“Gap Year” is the product of a one year writing exchange in 2014 between me and Andy Blackford, who I toaught in the 6th Form at Middlesbrough High School in the late 60’s and then didn’t meet again for 40 years. It was Andy’s idea that, like Louis Bunel and an artist friend, we would exchange a piece of work (poems, in our case) every week for a year, critiquing and cajoling as we went along. It was Andy’s idea to enter some of the poems for a pamphlet competition run by Sentinel Publications. We were invited to submit a full collection which subsequently won the 1st Prize.
Roger Elkin, the judge, said this about our collection:
|We are pleased to announce the results of the SPM Publications Poetry Book Competition (2016) and the comments on the winning collections by judge Roger Elkin
This collection of questioning and explorative poetry is offered not as a master-pupil construct, but as a collaborative joint venture – “a harmonious duet” as the submission sample proposed – each poet inspiring the other in a mutual appreciation and understanding of an individual take on the world. And what a wide-ranging read they offer, from the natural world with detailed observation particularly of bird-life, the skies and seascapes, to education and the arts, especially music and painting; to family members and neighbours; to issues central to life, such as love, suicide and death; and to matters spiritual, centring on Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, and the Padmaloka retreat. Occasionally, these worlds of now and beyondness (enigmatic yet centring on the immediate) are transformed into something approaching a nightmare reality in which the concrete is made disconcertingly abstract, and vice versa. Similarly, several poems employ the strategy of using negatives (sometimes cataloguing them) and transforming them to positive commentaries on the human predicament. However, the application of an almost Metaphysical wit, leavened by touches of humour, serves to make the writing subtle and nuanced: sometimes gently lyrical in its musings; and at other times hard-edged and disturbing in its raw perceptiveness. Both states are explored via a wide range of structures; a palette of richly-appropriate diction which luxuriates in colour; startling imagery; and skilful lineation. This is a candid and honest poetic partnership. Its fruits are of the highest order. I look forward to reading more.
We couldn’t be happier. I’m especially happy for Andy…this is the first time he’s ventured into the unpredictable world of poetry comps and publishing. We’re equally chuffed about the finished product, and we hope you will be. As a taster, here are two of the poems. If you want to read more, simply head to the Menu at the top of the page, which will take you to My Books, and a Paypal button. The book will come P&P included.
**** There may be a short delay in posting. I’ll be away in Spain from 12-19 June******
Taken by the tide
I might have sailed with saints into the infinite
Atlantic, lugging their old bone-house burdens,
searching for the furthest place from man,
which I imagine they supposed
would be the nearest place to God.
And maybe I’d have stood shuddering
and shriven in the wind and spray,
but before too long I know I’d be mumbling
bladderwrack and dulse, clubbing gannets,
prising limpets, riving clumps of mussels
off knuckle-skinning rocks; stumbling
down cold sluicing gullies just in time to see
the boats taken by the tide, or broken
by the storm, or by the will of God.
And I wonder what they sang,
these old fanatic souls, on the strait summits
of mountains whose feet are oceans deep,
and how they died on Sula Sgeir, on Rona,
and if they knew that gulls and fulmars
would nest in the cloister of their ribs.
Tell me they remembered the words
of their mea culpa Masses.Tell me
they were sane. Tell me they held the tune.
Christ in the Peter and Paul Fortress
Christ surveys the wondrous cross
and quietly swears. This is my final crucifixion.
He isn’t one for cursing, generally, but this place
would try the patience of a saint.
Clouds of gold hang like bad breath
about the iconostas.
Gold is a melanoma here,
corrupting wings of angels, ears of saints.
It’s as if some prelate
in a rage of lust
has spewed this opulence
upon his mother’s pristine feet.
Ah, the mother: silent, icy, incorruptible.
All this bling and booty
and not a virgin’s sneer to show for it.
by such unintended consequences
slips into the confessional.
Casting off his showgirl’s costume
he spins three times and reappears
as Jesus in his cotton grave shift
with its world map traced in gore.
Escaping by a side door
he lopes the fifty metres to the Bastion,
bribes a guard with Judas’ little toe
and makes his way to Cell Thirteen.
An old general sprawls helpless
on an iron bed. Pointlessly
they took his wooden leg away.
He scrawls a message
to his wife of forty years.
The scrap of paper, torn from a Bible,
is no broader than his hand
but he makes the letters big –
she’s almost blind from cataracts.
My dearest love Alyona,
I don’t know when they’ll let me go.
There is no food or bedding.
Please send bread.
He doesn’t mention that the water
in the toilet bowl is frozen and his cheek
is broken from the beating.
Next day the General will be bundled
to another gaol and hanged.
Jesus silently recites a benediction
then drifts, ghost-like, between the bars.
In the shadow of the domes
of gold and lapis lazuli,
he finds he can no longer raise his eyes.
But still he whispers:
Forgive them Father for they know
exactly what they do.