this: Isn’t it enough that I’ve yanked out my heart? A question will catch the ear, especially if we don’t know who’s asking it or why. I’m not offering recipes or nostrums. Just saying: look at the title. Listen to the first line. Ask yourself: why should anyone bother?

The moment.

Of late I’ve found myself going again and again to Clive James’ beautiful Poetry Notebook and his insistence on the memorable, the hard-to-forget. Here’s the thing that strikes me as the heart of the memorable poem, the one that sticks, the one that may just win the prize. ‘Everything’ says James

depended on, and still depends on, the quality of the moment……whatever kind of poem it is, it’s the moment that gets you in.

That moment has to be brought alive  and bright in language. It will often be an image, but it could be a startling turn of phrase, or a beautifully placed rhyme. Trying to explain it is like trying to explain a tree or a table. It’s easier to point at some, and say: there’s a table, and so is that. And that. Here, then, are ‘moments’ in poems that persuaded me to buy collections. There might be a lot. It’s enjoyable tracking them down.

How about Robin Robertson’s At Roane Head

He went along the line / relaxing them /one after another / with a small knife

It’s the shock of that last line that nails you. Well, it does me.

Or this, in a different way, from Clare Shaw’s Ewe in several parts..about the imagined(?) loss of a baby, taken by sheep, unprotesting, because

She must have liked it 

the way she likes dogs

her hands to its mouth and stamping 

 

like she does when she’s pleased

I kept the line breaks here because they’re part of the way the moment is made to work. Think about it.

Sometimes the moment can declare itself as an image- metaphor or simile- as this  does in Wendy Pratt’s Nan Hardwicke turns into a hare.

An odd feeling this, / to hold another’s soul in the mouth like an egg

That stops me in my tracks. What would carry an egg in its mouth? And how full would that be. Awkward and fragile. It’s packed, isn’t it.

The important thing is that they will lodge themselves in my mind. They stick at a first hearing. There’s one like this that I heard when Kim Moore was reading at the Chemic Tavern a few weeks ago. I can’t remember it precisely or exactly, but I can’t forget it. She’s writing about an old boyfriend, how twice a week they would lie together, and apart, on or in a bed, not touching, asexual, like unlit candles. And I know I can never forget it. Just in case you get the idea that ‘moments’ are necessarily emotionally fraught or traumatic, the apparently funny and inconsequential will do it, too. Like this opening moment of Mike de Placido’s Diktat song (great title, too)

Some people are bad for the soul. Avoid them.

I quote granddad: Never wrestle with chimneysweeps.

You can’t legislate for it in your own poetry, but when it works, it WILL be recognised.

Technique, form and structure.

Clive James talks about ‘the spectacular expression that outruns its substance’. It’s not about formal structures or freeform or rule breaking or experiment. It’s a question of whether the words and their arrangement are doing their job, that they have to be as they are, rather than being flaunted to make an impression. I have no preference for one kind of poem or another. Sonnets, sestina, terza rimas, rhymed quatrains, couplets, tercets, villanelles. Just so long as they’re not like that to be decorative. Sonnets really do need to be about a particular kind of ‘argument’ don’t they. Sestinas deal happily with the obsessional..otherwise, what are those repetitions for. And so on.

Endings

This is a personal thing. But I like to know that a poem’s finished. And it’s not always the case. It doesn’t have to be a rhyming couplet. And I like to be brought up short by endings that surprise, that turn the poem on its head, that make you reconsider what you’ve just read. In the way that the end of that four line satanza of Robin Robertson’s does…’with a small knife’. The way it subverts what you expect ‘relaxing’ to mean, the way it throws a frightening light on the cold calculations of the man who, you realise, has just casually slaughtered his sons. There’s an art to an ending that encompasses and goes beyond the neat sign-offs of the rhyming couplet, or the rhetorical tying-off of a well-crafted sonnet.

And one more personal thing. A year or so ago I spent some time selecting poems for an anthology. Like competitions, all the entries were anonymous, but it taught me something I’d not explicitly acknowledged to myself. I can’t be doing with pretentiousness or sentimentality or ego, or writing that’s out to impress. This is not the same as being esoteric, or having a wide range of reference, or writing poetry that expects the reader to do a bit of work to follow an allusion or reference. It’s just that if it looks hard, you’re not trying hard enough.

I know there are hundreds of people out there who are better writers than I am, and better than I shall ever be. I hope they all enter The Red Shed Poetry Competition and make my life impossible.

Next week one such person will be my guest. It will be fabulous. Come early to be sure of a seat.

 

The books I’ve referred to this week were:

Robin Robertson: The wrecking light [Picador Poetry 2010] £8.99

Clare Shaw :Head On  [Bloodaxe 2012] £8.95

Wendy Pratt : Nan Hardwicke turns into a hare [Prolebooks 2011] £4.50

Mike de Placido : A sixty watt Las Vegas  [Valley press 2013] £7.99

Kim Moore : The art of falling [Seren 2015] £9.99

Pascale Petit: What the water gave me [Seren 2010] £8.99

and three web addresses.

Currock Press, I see, has now posted the rules and entry form for The Red Shed Competition 2016. Google ‘Currock Press’ or use this link : http://www.currockpress.com/

Camden/Lumen …still open into February. details at : https://camdenlumen.wordpress.com/

The Havant Literary Festival         http://www.havantlitfest.org.uk/

 

 

 

 

 

Rhythm is our business (or: how to make your poems dance)

swing-dance-fun-history1

What did I tell you last week? ‘I’m going to tell you stuff’. I’m also going to have a small wager with myself. Will I tell you what it is? No. So, pens and pencils all ready, and a nice clean bran-new page in your notebooks. You can copy the title from the blackboard. Here we go:

A couple of months ago a poetry friend of mine asked me for some advice about ‘rhythm’. Reading between the lines, he was bothered, I think, that what he was writing sounded like prose. He asked me how he could ‘get more rhythm’ into his writing. I spent a lot of time thinking about what the question meant, and I’m still not sure that what I came up with answers the question. But, for what it’s worth, I’ll share the thinking with you. And if you have more ideas, and better ones, then I’ll be delighted if you share them back. It wasn’t an orderly process, my ‘lot of time thinking’…more a collage of bits and pieces that all seem relevant but don’t jigsaw and dovetail neatly together.

Still. We need to start somewhere, and where better than with the wonderful Clive James. Here’s two things I jotted down.

‘you hear the force of real poetry at a glance’……

in a nutshell! Poetry is about its shape on the page, and the sound the shape makes.

and something he writes about a passage in Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’

‘a stanza held together by its rhythmic drive…and the assiduity with which it didn’t rhyme’.

Just hold those two things in mind. Let them wash around and colour your mood.

Let’s add something to the mix, that, on the face of it, has nothing to do with poetry and poems. I used to be, amongst other things, an OFSTED inspector, and also  a Lecturer in Primary Education, telling students, inter alia, how to beat the OFSTED system. OFSTED inspectors were strictly enjoined, when assessing observed lessons, to take particular note of ‘pace’. I know that this was was frequently understood to mean that children should ideally be taught at a remorseless speed. But pace in a lesson has nothing to do with speed. It’s actually about rhythm. That was my argument. If the rhythm is unrelenting and unvarying the result is brain-death. We need time to think. We need variation of light and shade, of tempo. We need spaces and silences to surround the word and the action.  And they have to come at the right point. And the same’s surely true of a poem.

So: three things to hold in your mind. Just one more. For now.

Rhythm’s not the same as metric regularity. It’s dancing rather than foxtrot. You want to feel it intuitively, in the blood. And why ? This was my argument in a post over a year ago.

I’m just saying, without any originality, that poetry is older than prose because it’s older than reading and writing. Its heart and soul is rhythm, and the point about rhythm is that it’s patterned and repetitive. Children teach us this, but I wonder if we listen hard enough.What did rhythm help people to do for thousands of years before writing? It helped them, through songs and chants, to work collaboratively, to move huge loads, raise sails, keep straight lines in planting and harvesting fields. It helped them to celebrate with continuity the important things like birth and death and marriage. It gave them communal memories through the stories of victories and defeats, floods, fires, famines, and myths and legends. If these couldn’t be written down, then they had to be memorised. Stories had to be memorisable as well as memorable. Which is why we needed rhythm and repetition (just like times tables) and then the clever invention of rhyme that underscored rhythm and also helped the storyteller to remember the next line. The Odyssey, and Beowulf, had to be memorised. As did the parts of the Miracle Plays performed by artisans, not scholars.
Poetry was a creation of voice and sound and performance, social, collaborative, and democratic.

jazz

Once we could write poetry, we weren’t nailed down to the need to be memorisable. On the other hand, the responsiblity to write memorably became even more central and critical. As James says of the ‘real poem’ ..’it somehow seems to be memorizing itself for you’. Which I translate as: it makes itself memorable as you read and listen to it.

All of this, I think, lies behind my friend’s asking for help. How DO I write with rhythm? How do I find a rhythm? I know exactly what it’s like when you do find it…that feeling of being in the zone, where the rhythm is carrying the writing, where the words know where they’re going, where everything seems inevitable. It happens less than we’d like, but maybe there are things we can do that make it more likely. I think of this in the way that I think of practising with a musical instrument. There are things that have to be repeated in order to become automatic, and appear intuitive.If you have to think about the how rather than the what, there’ll be no rhythm, no fluency.

So, here’s where I start. Oral poetry will tend to be regular, and sometimes clunky. The Anglo-Saxon line can feel remorseless, the metre of the Finnish Kalevala, even more..

Voice the best of all our legends
For the hearing of our loved ones,
Those who want to learn them from us,
Those among the rising young ones
Of the growing generation.

But memorisable..which makes the popularity of the boy who stood on the burning deck and Longfellow’s Hiawatha explicable

By the shore of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
At the doorway of his wigwam,
In the pleasant Summer morning,
Hiawatha stood and waited.

and on it goes. And on. But every now again there’s a surprise that just brings you up short.   Every tree-top had its shadow, / Motionless beneath the water. I really like the way I stop at ‘motionless’. Because if you know the rules well enough, you know how to bend them. I remember Tony Harrison telling my students that they need to remember that the iambic pentameter is the default rhythm of English speech..I think he argued that it was even truer of Northern speech, but I’m sceptical about that. Maybe someone will put me right. Sit on trains and buses, he said, and you’ll hear sentences like : ‘his brother works at Bisons outside Leeds’. You’ll hear them all the time.
So don’t let anyone tell you that a di-dum-di-dum metre is bad for you. Just that  remorseless and unvarying will kill anything stone dead. Once you know the rules you can break them. Marlowe’s usually said to be less fluent and flexible with his blank verse than Shakespeare, but boy, could he listen to the moment and break the ‘rules’.

The stars move still, time runs, the clock will strike,
The devil will come, and Faustus must be damn’d.
O, I’ll leap up to my God!—Who pulls me down?—
See, see, where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament!
One drop would save my soul, half a drop: ah, my Christ!—

I reckon that every syllable in bold is stressed. Because the emotion of the moment insists on it. And it’s the rulebreaking that makes it memorable. As it is in this lovely moment from Wordsworth’s Prelude.

And, as I rose upon the stroke, my boat
Went heaving through the Water like a swan;
When, from behind that craggy Steep till then
The horizon’s bound, a huge peak, black and huge,
As if with voluntary power instinct,
Upreared its head.—I struck and struck again,
And growing still in stature the grim Shape
Towered up between me and the stars,

The bits in bold are where I think the unexpected stresses go, where they’re unexpected but absolutely right, because he knows  the rhythm of the panicked rowing, and the exponentially growing physical menace of the ‘craggy steep’. I remember being 16, and seeing, for the first time, how a piece of writing worked, how it dramatised what was happening, how it explained to me how I should hear and understand it . But I had to be tuned in to the expected before I could hear the unexpected. It took me a lot longer to realise that it was OK to feel comfortable with my own iambic rhythms. The only thing that matters is whether a recognisable rhythm, or the deliberate avoidance of a recognisable rhythm (which can only come from repetition) is doing a proper job. The four-stressed Anglo-Saxon line does a wonderful rhetorical job for one of my favourite contemporary poets: Steve Ely

as in this extract from Hours of the Dead

Under the golf course,  the dead of England lie;
beneath the steel mill, their vernacular graves.
Rolling and turning in tectonic earth

So: bearing in mind what Clive James says about ‘poets who want to keep technique out of it because they haven’t got any’ here’s a more considered version of what I wrote to my mate who worried about the rhythm (or lack of it) in his writing.

“I thought it might be something to do with sentences with lots of dependent clauses. I thought it might be something about adjectival clotting.
It seems to me that if you try to push it, it’ll die in the water. So, what to do?
The main thing is to know what it is you want to be saying; what’s it about?
For instance, at the moment, I’ve got a head full of the year’s ending accompanied by myth and legend, which is jostling for space with the language of landscape and topography
At other times it’s been about a particular landscape, or about my parents, or about mortality. I don’t ask for these things. They are what preoccupy me at any given moment. So how to make a start on any of them in ways that put pressure on the words to do more than they ordinarily will.

*Try clearing your head of what you think you want to write about by doing something else. Try this.  You shouldn’t try to copy anyone BUT you can do some very useful work in ‘copying’ exercises. For instance: Choose a poem you wish you’d written, and copy it out by hand. Do it again. See how much you can write before you need to refer to the one you’re copying.

*Take a sonnet, or a ballad….something with a particular rhyme scheme. Take the last words of each line only.Then write a piece of your own which uses that set of rhyming words in that order. And use the same number of syllables as the original lines. It’s irksome. But so is learning the fingering of  guitar chords. Depends whether you want to play or not.

*If you have an idea for a poem then try playing ‘Starters’.. good starters are : arriving somewhere, meeting someone- real or fictional or historical- , leaving somewhere, a portrait of someone you love who must be in a place that is ‘theirs’, doing something that is ‘them’…
These are all about memory and visualisation; write fast and without thinking in continuous prose and without worrying about punctuation or anything. Give it 4 minutes. Then underline the most important bits. Then rewrite in lines of 6-8 syllables. Short lines will create a sort of rhythm of their own. See what happens. Remember, it’s an exercise, but you never know what you may stumble upon. Do not wonder what anyone else might think. It’s nothing to do with them.

*Write sequences of say 8-10 lines, 6-10 syllables to the line;
Start each line with the same word. These are good ones: AND, BECAUSE, ALTHOUGH, WHEN  ( but not the last line)
This is something I’ve noticed more and more, and something I’ve learned about from poets like these:  Gaia Holmes starts her poem ‘Inland’ like this

And it comes to me
as we drive through moors
clotted with burnt, black heather

It’s got immediacy and drama and energy does that ‘And’, despite what your Primary school teachers hammered into you about what not to start and end sentences with. Kim Moore shows you what happens when you repeat the trick…you set up a rhythm

Suffragette
And if you saw her hiding in the air ducts of Parliament
it was only to listen to the speeches.
And if she set fire to post boxes and burnt letters,
it was only certain envelopes she put pepper in.

It’s the rhythm of psalms and blessing and curses which is also the language of lists and repetitions. Julia Deakin can show you another take on it in her poem about the kind of dubious advice offered to would-be-published poets, or in bad workshops (or posts like this). This time you can think of starting every line of a list-poem with ‘No’. (well, not just every line…..)

Thank you for thinking of us
no shards, no lozenges, no litanies
no seagulls, no patinas
no abstract nouns, no adjectives or very few                                                                                                          no haiku

They can be blessings as well as curses, as with this lovely poem from Gordon Hodgeon, written for his new granddaughter.

cradle song
earth be your cradle
earth be my bed
sky be your morning light
sky my old head

You can see how you might take that small formula and push it as far as it will go. You could stick with ‘earth’ and ‘sky’; you could ‘fire’ and ocean’, ‘sun’ and ‘ice’. But only give yourself 8 syllables per line, max. Or 6. Just see what happens. There will be a rhythm . Seek out Jane Clarke’s The River; read  ‘Broken’….unrhymed couplets of 5 and 6 syllables. That’ll give you a clear notion of how much can be done in a short space. Another poet who plays with big ideas in a short and tightly structured space is Christy Ducker in her Grace Darling sequence from Skipper…4 eight(ish)-syllabled lines for each letter of the alphabet…(it could be for the first ten years of your life, for eight school subjects, seven neighbours down your street, six places you went on holiday. You get the idea).

J
is a hook that hangs by a thread
in the vault of the north sea
where it inkles, bright as her faith
the fish will come. Parabolic.

*play with lists of all kinds ….things you’ll leave behind, things that are unamanageable, places you’ll never go to, places you wish you’d never been, lives you might have lived…The Poetry Business writing days will often include one of these exercises, and they always, always result in something with its own recognisable rhythm, that comes from a structural repetition. One of my own started like that, as place names in a particular journey

A Kind of History

MacIan of MacDonald of Glencoe
comes to Inverary, three bitter days
of blizzard at the year’s ending;
three days from the Fords of Ballachulish,
the Narrows of Creran by Benderloch,
the Pass of Brander in the lee of Bheinn Cruachan;
by Loch Fyne and Glen Aray to river’s mouth;
in sodden plaid, and blind with snow;

It’s the kind of thing that happens in the bits of filler in Anglo-Saxon poetry where the scop recites line after line of a king’s battles, or gifts, or attributes, as he tries to remember the next bit of the narrative.

And I reckon that’s enough to be going on with on a snowy Sunday. Games with repetition, and with short lines. Here are some starters for ten, all of which come from the Poetry Business Saturdays over the years, and all of which will get me moving. Stick to the rules. Repeated first words. and.  because. although. when. but. Short lines.

*It snowed/rained/never rained for twenty years
*That winter
*We thought the rain would never stop
*Years later we went back
*We thought it wouldn’t matter,
*When the clocks stopped
*After it was all over

Before this all peters out, as such things can do, with more admonitions, and thereby loses its point and focus, let’s just add one thing. Read aloud poets who are comfortable with their rhythms and structures and who make it sound easy even as they’re breaking their own rules. Learn some by heart. Feel the rhythm in the blood. These are my current readaloud favourites: Tony Harrison, Steve Ely, Kim Moore, Robert Frost, Seamus Heaney, Vernon Scannell, Charles Causley, Robin Robertson, and Clare Shaw …but you know who’ll work for you. Remember how many poems have started by reading Carl Sandburg’s ‘Psalm for those who go forth before daylight’.  And if you like, you could write a poem in praise of lists.Or alternatively, write a will. That’s an interesting list to tackle.

After I’m gone

who will oil the letter press,
know to use clean boards,
the way the big drill sticks, or throws out bits;
who’ll keep the lengths of flex,
the spare plugs, the oil stone,
the basket of broken bits of blue/white crock,
a plastic box of scavenged seashore rope,
a bag of driftwood pieces all with interesting holes, or knots or nails,
the small wood box of printers’ plates,
acrylics in half-litre tubes: a good sized crate,
a basket of assorted woodstains including antique walnut, mahogany, pitch pine,
a black binbag of pine cones brought from Gironde and Charente,
a case of modellers’ enamels in small tins,
a box of packs of steel wool in different grades,
a cabinet of jumbled screws, and nuts and bolts, and washers, cotterpins,
a tin of blunted bits that only want a bit of work,
a pack of mirror glass pulled from a skip,
a fox’s skull, bits of vertebrae, a chunk of Coruisk gabbro,
some bundled withies,
a bag of batik wax?

 

 

Answers on a postcard. See you all next week, when we’ll be thinking aloud about poetry competitions.

ps. It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing

 

 

Two poems by Jane Clarke

The sun is shining, really shining, for the first time in a month or more, and these two poems arrive at my door. Come in. Come in.

And Other Poems

The Finest Specimen

When I was a child my father wrote the twelve fair days
of Roscommon on the back of a Players pack
and taught me to recite them as farmers used to do.

He showed me where the blacksmith had inscribed
1865 on a gate – the year Yeats was born, he’d say.
There’s one date you have to remember, your great

great great grandfather, the one with the whiskers,
was born the year of the rebellion, 1798,
any family history before that is just imagination.

He showed me a bible with miniature print
on gossamer paper which he touched as if it were
pure gold. This was your great-grandmother’s,

published the year of the Act of Union. He told me
old stories as if he’d lived through them.
When the turlough froze in 1816,

three neighbours walked the ice with sacks of oats
on a short-cut…

View original post 352 more words

Outside, over there. And a Polished Gem [16 ] Wendy Klein

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Well, here we are. A new term and bright with resolution. You’re all looking lovely in your fresh pressed uniforms. You’ve got your brand new felt-tip pens in every colour of the rainbow; the tips are crisp and the colours bright. And yes, we know that it’ll wear off, and your pens will shortly be stipple brushes and the only colours that still work will be pink, pale brown and yellow, and the homework will start to pile up…all that.

(And because we’re not quite st up and sorted as we like to be, you’ll find that some bits of this I’ve had to copy and paste as jpeg images, so they don’t look quite as crisp as they should. Forgive me)

But right now anything can happen and we can do anything, and be anything we want. So let’s make the most of it. You may be wondering what the picture’s all about. I’ll tell you. It’s an analogy. There’s an Alice-like girl in a Victorian dress, a baby in a sun hat. There’s a neat picket fence and sunflowers. There’s something that looks like a euphonium, and a ladder. And very small monks or friars whose faces you can’t see. You can read every item, but you can’t understand the message. The bits don’t mean what you expect them to mean, and they don’t fit together. It’s unfamiliar and unsettling. It’s an anology for poetry that other people are enthusiastic about but which I don’t get. I’ll come back to this. Right. Another picture.

General Motors town

As a teenager in the 1950s, growing up in a small mill town in the monochrome industrial North of England, ‘outside, over there’ came courtesy of Radio Luxemburg, the cinema, and 78s played in church youth clubs, and, better, in fairgrounds on cinder bits of wasteland in Batley and Dewsbury. It was rock n’ roll. And oh, the glamour of America! And its language. It was recognisably English, but it was wonderfully baffling, like Sendak’s baby and his faceless midget monks.

You could move it, you could groove it at the hop. What was a hop? Clearly not something involving chalk and pavements. A hay ride. A homecoming queen. A zip code,jelly donuts, sidewalks, gas stations, pizza pie, a union hall, a blacktop, an interstate. Ah, the glamour of the cars, of blue jeans. a Tony Curtis hair cut, bobbysox, and girls who would wear your ring around their neck, hound-dogs and bird-dogs and drive-ins, writing lovey-dovey message in year books on graduation day (were they all at university?). Who were these magic kids my age who had cars? Two people down our street owned a car. And High School proms. White sportscoats and pink carnations. Clearly not Henry Wood.

prom

Our special guest today spoke that language fluently. Still does. Which is why I loved this poem when I first heard it earlier last year. This is the first section of  ‘Pretending to be Queen’

Wendy's High Scool confidential

It’s a poem that segues beautifully between the 1950’s ,and  1990’s Freddie Mercury in his tight white satin, his hare’s teeth and his moustache, and it riffs on the idea of pretence and pretenders great and small. For me, it has the extra edge and glamour of being written by someone who was there, in the world ‘outside, over there’ that was the soundtrack to my adolescence. I’m going to come back to that notion of ‘glamour’. Bear with me. I’ve been remiss; I’ve not let my guest introduce herself, so here she is. Please welcome Wendy Klein.

wendy klein

Let me add that along with many commended and short-listed poems, Wendy has won significant 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes in the Ver Poets, the Torriano ,Ware, Buxton, Havant, Cannon and Cinnamon Poetry competitions, between 2003 and 2014.

Her work is published in journals and magazines including Mslexia, The Jewish Quarterly, Magma, Smiths Knoll, Poetry Nottingham, The Interpreter’s House and The River Thames in Verse and will appear in Envoi (Autumn 2007).  

Her first poetry collection, Cuba in the Blood, was published by Cinnamon Press in February 2009. Her second, Anything in Turquoise , was published in 2013, also by Cinnamon. She has had many commended poems in competition anthologies including Blinking Eye, Cinnamon Press and Vision On 2003.  She is a Troubadour regular and featured in a New Voices event (May 2005) along with being a monthly reader at ‘Poets’ Café’, Reading and a member for 6 years of Susan Utting’s weekly poetry group in Reading.

I first met her at a writing residential where we discovered we had a shared liking of a whole lot of music that included Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, and I discovered this next poem of hers.

South from Bakersfield

Town after town, farther and farther apart; you’re looking
for differences, no matter how small, haunted and baffled
by their alikeness: the filling stations with their dirty rags, tied
to the handles of tin buckets that hold grey water to swill
the desert dust from your windscreen. You know you’ll leave
streaks and tracks–the definition of clean seems different here.

There’s a half-grown boy to fill up your tank if you’re able
to rouse him, and if he likes you, he’ll wipe your windscreen
with fresh paper towels and he’ll grin, display a front tooth
missing, lost in a brawl at night on a rickety porch, over
a mousy girl who could be his best friend’s sister. Now
you’re ready to drive a hundred desert miles or more
to the next one, its twin, you guess, as you pass
the Baptist church, its pink neon cross blinking.

route 66

 

I was immediately a fan. I loved the landscape, the imagery…..that pink neon cross, a half-grown boy, the echoes of countless road movies, the feeling of strangeness and distance, the ghosts of half-remembered movies, and a Rolling Stones track from ‘Some girls’. ‘Driving thru Bakersfield, listening to music on the coloured radio station….’. I was taken, too by its ambivalence, the fact that here’s an American ‘baffled’ by the country, and by the way the poem reminds you that America is vast, that it’s many countries, that Americans don’t know it. It has the glamour of the unknown, which is different from the glamour of movies and General Motors adverts, which is the glamour that John Berger defined as ‘a state of being envied’. And so I wanted to read more of Wendy’s work, and discovered that its range is wider, and its textures richer than I imagined. Because it’s not ‘American’ but cosmopolitan. It grows out of her Jewish heritage. It grows out of the way that she’s widely travelled (unlike about 50% of Americans who don’t have passports, and about 90% of whom never go abroad) and widely read. You have to understand that I never went on an aeroplane till I was 32 (from Manchester to Belfast) and then not again till I was 65. Though I did go on ferries and drive around Europe. Bits of it anyway. But poetry like Wendy’s makes me feel parochial and inexperienced. In a good way. I don’t tune in to a lot of contemporary American poetry (Sharon Olds, for instance) but I reckon that Wendy is as much cosmoplitan/European as she is American, and I like the poise and formal arrangement of her verse and its lexis. She’s sent me more poems to share with you. I hope I do them justice. Try this one, first.

A Short Manhattan Lullaby, 1939
after S. Olds

I see them tarting themselves up for the party where they’ll meet;
she post-divorce from her approved-of Jewish ex,
and all set to become a successful playwright. I see her pucker up
for the brightest lipstick, slip her feet into lethal stilettos,
bat blackened eyelashes in the gilded mirror,
see it return her appreciative glance. He’s more nervous;
primed with Dutch courage – Bourbon, because
he can’t afford Scotch — tweaks a pre-formed bowtie,
covers a less-than-fresh shirt with a Harris tweed jacket –
herringbone. I see them arrive separately on the steps
of an East-Village Brownstone, pause a moment
before climbing the dim-lit stairs, gauging the level
of booziness; assessing the volume of laughter,
of music. He’s the wrong man for her; literary, unreliable,
full of unattainable aspirations — the sort of stray she finds
irresistible. She’s spiky, too smart for him,
but she’s yet to find out. He can’t resist her green eyes,
made brighter with kohl, alcohol, artifice, her sassy chat;
can’t take his eyes off her carmine lips,
the flash of white teeth, bared by her brassy laugh,
and she can’t resist his smoky gaze.
They go through the pick-up in cliché Technicolor,
and every warning she’s heard about weak, irresponsible
gentile men wafts out the window of the ninth floor,
gains speed over the Hudson, the East,
as she whispers shut up Mother,
and I want to say stop; you’ll destroy each other,
but I bite my tongue, just watch them walk away,
clinging to each other so tight that I flinch.

 

I like the quality in this that Clive James values, because here’s writing that declares itself to be a poem, that knows just what its line breaks are doing, that’s memorable for its rootedness ‘in the moment’. It’s beautifully filmic, and placed in its time, every camera shot is clean and crisp: she putting on her glossy make-up, he tugging at his not-quite-debonair bowtie, and coming in close for her carmine lips and his smoky gaze. Poetry as film noir. Lovely. Simultaneously it’s in the here-and-now, in the narrator’s helplessness in knowing how the narrative will end, and inability to change the script that makes her ‘flinch’. How nailed-down right that final word is, how exact. And notice: I think I understand it or know how to read it because I’ve seen a lot of movies.

A different kind of feel in in the  next poem that won the Havant Poetry Competition in 2014 ( I hope that’s right. I can edit later. Mea culpa. It’s just that I’ve left this post a bit late.) The background is that one million children suffering from severe malnutrition will be treated this year by governments and aid organizations across the Sahel.

sahel

It’s a poem to read aloud like an  incantation or supplication, a prayer for rain which becomes, for me, memorable through the cumulative effect of repetition. the lack of it/ the memory of it/ stories of it/ to drum it and dance it/ the way it would feel. There a real power in the repetition of that little no-word ‘it’ in a poem for a land and a people where rain has no substance, is reduced to a nameless pronoun. I found it incredibly moving.

But let me finish with a poem that incorporates the kind of glamour that Berger wrote about in Ways of seeing. I’d like to finish up where I began, I suppose to give the illusion of shapeliness and structure in my ventures, to end with a world that is foreign and enchanting. If you don’t actually have to live through it. Vicarious living. I’ve done a lot of that.

 

Mood Indigo

When I am too old to tickle, your fathering falters
and at a loss for what to do next, you tell me tales

about your dancing days: soft-shoe, tap – waiting
for your turn to audition, hanging out

with other chorus boys back-stage Broadway, your face
flushed as you explain how your bottom got pinched

once or twice by guys you guessed might be too young
to shave. You take me to wild parties in Greenwich Village,

fuggy dance halls in Harlem, your sheepish grin at the near scandal –
the sexy black woman you said once, in your cups, might

have been my mother, which sent a jolt through our kitchen
at suppertime. You drop the names of the sultry singers:

Ivy Anderson, Lena Horne, Billy Holiday — her white gardenia –
the scent of it filling our living room. You pull out

a scratched 78 of the Duke; put on Mood Indigo, and start
to gentle me around in time, say you’ll teach me the Fox Trot –

hands down, the easiest dance of my generation, to teach,
to learn. Talking about the Duke lights you up, makes you forget

your sad remedial English class. You take me round the waist,
count out the beats, hum the tune in my ear, your aftershave

still strong despite the five o’clock shadow on your cheeks,
your chin, as we move around the floor avoiding chairs,

throw rugs, the coffee table, the glass with your second
or third Jim Beam on the rocks, waiting nearby.

 

Ah, those scratched 78s. Wendy Klein, thank you for being our guest and sharing your poems and expanding our horizons. Maybe I’ll get the hang of Sharon Olds after all.

Next week I’m going to tell you how to do stuff. One of those poetry posts.