Today’s post will be the 270th since the cobweb was started in April 2014. I realised a short time ago, on the the basis that each post averages out at about 2000 words, sometime recently we passed the half million word mark. I reckon that’s worth celebrating, so I’ve asked three poets to be guests again. I could have asked lots of people and namechecked many more…Hilary Elfick, Andy Blackford, and The Poetry Business in particular.
However, I wanted to say thank you for three landmark moments…first solo guest poetry reading, first invitation to be a guest blogger, and first time as guest poet on a poetry blog. So. Here we go.
Ladies and gentlemen, the altogether wonderful Gaia Holmes!!!!!
Gaia has been very important to me. One of the people who validate what you’re doing. They may not know they’ve done it, or think that what they did do was no big deal. As a teacher, I’m often thrown when I encounter folk I taught years ago, and who say that I did X or Y or Z that changed their lives. Every teacher has had this experience, and very often don’t have any memory of what it was they did. They were just doing their job. Anyway, to cut a long story short, Gaia gave me my very first single billing guest poetry reading at The Puzzle Hall Inn. This was before I’d had anything published, but it was one of those occasions which made me feel I should do something about it, if only to have something to sell at poetry readings.
Gaia’s been a guest twice before…why not check out what I wrote about her? here are the links
Right. Good to have you back. Now here’s my Milestone Thankyou to Gaia Holmes. I’ll start with a poem she shared with us previously, and then let her bring us up to date.
Whenever I read Gaia Holmes’ poems, or hear her read, I’m put in mind of the world and work of Peter Blake. To nail my colours to the mast, this image of Alice is how I’d picture Gaia’s narrative voice.
Not quite other-worldly, but knowing things I have no immediate access to, and aware that the world is strange and lovely and that it can make us vulnerable. It’s a voice that makes me think of the doughty, unworldly, resourceful, compassionate clear-eyed heroines of folk tales. The ones who have no expectation of the kindness of stepmothers and stepfathers and spiteful siblings, who are stoic about their work among the ashes, who undertake unnerving journeys through forests to the hen’s leg houses of cruel aunts, who understand that everything you are given is a gift to be used for the betterment of the world….all that.
As soon as I open up her her poems and read, rather than rely on this memory, then before long I’ll be chilled and close to tears. There’s a lot of ice; there’s even an Ice Hotel. There’s the cold of loneliness and love gone wrong, and broken things that might be hearts or dreams that make you think twice about walking in bare feet. There’s the orphan voice of a narrator who sees things that no-one seems to notice her seeing. Like this.
The Allure Of Frost
No fire in the grate and unopened presents
stacked around the base of the tree and fairy lights muted,
switched off, and the brandy that swells the fruit starting to eat
the cake in its tin and all the mirrors doused with tea towels
and your raw-eyed mother keening into a pillow in her bedroom
and too many men in black whispering and nodding
and I don’t know what the rosary is and whether to curtsey
to the priests when I hand them their tea
and the phrase ‘fruits of thy womb’ seem too ripe and too rich
for this and, Mary mother of God, I don’t know
how to cross myself and fear I’m invoking the devil
and the scent of death’s so thick
that it’s tainted the water and it’s heavy in the curtains
making them bend the rail
and your lips taste of the oils that grease your dead sister
and when I kiss you, you push me away and I want to spit
and weep and slap the corpse where she lies in her coffin
all done-up with hair grips and lipstick,
her sunken cheeks plumped out with wads of cotton wool
and the rictus of sin softened
by the crust of Rimmel Natural Beige powdering her face
and it’s so hot in here
that the cheese is sweating and the butter is liquid.
The chocolate coins are dripping from the tree.
Your Aunt’s un-bitten sandwiches
are curling upwards on her plate
and the lilies are wilting and stinking in their vases
and the cat stands quivering and retching
against the cold crack beneath the back door.
Outside the frost, not knowing any difference,
continues to sparkle. And I’d like to go out there.
I’d like to stand in it until my feet turn blue.
I think this poem has everything in it that I think of as ‘Gaia’s poems’. The piling on and on of sensory detail, the Alice in Wonderland, or folktale, sense that the logic of things is wrong, the wistfulness, the vulnerablity, and the pluck of a girl who will stand in a sparkling frost till her feet turn blue and the world becomes real again. Lovely.
And now your update and two new poems. Over to Gaia.
“Gosh, is it a year since I appeared on the cobweb?! Phew! Yes, looking back at that post I see my poems were a chilly little bunch- full of winter, death, hospitals and shivering islands. I think I’ve written most of that time out of my system, for now at least…though most of my poems are slow walkers and tend to come to me two or three years after the experience…since that blog post some nice things have happened in my writing life…I spent the whole of January reading and writing within the cosy walls of Hawthornden Castle near Edinburgh. I was there with 5 other writers and all we were expected to do, all day, every day, was to write. It was like being a child again. We were fed, coddled and given a whole rich month without our usual responsibilities. Whilst I was there I wrote loads of new poems and sequenced and edited poems for my 3rd full-length poetry collection which will be published some time in 2018. I also learned that my poem ‘Guests’ had won 1st prize in the Bare Fiction Poetry Competition and this was a great boost which added fuel to my pen. After returning from the castle with the manuscript of my 3rd collection ready, at last, to be sent out into the world I focused on a collaborative project with fellow poet, Winston Plowes which culminated in a joint poetry collection called Tales from the Tachograph, published by Calder Valley Poetry. The poems in this collection all deal with the realms of roads, service stations and motorways. I haven’t written much lately but I’m not panicking about this as I used to do. I am using the time to read about colour, to immerse myself in the wonderful art of Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, Andrea Kowch, Catrin Welz-Stein, and I am learning how to draw flamingos as I think that someday it might be a useful skill to have. I am filling my notebook with them.”
And now, the poems. She sent me loads. I’ve chosen two.
How heavily they lift
their paper coffee cups.
How heavily they sigh
and plough spilt sugar off the table
with the sides of their hands.
How heavily, like arthritic camels,
they turn away from each other,
pretend to study
the barista bashing coffee grounds
into the stainless steel bin,
observe the man walking his dog
between the service station trees,
stare at rain or a moon
that isn’t there.
How hungrily they gobble down
these distractions, this transient space
where women, wet-necked with perfume,
and men, carrying neat bunches
of forecourt flowers,
prepare to drive home.
How tenaciously they cling
to the in-between,
wanting to stuff their mouths
and their pockets full of it,
wanting to soften their worlds with it,
because when they have walked
the distance from café to car,
when they have shut the doors,
sealed themselves into the miles,
there will be static,
there will be him and her
focussing on the rear-view mirror,
watching other people driving home
to warm houses that smell of bread
where red wine breathes
on the kitchen table
and touch is not a shock,
there will be him and her
craving the glow of those better lives
as they go back to the cold things
they cannot talk about,
the clean, unloved rooms
they sit apart in,
the draughts and silences
the brittle cheese
and boiled potatoes
frosting in a fridge
that always ices over.
(From Tales from the Tachograph (Calder Valley Press, 2017).)
Though it seems so dark
and the ceiling of the world’s a wound
and so many hours have been bruised,
and so many lives have been broken,
there are stars up there tonight
and we must name them,
we must love them,
we must whistle them down like dogs
in faith of their shine
and they will be loyal.
They will show us where their bones are.
They will teach us
their soft, bright tricks of devotion.
And even on the blackest nights,
when hope and protest
are knotted in our throats,
when our smiles have been tarred
and buckled with the weight and stain
we have to remember they are there,
those glittering sky-hooked prayers,
prickling and humming,
embedded in that thick and lovely blue,
guarding us from spite,
keeping the moon from slipping,
herding the pale lamb-like dawns
into our sleeping houses
where they flow
through all our rooms
fluent and loving as milk.
Thanks for being my first milestone guest today, Gaia. Thank you for the poems.
Gaia Holmes’ poetry ….you know christmas as upon us.
Dr James Graham’s Celestial Bed [Comma press 2006] via Amazon: anything from £15 – £65
Lifting the piano with one hand [Comma Press 2013] £7.99
Tales from the Tachograph (co-authored with Winston Plowes) [Calder Valley Press, 2017).